30 baseball books for April ’16, Day 26: Holy Yasiel, and in Bjarkman we trust with Cuba’s baseball lore

Yasiel Puig, left, talks with Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Yasmany Tomas, right, in center field before the start of the Dodgers home opener on April 12. Both are Cuban defectors. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Yasiel Puig, left, talks with Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Yasmany Tomas, right, in center field before the start of the Dodgers home opener on April 12. Both are Cuban defectors. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The book: “Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story”
The author: Peter C. Bjarkman
The vital statistics: Rowman & Littlefield, 386 pages, $36. To be released May 5
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, and at the publisher’s website

51xVnQJaNbLThe pitch: Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman made us read this.
So did President Obama, who paraded in with the Tampa Bay Rays onto Cuban soil this past spring for an exhibition game/demonstration of what ports of business American baseball can open.
Our curiosity about how this all plays into human trafficking also drew us in.
And, because it’s Bjarkman, a writer for BaseballdeCuba.com and frequent SABR award winner in this field, we felt we were getting it straight.
For example, he’s already won an award from the baseball super-research group for this particular effort.
Aside from his resume of biographical histories and encyclopedias, kids series books and baseball “scrapbook” series, he did, In 2014, did a history of Cuban baseball from 1864-2006.
718eo7LpNlL In 2005, he did “Diamonds Around the Globe: The Encyclopedia of International Baseball” which also won a SABR award. In 1999, it was “Smoke: The Romance and Lore of Cuban Baseball.”
Bjarkman writes in his intro that his attempt to “explore the daring and often tortuous migrations of some of the better-known Cuban stars who have abandoned low-wage celebrity status in their homeland to endure life-altering (and occasionally life threatening) pilgrimages in search of multimillion-dollar celebrity status on center stage in Norther American major leagues” is as complex a thing to watch as well as write about.
There are “proud successes” and “soft underbelly failures,” not just of the Cuban socialist baseball structure but how the MLB operates and benefits itself.
Bjarkman most notably argues “our mainstream media – especially in the wake of Barack Obama’s bold December 2014 efforts at placing a belated wedge in a long-standing United States-Cuba stalemate – has rather badly misconstrued and misreported the stories of Cuban ballplayers” flocking to the U.S.
“Popular press accounts have mostly gotten the whole story essentially backwards” and in the end, “Cuban talent drain may now haunt MLB’s survival every bit as much as it haunts Cuba’s own baseball future.”
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30 baseball books for April ’16, Day 25: Buck stops by for an update … from the crouch, not grouch, position

Buck Martinez, left, and Royals pitching coach Troy McClure converse before a xxx game. (www.battersbox.ca)

Buck Martinez, left, and Royals pitching coach Bob McClure converse before a 2011 game. (www.battersbox.ca)

The book: “Change Up: How to Make the Great Game of Baseball Even Better”
The author: Buck Martinez, with Dan Robson
The vital statistics: Harper Collins Canada, 320 pages, $27.99. Released March 15
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at the publisher’s website.

51Jyr6GaWSLThe pitch: Where you been, Buck?
John “Buck” Martinez is a voice that needs to be heard, but lately, you need to live in Toronto to do so.
Seventeen years as a big-league catcher (Kansas City, Milwaukee, Toronto), 28 years as a broadcaster (an analyst at ESPN and TBS, also with the Blue Jays, but now doing play-by-play for the Blue Jays on Rogers SportsNet, along with Dan Shulman), and a little more than a season as a Blue Jays manager (2001-June of 2002). That’s enough of a resume to resume interest in what his take might be on today’s game.
Old school? All the way. But in a good way.
From page 227: “We have learned so much about this game. We have found so many new ways to analyze it. So many new ways to evaluate and judge talent. We have, in many ways, come a long way. But if you really think about it, for all this talk about how the game has changed, the formula for winning has stayed the same: homegrown talent, pitching, defense and a team that knows how to play together. Sometimes a clear view forward requires a good, long look back. And that’s how you change up.”
That’s the message he leaves the reader with after the previous 21 chapters reinforce his beliefs that “teams” today have been lost to “individual brands,” too much time is spent on hitting instead of fielding, and there’s not enough “feel of the game” is taken into account when decisions are made.
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30 baseball books for April ’16, Day 24: A fixer-upper for the 1919 Black Sox ‘Betrayal’

hith-black-sox-world-series-Eight_men_banned-VThe book: “The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball”
The author: Charles Fountain
The vital statistics: Oxford University Press, 290 pages, $27.95, Released October, 2015
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com and at the publisher’s website. (The publisher, by the way, is the same that makes the Oxford Dictionary).

