Sunday, October 26, 2014

2013-2014 Baseball Books You Should Read

American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball by Larry Ruttman Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (April 1, 2013)

The Jewish presence of baseball extends beyond the playing field.  It reaches to the Commissioner's Office (Bud Selig), labor leaders (Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr), the owners box (Jerry Reinsdorf, Stuart Sternberg), front office executives (Theo Epstein, Mark Shapiro), sportswriters (Murray Chass, Ross Newhan, Ira Berkow, Roger Kahn) and fans such as Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank.

Their life stories and others have been compiled from nearly 50 in-depth interviews and arranged by decade.  The edifying and entertaining work is an important part of our oral and cultural history.

Everyone interviewed talks about what it was like to have grown up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel.  They talk about being in the midst of players who have helped to make baseball into what it is today.  What their stories do, most importantly, is show the history of Jews in America's pastime.

Throwing Hard Easy: Reflections on a Life in Baseball by Robin Roberts
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2014)

Reprinted posthumously, this edition offers a new forward by his son, James Roberts, as well as a new introduction from his co-author C. Paul Rogers, III.

Roberts made his debut in 1948 and would become one of the many inductees in Cooperstown.  Roberts wasn't just a dominating pitcher but an impressive storyteller, too.  His experiences before, during, and after his 19-year career made for an extraordinary life.  His memoir recalls his childhood, playing days, and life after retiring from baseball.

Alexander Cartwright: The Life behind the Baseball Legend by Monica Nucciarone
Paperback: 328 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2014)

We know that Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. (1820–92) was present during the organization of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York in the mid-1800s but since that time, Cartwright has been celebrated as one of baseball's founders in the same case as Abner Doubleday.  Both, however, have seen their clain to fame come with both conjecture and controverse.  In Nucciarone's book, his complex life comes into focus.

The author seperates fact from speculation.  While Cartwright may not be the one of legend, what we get is a character that is colorful, complicated, and immense as any legend that he may have inspired.

Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey by Tim Hornbaker
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Sports Publishing (March 4, 2014)

Charles Albert “The Old Roman” Comiskey was a man that had precision in speech and could work a room with handshakes and smiles.  Comiskey invested some five decades in baseball and cared deeply for both the fans and the players.

He's been vilified as a cheapskate and a driving force behind the 1919 White Sox team that the the World Series.  It couldn't have been any further from the truth as Hornbaker's book shows.  Comiskey was terrorized to the core with the scandal.  Mangled versions of the truth have circulated and have been immortalized by the mainstream media.

This is a man who gave away tickets to the Boy Scouts and opposed raising ticket prices for the World Series.  He put the fans and players first.  Amongst now-common practices, Comiskey has been credited with playing first base either behind the bag or onside the foul line.

This is an elegant portrait of his long career as a player, manager, and owner and tells his story while showcasing facts that most don't know.  The truth, as is the case, needs to be told and that's what Hornbaker does.

Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (April 1, 2014)

This was a classic World Series between two teams that climbed their way to the top after finishing in the bottom of the standings in the 1990 season.  Five games were decided by just one run.  Four games were decided by the last at-bat, including Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in Game 6. 
No World Series had seen three games go into extra innings until the 1991 World Series.

More than statistics, this is a series in which both teams took a risk, followed their guts, and played with both integrity and heart.

Tim Wendel recalls what made this series a great one game-by game.  He reaches back into baseball history to show us just what made these moments so great.  Nobody can ever forget Puckett's home run or the game four and seven matchups between Jack Morris and John Smoltz.

Wendel makes an argument that this was "the last fine time in Baseball."

Mover and Shaker: Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers, and Baseball's Westward Expansion by Andy McHue
Hardcover: 488 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (May 1, 2014)

Walter O'Malley is one of the most influential and controversial owners in sports history.  For the first time ever, we have an objective, complete, and nuanced account of the O'Malley's life.  He doesn't present O'Malley has a villain or angel.  Rather, he presents O'Malley as a rational and hardheaded businessman.  He was a major force for three decades in baseball.  His managing and marketing practices radically changed the shape of the game.

He's remembered best for moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.  But what is known about O'Malley leading up to the move is either unknown or a complete myth.  Sportswriters distorted his personal story because of their hatred of him after the Dodgers moved west.

The Closer by Mariano Rivera
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (May 6, 2014)

There's no denial that Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time in Major League Baseball.  Nobody can list the greatest Yankees of all time without including Rivera.  Just by opening the bullpen door, Rivera intimidated thousands of batters.

In this book, he finally shares his life story and journey.  When the Yankees first scouted him, he didn't own a glove and his big toe was sticking out of his shoe.

