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Day 14 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Fact or fiction: Babe Ruth hit 715 homers … and how the roots of any Ruthian feat of documentation can start here

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The Weekly World News reported this on March 4, 2020. It cites two researchers who discovered “Babe Ruth” was all a government hoax. Played by a vaudeville actor Fats Manahan. Someone may want to alert the current U.S. president who gave Ruth the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November, 2018. Read this for yourselves, people: https://weeklyworldnews.com/headlines/177978/babe-ruth-never-existed/

“The Babe”

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The editors:
Bill Nowlin and Glen Sparks, with Carl Reichers and Len Levine

The publishing info:
Society for American Baseball Research
$29.95
315 pages
Released October, 2019

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com.

The review in 90 feet or less

When one decides it’s time to research the life, times and impact of the most important player in the 100-plus years of Major League Baseball, it becomes a Ruthian project.

81osohl-gal-138236820For a long time, the two most revered hikes to the top of Mount Babe were by Leigh Montville (2006, “The Big Bam”) and Robert Creamer (1974, “Babe: The Legend Comes to Life”). Then came, for our enjoyment, a most creative sidetrack into how starpower created the image, led by Jane Leavy. She received the 2018 SABR Seymour Medal for “The Big Fella” best-seller (which we reviewed for the L.A. Times and also posted more Q&A, plus created a piece about it for the Long Beach Post). We’re also memorized at how the book cover ended up appearing — above left — versus how the photo may have been originally taken and presented. And the “NY” remained the game, eh?

These are examples of how the paragraphs woven together with research, purpose and prose end up as the foundation for fantastic reads, like documentaries on pages with new discoveries and redefining what we’ve heard and remembered.

But back at the quip and quotation quarry, the Society of American Baseball Research is where all the heavy steam shovel work happens. Sentences and paragraphs, numbers and nuances are mined, inspected, weighed and then categorized for future research use.

Babe-Ruth
“For Babe Ruth, Catholicism was a lifelong pursuit,” by CruxNow.com: https://cruxnow.com/faith/2016/02/for-babe-ruth-catholicism-was-a-lifelong-pursuit/

With this arrival of “The Babe,” which Leavy generously lends her appreciation of it in the forward, SABR’s fact-diggers display an archive of natural history, a wonderful starting place for anyone who wants to go to any point in the timeline of events in Ruth’s life, playing career, and early death at age 53 in 1948, and lay a foundation for what could be next.

Considering how much out there is based on mythology and third-hand stories, SABR is all about getting it right. Movies and children-based bios no doubt contort the Bunyan-esque nature of everything Ruth did, and are often just for entertainment purposes. Truths and verified facts are the SABR way.

costaAs such, a SABR project with 81 chapters that are topic-specific have recruited the input of 54 different folks — including Father Gabriel B. Costa, a Catholic priest on academic leave from Seton Hall and now a math professor at the U.S. Military Academy and has written about sabermetrics. Bless him.

This isn’t intended to be classified as a classic literary work by the dozens of contributors, but instead a collective team of like-minded purists who take on all sorts of elements of Ruth’s life and go into further examination.

NowlinedSABR legend Bill Nowlin, who may be known more as a record producer, takes the lead – he also edited the 2018 SABR researched piece, “When Boston Still Had The Babe: The 1918 World Champion Red Sox” —  so the journey starts with the right scoutmaster.

But knotted together as a tapestry of Ruth’s documented force of nature, it’s surprising in how much more we find out by those who can put perspective and context into what they discover, like an archeologist at an ancient Egyptian site who comes across an odd fact that leads us down another tunnel.

For example:

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A long lost Babe Ruth interview is found in a prep school archive, as told in this 2018 NPR story: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/22/587412827/long-lost-babe-ruth-interview-discovered-in-prep-school-archives

== From the collection of stories divided up to where the first 30 focus on all aspects of his existence, and the last 51 span his life from his 1914 debut to his 1948 last visit to Yankee Stadium, we stopped at story No. 30 by Allen Wood entitled “715.”

When The Baseball Encyclopedia came out in 1969, we helped celebrate its 50th anniversary with a story in the Los Angeles Times, after visiting with editor in chief David Neft, now 82, during a SABR convention in San Diego.

Of all the stories Neft told us about what went into it, what future Hall of Famers it justified for entrance based on their recalculated career stats, and what impact it made on the future of stat-driven companies, he left out a really interesting story:

Babe Ruth had a “forgotten” home run in the summer of 1918. Thus, he really hit 715 home runs, not 714.

We interrupt this review for an important #OTD

April 8, 1974: Hank Aaron hits No. 715 in Atlanta to surpass Babe Ruth on the career home-run list. Where were you on this date? We were playing in a Pony League game and from the dugout could hear the murmurs in the grandstands from the parents that this happened. We couldn’t watch the game. No DVR. How did they know without Internet? The transistor radio of the Dodgers-Braves broadcast.

Take it away, play-by–play guy who we recognize:

You can also read more about the history of that moment with the latest Bob Nightengale piece for USA Today just posted.

Also, #OTD 1987:

We now resume our regularly scheduled book review …

The pre-1920 rules of baseball, at a time when record keeping wasn’t all that strict, included that if a player hit a ball over the fence that won a ball game, the winning team could only be credited with a one-run victory, and that hit otherwise credited as a home run would be marked down as a single, double or triple – whatever was necessary to push across the winning run. Only if the bases were empty would he be given full home-run credit.

Neft’s team unearthed the fact that on July 8, 1918 at Fenway Park, the Red Sox were the 10th inning of a scoreless tie with Cleveland. Amos Strunk reached first base. Ruth, still a star pitcher at that time at age 23 (13-7 in 20 games with a 2.22 ERA), followed with a home run. By the rules, he was only given a triple.

