Extra innings: The books that didn’t make the list, and those just out of our reach

Those who tried but didn’t quite squeeze themselves into the 30 baseball books in 30 days of April ’11 list, some for reasons beyond our control:

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== “Before the Machine: The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Reds” by Mark J. Schmetzer (Clerisy Press Publisher, 256 pages, $15.95, available at the publisher’s site (linked here): “The Cincinnati team is one of the freaks of nature,” says Dodgers vice president Fresco Thompson late in the 1961 season. “They are leading the league with a club consisting mostly of castoffs and nondescripts. This whole Cincy team defies form, but you have to give the guys credit. They have banded together, many in a last-ditch stand, and they are trying to show their former employers that unloading them was a mistake.” Schmetzer, a Cincinnati native who wrote for a team fan newspaper starting in the 1980s, goes back to the 50th anniversary of the team (pre-Pete Rose) and tries to make it come alive again. Whether he succeeds much or not depends on if you’re a die-hard Reds fan. Dodgers fans will only want to look back on this to try to figure out what went wrong. On Aug. 13, the Dodgers, two years removed from a World Series title, led the Reds by 2 1/2 games. On Aug. 15, during the Reds’ 5-2 win over the Dodgers at the Coliseum, Frank Robinson snared an apparent single to right field by Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax and proceeded to throw him out at first base instead. “If someone did that to me, I would want to sit down and cry,” said Cincinnati shortstop Eddie Kasko. The next day, the Reds swept a Wednesday doubleheader against the Dodgers, 6-0 and 8-0, before some 72,140 fans, leaping past the Dodgers and into first. For good. It is also revealed that Dodgers coach Leo Durocher had been jeering at Robinson during the series, trying to get under his skin. It only got Robinson mad, and he retaliated with his bat and arm. The Reds would sweep a Sunday doubleheader against the Dodgers a couple weeks later in Cincinnati, beating Don Drysdale in the second game. Reds third baseman George Freese would end up hitting nine homers against the Dodgers in ’61.

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== “21: The Story of Roberto Clemente” by Wilfred Santiago (Fantagraphics Books, 200 pages, $22.99, available on Amazon.com), a graphic novel by an illustrator and writer from Puerto Rico, received a nice write up in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated (linked here), which included: “Santiago’s book owes a strong narrative debt to David Maraniss’s 2006 biography of Clemente, but it is driven by Santiago’s skill as a visual storyteller. His figures are drawn in a cartoon style, but mixed with clippings from newspapers and magazines they convey a hyperrealism that highlights the relationship between Clemente and the world around him. “You don’t have to make something realistic to make it feel real,” says Santiago. … Clemente proves to be an ideal subject for a graphic novel — a famously stylish player who attacked the game with controlled violence; a great fielder, famous for his laser throws; and a bad-ball hitter who stroked wicked line drives. … Santiago captures Clemente’s relentless vitality as a player, frames the story around the historical and religious traditions of Puerto Rico, and handles Clemente’s tragic death with restraint, all with a gimlet eye and the sensitivity of a true artist. It is a classic story given new life in this fresh, innovative telling.” If we could only have found it at the book store. Sports shelves? Graphic novels? You give it a shot.

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Upon further reviews: Ranking the 30 books in 30 days, 2011

A quick reference to all 30(-plus) books covered in this year’s month-long book review, with how we’d rank them:

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TOP SHELF:

== Day 18: “Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game” (linked here)

== Day 15: “Branch Rickey: Penguin Lives Biographies” by Jimmy Breslin (linked here)

== Day 14: “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports” (linked here)

== Day 28: “Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One (Jewish Lives)” (linked here)

== Day 13: “Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League” (linked here)

== Day 20: “The House That Ruth Built: A New Stadium, the First Yankees Championship, and the Redemption of 1923″ (linked here)

== Day 29: “The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals and Secrets Beneath the Stitches” (linked here)

== Day 5: “The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First” (linked here)

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GREAT EFFORT:

== Day 12: “Mexican American Baseball in Los Angeles (Images of Baseball)” (linked here)

== Day 7: “The Baseball Hall of Fame Collection: Celebrating the Greatest Players of All Time Through Rare Objects, Documents and Photos” (linked here)

