30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 15 — Short and sweet, Breslin on Rickey

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The book: “Branch Rickey: Penguin Lives Biographies”

The author: Jimmy Breslin

The vital stats: The Penguin Group/Viking Adult books, 160 pages, $19.95.

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

The pitch: Consider that in 2009, “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman” by Lee Lowenfish came in at nearly 800 pages and more than two pounds. It took him more than 10 years to research it. And almost as long to read.

Yet Breslin’s version, about 1/6th the size, may be richer in context and content. Believe it.

On the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, this one reminds us that often less is more, and there couldn’t be a more beautifully written multi-part magazine piece that was lucky enough to be bound in glory.

In this “Penguin Lives” series, they’ve got people like Roy Blount Jr. writing on Robert E. Lee, Mary Gordon telling the story of Joan of Arc, Garry Willis on Saint Augustine and Sherwin B. Nuland on Leonardo da Vinci. So how did the Pulitzer Prize winning Breslin, most famous in sports circles for writing “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” about Casey Stengel, come upon Rickey?

From the prologue:
“When they ask me to write a book about a Great American, right away I say yes. When I say yes I always mean no. They ask me to choose a subject, and I say Branch Rickey. He placed the first black baseball player into the major leagues. His name was Jackie Robinson. He helped clear the sidewalks for Barack Obama to come into the White House. As it only happened once in the whole history of the country, I would say that is pretty good. Then some editors told me they never hear of Rickey. Which I took as an insult, a distain for what I know, as if it is not important enough for them to bother with. So now I had to write the book.”

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The young editors have no excuse for not knowing now. Even at 135 pages. (For cryin’ out loud, at least watch the movie).

In today’s short-attention-span theatre, Breslin on Rickey is made for the masses, and goes against the grain at the same time. Why get bogged down in weighted research when a classic American author like Breslin can get the job done in quick order?

If you’re keeping track of some of the classic lines that Breslin generates from this one, start with his explanation of how he intended to do some research on Rickey’s life:

“I figured I would be able to rely on big-name historians whom I have yet to read and that this would be immensely pleasurable. And then I read the books. History writers should be put not in the jail but under it.”

As for how this ties with the annual Jackie Robinson Day activities today, consider Chapter 2, pages 17-26. Breslin deviates from anything Rickey and gets into the arrest of Robinson while he was in the U.S. Army in 1944, court-martialed for not moving to the back of a bus when ordered by the driver. Breslin reprints the statements in the case made by the driver, another black woman that Robinson sat next to, another witness, a general from the MP guard room, and finally, Robinson. The language is course, the situation compelling, and all the raw material there in front of the reader, you’re given extreme insight into Robinson’s character, and what Rickey had to work with in his nobel pursuit.

But back to Rickey, according to Breslin:

From page 114:

“(In 1949), Robinson was named the Most Valuable Player, which was an understatement. Behind him, applauding, crying compliments, was Rickey. He did a great thing in American life, yet he was mortal. He soon came to illustrate perfectly the mutual envy of politicans and businessmen. The politician can not restrain himself from taking his brilliance into the world of business. Before long, he is on a breadline. The businessman is sure that he can run the world, and given a chance he is out there on th epublic stage. Soon the people are ready to garrote him. The wise shoemaker sticks to his trade and maintains a mouth filled with nails. That was not to be Rickey or Robinson.”

Not to give away how Breslin ties it all together with the Obama angle from his prologue, but the book ends in 2008, at a polling place, inside Jackie Robinson Elementary School, across the street from the old Ebbets Field, with him watching even more history taking place.

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How it goes down in the scorebook: The fear was that this could have been some kind of Andy Rooney-esque rambling remembrance, just for posterities’s sake. Far from it. This was our pleasure. In as economic a sentence as we can write: Read, savor, smile.

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Because enough people will watch college spring football practice

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AP Photo/Rob Carr
An estimated 92,000 fill Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during the annual Alabama spring football game in 2007.

By Rachel Cohen
AP Sports Writer

The trees are budding and the birds are nesting — must be time to sit down and watch some of the least compelling matchups in college football: green versus white, crimson against cream, blue takes on gold.

