30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 17: It’s the WWII tipping point on how you view baseball, past and future

The death of 27-year-old Billy Southworth Jr., left, came four months after his father, right, had managed the Cardinals to their third consecutive National League pennant and second World Series championship in three years.

The death of 27-year-old Billy Southworth Jr., left, came four months after his father, right, had managed the Cardinals to their third consecutive National League pennant and second World Series championship in three years.

The book: “The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray, and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII”
The author: John Klima
The vital statistics: Thomas Dunne Books, 432 pages, $26.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at BarnesandNoble.com

918gwHSCRTLThe pitch: Klima, who already pulled us onto his baseball battlefield of writing with his 2009 “Willie’s Boys” about Willie Mays and the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, and then  in 2012 with “Bushville Wins!” about the 1957 Milwaukee Braves’ World Series run, has commanded attention again for examining the lives of three baseball players and how they were profoundly affected by World War II.
And, as a result, how we were affected.
“I wonder if the culture of vanity and narcissism we have created in this country today would permit such wide-scale selfless sacrifices at the cost of money, fame and career,” Klima writes in the intro, not long after introducing us to how future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, courageous one-armed outfielder Pete Gray and minor-league prospect Billy Southworth, the son of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame manager at the time with the same name, purposefully fit into this narrative.
For as much as has been written about Greenberg’s career and his importance to his Jewish faith, here is a much deeper dig into what went into his front-of-the-line  commitment to serve his country.
Greenberg’s son, Steve, admits to Klima that his father’s favorite book was Herman Wouk’s “Winds of War,.” Steve also reveals a time when he once told his dad that he easily would have hit 500 home runs, instead of the 331 he ended up in just in 13 seasons, had he not left the game for three full seasons and most of two others while he joined the Army.
“I wouldn’t have traded it,” he told his son.
“I don’t know that it is unique among guys in his generation,” Steve continued about the two-time AL MVP with Detroit, who died in Beverly Hills at age 75 in 1986. “The notion that he reenlisted after his initial stint (following the Pearl Harbor attack), then missed the next four years, I never heard him complain once.”
Of course, Greenberg could have more homers, like Ted Williams. Bob Feller could have won 300 games, and Warren Spahn maybe 400. Joe DiMaggio missed getting 3,000 career hits, as did Williams.
d75f1df868de6f7fd50ce37e1829cf49But they did something much greater than those Hall of Fame mileposts. And they remained Hall worthy all the same.
Because of them, someone like Gray, at age 30, got his one and only shot at the big-leagues – 77 games in the St. Louis Browns’ outfield  in 1945, hitting .218. His Baseball-Reference.com bio notes he batted left, threw left and fielded “left as well.” But he never wanted to capitalize on his story as a civilian.
And then there’s Southworth, who walked away from baseball and was living the life of a bachelor war hero in L.A. after 25 bomber missions in Europe. He was even entertaining offers of a postwar movie about his life.
His tragic end came during a routine B-29 exercise in 1945 off Long Island that just wasn’t fair to him or his family, who claimed his body seven months after he had gone missing.
If World War II is a dividing line in the game’s history — on one side, there’s its creation in the U.S. near the Civil War, and on the other side, it spurred integration, free agency and how we see it with veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan today, then it’s all the more worth the effort to take a deeper, more personal examination.
As it turns out, this is really the first part of what Klima calls his trilogy of how baseball and war fit together. It did not dawn on him until later that the second and third parts already came with his “Willie’s Boys” and “Bushville Wins!”
“Like the soldiers and sailors I wrote about,” Klima, a former Daily Breeze reporter who lives these days in Thousand Oaks, adds in the acknowledgements, “I was too young and dumb to understand just what I was getting myself into by writing this. I quickly realized that war is hell, and so was writing this book. The amount of research was enormous, and organizing and writing and rewriting it all proved incredibly difficult and painstaking. … Writing a book like this was like flying Billy Southworth’s B-17.”
We’re right there in the co-pilot’s seat.

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 16: Of course a 40-year-old mom of 2 could pitch in the bigs … right?