== Day 22: “Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox” (linked here)

== Day 10: “Baseball and the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game” (linked here)

== Day 23: “New York Mets: 50 Amazin’ Seasons — The Complete Illustrated History” (linked here)

== Day 8: “Baseball: How To Play The Game: The Official Playing and Coaching Manual of Major League Baseball” (linked here)

== Day 17: “1961*: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase” (linked here)

== Day 6: “Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play” by Bill White (linked here)

== Day 26: “Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers” (linked here)

== Day 21: “Knuckler: My Life with Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch” by Tim Wakefield (linked here)

== Day 25: “Wizardry: Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Fielders Revealed” (linked here)

== Day 9: “The Bill James Handbook: 2011″ (linked here)

== Day 24: “The Runmakers: A New Way to Rate Baseball Players” (linked here)

THANKS FOR SHOWING UP:

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== Day 30: “Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella” (linked here)

== Day 11: “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Duel of the Century” (linked here)

== Day 16: “The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues” (linked here)

== Day 2: “A Band of Misfits: Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants” (linked here)

== Day 3: “Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2011″ (linked here)

== Day 4: “Baseball Prospectus 2011″ (linked here)

BELOW THE MENDOZA LINE …

== Day 19: “In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me” (linked here)

== Day 27: “Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees” (linked here)

== Day 1: “Donnie Baseball: The Definitive Biography of Don Mattingly” (linked here)

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30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 30 — Campy … a far cry from a campy tale

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The book: “Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella”

The author: Neil Lanctot

The vital stats: Simon & Schuster, 528 pages, $20

Find it: At the publisher’s site (linked here) as well as at Powell’s (linked here), Amazon.com (linked here) and Barnes & Noble (linked here)

The pitch: On page 91 of his 450-page epic on the life and times of Roy Campanella, author Neil Lanctot makes reference to Campy’s well-known 1959 book “It’s Good To Be Alive” as a “generally Pollyannaish autobiography,” which may be a nice way of saying that facts never got in the way of a story.

Long out of print, it was re-released in 1995 by University of Nebraska Press (linked here), so that anyone who ever knew about it, or only saw the movie version (1974, with Paul Winfield as Campanella), could have a reference point.

The point in pointing this out first is that there’s nothing sugar-coated about Lanctot’s effort. To the contrary. Whether the Campanella family approves of it nor not.

The fact is that they don’t, and Roy Campanella Jr., finally passed word onto Lanctot up front that none of his surviving children or step-children wouldn’t participate in being interviewed or suggesting people to be interviewed. That’s kind of too bad. Their version of how things happened might have been a softening blow to the somewhat harsh way it is all portrayed between these pages.

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The cover portrait is the first indication that this isn’t going to be pretty — a somewhat pained, grim expression that Campanella, giving the appearance of a tortured soul, far from the happy-go-lucky, always-have-a-little-boy-in-you demeanor that we’ve been told was far more common. It’s not revealed in the book, but the shot is actually Campanella’s 1954 Bowman baseball card, one that kids of that time probably put in the spokes of their bike wheels and didn’t think twice about.

This often dark tale really is two stories — starting with how the man of an Italian father and black mother started at the age of 15 playing his summers in the Negro Leagues and many reporters still couldn’t get his name right (“Campinelli,” “Confenello” … one even referred to him as “Leroy Campanello”).

Despite having aborted tryout attempts with different big-league teams — including his home-town Philadelphia — he finally worked his way into Branch Rickey’s “Great Experiment” and realized that he could have been the first to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Rickey choose the UCLA-educated Jackie Robinson over Campanella, whose education didn’t even get him a high school diploma despite him insisting he had one. One key thing not in Campanella’s favor: Rickey feared that Dodgers pitchers could be in conflict with how Campanella called a game behind the plate.

Campy made it in 1948 — a year after Robinson, but became just as popular. The decision didn’t really seem to bother Campanella, who went on to win more MVP awards than Robinson (three total) and become a Hall of Famer on his own right. Or was asked to appear on “What’s My Line?”