And this just wasn’t just any normal homer, as Wood finds in the Boston Herald from July 9, 1918. It’s described as if the broadcaster in “The Natural” is bellowing it out:

The Colossus of Clouters came up swinging his two heavy, new bats. The crowd yelled loudly and long for a home run. Babe took his stance, made his bid on the very first pitch (from Stan Coveleski), a curve ball, and zowee how it traveled … up into the realm of eagles, high and higher, far and farther … When it landed three quarters up in the right field bleachers, it was easily the longest hit to that section ever seen.

Wood then points out, based on an interview he researched for another project in 2014, when Neft heard of this discovery, he was “roaring all day long. He was so over the top about it. He was thrilled. But he kept saying, ‘We can’t change that statistic. People have gone to their graves thinking Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. How could we possibly do this?’ ”

Interviewed decades later by Wood, Neft maintained Ruth should have been credited with 715, because “you have to be consistent. You have to use the same logic for everyone.”

KPPETT

Leonard Koppett of the New York Times even wrote a piece in April, 1969, about the discovery by the “computer.”

The Special Baseball Records Committee met. By a 3-2 vote, they denied Ruth’s 715th homer. Argued Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America: “It just doesn’t make sense to go back 50 years and alter rules that were in force then.”

Yet, Lang and others were OK with altering other players’ stats based on new research. Baseball historian John Thorn added: “The decision to rescind Ruth’s homer was a result of pressures to leave hallowed numbers alone.”

Thorn(In a 2015 post for OurGame.MLBBlogs.com, Thorn expands more on what new research did to adjust some previous records based on decisions by the Special Baseball Records Committee some 50 years ago… see Decision No. 17 in this post on “Sudden Death Home Runs”).

It’s further fascinating that Wood also extracts a story from the Boston Globe a day after Ruth’s feat, by Melville Webb Jr., under the headline: “Rules Should Be Fixed to Cover Hits Like Ruth’s.”

And W.C. Spargo of the Boston Traveler wrote a few days later: “Ruth’s Clout Starts Talk of New Rule,” plus Billy Evan’s story months later for the Boston Post: “Bleachers Hit Real Home Run.”

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The original caption on this Getty Image reads: Babe Ruth landing safe at third on his triple hit.

The rule was changed after the 1919 season. But research shows that prior to that, there were 37 instances, starting in 1884, when a home run was not credited when hit in the bottom of the ninth or in extra innings. That includes balls swatted by Jimmy Collins (twice), King Kelly, Roger Bresnahan, Joe Tinker, Ping Bodie and Frank “Home Run” Baker.

Ruth’s triple stands. It was the 11th he hit that year, matching his league-leading 11 home runs collected in just 382 plate appearances. This was the first time he was allowed to play left field, center field and first base when he wasn’t throwing. But his season was also interrupted by the Spanish flu (see below).

How it goes in the scorebook

Multiply, divide and conquer: It’s a colossal clout, no matter whatever obstacle is placed in front of it.

As the SABR folks state in their explanation of this project: “In no way is this an exhaustive last word on Babe Ruth. That might be an impossible chore. We do believe this book will help readers get a fuller picture of baseball’s most fabled figure, a man still famous today and still revered in the game he loved.”

Good. Then there might be more.

3ef843d0ebae178e3f8da7e484da1846It then lists all the contributors: Josh Berk, Nathan Bierma, Mark Blaeuer, Thomas J. Brown Jr., Frederick “Rick” Bush, Alan Cohen, Fr. Gabriel Costa, Herb Crehan, Reynaldo Cruz Díaz, Richard Cuicchi, Paul E. Doutrich, Mike Dugan, Don Duren, Rob Edelman, Rob Fitts, T.S. Flynn, James Forr, Carolyn R. Fuchs, John Gabcik, Ed Gruver, Mike Haupert, Leslie Heaphy, Rock Hoffman, Paul Hofmann, Mike Huber, Bill Jenkinson, Jimmy Keenan, Tara Krieger, Kevin Larkin, Jane Leavy, Len Levin, Mike Lynch, Brian “Chip” Martin, David McDonald, Skip Nipper, Bill Nowlin, Chad Osborne, Pete Palmer, Tim Rask, Tim Reid, Carl Riechers, Harry Rothgerber, Gary Sarnoff, Tom Schott, Joe Schuster, Curt Smith, Steve Smith, Wayne Soini, Glen Sparks, Lyle Spatz, Mark S. Sternman, Cecilia Tan, Stew Thornley, Saul Wisnia, Gregory H. Wolf, Allan Wood, and Jack Zerby.

We joyously raise a glass of Red Rock Cola to give them all the credit for this absurdly prolific reference guide.

More Ruth-related topics in 2020

619KDZt4hqL== “War Fever: Boston, Baseball and America in the Shadow of the Great War” by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith (Basic Books, $30, 368 pages, released March 24) manages to tie Ruth, during his Red Sox days, into the year 1918, when there wasn’t just World War I in full force, leading to him going from a pitcher to a full-time outfielder, but it’s also when the deadly influenza pandemic  infected the globe (sound familiar?) Still the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs had a World Series to play, and the cover shot of Fenway Park is somewhat ominous about social distancing.
One of the reviews by Leigh Montville, author of “The Big Bam,” includes: “With in-depth research and absorbing storytelling, Roberts and Smith bring to life a tumultuous chapter of American history. A Brahmin becomes a reluctant hero. A famous German conductor sits in an internment camp. A darn good pitcher turns out to be the best hitter of baseballs the world ever has seen. This will be the best few stay-at-home nights you’ll have in some time.” A review of “War Fever” in the Boston Globe. A piece about it also in Slate.com.

91X6m5SaUQL== “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932,” by Thomas Wolf (University of Nebraska Press, $36.95, 408 pages, to be released May 1) seems to take the 2014 book by Ed Sherman called “Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run” and squeeze more out of it in reference to how the rest of that 1932 season played out. Thomas Wolf (not to be confused with the late New Journalism leader Tom Wolfe or the late novelist Thomas Wolfe) has done many baseball history stories and co-wrote “Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland.”