Spring games are blossoming on television as sports networks discover the value of airing the glorified scrimmages, tapping into fervent college fan bases — people who might otherwise be joining the tens of thousands at the stadium. It’s free advertising in the middle of the offseason for programs competing for the country’s top recruits.

The Big Ten Network is scheduled to broadcast live all but one of its schools’ spring football games this year on TV or the Internet, including Iowa’s open practice (the Hawkeyes don’t play a spring game). ESPN’s networks are televising five games this year, up from two in 2008. That doesn’t include additional teams available online at ESPN3.com, some as replays or simulcasts of regional broadcasts.

The only ones who don’t seem to be on the bandwagon are some college coaches, a bunch conditioned to fret over the tiniest of details.

New Big Ten member Nebraska is the TV holdout in that conference, for instance. The Huskers don’t want to show their retooled offense to their new rivals.

“I just prefer not to have it on,” said Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, whose team’s spring game was aired by ESPN in 2006 and ’07. “Why would I let everybody see, who we’re going to play early, what we like to do?”

Of the 25 schools in the AP’s final poll last season, 12 are planning to have their games broadcast in some form this spring. Notre Dame’s spring game will be televised nationally for the first time. Saturday’s scrimmage is on cable channel Versus, which is now a sister network to NBC, the Irish’s TV partner, after the Comcast merger.

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30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 14 — Still trying to get our heads around 56, some 70 years later

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The book: “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports”

The author:Kostya Kennedy

The vital stats: Sports Illustrated Publishing, 386 pages, $26.95.

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

The pitch: On this day, Pete Rose hits 70 — that’s years old, not a consective game streak, or years denied a Hall of Fame induction.

So if we’re looking backon a record that “The Hit King” fell eight games short of tying back in the late ’80s — he’s been the closest to come to even getting a sniff of it — this latest tale of DiMaggio hits the spot.

It’s really a two-sided tale, recounting DiMaggio’s days as he accomplished the feat, but also tackling the questions: How does “56″ endure? And what does it say about DiMaggio’s legacy?

Kennedy’s research produced what is perhaps the most market-friendly book of the season, which included a cover story excerpt in Sports Illustrated back on March 14 when you’d think there’d be plenty of college basketball to hold our interests. That’s the magic of DiMaggio, and of the streak, all this time later.

There are very interesting aspects to spotlight, such as on page 131, when a scoring decision gave DiMaggio a hit rather than charge Luke Appling with an error in game 30, which may have tainted the career of scorekeeper Dan Daniel. Would DiMaggio have been as heralded if he had a 29-game streak, followed by one of 43? Doubtful.

Others have gone into greater detail about how the streak came about, how it could have ended, and how another streak followed. But what sets this apart are Kennedy’s sidebars, called “The View from Here,” that keep it fresh and relevant. Interviews with current major-leaguers, hitting coaches, even psychologists analyze their imput as to why this may never be reached again.

We can apprecate in particular the research done (page 187) about the theory that the reason a streak like this hasn’t happened since is because today’s players have a tougher time facing more different pitchers on a regular basis. “There’s no evidence to support it,” Kennedy writes. And we believe it as well.

Finally, there’s a chapter about the math involved in all of it — the odds. One study said the streak like that could happen only once in 746 years. Another says it’s 1-in-18,519.

Concludes Kennedy: “If there is life on Earth but none yet observed on any of the other planets in our solar system, can we make a guess as to the probability that alien life is thriving somewhere out there in the cosmos? Who could possibly say? … Where it comes to baseball and hitting streaks, there is at least one thing we can say for sure: Through the end of the 2010 season, 17,290 players we know have appeared in the major leagues. Only one of them ever hit in 56 straight games.”

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How it goes down in the scorebook: There could be 56 books written about this record, but we’d be inclined to hang onto this one.

Sorry, did we overlook the other stories Kennedy weaved in there, references to DiMaggio’s relationship with his wife, Dorothy Arnold, or how the death of Lou Gehrig on June 2 during the early stages of the streak impacted things? The relationship Joe had with his brother, Dom, who was a teammate of Ted Williams as the Boston Red Sox star hit .406 that same year but didn’t win the AL MVP award? Or DiMaggio’s ex-Yankee teammate who tried to sabotage the streak by giving him nothing to hit?

