- The book: “When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Dreams of a National Pastime”
- The author: Ryan A. Swanson
- Vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 304 pages, $29.95
- Find it: The University of Nebraska Press site, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com and at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: If this latest Jackie Robinson Day has taught the young-ins another history lesson about race relations and the game of baseball, here’s something that turns the clock back even further.
“Whereas much has been written on Jackie Robinson and the process of baseball’s racial desegregation, not nearly enough attention has been paid to an obvious but oft-overlooked question: how did baseball develop to the point where it needed Jackie Robinson in the first place?” Swanson writes in the introduction.
Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Washington D.C. are Swanson’s focus on how baseball may have thrived in dense black populated cities after the Civil War, but this “fanatical desire by white baseball leaders to foster a ‘national game’ was the preeminent force behind baseball’s segregation,” the University of New Mexico professor continues about how the Reconciliation period of America compromised racial progress, and baseball was merely a reflection of that.”
Strange, eh? Continue reading
- The book: “Jackie & Campy: The Untold Story of Their Rocky Relationship and the Breaking of Baseball’s Color Line”
- The author: William C. Kashatus
- Vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 296 pages, $24.95
- Find it: At University of Nebraska Press website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: Maybe this story has been told before.
In the notes to the introduction of this book, Kashatus cites some stories found in his research: “A Feud Grows in Brooklyn,” is the headline on a piece by the L.A. Sentinel’s Doc Young in 1957. “Campy Envied Me,’ Busy Robby Hastens to Explain,” wrote Dick Young in the New York Daily News about a month before Doc Young’s story. “Campy Ridicules Robinson: I’ll Catch 5 More Years,” Young wrote again, the day after his previous story.
Maybe those of us who were not around when Robinson was retiring in 1956, or as Campanella had his career end in 1957 after a car accident never heard this side of their relationship before.
Not that we expect all teammates to get along. Winning solves a lot of relationship issues.
So why bring it up again? Because as the latest rounds of Jackie Robinson tributes come again on this day set aside in his honor, some reflection on how his legacy didn’t always mix with his fellow African-American Dodgers teammates, and why differing approaches toward the end-goal of equality was more likely a reflection of society as a whole as it fought through ways of getting to the end game.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Robinson and Campanella were from almost two different worlds.
Just look at the titles of their autobiographies — “I Never Had It Made,” went with Robinson, who moved to Pasadena with his mom as school kid, while “It’s Great To Be Alive” is connected to Campanella, whose father was Italian and his mother black.
Robinson was all about intensity, aggressiveness, pride. Campanella was more easy going, charming, and wanted his abilities to speak for themselves. And there they butted heads often, writes Kashatus, using the comparison in his introduction to how the two mirrored a philosophy toward ending segregation as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois did in their own ways. Continue reading
- The book: “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma”
- The author: Kostya Kennedy
- Vital stats: Time Home Entertainment Inc., 342 pages, $26.95
- Find it: At the author’s website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: In an excerpt of the book that appeared in the March 10 issue of Sports Illustrated — it was the cover story, for that matter — this paragraph explained best what was at the crux of the matter:
“Of all the ways one might characterize the differences and similarities between Rose and those players known to have used performance-enhancing drugs — the Hall of Shamers, as it were — it comes to this: Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”
That paragraph doesn’t make until Chapter 22 of this book by Kennedy, the Sports Illustrated assistant managing editor who decided to take on this project.
Our dilemma: Do we care enough to invest our time and patience into this project?
For the writing of Kennedy, sure. It’s not like he’s got Rose-colored glasses on here.
For the filibuster that takes place in trying to make us all understand this complicated matter? We’re not sure. But then, maybe this book isn’t intended for someone like us to digest. You don’t have to convince us.
