30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 22: Mashing for Mashi, and the Giants’ Japanese pitcher who opened the door in the 1960s

On Masanori Murakami Day at Candlestick Park in 1965.

It’s Masanori Murakami Day at Candlestick Park in 1965.

The book: “Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer”
The author: Robert K. Fitts
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Publishing, 256 pages, $28.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com

EEE9780803255210_p0_v2_s600The pitch: Maybe you noticed in Tuesday’s Dodgers-Giants game, Nori Aoki went 2-for-5 with a stolen base out of the San Francisco lead off spot, raising his average to .344 and messing with Dodgers pitcher Brian Anderson in all kinds of ways.
The 33-year-old left fielder, all of 5-foot-9, was part of the Kansas City Royals’ AL champion team last season. He played for the Japanese League’s Yakult Swallows from 2004-09 before the team posted him  to Major League baseball after the 2011 season. The Milwaukee Brewers won the posting and signed him to a two-year-deal, making Aoki the first Japanese player to be acquired through this process.
“First name is Norichika, but they cut it down to Nori,” Vin Scully noted on the SportsNet LA broadcast. “Aoki … leading the club with ‘A’.”
Scully also noted his father is an insurance salesman, his mom is a piano teacher and he actually started his young as a pitcher but moved to the outfield when he attended Waseda University, where he majored in “human science.”
The Giants’ free-agent signing last off season of Aoki, who swings the bat from the left side with as much deft precision as former Japanese star and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, was pretty much under the radar.
So now flash back 50 years ago, when the Giants really made some news with a Japanese player signing of Masanori Murakami.
On page 97, author Fitts writes about how “Murakami mania swept through San Francisco” in the week after his 1964 debut for the Giants – something of a fluke, actually, as the 19-year-old was just there with a couple of his teammates from the Japanese League to play for San Francisco’s Fresno farm team on loan and ended up being good enough to promote.
For five straight days, the San Francisco Chronicle chronicled his promotion, as did the Pacific Stars and Stripes, Oakland Tribune and Sporting News – right at the height of the 1964 Summer Olympics taking place in Tokyo.
Timing is everything.
The timing of Fitts’ book about why Mashi lasted just through the last half of ’64 and then stuck around for the 1965 season but didn’t come back – it was a sense of obligation, or giri, to his former Japanese League manager and team, which caused him to turn down a lucurative $30,000 deal from the Giants, who couldn’t guarantee that he’d be in their starting rotation – makes for a stunning “what if?” mystery that nicely plays into the Dodgers-Giants rivalry as well and into the context of how Japanese players have made their marks in the “big leagues” since.
Mashi’s MLB career consisted of just nine games in ’64, and 45 more in ’65. His only starting assignment was on Aug. 15 – Murakamai Day, as celebrated by the Giants, just four days after the Watts Riots erupted in L.A. Continue reading

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 21: Mystery (maybe) solved … Dodgers, Giants are most wanted

That's Bruce Willis, with a baseball bat, from the movie "Pulp Fiction." No, it just doesn't add up.

That’s Bruce Willis, with a baseball bat, from the movie “Pulp Fiction.” No, it just doesn’t add up.

The book: “Mystery Ball ’58: A Season-Long Whodunit”
The author: Jeff Polman
The vital statistics: Grassy Gutter Press, 266 pages, $12.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com

51SKRUZSBRLThe pitch: The mystery isn’t how the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year.
Or two years prior.
Or two years prior to that.
It’s why I decided to try to slip a pulp-fiction novel into this whole mess of book reviews.
As the Dodgers and Giants face off today for the first of 19 meetings — and six times in the next 10 days — we’re asking for your help in resolving these mysterious circumstances.
Polman, a Culver City-based writer, caught our attention with this paperback because of a blurb written by Sports Illustrated’s respected Joe Sheehan: “Jeff Polman’s latest combines the Golden Era of Baseball with the Golden Era of Pulp to produce a page-turner and must read for anyone who likes ‘Clubhouse’ or ‘L.A. Confidential’.”
Josh Wilker, the acclaimed author of “Cardboard Gods” gives it a thumbs up, too, touting the “cracking dialogue.”
The premise: Snappy Drake, a former minor-league pitcher who works as an usher at Seals Stadium, finds a dead body in the grandstands after the Giants’ opening day against the Dodgers on the first day of big-league West Coast baseball.
An L.A. Herald Examiner reporter sneaks up to his house to see what he knows.
The “ball-noir” novel is off and running.
Except, we’re just not following it. Not as we anticipated. It’s just not resonating as we had hoped.
Dialogue, if you please:
“Paid my tab and hiked down the hill to my walk-up at 15th and Van Ness. The usual clammy fog was rolling in from South Bay. The thick kind that makes even mailboxes looks spooky. I hiked to the tip of my creaky wooden steps and stopped. A woman stood there in the shadows. I couldn’t see her face but the perfume she was wearing convinced me she had to be a looker. What I could see was a cloud of cigarette smoke blowing toward my face from where her head must have been, and a smart navy skirt that showed enough leg to keep my toes stapled to the porch step.
“ ‘Mr . . . Drake?’
“ ‘You could say that.’
“ ‘I hear you found that body after the game yesterday.’
“ ‘Yeah? Says who?’
“ ‘I was in the papers.’
“ ‘Too bad I don’t read ‘em. Can I help you?’
“She dropped her cigarette, pulverized it with the high red heel, and emerged from the shadow.”
What evil lurks in the hearts of this man? We will probably never know because we haven’t been drawn to finish this to the “Casablanca”-like conclusion. Continue reading

