Book Review: The Kid

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Shani heard an NPR story about a new book about Ted Williams called, The Kid. It’s written by Ben Bradlee, Jr., and the word often used to describe it is “comprehensive.” That’s a good descriptor. The book is 853 pages long.

Now…Ted Williams is an interesting guy. First off, he’s in the running for the best hitter of all times. His career On Base Percentage (OBP) is higher than anyone in baseball history. But there’s way more than that. Twice during his baseball career, he dropped out to be part of various war efforts (WW2 and Korean War) to join as a fighter pilot, of which he was highly decorated. After his baseball career he was a championship fisherman. Plus (and this is always important for a good biography) he was a total disaster of a human being.

To top it off, his body was cryogenically frozen after he died. This was part of a bitter dispute between his kids.

So all that makes for a good book, right? That’s some cool subject matter. I hadn’t read anything about Ted Williams, so it seemed like a good call.

It started out terrific because the intro was actually about the cryogenic freezing. Apparently there’s some lab in Arizona where you can pay $60,000 to have your dead body frozen. The idea is that when the technology is developed where they can bring you back to life, you can be thawed out.

But here’s what’s so damn funny. Part of the process is that they sever the head from the body and store it in a separate frozen container. So your head and body are frozen separately. Meaning, not only do they need to develop the technology to bring you back to life before they thaw you out, but they also need technology to re-attach a head.

Lunacy. But then I got to the next chapter. And in the next 30 pages I learned thing like:

Ted William’s Aunt Veacy sometimes went by the name Mae. And get this: she also went be Vivian too! I couldn’t believe it. But wait, there’s more: His cousin, Gennaro, sometimes used the name Gin.

I got to page 35. At this point I was thoroughly lost amongst the roll call of cousins and aunts, and ready to find a shorter Ted Williams book to read.

Hope you had a great holiday. I’ve got a great baseball-related story coming up based on our Christmas Eve. I’ll give you a preview:

Q: Name the only team in four professional sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) to win the championship every time it has qualified for postseason play.

The answer (and more) in the next post.

 

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Book Review: Miracle Ball, by Brian Biegel

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In 1951, Bobby Thompson of the Giants hit a walk off home run against the Dodgers to win the pennant. It is the first year baseball was televised, it had 2 NYC rival teams, and it is often called the biggest moment in baseball history. They call it the “Shot Heard Round the World.”

However, the ball was never found – which is one of baseball’s biggest mysteries.

Miracle Ball is the story about the author’s search for the ball. I’d say there are good things and bad things about this book.

The good:

The hunt for the ball is exciting as hell. It’s like a great mystery movie or a baseball history episode of CSI. This is a true story, and it is so much fun going along for the search and following clues.

The guy gets forensic evidence, tracks down long-lost witnesses, has secret meetings with shady New Jersey mobsters…and each time he gets closer and closer to finding this ball. It’s a terrific ride – all the more terrific because it’s a real-life mystery.

The bad:

The author works really hard to portray himself as this struggling hero working to overcome the odds. He suffers from pretty severe depression and spends a lot of time going into how hard it is for him to keep pushing through on this quest.

Not to belittle depression, but it really makes for an annoying “struggle”. I kept finding myself thinking: “Dude, you’re a rich TV producer on a quest to find a baseball. I’m sorry if sometimes you’re sad inside.”

To make matters worse, the guy lives with his parents and the book has detailed conversations where he calls his father “Papa”.

“But Papa, what if I can’t do it? What if I never can find this ball?”

“Papa, I don’t know if I’m brave enough for this.”

“I don’t want to let you down, Papa?”

Makes you want to puke, right? Me too.

But all said and done, it’s a fun read that gets into baseball history in a way that’s exciting. It’s pretty well written too (albeit, by a ghost writer – no surprise). I’d recommend Miracle Ball to baseball fans, non-baseball fans, and most of all to Papas everywhere.

Book That Aggravated Me Review

Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, by Lucas Mann

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Let’s start with the caveat: I have been trying to get my writing published for almost 20 years. Any writer who gets published makes me jealous and angry. Now on to the book…

This book is a great idea. The author spent a solid year living in Clinton, Iowa, home of the Class A baseball team: The Lumberkings.