After plowing through the evidence that Kennedy re-unearths, our better sense is that we believe more than ever that use of the words like “fatal flaws” and “enigmatic” or “conundrums” are really what is derailing any progress in Rose’s legacy. Continue reading
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:
WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS:
GAME 1: CLIPPERS vs. GOLDEN STATE/DALLAS/MEMPHIS:
At Staples Center: Post season begins Saturday, times and TV to be announced:
The Clippers are playing it cool these days. “It doesn’t matter who we play in the first round,” Matt Barnes was saying the other day. “We’ll be ready regardless and we have no preference.” Spoken like a true vet of post-season, this-is-out-of-our-hands experiences. ”We’re going to have to play three tough teams to get to the finals no matter what seed we are,” teammate Blake Griffin seemed to agree. “If we were 1 or we were 8, we would have to play some tough teams home and away.”
How toughened up the Clippers are considering their recent playoff history and their transformation under Doc Rivers this year will now be under more intense scrutiny. If you go by the Hollinger Power Rankings on ESPN.com, the Clippers have held down the No. 2 spot of all 30 teams for the last couple of weeks (behind San Antonio, ahead of Oklahoma City), so they’ve powered up at the right time. There are a couple of ways things could go for them in the first round, depending on how the Warriors (No. 5 in the same power rankings, one spot ahead of Miami), Mavericks (No. 9) and Grizzlies (No. 10) decide to angle for position. At least there is no more talk of the “Hallway Series” meetings with the Lakers any more, unless some players happen to run into Pau Gasol cleaning out his locker. The key to the Clippers’ future is how they hold up defensively, and that seems to fall on the consistency of DeAndre Jordan, leading the league in rebounding (13.8) and third in blocked shots (2.46), not to mention a league-best in field-goal percentage (.674) to go with a career-best 10.4 points a game in an already star-studded offense. “You talk about so many different awards for so many different people,” teammate Chris Paul said recently. “I think D.J. is a guy who should be up for most improved, who should be up for defensive player of the year, all that type of stuff. He’s got to get something.”
BEST OF THE REST: Continue reading
- The book: “The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes from Left Field”
- The author: Josh Ostergaard
- Vital stats: Coffee House Press, 256 pages, $15.95
- Find it: At Coffee House Press, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com
- The pitch: An anthropologist, from what we understand, is more than just someone who apologizes for frequently shopping at Anthropologie. Especially if they’re of the male species.
Ostergaard, who got his Master of Arts degree in that field from the University of Illinois at Chicago, followed that up with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in creative writing. Throw in baseball, and here’s where all that mashes together in one glorious brain purge.
On the blog anthropologyworks.com, Ostergaard says this book idea about the cultural force of baseball came a decade ago, but “it’s gone through tons of iterations…It started out as a novel, but I scrapped everything I had in 2009, and it turned into something different entirely.” Something, in this case, we don’t recall ever seeing before.
- The book: “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Los Angeles Dodgers Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box”
- The author: Houston Mitchell, forward by Ross Porter
- Vital stats: Triumph Books (paperback), 192 pages, $14.95
- Find it: From the publisher’s website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: Don’t be dazzled or confused by the cover shot of Yasiel Puig, who really hasn’t made much history with the 50-year-plus existence of the franchise in L.A. but has become its most sell-able commodity — in this case, hoping to catch the eye of a potential book buyer. For the record, the only thing about Puig inside here is the last item of the second-to-last chapter, and there really isn’t all that much talked about.
The publisher has used this “If These Walls Could Talk” marketing technique to put out a series of quick-read history books covering other MLB, NFL and college football programs. You might think that since this Dodgers version comes so close to the same publisher’s release of “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Jon Weisman, there might be a bit of re-purposing the same material. After all, you really can’t do an L.A. Dodger history/fact book without a lot of cross referencing, and Mitchell, an assistant sports editor at the Los Angeles Times, makes note of Weisman’s book as one of his sources.
But we’ve found enough fresh material to allow them to co-exist. Continue reading
- The book: “Up, Up & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi! The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos”
- The author: Jonah Keri
- Vital stats: Random House Canada, 408 pages, $32
- Find it: At RandomHouse.ca, at the author’s website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com
- The pitch: More than 90,000 congregated at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium recently to see a two-game exhibition series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets. Thousands more apparently didn’t get in because the line outside the stadium to pick up tickets they ordered online took too long and they gave up.
