Crooked Pitch: The Curveball in American Baseball History
by Martin Quigley
The subtitle turns out to be a misnomer, as Quigley’s work is truly concerned with breaking pitches of any sort-from the standard hook to the extralegal spitball. Quigley attempts to trace the efforts to make pitches curve, dance and slide since Candy Cummings supposedly threw the first bender in the 19th century. While an admirable effort, the book is too short and simple, leaving the experienced fan wanting more. Most of the anecdotes and stories have been related in numerous other works, and the sections on the various types of pitches are far too short. The book’s main value for veteran fans is in its revealing of the tendencies of older pitchers, helping to bring them to life. The dated nature of the text recommends against a purchase, but if found at a discount, this volume would be a welcome addition to a baseball library.
The Wrong Stuff
by Bill Lee
The iconoclastic lefty writes of his upbringing and pitching career in the same quirky, offbeat style as he lived his life. The pitcher who was said to sprinkle marijuana on his pancakes is straightforward and honest in his tales of the road and pitching against the hated Yankees. While Lee’s politics are almost quaint by today’s standards, he does write a fast, interesting tale that moves much quicker than his half speed curveballs did. The book clearly owes a debt, as most baseball confessionals do, to Ball Four, but is still worth a look for fans of Lee or the great Red Sox-Yankee battles of the 1970s. --Mike Webb
All Roads Lead To October
by Maury Allen
St. Martins, 2000.
Allen, a longtime New York sportswriter, has penned a readable, although too short, account of the tumultous reign of George Steinbrenner, majority owner of the New York Yankees. Allen attempts to cover the events of Steinbrenner’s tenure- from the dead zone of the early 1970s through the glory of the Joe Torre titles. However, the short space Allen has necessitates a cursory glance at the people and personalities that have made America’s greatest franchise so memorable. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, the book was a little painful, but Allen is an excellent writer, and his insights into the lives of Yankee greats are well worth the time. Along with its shortness, the book also suffers from touches of personal bias, as Allen appears to find it difficult to view characters like Billy Martin and Thurman Munson with necessary detachment. In general, Allen has written an accessible, though not groundbreaking, work of recent baseball history that is well worth the minor flaws. --Mike Webb
Feeding the Green Monster
by Rob Neyer
This volume, Neyer’s second book, is part of a coming trend in publishing, an electronic book (or e book). E books are computer files that are read by computer programs such as Microsoft Reader. Being the sentimental sort, I purchased Neyer’s book as a trade paperback, which is both more expensive than E books and less available than normal books, since it is printed on demand and only available through online bookstores.
After all this, I am pleased to report that Neyer’s book is marvelous, a game by game diary of the Red Sox 2000 season. Neyer got an apartment steps from Fenway Park and proceeded to attend every Red Sox home game, along with a few road games, some minor league outings, and occasional forays to other pro games during his travels. Neyer not only reports on the game action, but also explores, as in his other books, various baseball and non baseball topics that strike his fancy.
Neyer is a fan, first, last and always, but a fan who thinks deeply and carefully before stating his views. He is thought provoking, funny, and charming. This book is clearly oriented towards popular readers, and is unfortunately lesser due to the lack of the sabermetrics that can make his ESPN.com columns so entertaining and informative. But Green Monster is pure joy to read, and well worth the effort needed to obtain it. --Mike Webb
The Team That Wouldn’t Die
by Hal Bodley
Serendipity in association with the Philadelphia National League Club, 1981
I was immediately suspicious when I saw the publisher listed as shown above. Any book co- produced by the team it purports to cover raises questions about its objectivity. The book does not disappoint, proving to be little more than what appears to be rewritten newspaper pieces. The book covers the facts of the postseason, and then continues with brief biographies and stories of the primary players on the team. The writing is dull and flat, and can only be recommended to researchers or fans who intensely need to know about the 1980 World Champion Phillies. --Mike Webb
My Life in Baseball
by Robin Roberts
Anyone who has read baseball books has read these: the jock, active or inactive, hooks up with the writer, spins a few yarns about the stars of his era (including himself, if applicable), extols the virtues of hard work and drinking milk, and the publisher cuts the check. Thankfully, Roberts’ look at his career in major league baseball is not the standard baseball autobiography. Roberts’ book is entertaining, clear, and honest without delving into Ball Four territory.
Roberts begins with what, for me, is a blessing-a short summary of his pre-professional career. Too many times players go into full detail about their early life, which proves to be neither illuminating nor useful. Roberts then describes his pro career, followed by a brief description of his post pitching life. The book is weighted correctly, with the most time spent on teams and events that merit the attention. He describes the loss of his stuff with a somewhat rose colored tint, but he does not rail against his career ending, merely comes to terms with it and moves on.
Overall, a mature, enjoyable, and well done look at the career of the Hall of Fame Phillie. --Mike Webb
1990, William Morrow.
It is one of the dualities that puzzle thinkers in all fields: what is truly the cause of a phenomenon and what is the effect? Was Hitler the prime mover of World War II, or did conditions produce an environment that was bound to produce a madman? Are human beings hard wired at birth or created by societal pressures? Similarly, and much less seriously, one may ask if Babe Ruth created the offensive explosion of the 1920s and 30s, or if environmental changes created an environment that Ruth and others happily took advantage of?
As with most such questions, the answer is mixed-some nature and some nurture factors are at work. William Curran attempts to discuss the issue in his book, “Big Sticks: The Batting Revolution of the Twenties.” And while the question is impossible to answer, Curran uses the topic to give an informative and entertaining look at 1920s baseball, beginning with Ruth’s rise to prominence and ending with the onset of the Great Depression and the cooling of the hot bats in the 1930s.
Curran writes extremely well, and shows a respect for sabermetrics while not burying the reader in numbers. This work is a must for anyone who is interested in the baseball that immediately followed the Dead Ball Era, and deserves a place, as the jacket blurb claims, alongside luminaries like Kahn and Angell on the baseball bookshelf.
Before They Were the Bombers
by Jim Reisler
Boston sportswriter Bob Ryan has said that if one is going to use the word “dynasty”, one should be referring to the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Celtics, or the Dallas Cowboys. Any baseball fan cannot help but be familiar with the Yankees’ 80 plus years of near constant dominance in professional baseball from 1920 to the present. The list of great players is similarly familiar, with Ruth and Gehrig giving way to DiMaggio and Mantle, followed by Jackson and Guidry, and finally ending with current stars like Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter.
However, Yankee history does not begin with Babe Ruth’s acquisition. The New York Highlanders were created out of whole cloth by American League president Ban Johnson from the wreckage of the first Baltimore Orioles, and quickly set up shop in New York to compete with the National League Giants. Owned by Tammany Hall thugs , the Highlanders were immediately competitive, falling just short of the 1904 pennant, before stumbling through the decades to follow until Jacob Ruppert bought the team in 1915, setting the stage for Ruth’s purchase in 1920 and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Reisler’s book is an entertaining look at these wild and lawless days in baseball history. He takes the reader through each season, emphasizing key points and personalities such as Hal Chase, one of baseball’s most crooked personalities. The book sheds well needed light on this era, and is a good read for anyone interested in the deadball period. --Mike Webb