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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Play It Forward April 24-30: What kind of characters do the Rams, Chargers and Raiders need in this NFL draft?

The NFL tries to class things up by holding its annual college star auction near a famous art museum — Round 1 of the draft is Thursday, 5 p.m. outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. ESPN and the NFL Network have it wall-to-wall.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon carries the ball during a game in 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

But if art imitates life, a survey released last week by HBO Real Sports and Marist College Center for Sports Communication Poll indicated that fans generally aren’t so happy when their teams draft problem players — either those connected with domestic violence or performance-enhancing drugs. It comes up as topical now because of Oklahoma 20-year-old running back Joe Mixon as the most polarizing player involved in this year’s draft, based on the video still circulating of him hitting a woman in a pizza parlor in 2014. Without that red flag on his resume, some predict he’d be a first-round choice, in the top 20. With it, he’s at best a second-round gamble. The Oakland Raiders Formerly Of Los Angeles, with the No. 24 choice of the first round and No. 56 overall in the second round, apparently need a running back. Who better than them to take on this challenge as they’re already rolling the dice with a pending move to Vegas, with or without Marshawn Lynch signed on.
Your Los Angeles Chargers have the seventh overall choice and could be hooked on Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. Or not. Your Los Angeles Rams have no first-round picks to concern themselves with, giving away the No. 4 slot they earned in this one to Tennessee based on their over-urgent urge to get Jared Goff last season at No. 1 overall. The Rams don’t pick until No. 37 of the second round.
Aside from Mixon, the picks that will create the most noise appear to be whomever decides to grab LSU running back Leonard Fourtnette, Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson or Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
How the rest of the week shapes up with the Clippers-Jazz NBA playoff series, the Ducks starting round two of their NHL playoffs against Edmonton and the Dodgers heading to San Francisco.

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30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 23: No more need to dumb it down – there’s Law Smart when it comes to new stats

Once upon a time, a “bat rule” was all a kid needed.

In addition to a Q-and-A with Law as part of Sunday’s media column, we have this review:

The book: “Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones that are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball”
The author: Keith Law
The vital statistics: William Morrow/Harper Collins, 304 pages, $27.99, scheduled to come out Tuesday, 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: Everyone wants to look and sound smart, or at least smarter, when it comes to baseball knowledge.
So Keith Law waits until Chapter 18, page 261, to drop the hammer.
“If your local writer is still talking about players in terms of pitcher wins, saves or RBI, he’s discussing the role of the homunculus in human reproduction. The battle is over, whether the losers realize it or not.”
Homunculus? My spellcheck just started hyperventilating.
It’s a reference to a very old theory about “a miniature adult” that was once thought to inhabit the germ cell and to produce a mature individual merely by an increase in size.
How mature.
Another translation: An evolutionary process is happening in baseball, so no matter what you want to hang onto for deal life and claim it still matters, you risk being thought of a non-progressive resistance-to-change outcast who needs to get up to speed quickly or get left behind.
That kind of thinking is why you still may have a flip phone, a fax machine and are holding out hope your taxes might be calculated some day in your favor by using a loophole from the 1940s. Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 23: No more need to dumb it down – there’s Law Smart when it comes to new stats” »

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30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 22: Meet the stories behind swapping meat

The book: “Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History”
The author: Shawn Krest
The vital statistics: Page Street Publishing, 240 pages, $22.99, released March 28
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Vromans.com

The pitch: In 2009, writer Doug Decatur developed a way to quantify baseball’s all-time recording of swaps by producing the book, “Traded: Inside the Most Lopsided Trades in Baseball History” (Acta Sports). In it, he lists 306 transactions that really did favor one team over another, as looking back on history could determine.
Many Dodgers fans expect that the team sending future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to Montreal in 1994 for second baseman Delino DeShields is about as lopsided as it gets, but Decatur not only left that one off the top 10 worst trades in franchise history, but it’s just No. 255 overall.
The Dodgers reportedly weren’t high on Martinez’s durability based on his size (and somewhat ignoring the fact his older brother, Ramon, was built somewhat the same way but was to become a star in his own right). And they really needed a second baseman.
Done deal. Now, move along.
Why revisit it? Because having a book like this hang on its sales ability and credibility based on its author’s promise to thoroughly explain the “best and worst trades” in baseball history will ultimately mean some of us will never be satisfied with the rationale involved picking which deal to include and what to pass over.
Remember, it’s the stories that Krest is after here, not so much developing a ranking that decides how legend will define it.
Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 22: Meet the stories behind swapping meat” »

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