Then there’s the other half of his life, and here’s a fresh look at Campanella’s complicated personal existence after his car accident– he skidded into a light pole in the early hours of January 28, 1958, which prevented him from playing for the Dodgers once they moved to Los Angeles. None of that really is covered in Campanella’s autobiography, written so close to the time of the accident, and never really divulged before until Lanctot, who has written several Negro League history books, decided to have at it, with the encouragement, he says, of Robinson scholar Jules Tygiel.

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While Lanctot does include recent interviews with those such as Rachel Robinson and former contemporaries like Carl Erskine, Monte Irvin, Andy Pafko and Don Zimmer, it is noticably absent of anything new from Don Newcombe.

Lanctot notes that “unfortunately, some of Campy’s surviving teammates proved difficult to talk to … there was a former Dodger whose son informed me that his father now charges $5,000 for an hour-long interview. Another well-known Dodger declined to participate, explaining that he had been ‘misquoted too many times’ in the past. And Clem Labine, Preacher Roe and Johnny Podres died before I was able to arrange interviews.”

Also, alas, no Vin Scully. He’s quoted, as are many through previous comments made in the media that Lanctot uncovered in his very complete research project.

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Through all the light and darkness, a strange, eventual contentious relationship with Robinson is also probed, with Lanctot eventually figuring that out the two couldn’t have been much different, bonded only really by their skin color. It apparently wasn’t that much of a hidden subject — it made the cover of Jet magazine in 1952. That they later in life reconciled is at least somewhat comforting.

There are also the three marriages that dotted Campanella’s life, all at important stages, the first of which is hardly mentioned in his autobiography, the second that ended tragically. But what he accomplished in advancing therapy techniques has really not been revealed before.

How it goes down in the scorebook: Very bittersweet. There are 12 customer rankings about the book on the Barnes & Noble site, garnishing a combined one out of five stars possible. We’re not sure what it says, but maybe it’s not up to the books written lately on Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or upcoming on Stan Musial in the apparent need to revisit the careers of former stars in light of current steroid tarnishing.

It can be very depressing, painful and stressful. Not just Campanella’s post-playing days, but the writing as well.

Maybe some of us still just want to believe “It’s Good To Be Alive” closed the book on everything we wanted to know.

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30 baseball books in the 30 days of ’11: Day 29 — How to have a ball, with a ball, for less than the (auction house) price of a game-used ball

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The book: “The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals and Secrets Beneath the Stiches”

The author: Zach Hample

The vital stats: Anchor Books/Random House, 356 pages, $14.95.

Find it: At the publisher’s site (linked here), at Powell’s (linked here), at Amazon.com (linked here) and at Barnes & Noble (linked here).

The pitch: There is something intrinsically magical about simply holding a baseball in your hand. Whether it’s the rows of stitches, the stretched pieces of leather or the company name stamped on it. Or, of course, that new-ball smell.

Hample, who hooked us a couple years back with his “Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks ” book, has taken that assault on the senses to new heights.

His claim to fame is having hauled in more than 4,600 balls in his “career,” from nearly 50 ballparks. He’s got them all logged on his website (linked here), up to the day. Fact is, he has a business called “Watch With Zack,” where he’ll personally take you to a game and guarantee them at least one ball to take home. (Kinda like paying to going to a private pond overstocked with trout, but kids still get a kick out of it by landing one).

So when he decides to dedicate his next took to all there is to know about a simple baseball — why not?

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His research is pretty impressive, for starters. Go back to 1905, when a Cubs fan named Samuel Scott was arrested after catching a foul ball but refusing to hand it to an usher. The team president signed a larceny complaint against him. The charges were dropped with Scott threatened to sue for assault and false arrest. Eventually, Cubs owner Charles Weeghman allowed foul balls to be kept. In 1916. It was lauded in Baseball magazine as a “common-sense policy,” even if other owners refused to go along with it.

Flash ahead to today, when fans in Wrigley Field’s bleachers started the tradition of throwing back a visiting team’s home-run ball. Or, at least throwing “a” ball back, whether it’s the original homer or not.

Hample is able to chronicle this baseball thing from every angle imaginable, starting with how it became a souvenir craze, a pop-culture hook, a vechile for stunts — even how it has led to some unusual deaths (incuding 14-year-old Dodgers fan Alan Fish at Dodger Stadium in 1970, who remains the only MLB spectator fatality). But even Hample even manages to put a light spin on that chapter, with a notation at one point saying: “No, this is not a story about Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, who hit Keith Olbermann’s mother in the face with a bad throw in 2006. She survived.”