The author really does his homework. He gets to know the players, the coaches, the fans, the announcers, the management, the umpires. He really digs in deep and gets into the nitty gritty of how they feel. He gets into the bitterness and arrogance of players, the gorgeous weirdness of the crazy fans, and spends a lot of time telling you about the dying town of Clinton, Iowa.

It’s a GREAT idea for a book. Tremendous. How interesting to read about this amazing sub-culture way below the baseball we see on ESPN? How many great stories, bizarre characters, and surreal situations there have to be in this? You can see why this got published, right.

Now here’s what drive me crazy: the guy’s writing doesn’t pull it through. All this terrific material and you find yourself drifting off as you plod through each paragraph. He sets up these players that should all be quite distinct, but 2 pages later you’re wondering which player is which. The crazy fans, who really are as odd as you can get, are unmemorable and boring.

Worse off, as the book goes along, more and more of it becomes about the author himself. It’s about his feelings as he struggles to find meaning in his life and stay with this assignment. He describes how hard it is the drive late at night to games and goes on for pages about how sad he finds the truckstop he stops at to pee. (Side note: What man stops at a truckstop to pee in the middle of the night in Iowa? Just pull over on the side of the road, dumbass.)

Worse off, the book is getting lots of good reviews. It’s being praised for it’s depth and it’s prose.

I don’t know – I gave up after 240 pages. Nothing was keeping my interest, no tension at all, no suspense, and the writing couldn’t keep me along for the ride. Quite the opposite.

So with bitterness and jealousy I recommend passing on this book.

Returning to the Scene of the Bleed

Note: In a sneaky way, this is a book review of W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa, which is the basis for the movie Field of Dreams.

This weekend we went on a family hike to Tohickon State Park in Pennsylvania. It is the second time we’ve gone.

The first time we went was 3 years ago. Alex was 4 and Jack was 6. The hike is a gorgeous trek across tall grass meadows, through forested hills, over rocky creeks with small waterfalls, and finally up to a rocky ridgeline that has a gorgeous view of a wide valley. You can see the river way down below and look out over miles of green trees. In all it’s about 2 miles to get to the ridge – just about the limit of a 4-year-old’s endurance.

But when we did it 3 years ago, Alex was amazing. Both boys were. We have a great time making our way up and over the trail. Shani spotted a garter snake that me and the boys surrounded and tried to catch.

We were literally 15 feet from the ridgeline when Alex tripped and started to cry. No big deal, right? I ran over to comfort him, got him to move his hand so I could see where he’d hit his knee…

“Oop. Shani, we’re turning around.”

“What?”

“No big deal. Alex just cut his knee pretty good. Let’s go.”

Pretty good is an understatement. The cut went across his kneecap and I could see the bone. It was bleeding a lot. I pulled my shirt off, tied it really tight over his knee, put him up on my shoulders, and we double-timed it back to the car.

Now…this is going to sound crazy, but the hike back was actually fun. Alex actualy enjoyed the ride. Jack understood the gravity of the situation and hiked back without any complaint. And we made good time.

We got in the car and headed right to the ER. I marched in and had myself a pretty rugid, badass moment:

A shirtless dad strides into the ER, carrying a young, bleeding child.

I felt manly and heroic. The nurses came running up to me and carefully took Alex as they asked me what happened. They complimented my effort, carrying the wounded boy for 2 miles. What a good dad I was.

However…as soon as Alex was safely away with Shani and the nurses, my manly moment turned into a pure white-trash moment:

You enter the ER. There sitting in the waiting room is a flabby man without a shirt on.

I felt like a complete loser. And this was not a moment – it was 45 minutes. Old ladies, families, nurses, hospital employees – each one that came into the waiting room would look at me and shake their head. None of them sat anywhere near me. I did my best to puff out my chest and cover my love handles. My back kept sticking against my chair.

A lousy ending to the hike.

Fast forward to this weekend. The hike was just terrific. We shared trail mix and passed the water. The boys scaled fallen trees and chased toads through the leaves. Shani and I were laughing about something, I can’t remember what. We made the ridge in about 90 minutes of easy hiking.

As we were coming back, Shani and I were talking about where we would get ice cream after the hike. The boys were ahead of us. I had gone for a long mountain bike ride that morning. It was in the 80s with a steady, soft breeze.