Other books by author Susan Petrone, pictured here as if she could be the model of Betsy Halversam, are xxxx. From http://ghpolisner.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-summer-of-letting-go-karma-or_20.html

Another book by  Indians blogger Susan Petrone, pictured here as if she could be the model of Betsy Halversmam, is “A Body At Rest” in 2009. Photo from ghpolisner.blogspot.com

The book: “Throw Like A Woman”
The author: Susan Petrone
The vital statistics: The Story Plant, 319 pages, $25.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com

51-xsVAuv7LThe pitch: Fans of the new Fox sit-com “The Last Man on Earth” come to figure out that the key to accepting this bizarre premise as something that’s quite entertaining has to do with a suspension of some key parts of reality.
Things such as: Really, this is the last man? How the heck did he survive and apparently no one else? What happened to everyone else?
So once you decide to accept the premise of this novel –  40-year-old divorced mom of two living in a Cleveland suburb goes from tossing the ball around in the park with her kids in chapter one to signing a contract with the Indians by the end of chapter seven, and there are 19 chapters to go — you’ll fare just fine with this engaging tale of sociological exploration.
You root for Brenda Haversham to become the big league’s first female player not because you have to, but because, when you get to the core of it, she’s enduring a lot of the same kinds of mindless ignorance from fans and opponents, not to mention teammates, as Jackie Robinson did when he broke the color barrier. Maybe not to the same intense degree, but with a lot of the same intolerance.
Plus, she’s a mom. C’mon. You know someone like her and would be behind her all the way.
Petrone, who actually lives in Cleveland with her husband and blogs about the Indians at her ESPN “Sweet Spot” site cleverly called It’s Pronounced LaJaway, doesn’t just make Brenda feel real, but you also feel her angst as she struggles with why she wants to even go forward with this situation in the first place.
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Q&A with Stan Smith: How the soulful Tennis Hall of Famer will bring his retro coolness back to Ojai

IMG_3215The original pair of Stan Smith Adidas recently uncovered at the bottom of my closet could use a lot of refurbishing, but never will they find their way to a recycle bin.
Even if there’s a chance they could be replaced by a newer model.
Maybe it’s because I feel some connection to how Stan Smith actually earned his claim to fame. He’s definitely no Chuck Taylor.

Photo by Martha

Photo by Margo Schwab.

“I would say 90 percent who buy them today don’t even know I’m alive,” the 68-year-old said this week from his home in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “People say, ‘Aren’t you upset about that?’ It’s just natural that all people wouldn’t follow something like that. I just think it’s weird that the company wants to bring them back and focus on the 18-to-25-year-old age range for these. They’ve got people like Ferrell Williams and Derrick Rose  wearing them. So maybe it is cool to wear them again.”
The Stan Smith we remember — the former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champion out of Pasadena and USC – already has soul above all other arch-suppored soles. He doesn’t have to prove his retro coolness. With a pair of shoes that have his name on them, he’ll step back onto the courts at the Ojai Tennis Tournament as an honored guest for the 115th edition of the event coming up next week.
From 1963 to ’68, Smith won four singles titles and three doubles titles in various divisions. From ’66 to ’68, the national junior champion won three colleges singles title, twice over USC teammate Bob Lutz, whom he then partnered with for doubles.
The soft-spoken president (and inductee) in International Tennis Hall of Famer just finished a round of golf in the PGA Tour’s pro-am event for the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links, and talked about returning to the place of his early triumphs for the Thursday night barbeque and the Friday night wine fundraising event:

Q: You just finished a round of golf. Would you consider yourself a big golfer?

A: I’m 6-foot-4 and I play golf. That’s about as big as it gets.

Ojai Logo 2013 JpgQ: When you consider how long this Ojai event has been taking place – more than 100 years – and all it has done for the sport, do you think it can be as important today as it may have been to you when you last competed in the late ‘60s? Continue reading

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 15: Going back to the basics for Jackie Robinson Day

IMG_3179The book: “I Am Jackie Robinson,” from the series “Ordinary People Change the World”
The author: Brad Meltzer
The illustrator: Christopher Eliopoulos
The vital statistics: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group, 40 pages, $12.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com