== If you’re looking for more Ruth-related literature for these sequestered times, it’s not a stretch that we recall the time when President Barack Obama visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 and gave an endorsement of the fiction novel “Saving Babe Ruth” by Tom Swyers. Which really has nothing to do with Ruth — it’s about a Babe Ruth League field that is trying to be taken over by a travel-ball team. But in a foreword, Babe Ruth’s grandson, Tom Stevens, calls “Saving Babe Ruth” a “great story.”


Now, back to our regular scheduled rumors …

Day 13 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: The ABC’s of the MLB, alphabetically and metaphysically

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“S is for Slugger: The Ultimate Baseball Alphabet”

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The author:
James Littlejohn

clemente.The illustrator:
Matthew Shipley

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
$17.95
32 pages
Released April 7

The links:
At the publisher’s website
at Amazon.com
at BarnesAndNoble.com
at Powells.com
At IndieBound.org
At the author’s website
At the illustrator’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

They’ve categorized this as a “juvenile non fiction.” Who are we kidding. It’s an art-deco, “Rocketeer” design book of epic proportions that will just happen to each a 2-year-old his or her ABCs even if they aren’t paying attention.

9781629375885As the sports-centric Triumph publishing found a triumphant response from an author/illustrator team that has already collaborated on the NBA-driven “B Is For Baller,” from October, 2018, and then soccer-celebration of “G Is For Golazo,” from May, 2019,  they pushed forward with an MLB version in time for the 2020 baseball season.

The one that so-far isn’t. When Plan A fails, there are 25 more to try, alphabetically.

9781629376714Which means, of course, it’s the perfect moment for parents and kids to sit and look at the compelling drawings that go with the creative educational links for each of the sections, art work that says so much with bold and defined strokes, and text that sneaks in smiles for moms and dads to appreciate and go back to their childhood.

There is homages to current and former baseball deities, and the more clever they find ways incorporating history with fun, all the better for those involved in the consuming end of this.

The author and illustrator Q&A

James Littlejohn lives in Culver City but grew up in the Bay Area going to Oakland A’s games with his dad, and stuck his loyalties on Rickey Henderson. Matthew Shipley, from southern New Jersey, was raised on Philadelphia sports. We coordinated an email Q&A to see if we could get more background on how this alpha-omega process happens:

Q

QQQQQHaving done this sort of project with soccer and basketball, you must have the collaboration method down pretty well? How does it work as to what ideas are sketched out based on what each want to contribute?

AAAA71zjxm-tfuL._US230_Littlejohn: Yeah, even though we’re on opposite sides of the country I think we’ve developed some artistic chemistry. I lead a little more on figuring out the word for each letter and the players we’d include and then Matthew takes over from there with the illustrations while dealing with my annoying feedback along the way. 

81amG3Ddm6L._US230_Shipley: There’s lots of back and forth through the whole process. I had a lot to say about the soccer book and I had to lean on James a lot for Slugger. And I can’t take credit for all the visual ideas, James has had some great ideas too and I just do my best to bring them to life. We balance each other out pretty well. 

QQQQQWhat is your sports wheelhouse/most depth of knowledge?Monster

AAAALittlejohn: I follow the NBA very closely — maybe too closely — but have a pretty well rounded sports background after that. I grew up in a sports family, watching and playing a lot of stuff. 

Shipley: I’m a soccer and basketball guy. I played some baseball growing up, but had a bad coach who kept picking me for his team and that kinda ruined baseball for me. 

QQQQQYou do know, of course, that if you’re going with “M is for Moonshots,” the L.A. connection will always be those hit by the late Wally Moon at the L.A. Coliseum. We can appreciate Harmon Killebrew but … Any thought process behind that pick? (Kinda just kidding here …)

AAAAmooneLittlejohn: People ask us a lot of about why we put in this player over that player. In the case of Killebrew, wanted to get a Twin in there, while we’d already put a few Dodgers in the book, with Sandy Koufax, Hideo Nomo and Jackie Robinson. It’s really hard to choose who to include — the alphabet is only so long — but we do our best to get a mix across teams, positions and eras.

Shipley: There’s been some omissions from all the books that have been hard, but we try to get in as many as we can while also incorporating cool nicknames/visuals. 

QQQQQDo you find your own kids learn from these sort of books? Do they have feedback?

AAAALittlejohn: I’ve got 3 kids and they’ve picked up a lot of sports knowledge they otherwise wouldn’t have from them. 

Shipley: I have two sons, but they’re only 2 1/2 and 4 months old. My older son knows the books are “daddy’s” books and I get excited when he picks them to read. He’s definitely picked up some terms here and there and I’m not going to lie, I don’t correct him when he points at Messi and says daddy. 

QQQQQKinda amused this is listed as “juvenile non-fiction.” For any adult, we’re just as immersed in this as an artistic endeavor and why some subjects were chosen over others. Is that why this is a better larger print book than a “board book” you might give to kids to read?

AAAALittlejohn: The books have definitely been made with the parents/adults in mind as mush as the kids. After all, they’re usually the ones reading them to their kids. We’ll even sneak in some jokes on pages or in the illustrations no kids would catch just to keep the parents entertained.

Shipley: We definitely wanted this to be a book both kids and adults could enjoy. It’s the coolest thing to see kids enjoying our books, but it’s also cool hearing adults say, “I don’t have kids yet, but I’m still getting this book.”

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QQQQQWhat were your favorite “kids” books growing up?

AAAALittlejohn: Big fan of Roald Dahl’s stories and humor.

Shipley: I also liked Roald Dahl. Also enjoyed Dr Seuss. My dad read us Lord of the Rings at night. Not exactly kids books, but Ninja Turtles, X-Men and Spiderman were an influence.

QQQQQWhat’s the future of this series for you guys? More sports, or ???

AAAALittlejohn: Hopefully more books! There’s still plenty of sports out there to cover.