I watched my boys hiking next to each other on a path meant for one person. They have no sense of personal space between them. It’s shared space and their shoulders and hands touch all the time as they walk without them even thinking about it. It made me think of the end of Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa.

The story is about a farmer in Iowa who builds a baseball park in the middle of his field because a voice tells him to do it. The ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and a bunch of other ghosts come play there every night.

So at the end of the story, the main character is sitting in the bleachers. Shoeless Joe asks:

“Is this heaven?”

“No, it’s Iowa,” the guy responds.

But then he thinks about it. His daughter is snuggling him and he’s got a wife in the house that he adores. He’s sitting there watching baseball. It’s a perfect night. And he says…

“Actually, Joe, you might be right.”

A special day. Now…if you’ll excuse me, the boys are in bed and I’m going to give Shani an extremely thorough check for ticks. We went through some tall grass today. You can never be too careful.

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Book Review: Babe, the Legend Comes to Life

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Babe Ruth had the appetite, strength, stamina, and libido of 10 men. He could eat 3 cream pies in one sitting. He could screw 6 girls in one night. He could drink 15 pitchers of beer. And after any of this, he could (and often did) head right to the ballpark and smash homeruns.

He was fun and became the most popular man in the world for a while.

He became the greatest baseball player ever for a few reasons:

1)    He was flat out super human. They say that when he was driving he could read an oncoming car’s license plate 5 seconds before anyone else in the car.

2)    Up until that time, it was a huge embarrassment to strike out. Baseball was about bunting and running and fielding. To strike out was humiliating for the batter. It was like a professional golfer whiffing at the tee.

Babe didn’t give a crap. He went up and swung as hard as he could every time. He struck out all the time – but he also started smashing home runs at an unheard of rate. It was a complete paradigm shift in the game.

3)    There were a lot of other factors. Baseball introduced a new type of harder ball, they introduced fences in the ball field, they purposely expanded the strike zone…there are a lot of reasons that baseball geeks will point out. Babe had a lot of help – but still, he was pretty friggin’ amazing on top of it all.

Overall, I’d say don’t bother reading this book unless you’re really into baseball. It basically reaffirms the legend you already know about Babe Ruth.

Tomorrow night: Angels game with my tied-for-favorite Uncle Coddy. My Aunt Mary knows someone who got us tickets. The view looks like…

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Book Review: Juiced by Jose Canseco

Note: Lots of non-baseball topics recently. So I’m posting a baseball book review today and tomorrow. I’m also going to an Angels game Wednesday, so I’ll have some solid baseball stuff from that.

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This is not a good book at all. I guess it’s kind of a fun read. What struck me most about reading it is what a complete asshole Jose Canseco comes across as. Considering it’s his book, you’d think he could portray himself better, but the guy can’t seem to help himself.

But here’s the thing about this book. It is universally scoffed at, and Canseco is thought of as a complete buffoon with no credibility whatsoever. He’s a total outcaste from baseball. But in spite of all that, this is the book that blew the lid off the steroid era. In fact, everything the guy said turned out to be the truth.

Canseco claimed Mark McGuire did steroids. McGuire denied it up and down and everyone stood up to say what a no-good liar Canseco was.

But soon thereafter, there’s McGuire in front of Congress, getting choked up and refusing to answer questions about steroid use because he doesn’t want to incriminate himself. [sidenote: I loathe Mark McGuire]

Canseco claimed A-Rod took steroids. A-Rod responds all over the news with denial, denial, denial. All the baseball talking heads are laughing it off and saying that Canseco is lying.

Then suddenly, there’s A-Rod on ESPN confessing to steroid use in a hard-hitting interview.

But here’s the thing about steroids. People ask: who cares? What does it matter if some of these assholes are taking steroids? Why is this worth Congress’s time?

Here’s the domino effect of unchecked steroids:

  • If some players are taking steroids, then they have a competitive advantage. Which means all players have to take them if they want to keep up (and make millions more).
  • And if all major league players take steroids, then all minor league players have to take them if they want to make it to the majors.
  • And if you want to make it into the minors? All the college and high school kids hoping to be good enough to get drafted are probably going to want to think about taking steroids too.

And that’s just baseball.

