30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 28: How Tabitha Soren (*yes, that Tabitha Soren) has baseball’s ‘Moneyball’ money shots

The book: “Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream”
The author: Photographs by Tabitha Soren; text by Dave Eggers
The vital statistics: Aperture publications, 136 pages, $45, released on April 1
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website,  or the writers’ website

The pitch: First things first — If you’ve got time Saturday at 4:30 p.m., jog over to Culver City’s Arcana: Books on the Arts (8675 Wash-
ington Blvd.) to join Soren for an artist talk and Q&A about her work.
Aside from not being disappointed from that invested time, you’ll get a chance to browse perhaps the coolest art-book stores in SoCal that even has its own baseball section.
But first, some background.
This 15-year photo  project began when Soren started shooting the Class of 2002 Oakland A’s minor leaguers as they came to spring training straight out of high school and college. She had something of a vested interest: Her husband is Michael Lewis, author of the acclaimed book on the A’s called “Moneyball.”
He wrote about the way the team was assembled. She, admitting to knowing little to nothing about baseball, could document how their careers did or didn’t pan out. And do it in a very artsy way that really has no precedent.
In a previous life, Soren was the MTV political reporter in the mid-’90s and worked at NBC News, but she saw an opportunity to reinvent. Photography, and the art of making pictures, captivated her interest enough to where she went old-school with the platform and development of photos.
As it turned out, these young A’s players included pitcher Joe Blanton and players Nick Swisher and Mark Teahen, who logged double-digit years in the MLB and earned quite a few million dollars for it. But the book also contains photos of other baseball-related occurances that captured Soren’s eye along the way, and they get inclusion as well (such as a shot of that 2013 brawl former Dodgers coach Mark McGwire got into with Arizona manager Kirk Gibson and coach Matt Williams at Dodger Stadium).
The book also includes a five-part mini-novel by Eggers about a Kansa City Royals-drafted infielder named Giovonni “Gee” Fillipacci, who went 1-for-9 with a triple in the only two big-league games he got to plain, ultimately for the Dodgers. Just don’t look him up. He doesn’t exist. It’s a composite of what happens to players who chase their dreams and get into the eye of this “fantasy life” before it spits them back out.

From tabithasoren.com

In recent interviews with Andy and Brian Kamenetzky on their ESPNLA podcast, with Joe Posnanski from MLB.com,  with Jeremy Schaap for his ESPN Radio podcast and also with Sarah Spain at ESPNw.com, Soren’s step-by-step process is laid out as to what she was trying to achieve and by what methods — and turns out many striking photographs that definitely are not what you’d expect from mainstream shooters.
This gives us the opportunity to take a few broader strokes to see what Soren, 49 and mother of three kids in the Bay Area who still isn’t sure what she knows or doesn’t know about baseball, thinks about other things at it relates to the medium as an art form:

Q: I saw this photo on your website and was fascinated by how you’ve managed to give what is otherwise a classic photo of Sandy Koufax to an entirely new perspective, based on this technique you used. Can you explain how you do this, as you did to several other photos in the book?
A: You know that’s Sandy Koufax? I have no idea how you know that.
Q: It’s the number 32, for one, and the motion …
A: The motion? Really?
Q: It’s him in mid-pitch taking his arm back to that extreme stretch and bending his back.
A: That’s cool.
So, this is called a tintype. I was doing research about baseball and looking at a book on Eadweard Muybridge who did a lot of motion studies on horses and runners and there was this whole series on baseball players. They are naked and swinging and hitting and he’s studying what their bodies are doing. But then on the next page there were a series of players did when they made an error. I’m not sure what the comparisons were. So the first recorded baseball contat was in 1846… But it also mentioned that Adolphe-Alexandre Martin was making tintype pictures in France in 1853.  When I saw that, a light bulb went off in my head: This would be a great way to have action shots that look like mine. In art photography, the whole point is not to copy what someone else who came before you but think of some new way to tell a story. I knew the narrative of my story was different but I didn’t want to have action shots that looked like they were from ESPN Magazine or Sports Illustrated. We’ve seen plenty of them and they’re very good, but I don’t know we need more of them in the world. Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 28: How Tabitha Soren (*yes, that Tabitha Soren) has baseball’s ‘Moneyball’ money shots” »

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30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 27: The speed ball could make you look like a fool, but there’s more cool in this arsenal

The book: “Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching and the Art of Deception”
The author: Terry McDermott
The vital statistics: Pantheon Publishing/Penguin Random House, 224 pages, $23.95, will be released May 6
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website, or the writers’ website