He didn't know who Babe Ruth was, spoke no English, and never had flown in a plane.  He knew that with his love for family and G-d to guide him that he would throw a baseball exactly where he wanted to...every single time.

Rivera, with some astonishing candor, shares the stories of the championships, bosses, rivalries, the  struggles of being a Latino player in the U.S., and the challenges of maintaining deep religious values in sports.

He writes about his drive to win, the secret to his composure, how he discovered the cutter, and Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.  He writes how the lowest moment of his career would turn into a blessing.

Rivera takes us into the Yankees clubhouse and discusses the other players of the Core Four.

Friday, October 24, 2014

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About by Dave Barry
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)

For the first time since 2010, Dave Barry is back with a collection of brand new essays that offer a unique look at fatherhood, family, and death.  He delivers a hilarious collection of parenting, families, sex, camels, women, brain surgery, sex with women, air travel, brain farts, and so much more.

Barry's daughter turned 13 and he turned 65.  For Barry, 65 is not the new 50.  No matter what age, Barry is still one of the funniest writers on this planet.

Barry even writes about a trip to Israel, which had me cracking up a storm.  When you've rode on camels and slept in a Bedouin tent, you know exactly what kind of experience that he had.  I can say that with 100% certainty as I went on a Birthright trip in 2007.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 4, 2014)

This book from Novak is one of the can't-miss books of the past year.  After serving as a writer and actor for many seasons on The Office, Novak decided to write a collection of short stories.  The result is one of the newest voices in the world of American fiction.

Novak's work is endlessly entertaining, sensitive, and very original.  His zing and humor brings to mind the work of both Woody Allen and Steve Martin.

The pieces in this collection have one thing in common: they share humor.  It's like nothing else that's been done before.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: Wilson by A. Scott Berg

Wilson by A. Scott Berg
Paperback: 832 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (September 2, 2014)

When this book was first printed in 2013, the United States quietly marked the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's presidential inauguration--most were focused on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's tragic passing in 1963.

Berg is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.  He spent a decade researching and writing this biography of the nation's 28th President of the United States.

Wilson, who served from 1913-1921, rose from a Southern boyhood as the son of a minister through the ranks of academia and politics before leading the United States into the dawn of a new era.  Wilson's led the nation during World War 1 and would go on to institute many progressive reforms that shaped the country as we know it today.  These reforms would pave the way for the New Deal.  Wilson also laid the foundation of the country's foreign policy for the rest of the century.

Despite all of this, Wilson is one of the least-remembered of the great presidents.  He is often thought of as a rigid, dour figure who failed in bringing the United States into the League of Nations.  The League of Nations was the forerunner to the United Nations.

Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, leading his wife to act as a de factor president.

In under 1,000 pages, Berg clears away the myths and misconceptions about President Wilson.  What he presents is a book on a man that was a statesman, intellectual, speaker, politician, and an idealist.

With access to hundreds of thousands of documents, including the letters of Wilson's personal physician and one of his daughters, this is easily the definitive biography of President Woodrow Wilson.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith (The Library of America)
Daniel Okrent, editor. Afterword by Terence Smith
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Library of America (May 16, 2013)

When people think of great sportswriters, Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith is one of the first names that come to mind.  With a nationally syndicated column in both the New York Herald Tribune and New York Times, Smith was widely read from the 1940s through his retirement in the 1980s.  He was the first sportswriter to have won the Pullitzer Prize for commentary.

His sports commentaries came with literary panache and wry humor.

Writer and editor Daniel Okrent presents the best of Smith's columns.  His work, to this day, remains the gold standard in sportswriting.  It still shows many years later.

 Smith's profiles of some of the biggest figures in sports show how he can distill a career's essence in just one column.  There are the accounts of some of the most historic occasions in sports and they are joined by some of the more offbeat stories that display the writer's wit, intelligence, and feeling.

We get some personal glimpses into Red's life and work such as his passion for fishing.  "My Press-Box Memoirs", a 1975 reminiscence written for Esquire, is collected here for the first time.

Any aspiring sportswriter or sports fan in general will want to read this book.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review - Men, Women & Children: A Novel

Prior to seeing Men, Women, & Children this weekend, I read the book written by Chad Kultgen.  It's not a pretty book even though I racked through it in only three days.  At just over 300 pages, it is a very quick read.

Not being familiar with Kultgen's work prior to reading, I had only known that he co-created the new NBC sitcom, Bad Judge.  While Bad Judge keeps things cleaner for TV, the book doesn't keep things clean.  Far from it, actually.  It's very graphic and even though Kultgen's message means well, it's certainly not a book I would read again or even recommend to anyone else.

Kultgen's book explores the sexual pressures of junior high students and their parents.