So it’s not about giving rats ass about the long-term health of dickwads like McGuire and A-Rod. I hope their kidneys explode. But steroids have the potential for thousands and thousands of athletes to be putting that awful shit into their bodies.

Juiced isn’t really worth reading unless you feel like a study in human assholery. But historically, it’s a pretty fascinating book.

Book Review: Eight Men Out

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OK, so this is the book about the “Black Sox Scandal” in 1919. This is the story of the 1919 White Sox team who were paid off by gamblers to throw the World Series. If you’ve seen the movie “Field of Dreams” with Shoeless Joe Jackson – these are the guys.

It’s another baseball book I wouldn’t recommend unless you like baseball history, although it’s pretty amazing how blatantly these guys were in blowing the series. It was almost comical. Plus, it’s a pretty compelling argument for baseball players to get paid millions.

But here’s what I found really fascinating. It’s a wild historical parallel.

In 1918, when the scandal made the news it was devastating for baseball. Imagine it – suddenly fans find out that the game they root for so wildly is fixed. Disgusting. The popularity of the game took a nosedive. It was really in danger of folding.

Enter Babe Ruth. Suddenly here is this guy smashing home runs in a way no one in history had ever dreamed possible.

But really it’s not just Babe Ruth. Behind the scenes – baseball introduces a harder ball that goes farther, expands the strike zone, puts fences into the ball parks – they do all kinds of things to support Babe’s magical home run power. Why? Because suddenly the public is captivated with baseball again. The game is saved.

In other words, Babe Ruth is a product of the Black Sox scandal.

Now…travel with me to the 1990s.

1994 is the baseball strike. Millionaire players and billionaire owners fighting over money while ticket prices are already outrageous. Once more the fans are disgusted. Popularity plummets. Once more baseball itself is in dire straits.

But then…Mark McQuire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa. And oh my God they’re chasing the record for most home runs in a season. They smash the records. It’s magical. It’s historical. The crowds are loving it.

But really…it’s the juice. And of course baseball turned a blind eye to the steroids these guys were taking. Because once again…baseball is saved.

Book Review: The Glory of Their Times

I swear this is a book review, just give me a little leeway.

Whenever my kids want to pretend we’re all baseball players, they ask me what I am. Am I a first baseman? A catcher? I always say I’m a relief pitcher.

“I’m pretty good, but not a big name. Some years I’m really valuable; some years I get shelled. I move around every few seasons.”

I figure it’s more realistic. I’m not a very good athlete, but I’m a crafty, creative son of a bitch when it comes to competition. And hell, I’d still be making a few million a year.

In all honesty, as much as I love baseball, I never dream of being a ball player. But right now I’m about halfway through “The Glory of Their Times” by Lawrence A Ritter.

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Ritter wrote this book in the 60s. Ty Cobb died, and Ritter realized that all this history of the game was going to be gone soon. So he spent years tracking down ballplayers from the 1890s through the 1920s. In shacks, in nursing homes…he taped long interviews with them as they reminisced about their careers. Each chapter is another ball player telling their story.

Holy moly the lives these guys lived. They would hop trains or ride around in a covered wagon, sleeping in barns or just out under the stars. They’d go from town to town playing other teams and make their living that way (barely). They’d get discovered by chance, usually.  And then when they got to the majors they were in these dramatic, legendary games that were outrageously exciting. The adventures these guys had – they were like samurais wandering the landscape.

Now THAT sound like a glamorous life to me. Not glamour in the Kardashian-esque way today’s baseball players live, but glamorous in an adventurous, colorful, living-large way. That’s a ball player I’d like to be.

This is a terrific book. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you’d like it. It’s about history and great stories – not about stars. And in every chapter you can hear these guys voices in your head. What a project and what a great book.

So in conclusion, I would like to be a ballplayer in the 1890s-1920s. All I need is a machine that lets me travel back in time and another machine that makes me good at sports. Let me know if you can help with either of these things.

Ty Cobb Stories You Can Tell at Parties

I am currently at 887 followers/facebook fans. Huge thanks to old friend, Bill McCarthy, who is posting relentlessy on Facebook for me.

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The book is called Cobb, by Al Stump. The movie with Tommy Lee Jones is actually about the writer trying to write this book. Here’s the low down.

Ty Cobb was insane. Not “crazy” in the fun way we talk about athletes. “That wide receiver is crazy! He’ll jump up and catch the ball even though he knows he’s gonna get hit!”