Shipley: Triumph said it wasn’t considered a series until there were at least 3 books so hopefully we can keep adding to the ABC to MVP series. There are still sports out there! I also think an all female athletes book would be great.

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How it goes in the scorebook

Draw your own conclusions, but I just had it purchased and shipped to my grandson to get there by Easter. He doesn’t turn 1 until May, but it’s not too early. This kid has all the tools to overcome the drools.

Also: Wish we could find the right adjective for this sort of art design as well. We asked Shipley, and he replied: “Honestly, I don’t know, I’ve never tried to assign it to a style. I guess there’s some art deco stuff in there, but not because I was looking at a lot of art deco work. I just like drawing the figure and portraits and playing with proportions. It’s my style that I just kinda fell into by working a lot.”

We like his style.

Nomo

Day 12 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Unmasking more Yogi Berra? What will the market bear

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“Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask”

9780316310987-1

The author:
Jon Pessah

The publishing info:
Little, Brown and Company
$30
576 pages
Released April 14

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
A BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

Another Berra book is like … what’s the phrase … déjà vu all over again.

And we’re not even covering the plate of all the self-help/humor books you’ll come across when just googling this simple title.

51plj5CSHRLIt feels as if we just put down “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee” in March, 2009, Allen Barra’s 480-page piece de resistance that publisher W.W. Norton & Company called “a gripping biography.” It was difficult to forget, based on the weight and achievement of that project. Barra said his goal was to create the first comprehensive work about Berra, the “greatest ballplayer never to have a serious biography.”

(And, for what it’s worth, Berra is metaphorically lifting his mask off his face here).

And now comes this from Pessah, whose 2015 book, “The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers” did extremely well peeling back the business of the game. That took him  five years of research and more than 150 interviews, an achievement well worth the talents of one of the founding editors of ESPN the Magazine who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for editing and writing an examination into the role of racism in Major League Baseball.

71aQ2PFiMHL71KK2hqR-DLWe’re not against marketing, but it may seem odd that these publishers have decided to call Pessah’s work “the definitive biography” and a “transformational portrait.” The same publishing house already produced “My Dad, Yogi,” by Dale Berra in 2019, and “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!” in 2002, so it has a history in this Berra business.

In channeling his version of  “Yogi,” Pessah goes 100 pages better than Barra, explaining how it took him four years and more than 150 interviews. In noting his sources, Barra’s “Eternal Yankee” is cited. But interestingly, no interview with Yogi’s son, Dale. Seems obvious, but then again …

You can observe a lot by watching how many authors try to capture Yogi Berra in a cover-to-cover, over-the-counter contemporary narrative. Continue reading “Day 12 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Unmasking more Yogi Berra? What will the market bear”

Day 11 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: At least 61 new things to learn about Roger Maris’ 61 homers in ’61

Billboard
There’s no doubt in Fargo, N.D., who should lay claim to the MLB single-season home-run record. Excellent pix by Trevor Saylor: https://trevor365photo.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/claim-to-fame/

“Sixty-One in ’61: Roger Maris Home Runs
Game by Game”

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The author:
Robert M. Gorman

The publishing info:
McFarland & Company
$39.95
347 pages
Released in October, 2019

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At IndieBound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

This gets personal.

My date of birth occurred early on the morning on the eighth of June in ‘61. It will be noted in the context of this review, that was a day between Roger Maris hitting home run No. 17 in Game 49 against Minnesota and No. 18 in Game 52 against Kansas City, both at Yankee Stadium.

On June 8, Roger Maris dragged himself through an 0-for-8 day, a twi-night doubleheader against the Athletics that included a few rain delays. Yet, the whole thing still started at 6:02 p.m. in New York and ended shortly after 11 p.m.

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5b2c59aa4488b30009280012-originalIn a true Hollywood scenario, Maris would have hit a homer that night at Wrigley Field in L.A., just miles from the hospital where I arrived that, at the time was near La Brea and Coliseum, at the base of Baldwin Hills.

It would have been against the Los Angeles Angels, also celebrating their first year of MLB existence.

As it turns out, Maris only hit two that memorable season at the L.A. friendly confines of Wrigley – both numerically significant. One against the Angels’ Eli Grba to deep left-center field on May 6, the 100th of his career (and third of the season). The other was off Ken McBride on Aug. 22, the 50th of the season.

It’s not such a chore to find that info based on BaseballReference.com records. There’s also the laundry list of those who gave up the homers.

44187_01_lgThe Angels’ temporary home field, as the team awaited the opening of Dodger Stadium to share it with the National League team, would surrender a major-league record 248 homers in 81 games. It was, for many reasons, the place of choice for the 1959-61 TV show, “Home Run Derby,” the campy black-and-white series that watched players like Aaron, Mantle, Mays and Killebrew launch homers onto 51st Street beyond the 345-foot power alley in left field.

(Nope, Maris never appeared on the show).

But because of all that Maris was up against that year – the theory that the AL was watered down due to expansion and all these smaller parks that played into his strength, and more would have rather seen the idolized Mickey Mantle instead be the one to challenge Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record (set in 154 games, instead of 162) – a book like Gorman’s comes in handy despite all that’s already been done about the man from Fargo, North Dakota.

We need facts, not myths, to explain this thing.

So here’s a retired university reference librarian from Rock Hill, South Carolina, who once won the SABR Baseball Research Award for his 2009 book with David Weeks, “Death at the Ballpark,” and was a 12-year-old fan of Maris during that ’61 season.

As an adult, Bob Gorman decided not enough had been documented about many of the particulars of that HR  chronology.

JamesWhile more than half the 48 pitchers who gave up homers to Maris that year gone to a greater place – as is Maris, who died in 1985 – Gorman managed to track down:
= Detroit reliever Terry Fox, now 84;
= Johnny James, now 86, a Hollywood High grad and USC player who split that season, his last in the big leagues, between the Yankees and Angels;
= Cleveland starter Dick Stigman, now 86.
Gorman also found Cleveland All-Star catcher John Romano, who died in Feb., 2019 at age 84.