Or even that DiMaggio was a big fan of Superman comics?

Hopefully not. Because it’s all there, too.

Coming up: Another book, “Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil” by Jerome Charyn is set for release later this summer (linked here).

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The Dodgers’ new half-price day-game beer policy is half-empty

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LAWeeky.com

Throw back those plans to get all liquored up at Dodger Stadium on one of those midweek day games coming up.

Although alcohol was part of the original deal for the six “Half Price Food & Drink Promotion” days, the first of which is Thursday, April 21, the Dodgers announced today that half-price alcoholic beverage are no longer included.

You’ve already bought your tickets for that intended purpose? You, sir, are a determent to society.

There is no official explanation given in a Dodger press release issued on the subject, but one can easily read between the blurred lines — it’s another delayed reaction to the recent upgrades in security that the team felt was needed in the aftermath of a Giants fan beaten into a coma by someone wearing Dodgers gear after the Dodgers’ season opener on March 31.

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30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 13 — Promise, you’ll land right-side up with this Pribble puzzle

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The book: “Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League”

The author: Aaron Pribble

The vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 280 pages, $24.95

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

The pitch: This first-person account of what it was like to participate in the first (and only) season of a pro baseball league that tried to capture the hearts of those in Israel couldn’t have been written by a better retread prospect not named Jim Morris.

Pribble put in some time in the minor leagues, played overseas and thought he was kiind of done with the game. A 27-year-old history teacher in the Bay Area, he wasn’t even sure he qualified for this IBL thing. He considered himself a “red-neck Jew” with “an average fastball, irregular slider and decent changeup.” But the deeper he got into the strange summer vacation idea, the more confusing it got.

From page 15: “The formula I began to decipher was this: to be a player in the IBL, one’s talents was inversly related to his degre of Jewishness. On the one end, if you weren’t Jewish at all … you had to be very good. On the other hand, if you were Orthodox or, better yet, Israeli, I guessed all you needed was a heartbeat. According to that formulation I placed myself squarely in the middle of the talent pool: a half-assed Jew and half-assed former pro.”

And playing with, and against, guys like a wild catcher from Australia, journeymen from the Dominican Republic (including Vladimir Guerrero’s brother) who lied about their ages and nervous Americans who weren’t sure if they were treading into a volitale situation.

Pribble’s tale starts to unravel like “The Rookie” meets Crash Davis, taking the soul of a book like “The Bullpen Gospels” and finding the nuggets of humanity from “Ball Four.” Through all the bounced paychecks, player rebellion and a love interest that takes place despite all the crazy political atmposphere in the Middle East, Pribble seems to understand the specialness of how this was not just an opportunity for him to understand his quasi-Jewish background (it was from his mom’s side), but also see how cool it was to be part of the bigger picture.

“It was historic,” he writes. “In spite of my proclivity for sarcasm, I knew something genuinely unique was taking place, that he felt alike by players, league officials, families and fans. … An old man held up a sign that read, in descending order: Jews returning to Israel — check; Baseball in the Holy Land — check; World Peace — (blank).”

How it goes down in the scorebook: Much better than the cucumber, pita and cottage cheese breakfast that Pribble and his teammates had to each every morning for breakfast. We’d suggest it as a Bar Mitzvah gift for a kid on a self-discovery journey.

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Nets play-by-play man Carrino steps up for MD

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By Tom Canavan
The Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Nets radio voice Chris Carrino has been living with a secret for almost two decades.

The 40-year-old, who has spent the past decade describing the franchise’s run at NBA titles early in the decade to the misery of recent losing seasons, has done it with his body being gradually attacked by a form of muscular dystrophy.

Carrino has facioscapulohumeral dystrophy, one of nine types of MD, and this one has neither a treatment nor a cure.

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“I have always been reluctant to talk about it because I never wanted to seem different,” Carrino said. “I never wanted to be treated differently. It took me a while to talk to the people, even friends. It’s something I felt that as long as I could get away with people not knowing, it would be fine.”