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 20: Warning — Objects may appear to be a bigger deal than they should be

Dodgers' lefthander Tommy John was pitching against the  Atlanta Braves on Opening Day 1978 after his landmark elbow surgery.

Picture this: Dodgers’ left-hander Tommy John was pitching against the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day 1978 after his landmark elbow surgery. He didn’t have to elbow hard for space in the new Josh Leventhal book.

The book: “A History of Baseball in 100 Objects: A Tour through the Bats, Balls, Uniforms, Awards, Documents and Other Artifacts that Tell the Story of the National Pastime.”
The author: Josh Leventhal
The vital statistics: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 496 pages, $29.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com

The pitch: The objective of this book of objects is based on history.
Baseball final coverThat is, the history of books like this that have done well for the readers.
The 736-page “History of the World in 100 Objects” back in 2011 by British Museum director Neal MacGregor was stunning in its dual simplicity, presenting the importance of the Rosetta Stone to David Hockney paintings in both visuals and the written word.
The Smithsonian’s” History of America in 101 Objects” in 2013 went 784 pages – apparently there’s more to what’s in the U.S. than in the world to cover.
A “History of New York in 101 Objects” that arrived in 2014 was much more readable and eclectic in 336 pages — starting with the introduction to the Fordham Gneiss, the oldest rock known in the area which the island of Manhattan has as a foundation.
The sports world, especially baseball, has plenty to choose from in a visceral display of its life story, and those selected by Leventhal, who has previously produced high-quality books such as “Take Me Out to the Ballpark, “The World Series: An Illustrated History of the Fall Classic” and “Baseball Yesterday & Today,” go a wide range for obvious reasons.
As he writes in the intro, this isn’t just sifting through the basement of Cooperstown and finding stuff that interests us – although that could be a whole other reality TV show for the MLB Network.
“This book is not the history … of objects. Rather it is an exploration of the game of baseball as told through the equipment, documents and other artifacts that illustrate its key eras and events.”
Take Item No. 72 in your program, under the “Expansion” collection: There’s Tommy John’s elbow, “circa 1974.”
No, not something on Dr. Frank Jobe’s cutting room floor, or even a photograph that explains why the surgery that the Dodgers’ lefthander endured has changed the game as far as medical breakthroughs. It’s just a photo of John throwing. Which is comfortably fine.
But when you pinpoint that as a seminal moment in the sport, then it somehow becomes an “object” up for closer examination, which is the purpose of this exercise. In the four-page explanation, there is much more detail, including a look at the modern-day thinking that this surgery has become an “epidemic.”
Continue reading

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Play It Forward April 20-26: A Kershaw-Bumgarner matchup as good as it can get

iTHIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

MLB: DODGERS at SAN FRANCISCO:
Details/TV: Tuesday-Thursday, SportsNet L.A.:
bum-kershawAs fate and rotations seem to have it, defending NY Cy Young and MVP Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to match up against World Series MVP and ’14 NL Cy Young runner-up Madison Bumgarner as the star attractions for the middle day of this three game series. As numbers align, the 27-year-old Kershaw is also seeking his 100th career win in his 213th career start – compared to just 50 losses. Of all the teams he has beaten over the years, the Giants have been victims 14 times (one back of Colorado, whom he used to grind his first win of the 2015 season in his last start) and he was 3-0 against the NL wildcard-turned-World Series-champs during the regular season with a 1.69 ERA. Bumgarner, who doesn’t turn 26 until August, has a modest 1-1 record so far – matching Kershaw – with an ugly 5.29 ERA. The Padres tore him up for five runs and 10 hits in three innings on April 11 in a 10-2 loss. They have matched up before — the Baseball Prospectus broke down that first meeting in 2012. Bumgarner also beat Kershaw in a 2013 matchup. There are plenty of debates about which left-hander is more valuable. During the 2014 spring training, the thought of how a long-term Kershaw-Bumgarner rivalry could perhaps match the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird career arch as they continue to battle each other year after year. “It could happen,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy told MLB.com reporter Lyle Spencer. “They could be facing each other quite a bit down the road. You look at Clayton Kershaw, everything he’s accomplished, and Madison … one of the elite left-handers in the game. Hopefully, that is the case. You have one guy who sets a bar that high, you want to say you’re in that class.” Replied Bumgarner when asked about comparing himself to the Dodgers’ ace: “I don’t need Kershaw to want to be a better pitcher.” Fastballs often speak louder than words.
Six of the Dodgers’ next nine games are Giants, some of whom you may not recognize any longer from a year ago. The Giants have stumbled miserably out of the gate for the 2015 season, already five back of the first-place Dodgers to start last weekend, and finally ending an eight-game losing streak.
Games Tuesday and Wednesday are at 7:15 p.m., Thursday is at 12:45 p.m.

ALSO THIS WEEK:

The Clippers stay at Staples Center for Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against San Antonio (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket, TNT) before going to Texas for Game 3 (Friday, 6:30 p.m., Prime Ticket, ESPN) and Game 4 (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7) … Meb Keflezighi defends his Boston Marathon victory at the 119th edition of the race on Monday (5:30 a.m., Universal Sports) … UCLA has its spring football game at the Rose Bowl (Saturday, 10 a.m., Pac-12 Network) … The Galaxy heads to the New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN2) … The Ducks take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals to Winnipeg for Game 3 (Monday, 6 p.m., Prime Ticket) and Game 4 (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. FSW), with Game 5 back in Anaheim if needed (Friday, Channel 13) … The Angels play four against Oakland (Monday-Thursday) and three against Texas (Friday-Sunday) at Angel Stadium …. More info at this link.

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 19: It’s a far cry from a Gwynn-win situation for a No. 19 tribute

This is what the poster looks like that is converted from the book jacket.

This is what the poster looks like that is converted from the book jacket. It is meant as a tribute.

The book: “Tony Gwynn: He Left His Heart in San Diego”
The author: Rich Wolfe
The vital statistics: Lone Wolfe Press, 255 pages, $24.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com

BBBB9780984627899_p0_v1_s600The pitch: We completely understand how much you’d like a book that celebrates the life and times of the Padres’ Hall of Fame human being and Long Beach native, who died last June of cancer.
If you happen to come across this somewhere, take an intentional walk.
Here are 19 reasons why:
1. It’s not up to Gwynn’s standards.
2. The author doesn’t seem to know, or care, that it’s not up to Gwynn’s standards. He writes in the preface: “I don’t even pretend to be an author. This book with its unusual format is designed solely for fans. I really don’t care what the publishers, editors or critics think.”
Or Gwynn’s family, apparently.
3. The author really is the publisher. He could use an editor. And what this critic thinks here should matter just a little bit in the bigger picture.
4. You’re encouraged to take off the book jacket, unfold it, turn it inside out, and look at the glossy 28-by-22 inch poster (see above). That isn’t so corny, but we can’t find a credit for the illustrator.
5. The author does credit San Diego Union-Tribune CEO John Lynch (former owner of XTRA 690-AM and the Mighty 1090) and his “wonderful staff” for assisting on the project. Most of the current staff would just as well wish they didn’t get any mention for it at all.
6. The author notes the book is “not affiliated with or endorsed by the San Diego Padres or MLB.” If it was, perhaps it would have been much better.
7. The author gives out his phone number – (602) 738-5889 – in case you have a story you might want to give him about Gwynn that could get into the next edition of “For San Diego Sports Fans Only.” He says if you call, “he’ll probably answer .. .he’s a lonely old man with no friends and a lotta time on his hands.” We assume this is a joke.
8. The author also contends: “No actual Los Angeles Dodgers fans were harmed in the making of this book.” Not unless any Dodgers fans bought this attempting to find a tribute to Gwynn’s legacy. Continue reading

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