While there’s also a perfect symbiosis of the numerical value of 61 in ’61, Gorman’s research underpins the reality that Maris had actually hit 63 that year. One was taken away by a rainout. The last came in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the World Series against Cincinnati at Crosley Field to give the Yankees an eventual 3-2 win. That was one of only two hits Maris had in the Yankees’ five-game series victory.

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Gorman’s research comes through not in a tedious way, but in a thorough method of picking the most pertinent facts and particular quotes to keep the daily narrative moving through the season, filling in gaps as well when Maris wasn’t hitting home runs to bring context to those days and how they weighed on him.

It has to be remembered that Maris didn’t hit his first homer of 1961 until 11th game, and he had only three through the first 28.

As for Maris’ two homers in L.A. that year:

s-l300== Grba, the bespectacled right-hander who the Angels took in the expansion draft off the Yankees’ roster as their No. 1 overall choice, and was the franchise Opening Day starter, gave his former teammate a high outside fastball with one out and none on in the top of the fifth. Maris “hammered it over the wall just to the left of the 412-foot marker in center field,” writes Gorman.

“It was one of the few times I didn’t try to pull that type of pitch,” Maris would say. “I went with it and hit it over the left-center field fence. It was a real thrill to see that go out.”

Because it was his 100th career homer, he said it was also the first one he wanted back as a memento.

“There was no chance, for it went over the fence, bounced into the street and was gone forever,” he later said.

Maybe some kid in the neighborhood found it and had no idea.

71EHQAhPUuL._AC_SL1000_== Having arrived in L.A. after a four-hour overnight flight from Cleveland, the Yankees had the day off on Aug. 21. It allowed Maris, Mantle and Yogi Berra to go to Universal Studios and film a scene for the Doris Day-Cary Grant comedy, “A Touch of Mink.”

It was a nice distraction for everyone.

51LAXL2Zp2L._SY445_The next night, McBride, a rookie who became the Angels’ de-facto ace, was pitching before “a record crowd of nearly 20,000 spectators (who) wanted to witness the historic home run race that was overshadowing everything thing else going on in baseball.”

Sixth inning, third AB of the night, Maris went with an outside pitch and hit it to the deepest part of the park — again, that 412 marker in straight-away center.

“It was one of my best shots of the season,” he said after No. 50, which set a new major league record for most home runs hit before September.

So now think a minute about that homer that didn’t count. It’s nothing we ever heard about, until this book.

Gorman explains how the Yankees had a doubleheader in Baltimore on July 17. It was ironically before that started when commissioner Ford Frick issued a ruling: Anyone who hit more than 60 home runs during the first 154 games would be recognized as breaking Babe Ruth’s record; if they needed more than 154 games, up until the end of the expanded 162-game schedule, there would be “some distinction made in the record books.” There’s no mention of an asterisk. But the point was made, and the debate began.

s-l640The second game of the doubleheader started and both Maris (in the first) and Mantle (in the fourth) homered off Orioles’ knuckeballer Hal “Skinny” Brown. As the fifth inning started, here came rain, thunder and lightning. It was called after more than an hour delay, an unofficial contest, washing out both homers.

It wasn’t postponed or suspended, but replayed from the start as a Sept. 19 doubleheader. Had Maris’ home run stood, he would have tied Ruth by Frick’s 154-game deadline. Ruth didn’t lose any home runs to weather in his 1927 season.

“What are you going to do, fight city hall?” Maris asked.

An author Q&A

We’re thankful shortly after Gorman saw this post, he was able to reach out and help an email Q&A session. He added: “By the way, I’m answering your questions while watching Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, the game where Reggie Jackson hit three home runs (off of three different pitchers all on the first pitch), tying him with Babe Ruth.  Like 1961, it was a bad year for the Babe. It’s never too late for history’s sake”

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QQQQQWhat’s more behind this labor of love that caused you to do all this research, as you write about your affection for Maris?
AAAAAs I mentioned in the book, I really connected with Maris that season.  While most of my friends were pulling for Mantle, I remained a die-hard Maris partisan. Of course, I had no idea at the time about the stress he was under or the amount of guff he had to put up with just for doing his job.  Later, as I learned more about the constant snipping and criticism aimed at him on a daily basis, my admiration for his accomplishment, his grace under pressure,  grew even stronger.

75894e74f00af8bcf80018dcdcb1ed30I’ve long felt that Maris has never been given his due.  Billy Crystal’s movie, “61*,” in 2001 gave me the idea of doing a game-by-game account of his historic season. I put it on the back burner while I was working on a couple of other projects, but once they were completed, I decided it was time to launch the project.  I spent about four years from start to finish, enjoying every minute of it.  I really hope that I have done justice to this most misunderstood player.

QQQQQWas doing this project now with today’s technology and access to newspapers much more doable than years past? What was any trade research secrets you could pass on?

Sports1AAAAHaving come of age when research was done using a card catalog and print indexes, I find doing research today much easier.  I doubt that my book would have been nearly as thorough had I not had access to the wide variety of digitized newspapers and journals available today.  If there is any research secret I have to pass along, it’s don’t settle for the easy answer.  So many young researchers are satisfied with the first answer they find.  What I’ve discovered is that if you keep digging, you’re likely to find something unexpected. 

il_794xN.2137960837_82o9QQQQQWhat was the most interesting fact you recall excavating from this project?

AAAAI’m not sure if I learned anything “surprising.”  I’ve read so much about him and the Yankees of that period that I had a pretty good feel for that season when I began the project.  What I did come away with was a greater appreciation for what a great all-around player was.  He wasn’t a one dimensional power hitter that many think he was. He could run, field, and throw with the best of them. He was one of the greatest of his generation. And it wasn’t just with the Yankees.  Look at the leadership and talent he brought to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967 and 1968.

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QQQQQWere you surprised more homers weren’t hit at L.A.’s Wrigley Field by Maris that year? And how was he left out of “Home Run Derby?”