Carrino is doing more than talking these days about his debilitating disease. He has launched the Chris Carrino Foundation for FSHD (linked here).

Call it the product of frustration. Carrino has not seen much progress in treating FSHD since he was diagnosed in the early 1990s. He doesn’t believe much is being done now, at least compared to some other more recognizable forms of MD, like Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Muscular Dystrophy Association spokesman Jim Brown there are about 21,500 to 40,000 people in the United States diagnosed with FSHD, which is slightly higher than the number of ALS patients (15,000 to 40,000).

MDA is currently spending $2.25 million funding 12 FSHD projects, Brown said, noting a recent study found the molecular cause of FSHD. The total does not include money being spent on other projects that will lead to advances in FSHD therapy development, he added.

“Maybe it was time for me to come forward and do something that could have an impact,” said Carrino, adding he had always wanted to start an FSHD foundation, but wanted to do it after becoming a major player in the broadcast field.

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It’s not a Big 12 Network, but there’s lots to be said for it

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The Associated Press

The Big 12 Conference and Fox Sports announced a 13-year cable TV deal today that includes 40 football games each season in addition to other events.

Financial terms were not disclosed. Sports Business Journal has reported that the contract, which starts with the 2012 football season, will pay the conference $90 million a year.

The Big 12 also has a deal with ABC-ESPN running through 2015-16 that would raise the conference’s total TV rights revenue to about $130 million annually.

Commissioner Dan Beebe said the Fox contract positions the 10-team Big 12 favorably with other major conferences financially.

The 12-team SEC generated $205 million from TV rights last year and the 12-team Big Ten $220 million. The Pac-10, which becomes the Pac-12 this year, made only $60 million on TV rights but is working on a new television package that would include its own network.

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30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 12 — Viva los Mexican Americans from the early days of L.A.

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The book: “Mexican American Baseball in Los Angeles (Images of Baseball)”

The author: Francisco E. Balderrama and Richard A. Santillan, forward by Samuel O. Regalado

The vital stats: Arcadia Publishing, 127 pages, $21.99

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

The pitch: Maybe it’s coincidence that this is the 30th anniversary of Fernandomania’s arrival in L.A. Hopefully, it’s not.

While Chapter 6 covers the Dodgers move from Brooklyn to Chavez Ravine and Fernando Valenzuela’s electric rise to stardom, it’s really the first five chapters that need the reader’s full attention, especially those who grew up in Southern California and could be enlightened by an amazing history lesson.

You come across names like Elias Baca, aka “The Spanish Tornado,” who pitched at UCLA during the Great Depression, to the Carmelita Chorizeros team of the 1950s, to the nine Pena brothers who played together.

There are the photos of Saul Toledo, a player who went on to be a newspaper writer and promoter for the teams, and Shorty Perez, longtime leader of the Chorizeros, and Rudy Regaldo, a former Hoover High of Glendale and USC standout who played with the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

While it may seem like just a photo album of days gone by, Balderrama, a professor of Chicano studies and history at Cal State L.A., and Santillan, professor emeritus of ethnic and women studies at Cal Poly Pomona, bring it alive with their text. They are on the advisory board of the Latino Baseball History Project, based at Cal State San Bernardino. The group is responsible for pulling together these vintage photographs that document a story that prior to this has only been passed down generation to generation, or experienced through special exhibits, some presented by the Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary, which fosters an understand and appreciation of the culture of the game.

Baseball Reliquary director Terry Cannon started a collaberation with the Latino Baseball History Project more than five years ago, when he organized an exhibit called “From the Barrios to the Big Leagues” at Cal State L.A., and has cultivated many of the background captions that goes with the pages and pages of black-and-white photos.

How it goes down in the scorebook: Classic, and classy, leaving us wanting to find out more. Viva, indeed.