Ty Cobb should have been in a mental hospital. He was like the nutcase that it takes 6 cops to arrest. Everyone hated him, he hated everyone and everything, and somehow that all got channeled into baseball.

Next time you get into a baseball conversation, here are some terrific stories you can tell about Ty Cobb:

1)    When the author went to Ty Cobb’s house to start writing this book, Ty Cobb was living in a house in California with no power. Cobb was not poor. In fact, Cobb was a millionaire (not because of baseball, but because he was a genius at the stock market). The house had no power because 2 years prior, Cobb thought the power company had billed him $9 extra. After a nasty dispute, Cobb refused to give them another cent and had lived in darkness since.

2)    As an old man, Ty Cobb carried a duffle bag with him wherever he went. Inside the bag was a million dollars in cash and a gun, which he would frequently pull on people (including the book’s author).

3)    One morning when Cobb was a baseball player and the Tigers were on the road, Ty Cobb was attacked by three men. Cobb had a gun on him but it misfired. Cobb was stabbed three times, including a knife wound in the back near his kidneys. Cobb proceeded to fight so ferociously that the men (with knives) fled. Cobb then chased down the guy with the knife and beat the man to death with the butt of his gun. But wait…

From there, Cobb went to the ballpark and hit 3 for 4 including a triple.

Then…Cobb went to the hospital.

4)    One time a pitcher hit Cobb on purpose. (Most pitchers knew better.) Cobb took his base. Next time up, Cobb laid a short bunt down the first base line. The pitcher ran to field it and Cobb literally ran over the man. Gouged the holy hell out of the pitcher with Cobb’s sharpened spikes. Left the pitcher lying in the base path, bleeding all over.

5)    Cobb was the player/manager once when his team was facing Babe Ruth. Cobb’s pitcher threw Babe a strike. Cobb is in the outfield and starts ranting at his pitcher: “You idiot, did you miss the sign? We’re walking Ruth intentionally! Now walk him, you idiot!”

Babe steps back, expecting to be walked. Pitcher throws another strike.

Cobb goes ballistic. Comes charging all the way from the outfield. Swearing and screaming at his pitcher. Calling him all kinds of names for missing the sign to walk Babe Ruth. (Everyone thought this was pretty funny, especially Babe.)

Finally, Cobb goes back to the outfield, Ruth steps up, expecting the intentional ball.

In comes strike three. It was all a set up.

This is a fun book. It does a nice job telling the story of one of the most interesting people to ever play baseball.

Book Review: October 1964 by David Halberstam.

(I read a crapload of baseball books. I’ll try and write a review for the non-baseball-nut.)

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I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It’s written in a readable, light novel style that has compelling characters and plot. It takes you through the 1964 season, which was the end of the greatest of the Yankees dynasties. Made me think of the currently collapsing Yankees dynasty.

There are 4 things I really liked about this book, and 1 thing I loved.

4 Things I liked:

  • Mickey Mantle once hit a home run that was 595 feet – which is actually TWO home runs in many parks. His entire career he wanted to hit one out of Yankees stadium (he once came close – which is unimaginable).
  • The dozens of ingenious ways Whitey Ford would cheat to scuff up the ball.
  • The awesome, dark rage of Bob Gibson (who I think is the best pitcher in history). Imagine the angriest person you’ve ever worked with in the worst mood possible. That was Bob Gibson pitching to you.
  • Learning about Buck O’Neil (first black scout in major leagues – I’ll probably write a blog just about this guy). Someone really worth looking up to. I handed up this section of the book to my leadership team at work.

But the thing I loved most: This is a perfect gift for my father-in-law — and picking gifts for him is hard.

Here’s the deal – my father-in-law is a real-deal baseball fan. He grew up in St. Louis and legitimately roots for the Cardinals. We went to a game last summer together, which was terrific.

So I figure this can supplement his baseball facts.

He’s  SUPER smart. He’s a Phd Biologist who headed up a lab involved in the human genome project. He wrote some of the foundational computer programs for gene mapping. It’s crazy when you google the man.

This book is something he’ll really enjoy reading. He’ll love a story of his Cardinals triumphing over my Yanks. Plus it will help him a little in the Cardinals fact department too.