 

AAAAEven Maris was himself mystified about his lack of home runs at L.A.’s Wrigley Field. I suspect it was so inviting that he was pressing when he was there.  I think he was aware that he should have been launching them at Wrigley just like others were doing, which took him out of the zone, making it much more difficult to do so.

For “Home Run Derby”: The contest were held at Wrigley in late 1959, airing from January 9 to July 2, 1960, just before Maris’ arrival on the scene as a home run hitter.  A year later and he most likely would have been invited. I know he hated being away from his family and he disliked all the attention, so that may have also been why.  

QQQQQDo you consider Maris still to be the true single-season home run champion?

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AAAAI do consider Maris to be the legitimate single-season home run champion just as I consider Hank Aaron to be the career home run leader.  That whole steroid/performance enhancing drug era is one that’s truly deserving of an asterisk. And it’s not just that I’m an old fogey who doesn’t want someone to better his childhood hero.  I was really pulling for Giancarlo Stanton a couple of seasons ago when he was on the verge of surpassing Maris.  As I recall, Stanton himself viewed Maris’ record as the legitimate one.
And, even though you didn’t ask, yes, I believe that he should be in the Hall.  He might not have been at the level of a Babe Ruth, which he never claimed to be, but he certainly was one of the premier players of his generation.  There are plenty of players in the Hall who accomplished a lot less than he did.  I mean Bill Mazeroski and not Maris?  Please.

 

How it goes in the scorebook

“The crowd is reacting negatively,” Red Barber tells the WPIX-TV viewers on Oct. 1, 1961 after Maris takes two balls to start an at-bat against Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard. “They want to see Maris get something he can swing on.”

Next pitch: “There it is … 61.”

Nothing glamorous about Barber’s call.

61The book, much the same. It is what it is supposed to be: Not calling attention to itself, but telling one what happened.

“You haven’t ever seen anything like this have you?” Barber eventually asks as Maris comes out of the dugout and waves his cap.

“Nobody ever has, Red,” answers Mel Allen. “Nobody ever seen anything like this.”

Nor had Gorman, who admits that of all those Yankees stars in the early ‘60s he saw from his home in Miami, Maris resonated most because “there was just something about him – the way he stood at the plate, his gorgeous swing, how he ran the bases, head down and all business.”

SI61maris 1961Maris was coming off a year winning the AL MVP in 1960 by three points over Mantle, who had more first-place votes (10 to 8) and hit more homers (40 to 39).

cardhrMaris would get it again in ’61, again over Mantle, this time by four points, his 61 homers showing up as seven more than Mantle, as well as 141 RBIs, while Mantle had 128 RBIs and a .317 average (with a WAR of 10.5 vs. Maris’ 6.9).

If anyone could have done Maris right in this pin-point documentation of an historic season, Gorman came through as well as thorough with a splendid launch angle.

And for others of us born in 1961 — Barack Obama, Wayne Gretzky, Eddie Murphy, Michael J. Fox, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, Jeanie Buss, Doc Rivers, George Lopez — we have more numbers and dates to try to match up.

More to read

== In 2011, the Yankees honored the 50th anniversary of the feat, as told in New York Newsday.

 

Day 10 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: We’ll take our coffee bleak

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In 2013, the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Baxter did a piece titled “For baseball’s one-hit wonders, the magic can last a lifetime.” He interviewed Jeff Banister, Joe Hietpas, Philip Barzilla and Dustin Bergman. https://www.latimes.com/sports/la-xpm-2013-mar-12-la-sp-moonlight-graham-20130312-story.html

“The Cup of Coffee Club:
11 Players and their Brush with Baseball History”

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The author:
Jacob Kornhauser

The publishing info:
Rowman & Littlefield
$29.95
216 pages
Released March 11

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At IndieBound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

We’ll try to make this quick, efficient and caffeinated.

It’ll be sort like the single-day MLB careers of:
jeff_banister_autograph= Charlie Lindstrom (Sept. 28, ’58)
= Roe Skidmore (Sept. 17, ’70)
= Larry Yount (Sept. 15, ’71)
= Gary Martz (July 8, ’75)
= Rafael Montalovo (April 13, ’86)
= Jeff Banister (July 23, ’91)
= Stephen Larkin (Sept. 15, ‘98)
= Jon Ratliff (Sept. 15, 2000)
= Ron Wright (April 14, ’02)
= Sam Marsonek (July 11, ’04)
= and Matt Tupman (May 18, ’08).

They’re the Moonlight Grahams of their time without a “Field of Dreams” context to evoke bittersweet nostalgia — they made it the big leagues, played once, then something weird happened.

The Baseball Encyclopedia is full of them, and it’s where many first learned of Graham, and fell for the nickname. The BaseballReference.com lists 535 pitchers and nearly as many batters (which seem to add up to 999) as a reference point. There are about 150 of them in the last 50 years alone, writes Kornhauser, tet, the 11 above is who the Chicago native and current  producer at Fox Sports digital in L.A. decided to go after. They were available to still talk about what, the author calls, their “heartache of never making it back.”

Well, for some of them.  Exhibit A: Yount.

IMG_9971The older brother of eventual Hall of Famer Robin Yount, and both from Taft High in Woodland Hills, says he rarely thinks about that day he was called in from the bullpen to pitch for the Houston Astros, hurt his arm while warming up, and never faced the Braves lineup of Felix Millian, Ralph Gahr and Hank Aaron in that ninth inning.
Thus, the 21-year-old is the only one in MLB history to officially enter a game and never perform.
He went back to Triple A for two lousy seasons, was traded to Milwaukee in 1974 — just as Robin was signing to play there as an 18-year-old out of high school.

Heartache? He became a fabulous real estate developer in Arizona, and still gets some credit for helping convince former MLB commissioner Bud Selig to finally put a team in Phoenix.

“My life couldn’t have been any better (after baseball,” he says. “I overachieved so much. All of that was just a moment in time.”