Asked about the chances of a Major League Baseball team ever returning to Montreal, former Expos manager Felipe Alou said at a press conference: “It’s 50/50, that’s what I hear. But after these two games it will probably go over 50/50.”
How’s that math work in the conversion rate?
- The book: “They Call Me God: The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived”
- The author: Doug Harvey, with Peter Golenbock
- Vital stats: Gallery Books, 288 pages, $28
- Find it: At Gallery Books, at Powells, at Vromans, at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: This story starts on page 170:
“The umpire is there for one reason and one reason only: To make sure one team doesn’t gain an unfair advantage. It’s that simple …
“I used to get a kick out of Tommy Lasorda. He’d come waddling out. He could be nasty but I always kind of liked him. In this game, Don Sutton, who was a hell of a pitcher when he wasn’t cheating, was pitching for the Dodgers and he was pitching a brand new ball. He rubbed it up, and there was a fly out and (umpire) Jerry Crawford got the ball and looked at it and he called me over.
“‘ Chief, look at this,’ Jerry said. And he showed the ball to me and it had a scab right on the league president’s signature. I didn’t think it was an accident that the mark had been put on that spot.
“Sutton pitched another brand new ball and on his first pitch Ken Reitz hit a fly out to Rick Monday in center field. Monday flipped the ball to Jerry coming in, and Jerry called me over again. That ball had been scuffed in the same spot at the other one.
“‘Lasorda, come out here,’ I said.
“Tommy came out.
“‘Look at this ball.’
“‘Do you see this scuff right here?’ I asked.
“‘Well someone on your ball club is marring the ball’ — I didn’t even say that Sutton was the one marring it — ‘and I have to think Sutton is pitching the marred ball knowing it’s marred, and I’m telling you, if he does it again, I’m going to toss him.’
“‘Jesus Christ, Harvey,’ Lasorda said. ‘What are you trying be, God?’” Continue reading
- The book: “The Bilko Athletic Club”
- The author: Gaylon White
- Vital stats: Rowman & Littlefield, 326 pages, $38
- Find it: At Rowman.com, at Powells, at Vromans, at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank has referred to this as the “West Coast version of ‘The Boys of Summer’,” and we’ll happily endorse that endorsement.
White, a Society for American Baseball Research member and one-time sportswriter at the Denver Post, gathers all he can about the ’56 Angels, a lot of it inspired by research done in the past by author John Schulian and former PCL Historical Society president Dick Beverage.
White writes from personal knowledge of having grown up in Ontario and El Monte in the 1950s, with Bilko’s Angels as the only real big-league club in L.A. until the Dodgers arrived a couple of years later. First-baseman Bilko hit 148 homers in three seasons with the Angels, inspiring the nickname for the team (as per the book title). He hit 313 homers in 1,553 games in the minor leagues from 1949-62. And he hit just 76 in 600 major-league games, seven with the with the Dodgers in 1958 and 28 with the Angels in 1961-62 before he was done at age 33. Continue reading
- The book: “Bigger Than The Game: Restitching a Major League Life”
- The author: Dirk Hayhurst
- Vital stats: Citadel Press, 320 pages, $14.95
- Find it: At DirkHayhurst.com, at Kensington Publishing, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com
- The pitch: As a follow up to the huge debut of “The Bullpen Gospels” of 2010 and then “Out of My League” in 2012 (and then “Wild PItches” in 2013) comes the latest from the N.Y. Times bestseller/former Padres, Rays and Blue Jays relief pitcher who goes much deeper into the count than he did in previous accounts of his life.
We had fun with more light-hearted situations, but now Hayhurst has seen teammates and management turn against him because of his writing abilities. As he said during a Q-and-A with Deadspin readers: Continue reading