Also: If you get a chance to scan the Arcadia Publishing library of baseball related books, you’ll also find issues dedicated to Los Angeles’ Historical Ballparks (2010, by Chris Epting, linked here), Dodger Stadium (linked here) by Dodgers team historian Mark Langill, The Brooklyn Dodgers in Cuba (2011, linked here), Dodgertown (linked here), The Hollywood Stars by Dick Beverage (2005, linked here), Baseball in Albuquerque (2011, linked here), Baseball in Long Beach (linked here), Baseball in Ventura County (linked here), Baseball in San Diego (linked here) and Women’s Baseball (linked here).

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Fox Sports, USC working on a deal for some media rights

USC has moved into exclusive negotiations with Fox Sports, through the Wasserman Media Group, for the school’s multimedia rights that would include radio and marketing aspects, according to sources cited by the Sports Business Journal (linked here).

As the Pac-12 moves toward its own TV channel, the TV rights are not part of the talks, says the SBJ.

Wasserman Media Group, which worked with Fox on a valuation for the USC property, is expected to “work with Fox as a sales agent if the network secures an agreement with the Trojans, but Fox would take the lead on the relationship with the school,” SBJ reported.

In the past, USC has handled its marketing and media rights in-house.

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30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 11 — A high-kick and delivery for Spahn and Marichal in the greatest game ever pitched

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The book: “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Duel of the Century”

The author: Jim Kaplan

The vital stats: Triumph Books, 256 pages, $24.95.

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

The pitch: As the Dodgers make their first trip into San Francisco, we go back to a contest that took place on July 2, 1963 at Candlestick Park.

It’ll never be duplicated.

Yet, was it the greatest game ever pitched? Kaplan, a former Sports Illustrated writer, seems to build an argument for it — the Braves’ 42-year-old Spahn and the Giants’ 25-year-old Marichal, two future Hall of Famers, began a duel at 8:21 p.m. and had 16 innings wrapped up in just over four hours, when (spoiler alert) Willie Mays hit a walk-off homer.

Just 15,000-plus saw it first hand — including Bud Selig, as it turned out. So did Spahn’s son, Greg, who points out in the introduction that this was a time when we “were able to follow baseball without the distractions of strikes, lockouts, mascots, endless announcements and loud music. Attending a ballgame was an unexpurgated joy.”

Even in chilly Candlestick Park? We beg to ddddddiffffffer.

Kaplan’s reconstruction efforts of a contest he didn’t actually see come through interviews with Marichal and others (Spahn died in 2003), refocing on an event that would have been an instant classic on ESPN had it been played in the last 10 years.
Back then, before five-man rotations, strict pitch counts, specialized relief pitchers and frequent substitutions, games like this were more the norm.

But still, 16 innings for each starter? You’ve got our attention.

In addition to telling the story again, Kaplan’s sidebars highlight other games that could be considered the “greatest,” and are a welcome addition — before getting a taste of this one, we’d have thought the perfect game that Sandy Koufax threw against the Chicago Cubs in 1965, where losing pitcher Bob Hendley had a one-hitter and lost 1-0 in one hour, 43 minutes at Dodger Stadium was far greater. In a way, it is. Maybe because our memory wants to believe it to be so.

After a rather slow start to the story, Kaplan has already given an account of the whole Marichal-Spahn dual by page 131. You can only do much to Retrosheet.org. With with 70 pages to go, it turns into a mini-bio about how the careers of Marichal and Spahn end up — they become teammates briefly for the second half of the ’65 season in San Francisco. Nearly 20 pages are dedicated to Marichal’s bat-striking incident with the Dodgers’ Johnny Roseboro, which could be a book unto itself.

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How it goes down in the scorebook: Not the most compelling read, but if you make it through, we’d like to give you the Veni-Vidi-Vixi pin — I came, I saw, I survived — like the ones they used to give out to fans who actually endured extra-inning games at Candlestick. Too bad those who actually made it to the end of this one didn’t get the prized badge of honor. They got something better instead — a memory of a game that hardly anyone else saw. If they’ve got enough patience to get through this book, they’ll be rewarded as well.

How it happened: A Retrosheet.com account of the game, which is also captured in the appendix of the book (linked here).

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Coming up: A Marichal autobiography called “My Journey from the Dominican Republic to Cooperstown,” with Lew Freedman, is scheduled to come out later this summer (linked here).

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