The Baseball Hall of Fame opens on June 12, 1939, with Connie Mack (first row, second from right) sharing the billing with (front row) Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, (back row) Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, George Sisler and Walter Johnson.
The pitch: Combining the 742 pages already documented for “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball” in 2007, and 720 more for “Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, 1915-1931” in 2012, Macht has managed to convince the publisher to allow 2,134 pages and hundreds of thousands of words to go beyond the summation of the life and baseball times of Cornelius McGillicuddy, a man who was managing his 50th and final year with the Philadelphia Athletics when Vin Scully began his broadcasting career in Brooklyn in 1950.
Mack died six years later, at age 93.
From exhaustion, perhaps.
The exhaustion that one would even have after reading the 5,700-word piece that Wikipedia fashioned for him. We won’t pretend to say we made it through the first two editions of the “Tall Tactician” that chronicle in every-so-detailed detail his five World Series titles, his ridiculous amount of 3,731 wins — almost 1,000 more than anyone else, despite a sub-.500 record — and a 10-year-playing career before all that from 1886-96 (the last three as player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates).
This third deposit gets through the weight of a far less joyous time in his life than the first two – here, his sons fight over control of the Philadelphia Athletics, watch it go bankrupt at Connie Mack Stadium, then sell it off and can’t stop it from moving to Kansas City. We’re just pleased that having had nearly six months to get through this final volume, we’re still not sure if the effort this time was inspiring enough to go back and dig through the first two tomes we’d previously set aside, mostly because of intimidation. Continue reading →
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 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. 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.” Continue reading →
The 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. Continue reading →
The 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).
The 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. In 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. Continue reading →
The 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.) Continue reading →