Others do lament their one-and-only shot.

Charlie Linstrom, a catcher in the Chicago White Sox organization, the youngest son of former Dodgers utility player and Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom, says on page 12: “The truth of the matter is once I got into professional baseball, I really didn’t like it that well.”

Bad example. How about Gary Martz, who had nine years in pro ball but just one MLB game. “Financially, even family-wise, it really took a toll on me. Overall, I’d probably have to say it wasn’t worth it. … I always said I wanted to be the next Mickey Mantle … He was a helluva a drinker and I think I might have been able to outdrink him.”

Some handle adversity differently.

Bannister overcame cancer and went onto manage the Texas Rangers. Larkin, nine years younger than his eventual Hall of Fame brother Barry, still enjoys the thrill of talking about the day he was called up to be in the same lineup with his sibling, on the last day of the 1998 season with the Cincinnati Reds, while Aaron and Brett Boone played the other two infield positions.

Rafael Montalovo came up in the Dodgers organization, got his one game in with Houston, then tried to come back nine years later as a Dodgers’ Replacement Player during the 1995 spring training season. (Which Mike Piazza writes about later in his autobiography: “Some of the replacement players — mainly, a pitcher named Rafael Montalovo, who pitched one inning for the Astros back in 1986 and hadn’t played organized ball in the States for three years — were saying things like they were going to have us five games in first place by the time we got back and we’d probably want to thank them … Does someone really think we’ll be rooting for these guys?”)

Fame comes in many forms. How could you not root for all them, all things considered, to at least reached the top of the mountain.

How it goes in the scorebook

Rest in peace, Eddie Gaedel.

On a scale of 1-to-11, compatible with the lineup presented here, we had hopes of cranking this up to an 11. If all you have time to do here is pour yourself a mug of Joe, skim the names, try to connect with any of their stories, and then shake your head, count it an above-average success. Continue reading “Day 10 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: We’ll take our coffee bleak”

Day 9 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Waxing nostalgic, beyond a journey of re-connecting with cardboard gods

yeager stole home
Steve Yeager once had a straight steal of home in a game? Eric Stephen has the story from 2014 on TrueBlueLA.com: https://www.truebluela.com/2014/2/25/5438238/steve-yeager-stole-home (Photo: Getty Images)

“The Wax Pack: On the Open Road
in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife”

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The author:
Brad Balukjian

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
$27.95
264 pages
Released April 1

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesNoble.com
At Powells.com
At IndieBound.org
At the author’s personal site
At the created site for the book

The review in 90 feet or less

The premise, simple: After ripping open a pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards, a guy spends 48 days during the summer of 2015 traversing America. It starts in the Bay Area, heads through Southern California, sweeping across the Southern states, a pilgrimage to Cooperstown, N.Y., left turn to Las Vegas and then to a cemetery headstone in Inglewood. That’s more than 11,000 miles through 38 states.

The goal, translucent: Interview every baseball player represented in that pack. If possible. A way to return to one’s baseball card-loving roots. Discover more about the person than just a set of numbers on the back stained in chewing gum.

The execution, perfect imperfection: Which makes this far more enriching than we could have ever imagined.

51yBeoOz3XL._AC_8ba410cb25524300a7c862aea4899601_frontWhen your lineup is tracking down former Dodgers Steve Yeager and Rick Sutcliffe, former Angels Gary Pettis and Al Cowens, Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, former All-Stars Doc Gooden, Garry Templeton, Vince Coleman and Lee Mazilli, plus — and the real gems — Richie Hebner, Jaime Cocanower, Rance Mulliniks and Randy Ready, get ready for some mixed results and unexpected pleasures.

715T7VWhNCL._AC_SY445_51WnYDjFDuL._AC_SX342_That’s the reality of how a fundamental idea evolves, against the grain, label up.

Just as how this college-prof-turned author may have thought that once he could finally get a publisher to bite on it, he could go around the country and connect with people in promoting it.

Things can just go sideways.

51lGrFhuk7L._SY445_510aGjijALL._AC_SY445_Balukjian, a 39-year-old director of the National History and Sustainability Program and biology teacher at Merritt College in Oakland, has done freelance pieces for several publications, but he need not worry about his writing skills here. The stories speak for themselves, and what becomes a cathartic trip for the soul also allows him to come to grips with some other things in his life.

This is definitely an adventure where we need to do little explaining and trust that the freshness of the ride will get one quickly immersed and unable to put it down until the journey finishes. But then again, we can’t help ourselves.

The guy gets to watch kung fu movies with Templeton, play Cards Against Humanity with Cocanower, go bowling and lift weights with Ready. And listen to those who definitely have lives on the other side of the diamond experience.

With Yeager in the leadoff role of this lineup, we find him back at his Jersey Mike’s shop in Granada Hills, doting on his wife, Charlene, and with his kids, trying to quit smoking (he eventually does), and admitting: “There might be some people that think I’m tougher than I look. Don’t let the facial expression get you. I can sit there and watch a game with my glasses on and look like I’m boring a hole through you, but I might not be … Ya know, if the kids do something good, I cry.”

yeagerdodgersyeager marinersBy the way, in that ’86 set of Topps, it started off with Boomer as a Dodger, but he was done with the team by then after 14 seasons and starting a last go-around with Seattle as a 37-year-old backup to Bob Kearney and Scott Bradley. We still can’t even get our masks around that one.

Templeton, who Balukjian tracked down in San Marcos, confides in having a daughter in April of ’74, when he was 18, two years before his debut in St. Louis. He ended up gaining full custody during her high school years when she moved to San Diego and joined the rest of the Templeton family. But the more he reveals, the better this visit gets.

It’s not unlike what Balukjian uncovers when he get around to Cowens.

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He rests in Inglewood Park Cemetery across the street from the Forum. Acacia Slope, Lot 432, Grave F. The headstone: “Cowens, Husband, Father, and Grandfather, 1951-2002.” With his nickname: Ace.