The last third of his book is a how-to guide on getting your own baseball. From how to position yourself near an aisle to getting early to the park for batting practice and finding the “Easter eggs” that were deposited before the entrance gates were opened, to watching tendencies of batters … stuff you knew you didn’t even know, but should have picked up by now just from paying attention. He even gets into a bit how Dodgers fan Mike Mahan once bought up the right field pavillion at Dodger Stadium during Barry Bonds’ pursuit of No. 700 for his career in 2004 (a story that we actually wrote first).

Admittedly, our favorite section is about how baseballs — especially foul balls — have made themselves storylines in movies and sit-coms over the years. Hample takes the time to critique the authenticity, which we can appreciate.

Such as in the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” on page 68:

“Although Bueller’s dorky fist pumps (and attire) belie the athleticism required to make a bare-handed catch in a crowded section of presumably rowdy Cubs fans, the scene is very realistic. It begins as the dozens of extras react to the ball entering the stands — an obvious detail that often gets overlooked — and continues with Bueller’s snag. First he experiences the rush of obtaining the souvenir. Then, after a few seconds, the pain sets in as he shakes his left hand. Upon closer inspection, his friend Sloane can be seen ducking with her right hand over her head, while his best friend Cameron quickly looks to the side as if he’s trying to see who ended up with the ball. The only flaw is that when the TV camera follows the initial flight of the ball, two relief pitchers can be seen warming up along the left-field foul line, but when the field is then shown from Bueller’s prespective, the bullpen mound is mysteriously empty. That said, writer-director John Hughes expertly blended actual game footage with his own attention to detail in the stands.”

Hample’s attention to detail is even better. Although Baseball Prospectus does some real research into the scene and pinpoints it from a Cubs-Braves game in 1985 (linked here).

One more example: Hample cites a day in 2009 at Dodger Stadium when Vin Scully remarked: “Nice catch by a fan directly behind the dugout.” Turns out, it was Jermaine Jackson, of the Jackson 5, as Rafael Furcal “lunged for a 1-2 changeup from Braves starter Jair Jurrjens and blooped it toward the outfield end of the third-base dugout. Jackson, wearing a glove on his lef thand, stood up, leaned back, reached deep into the crowd and made a backhanded stab high over his head, which he then celebrated with a series of fist pumps.”

How it goes down in the scorebook: If you’ve never been able to snag a ball — either in batting practice, one that goes foul, or by begging a ballboy — this is the next best thing.

If more fans had this kind of passion and aptitude for pulling a book together on a subject as simple as a piece of round cowhide — as well as giving away trade secrets on how to snag one — we’d all be better off.

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Also: Hample has also co-authored a new book/journal/diary about baseball scorekeeping (linked here) that looks pretty sharp.

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A maverick prediction: Barkley spouts that Lakers are done with a six-shooter

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Only because he opened his mouth on last night’s TNT NBA post-game show — long after most Lakers fans tuned out — Charles Barkley had this exchange with Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson:

Inside the NBA crew debates their pick for the Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers series in Round 2:

Barkley: “I’m going to stick with what I’ve been saying all year.”

Smith: “Which is?”

Barkley: “The Dallas Mavericks are the best team in Texas and they’re going to upset the Los Angeles Lakers. I think they have more mismatches than the Lakers.”

Smith: “OK, OK, you don’t have to convince yourself.”

Barkley: “I’m not trying to convince myself.”

Smith: “I’m just listening. You believe it, I’m glad you do.”

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Johnson: “Are you going to weigh in?”

Smith: “I think the Los Angeles Lakers are going to win just because of rebounding. I would have said Dallas until I saw Game 6 tonight.”

Barkley: “But they played against a bunch of munchkins tonight. Those munchkins are going home. The Mavericks aren’t munchkins.”

Smith: “They couldn’t rebound. If they do that against the Lakers, they’re gonna lose. If you let the Lakers back in the games, you’re going to lose.”

Barkley: “The Lakers are going down.”

Smith: “OK.”

Barkley: “In six.”

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