ReviewMay 1, 2007

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Book Reviews: Volume Two

By Madison Jones

Welcome to the second edition of the Cafe’s book review articles. With the long summer months ahead of us, we thought it would be a good idea to share some of the good books to read with everyone. Inside you’ll find reviews written by some of our members on baseball related books they have read lately. Anything from how well the book was written, to how the content was laid out, and if it’s worth picking up or not, so if you’re a reader, or know a reader, check out this edition. If you missed the first volume in the series, here’s a direct link to the first edition. Without further delay, let’s see which books are included in this one.

Title: The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship
Author: David Halberstam
ISBN: 0786888679
Published: 2004
Pages: 217

Reviewed by: Nick Lindquist (Simulacrum)

I know who I would draft before Albert Pujols, if only it were possible. I’d take Ted Williams circa 1949: 43 homers, 150 runs, 159 RBIs, and a ridiculous .343 BA. Or maybe I’d prefer 1941, the year he hit .406 while 120 ribbies and 37 dingers. With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that Ted Williams is commonly referred to as “The best hitter that ever lived.”

I never before took the time to study Ted Williams’s historic batting numbers, and I admit I never even realized Joe DiMaggio had a younger brother who played for the Red Sox, Dominic DiMaggio. In fact, I’ve never taken much of an interest in the details of baseball’s history at all, aside from knowing the names and faces I use to see on baseball cards in the pages of my Beckett magazine. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed The Teammates by David Halberstam so much. The Teammates tells two stories, the first being the history of four Red Sox players in the 1940’s, Ted Williams, Dominic DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, and John Pesky (Needle-nose, and then just Needle to his teammates). The book starts with a history of each of the 4 men, how they found baseball, made it to the big leagues, and eventually formed life-long friendships with their teammates in an era where it was an uncommon to do so.

The second story takes place in early 2001; Ted Williams’s health is rapidly failing. Doerr, Pesky, and friend Dick Flavin make the road trip down to Florida to see him one last time (DiMaggio is caring for his wife after her second stroke). Along the way many old stories are shared between the players, stories that took place both on and off the baseball diamond. Among them are stories of Ted Williams shouting at a number of people- Bobby Doerr for his inaptitude as a fly fisherman, and as a hitter (Doerr refused to ever buy into Williams’s argument that a hitter had to swing up slightly, to counteract the effect of the pitcher’s mound being slightly higher than home plate). Also told in great detail is the story of the 1946 World Series, and how the Red Sox had it snatched away from them by the Saint Louis Cardinals in one blunder of a play. And from there, the decline of a powerhouse Red Sox team into a non-contender in the span of several seasons.

Not surprisingly, the book concentrates most on Williams and the relationships of the other men to him. The book paints Williams with a positive brush, although he was extremely argumentative and prone to severe mood swings. Some of the things I was interested to learn about him included his perfectionism, and insistence that everything be done the right way (his). In 1941, he was batting .400 the final day of the season, and the Red Sox were playing a doubleheader. The manager offered him the day off, but Williams refused to take the easy road. Instead, he got 3 hits in each game and raised his average to .406.

Another story I enjoyed illustrates his rapidly shifting mood swings. In the mid-1950’s, Williams was struck out by a 20 year old pitcher named Pedro Ramos. Ramos kept the ball and asked Williams to sign it after the game, to which Williams responded by launching into a profanity-laden tirade. Upon seeing the youth was very close to tears, he suddenly softened and agreed to sign “the goddamn ball”. The next time Williams batted against Ramos, he launched a massive home run. While running the bases, Williams slowed and yelled “I’ll sign that son of a bitch too, if you can ever find it.”

This was my first baseball history book, and now I am quite sure I will be seeking out and reading others as well. While reading, I kept my laptop close at hand to Google the names of players I didn’t recognize, such as Tommy Henrich, Jimmie Foxx, Boo Ferris. I enjoyed looking up of the stats and histories of each unfamiliar name. After reading The Teammates I have definitely been inspired to expose myself to more of baseball’s history. The Teammates is an engaging, enlightening, and fascinating book, I would highly recommend it to any fan of the game of baseball.

Title: Moneyball
Author: Michael Lewis
ISBN: 0393324818
Published: 2004
Pages: 320

Reviewed by: Drew Friedrich (GreatestShowOnEarth)

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, chronicles the anything but ordinary road of Billy Beane and his unusual but effective baseball management style. The book takes you on a journey inside the Oakland A’s front office and shows the unorthodox moves by the A’s management. Anything from drafting a “bad body” catcher in the first round to firing all the teams’ old scouts, show how quickly the A’s go from the laughing stock of the game, to the most feared front office in baseball.

This book gives you insight into Beane’s past as a failed professional baseball player and how he has become one of the most successful general managers in the history of the game. Lewis spends time talking about the Bill James movement and its effect on a small minority of baseball fans. He discusses the unwillingness of “baseball insiders” to accept what James and others have suggested, even when Beane proves that the system he uses works in the big leagues.

The major reason that the Oakland A’s were so successful was there uncommon view on the value of a player. Beane scoffs at the notion that stolen bases and sacrifices constitute sound baseball strategy. He feels that a scout’s “gut feeling” is often very misleading. He believes that visually seeing a player, has very little to do with being able to accurately gauge that player’s value. Beane relies much more heavily on statistics and uses a Harvard graduate, who has never played baseball, as his head scout.

Lewis tells the story as a triumph for the stat nerds. He describes the Oakland A’s as a pioneering franchise that got and gets no respect. His writing style was very entertaining and at times humorous. I really enjoyed the book. It made me take a hard look at much of what I believed to be true about the game of baseball.

Title: The Voice: Mel Allen’s Untold Story
Author: Curt Smith
ISBN: 1599210940
Published: 2007
Pages: 304

Reviewed by: B.J. Jones (B.J.)

While the younger crowd might not have even heard of Mel Allen, I still managed to learn a great deal of information about him and his life that I didn’t know before, and I was alive and a Yankee fan for most of the years covered in this book. A couple of examples of that would be where certain catch phrases came from (and I won’t ruin which ones by listing them), and the real story about why the Yankees did not renew his broadcasting contract at the end of the 1965 season.

This book was written very well, and chronicles in an outstanding manner the perseverance of Mr. Allen throughout all of the highs and lows during his life. If you enjoy baseball, this book will show you a side of sports that’s rarely ever talked about. If you’re a Yankee fan, that makes this reading all the better and I suggest picking it up and reading it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Madison Jones is always lurking in the shadows of the Cafe. When he does venture into the forums, you can find him posting as Madison.
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