61zSPKXvyGLThe pitch: We admire Charles Fountain’s gumption for trying to fix something about the most well-known fix in baseball history.
For all we know, or think we know, about this incident creeping up on its 100th anniversary, this journalism professor from Northeastern University and former sportswriter who has already churned out a 1993 bio about Grantland Rice and the rites of spring training (which we reviewed as the first book of the 2009 season) finds a need to  revisit something with a fresh set of cynicism.
This came out during last year’s World Series, so it missed the 2015 review list, but we’re not going to let it slip by that easy.
Much like what Glenn Stout did with the 1919 sale of Babe Ruth, Fountain is all about setting the record straight.
9906635792In a very subtle way, for example, he refers to Eliot Asinof’s “Eight Men Out” as “the best known if also the least-reliable book on the subject” just a few sentences into his book. So there goes any reference point you might have had in the literary world.
He acknowledges that the 1963 classic is  “the single most influential telling of the Black Sox story, for it has shaped every telling that has followed. It has also made subsequent retelling of the Black Sox story difficult, for while ‘Eight Men Out’ is confidently presented and highly readable, it is also questionably sourced, and as much a work of imagination as history … (and) Asinof made no apologies for seeing and telling the story in dramatic terms and had originally conceived the project as a screenplay.”
Fountain is hardly spouting off. And we’re drinking it all in.
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30 baseball books for April ’16, Day 23: Where were you in ’72? A Reds scare and an A’s rebellion amidst a Watergate investigation

Cincinnati's Dave Concepcion scores under the tag of Oakland's Gene Tenace in

Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion scores under the tag of Oakland’s Gene Tenace in Game 6 of the 1972 World Series.

The book: “Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of ’72”
The author: Ed Gruver
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 408 pages, $29.95. To be released May 1.
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website.

514eoXEs6uLThe pitch: According to those who operate the Coordinated Universal Time index, 1972 was the longest year ever. It was already a 366-day leap year, and two leap seconds were added to balance the universe.
For the rest of us who might remember more about it, that year may only seemed to be longer.
It started with a players’ strike that eliminated an odd amount of games for each team made the final standings a mess — the Boston Red Sox lost the AL East by a half game to the Detroit Tigers. Ooops.
The Dodgers, with Frank Robinson playing right field and Steve Garvey misappropriated at third base, didn’t even have their star infield together yet, although they were two years away from the World Series. Claude Osteen somehow wins 20 games, Don Sutton wins another 19, with 48-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm is tutoring 24-year-old Charlie Hough in the bullpen about the art of the knuckleball.
The Angels had 25-year-old Nolan Ryan winning 19 games, losing 16, posting an ERA of 2.28. striking out a league-high 329, and, since the DH was one year away, he hit. .135 with five doubles and a triple.
(As a kid, I’d listen to Dick Enberg call Angels games at this time. He once mentioned that Eddie Fisher was up in the bullpen warming up. I had no idea that Elizabeth Taylor’s former husband was a pitcher, but then again, the Angels did once have Bo Belinski.)
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30 baseball books for April ’16, Day 22: They’re ready to fall on their sabermetric swords

An appearance by Jose Canseco to play for the independent league's Sonoma Stompers was probably one of the more normal things that happened with the team in 2015 (Photo:

An appearance in June by Jose Canseco to play for the independent league’s Sonoma Stompers was probably one of the more normal things that happened with the team in 2015 (Photo by Crista Jeremiason/Sonoma Press Democrat)

The book: “The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team”
The authors: Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
The vital statistics: Henry Holt and Co., 368 pages, $30. Will be released May 3
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com. At the publishers website.

ONLYThe pitch: The Sonoma Stompers, you’ve got to figure, are named so after those who crush grapes for the local wineries.
Yet no one is going to squish the dreams of Lindbergh and Miller right now.
Although you couldn’t blame them for getting a little whiny now and then.
The Stompers are an entry in the independent Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs in Northern California, full of players trying to attract the attention of anyone except, perhaps, the Stompers.
And they come without warning labels, full of flaws, gaps in their resume and a glove full of lies.
“Baseball has a caste system and at our level, we’re trafficking in Untouchables,” Lindbergh writes in Chapter 5. “If the (Oakland) A’s were ‘a collection of misfit toys,’ as Michael Lewis wrote (in the book ‘Moneyball’), then we’ll be building a team out of toys that got recalled because they were choke hazards.”
And that’s just the starting point of the challenge that Lindbergh and Smith, two sabermetric prophets from the Baseball Prospectus, gave themselves in trying to see if they can apply their math to a real-team building in real-time baseball.
It translates to real easy read, because it’s not just enjoyable or “blissfully funny” at Nate Silver notes on the cover blurb. It’s because it’s something we all wish we had the chance to do in our 20s aside from dabbling in a rotisserie league that had a minimal payoff.
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