“I rest his baseball card on top (of the headstone) and take a picture,” writes Balukjian, after learning far more than he might have expected after locating Cowens’ closest surviving family members.

If it takes the right person at the right time to shuffle this deck, Balukjian and all his baggage brings it to us with honesty, humor, and an inquisitive nature that allows you to ride shotgun without sharing in the expenses. When it’s over, you might wonder why you never did this yourself. Maybe you will — aside from time, money and perhaps social distancing issues?

And when it’s done, Balukjian leaves us with this sort of epiphany:

Everything changes except for this one constant: As long as you’re breathing, you will always have whatever is right in front of you. Make it count.

A very cool author Q&A

bradeFrom his home in Oakland, Dr. Balukjian, a self-proclaimed bug collector, took a semester off teaching at Merritt College in Oakland (you can see his RateMyProfessor.com scores when he taught biology at Laney College) so he could focus on this book promotion, but he really hasn’t been able to spring himself loose. As the director of the Natural History & Sustainability Program at Merritt, he is trying to help coordinate ways to keep students engaged with online classes through May.
Balukjian, who also once started a Ph.D. program in Environmental Science Policy and Management at Cal-Berkley in 2006, has this classic description of himself on his website:

Brad Balukjian is a doctor, but not one who can write you a prescription (unless you’re a sick insect). He hated school when he was little, but now loves it so much that after graduating from the 23rd grade, he has moved to the other side of the desk to teach natural history at Merritt College in Oakland, California. He has strong opinions about the value of education, exposure to nature, and utility infielders from the 1980s, and is pursuing a hybrid career of teaching, writing, and research to get the word out that science is accessible and (gasp!) fun. He chose this path because he never wants to stop learning and apparently has a strong aversion to money. This is his first time writing in the third-person.

Balukjian, who once had an L.A. Times fellowship that allowed him write science stories while he was given a desk in the sports department at the old downtown building, gives us more about this book, about this process and what he wanted to achieve:

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QQQQQDid you think going in, most of these ex-players would accept the premise of your journey/book project and cooperate, based on how you approached this as some sort of social experiment, trying to document history as well as find a human side to a cardboard photo?

AAAAThe beauty of the pack of baseball cards is to get a random sample. My favorite players were the underdog guys. This was my secret way to write about them. You could never do a book about Don Carmen or Jamie Cocanower or Randy Ready. What I tried to reinforce to all of them was that I wasn’t a traditional sports writer and this would be interesting beyond the field. That helped me. What was so rewarding and pleasant is how open they were, willing to be vulnerable.

QQQQQIt was also very interesting how you could incorporate your own journey into this, not just do a collection of “Whatever happened to …?” pieces that otherwise didn’t have a common thread.

AAAAI always knew this book would be tough and ambitious. I didn’t set out to write a “sports book,” but I knew it would get shelved in “sports,” where there are all sorts of biographies or stories about a particular season or a particular team. It’s rare, unless you’re that athlete who is the focus, to have the narrator integrated into the story. This becomes a mix of memoir, and baseball, and travel, and the challenge is how to keep it to 15 magazine profiles stapled together. Continue reading “Day 9 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Waxing nostalgic, beyond a journey of re-connecting with cardboard gods”

Day 8 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: How to get into the swing of things? Drop and drive with this Diamond gem

turner
From Chad Moriyama, in 2019, at DodgersDigest.com: http://dodgersdigest.com/2019/05/13/justin-turners-may-turnaround-powered-by-minor-adjustment/

“Swing Kings: The Inside Story of
Baseball’s Home Run Revolution”

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The author:
Jared Diamond

The publishing info:
William Morrow/Harper Collins
$28.99
336 pages
Released March 31

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At IndieBound.org
At the author’s WSJ home base.

The review in 90 feet or less

Craig Wallenbrock … where have we heard that name?

Flash back to a Tom Verducci piece for Sports Illustrated – March 21, 2018, headlined “Countdown to Liftoff: How Joey Gallo and Josh Donaldson Embody Baseball’s New Era

Verducci wrote: “A confluence of three forces has changed offenses radically: technology, analytics and failed ballplayers turned private hitting tutors —t he veritable garage-and-basement indy start-ups of this disruption. Among them: a 71-year-old college dropout cum surfer, a former high school coach, a failed independent league player, a self-taught Internet baseball junkie and a .204 hitter who was released from Class A ball after just two seasons and four home runs. Not a major league at bat among them.”

That would be Wallenbrock, whom Verducci would later refer to in the story as the “Oracle of Santa Clarita.”

You can hang more than 10 Southern California angles on him. Once the hitting coach for Art Masmanian at Mt. San Antonio College. A guy who Dodgers special assistant and former MLB standout Raul Ibanez persuaded the team to hire as a consultant in 2016, and immediately sent Chris Taylor to work with. Taylor then connects with Robert Van Scoyoc, who would become the team’s hitting coach in the dugout. (The same Van Scoyoc who went 1-for-10 as a senior at Hart High in Newhall in 2005.)

That’s how the pages of this go up and down like the Dodger Stadium escalator between the field level and press box.

Through Wallenbroch came Doug Latta, a former Fairfax High guy from UCLA and Cal Lutheran who had a batting cage in Calabasas. That’s where Justin Turner came upon Latta, thanks to former Mets teammate Marlon Byrd, who stumbled onto him first.

Before swinging from the heels to take in all that’s in this compilation by the Wall Street Journal scribe Diamond, you need to get the visual on pages viii, which is pre-prologue and introduction and subsequent 16 chapters. The chart of the “Swing Kings Family Trees” looks like the Swiss Family Robinson of baseball, with who begat whom, what  influenced what, and how it all whiffs together into what we have created in today’s game — a repurposed attack at the plate that, simply put, involves more of a upper cut than chopping down at a pitched ball.

The results can’t be denied. Continue reading “Day 8 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: How to get into the swing of things? Drop and drive with this Diamond gem”