The pitch: With all due respect to Rich Hill, we learned how to throw a curveball that wouldn’t give us blisters once we got into high school.
A pitching coach with a former big-league pedigree showed us how to grip it, flip it, and hope for the best.
Until then, we threw spin balls at various rates of spin. It was mixed in with slower spinning balls.
They often moved, but in what direction, we could only assume we had control of it. They made up their own minds, and the hitters took full advantage when a curve, drop or accidental screwball came up there like a coach’s batting-practice toss.
Yet, when trying to explain to someone recently the difference between a slider and a sinker, if felt like we were sliding off the rails.
The go-to analogy we had was describing the difference between a slice and a hook with a golf club swing. Both balls start out deceptively straight, but intent is to either have them  dart down to the left or the right, depending on the desired effect and overcompensation on the wrist action. We kind of shanked that one.
All that said, we have been led to believe that the five forces involved in what happens to a pitch – direction, velocity, spin, gravity and atmosphere drag – are predicated on one’s ability, flexibility and mobility on getting out of the way of a ball that irrationally will be hit back through the box with much more speed than it was delivered.
We recommend a helmet on both the batter, pitcher and center fielder. And, perhaps, the official score keeper.
All of that is worth keeping in mind as you wrap your mind around perhaps the best-constructed essay-account of what happens in pitching with this memoir/history lession by a former L.A. Times national reporter and author of three previous books that had nothing to do all with baseball.
So, nice change up here.
McDermott is a Seattle Mariners fan who uses the 2012 perfect game thrown by Felix Hernandez against Tampa Bay as the backdrop to how demystify the way nine different pitches can be effectively used in a game. The starting point is how it came to be, and then it goes into how it affected the way Hernandez mastered some of them in his historic effort. Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 27: The speed ball could make you look like a fool, but there’s more cool in this arsenal” »

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30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 26: The bible stories that never grow old

The book: “The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists and Legends from Our National Pasttime”
The author: Dan Schlossberg (preface by Alan Schwarz, forward by Jay Johnstone)
The vital statistics: Sports Publishing LLC, 424 pages, $17.99, released March 7
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website, or the writers’ website

The pitch: Refresh, and resend.
Some may remember this as it was published in 2002 as “The Baseball Almanac: Big Bodacious Book of Baseball,” but it is actually a cut-and-
paste collection of items that once came out as “The Baseball Catalog” in 1980, a Book of the Month Club alternative.
That was when something of this immense size and substance could have a more profound effect for a kid growing up in a much less media-cluttered existence.
As Schlossberg writes in the introduction, this edition “was not just written; it was assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
Mostly, it’s nostalgia for those in the same sort of way as it was ripping open a pack of baseball cards and reading as much as they could between national NBC Game of the Week telecasts.
This was the media — an oversized mishmash of history, quirkiness and stats to inhale.
This “is meant to be a book of memories,” Schlossberg adds. “Pretty enough to reside on a coffee table, it is also practical enough to leave in the bathroom.”
No apps. No digital enhancing. No timing out.
What else can make good on that promise?
Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 26: The bible stories that never grow old” »

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30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 25: What Hank Greenberg did, and didn’t quite do, in ’38, relative to everything else going on

The 1938 Hank Greenberg Goudey baseball card

The book: “Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War”
The author: Ron Kaplan
The vital statistics: Sports Publishing, 268 pages, $24.99, released today, April 25
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website, or the writers’ website

The pitch: In his 2013 collection “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die,” Kaplan’s only notation of a Hank Greenberg-related book is “The Story Of My Life,” which the Hall of Famer did with Ira Berkow in 1989. That was also the inspiration for the exceptional documentary nine years later by Aviva Kempner called “The Life And Times of Hank Greenberg.”
Kaplan’s “501” came  out a month after the release of John Rosengren’s “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes,” and two years after Mark Kurlansky’s “Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One.”
With that in mind, the thing that compelled Kaplan, the force behind RonKaplansBaseballBookshelf.com and former editor for the New Jersey Jewish News, to re-examine the Greenberg experience through the prism of his 1938 pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record is how it would overlay what else was going on in the world. In particular, it was Hitler, just named Time magazine’s controversial choice for Man of the Year because of all the noise he made ramping up Germany for World War II, and the threat to the Jewish population, to which Greenberg belonged.
As Greenberg got closer to Ruth’s record of 60 homers, did anti-Semitism come into play? Were teams pitching around him? What did Greenberg sense publicly or say privately?
Was is more than a coincidence that a Sept. 20 column in the Chicago Heights Star concluded with a paragraph: “Note to State Department, U.S.: If the Nazis don’t behave, send Hank Greenberg over there to hit ‘em with a ball bat,” as Kaplan notes on page 138.
Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 25: What Hank Greenberg did, and didn’t quite do, in ’38, relative to everything else going on” »

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30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 24: Lefty O’Doul, the man from San Fran … plus the Giants’ turbulent S.F. history

The book: “Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador”
The author: Dennis Snelling
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 392 pages, $27.95, to be released May 1
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website, or the writers’ website

The pitch: You can’t put yourself in the heart of Union Square in San Francisco and not end up wandering into Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant and Piano Bar across the street from the St. Francis Hotel.
Well, not any more.
If any Dodgers fans plan a getaway to see the team start a four-game series against the Giants today, be prepared for disappointment. The place is vacant.
A dispute over the expiring lease with the bar’s operator and the hotel landlord led to Lefty’s shutting down in early February. Lefty’s operator Nick Bovis said he’ll find a new site for it and reopen this fall, bringing all the memorabilia and musical acts with him.
It must be done.
The cafeteria-style restaurant may have shown some age, but it was still an institution that kept O’Doul’s name in lights that cut through the fog, in the city that created him.
“The atmosphere was that of a Hofbrau house, with a menu featuring a wide range of drinks at the bar … corned beef sandwiches, roast beef, turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes … mementos from O’Doul’s long career lined the walls – there were photos of Lefty with Douglas MacArthur, with Babe Ruth, with Gary Cooper, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio. It was a second home (for O’Doul) and a celebration of his accomplishments.”
Dennis Snelling’s recreation of the place built in 1958 is there on page 255. Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 24: Lefty O’Doul, the man from San Fran … plus the Giants’ turbulent S.F. history” »

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