91HyWy4eNLLThe pitch: The books we’ve reviewed on this special day in past years of this annual series have pretty heady in regards to what topically comes out about the life and times of Jackie Robinson.
Time to switch it up and get a little more back to the basics.
This one intended for the 5-to-8 age range (kindergarten to third grade) caught our attention because, in addition to this being a recent release, there was a review from the School Library Journal that included:
This title … is a preachy, moralistic account of courage. Its sentimentality and sugary-sweetness are a throwback to motivational tales of a century ago. … Facts, including names, dates, and places, are few and far between, and the theme of bravery overrides all else. … Eliopoulos’s cartoonish illustrations are corny and, as Jackie is always shown as a small child (a characteristic of this series), border on disrespectful. This book isn’t complete or thorough enough for use as a biography, and the perky tone will likely cause eye-rolling among readers and listeners. There are many other more informative, better written books on Robinson that also emphasize the themes of courage and racial equality, such as Cathy Goldberg Fishman’s When Jackie and Hank Met (Marshall Cavendish, 2012), a picture book that parallels the lives of Robinson and Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, and April Jones Prince’s easy reader Jackie Robinson: He Led the Way (Penguin, 2007).
OK, then. Maybe we’re setting the bar too low here? Is it possible this is really for kids under 5? Could this really cause that much damage to anyone’s psyche?
We had to investigate.
CCpLTLfUwAA7fIBIt’s not as if Meltzer is new to this whole paragraph-generating genre — his website points out he’s had bestsellers in fiction (with The President’s Shadow coming out in June as a sequel to The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin), non-fiction, (History Decoded), advice (Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter), children’s books (I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln) and even comic books (Justice League of America).
He takes the voice of Robinson as the narrator, explaining how he received his middle name “Roosevelt,” because his mother considered President Teddy Roosevelt to be a brave  person who made sure black people were treated fairly.
“But having a brave name doesn’t make you a brave person,” Robinson explains. “In fact, as a kid, I didn’t like sleeping alone. I used to sleep in my mom’s bed. Even when she tried to bribe me, I wouldn’t leave.”
Well, right there, he’s telling kids not to listen to their mom. How horrible.
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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 14: So No. 14 still isn’t retired by the Dodgers? And why more miracles are needed as the Gil Hodges filibuster continues

A 52’x16’ mural, painted by artist Randy Hedden, is located in Petersburg, IN. It was dedicated in 2009.

A 52’x16’ mural, painted by artist Randy Hedden, is located in Petersburg, Indiana. It was dedicated in 2009.

The book: “Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life”
The author: Mort Zachter
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 478 pages, $34.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com

The pitch: They’re still praying for Gil Hodges. Harder and harder.
517pQQDxrULAt this point – sadly, more than 40 years after the former Dodgers first baseman died of a heart attack at age 47 on Easter Sunday while he was managing the New York Mets and waiting for the 1972 players strike to end – there aren’t any more arguments left to pitch that he has rightfully earned a place in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
But that won’t stop even more of the filibusters on behalf.
Back in 1991, when Marino Amourus came out with “Gil Hodges: The Quiet Man,” USA Today called one of the top five sports books of the year. That led to a 2003 documentary and eventually a “commemorative edition” came out in 2012 that included a chapter about how some “politics” in the Hall were preventing Hodges’ vote from passing. Hodges’ widow, Joan, called “The Quiet Man” the “best book ever written about Gil …”
In 2006, “Praying For Gil Hodges,” a memoir by Thomas Oliphant that personalized Hodges’ career and put him back on the radar, became a New York Times bestseller.
It didn’t matter to Hall Veterans’ Committee voters. Hodges kept getting passed over.
The October 2013 entry, “Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, the Miracles Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend” by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary, definitely kept the conversation alive. They made a case that the reason Hodges isn’t in the Hall is because the Dodgers haven’t thought enough about him to retire his No. 14, holding onto a “backward” Catch -22 policy that only those who go into the Hall get their numbers retired (aside from Jim Gilliam). It’s a policy that current ownership could easily change.
(The Mets, by the way, retired Hodges’ same No. 14 in 1973. On the Dodgers, No. 14 was worn by 21 players since Hodges last had it in 1961. It was last worn by pitcher Dan Haren, and made popular by Mike Scioscia from 1980-92).
So here comes the latest Hodges for the Hall tome – this time, with a cover photo that emphasizes his Mets’ days as the pondering skipper. The subtitle doesn’t hide the author’s intent, as Zachter, a CPA, tax attorney and adjunct tax professor at NYU, has admitted that Hodges was his childhood hero. Continue reading

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