Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

Originally published on Pinstripe Alley

Most sports books labor under the same burdensome motif: the subject is the greatest example there has ever been.

The Mick is the most tragic tragic-hero, while the Boss is the most contradictory contradiction; or this season or that season most embodies the soul of baseball.  It's easy to understand why writers take this tack- why else would we bother to read the book?

So when a book comes along that is relatively hyperbole free, I find it refreshing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review: Yankee Classics by Les Krantz

Originally published on Pinstripe Alley

I was recently given the chance to review Yankee Classics: World Series Magic from the Bronx Bombers, 1921 to Today, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. In a nice twist from the sort of Yankee Classics that get airtime on YES, this coffee-table book takes a look at the Yanks' World Series wins and losses.

Author Les Krantz gives about 2-3 pages to each Fall Classic, about half of which is taken up by some lovely photo spreads. In that space, Krantz is forced to recap the Series in a couple hundred words. He does an admirable job considering that limitation, though I'm sure hardcore fans will feel that the analysis is perfunctory for the World Series they can remember.

The book also features periodic sidebars highlighting things like notable events (The called shot, Larson's perfect game), important players (Yogi Berra and Lou Gehrig), and other historic footnotes (Yankee-Dodger matchups and Yankees in the Armed Forces).

Beyond the wonderful collection of images (both photographs and pictures of tickets, pins and program covers), I think one of the real strengths of the book is in connecting the key narrative of the season to the events of the postseason. This makes it a great starting point for younger fans, and for those of us who wish we had a stronger grasp on the team's early history.

3.5 stars (out of four): Only a more in-depth (and significantly longer) book would have been more satisfying, and Krantz gets extra points for not whitewashing Yankee history- from rightly noting the footnote status of the '51 World Series, to the lousy ratings for the 2000 Subway Series, to Alex Rodriguez's steroid admission, he's willing to remind us that the Yankees' dominance of baseball is not monolithic, uncontroversial or pre-ordained. Each Fall Classic (win or lose) is a unique event, and each is something to celebrate.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review: The Last Boy by Jane Leavy

Originally published on Pinstripe Alley

When I first heard there would be a new Mickey Mantle autobiography, I cringed a little.
I've read The Mick and All My Octobers and countless narratives and analytical articles dedicated to Mantle's greatness, his faults and his superhuman prowess.

Then along comes Jane Leavy's The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, which provides a breath of fresh air to traditional chronological biography.

Leavy's episodic approach to Mantle rightly presumes that her readers are already familiar with the ending of his story, relieving the narrative of the suspension of disbelief quality that so often makes biographies and histories stogy.  This approach also allows Last Boy to become equal parts anthropology and media study, exploring the reasons the nation, especially the baby bombers, embraced the myth of Mantle so readily, and how the cozy relationship between the sports writers and the players allowed Mantle to hide his worst qualities and magnify he best.

For example, Chapter 6 (a personal favorite) explores "tape measure home run" Mantle drove out of Griffith Stadium in 1953.  Section 1 sets the scene: a brief history and description of Griffith Stadium, the pitch and the flight of the ball, and Yankee PR Director Arthur Patterson's account of finding the ball.  Section 2 begins the long search for Donald Dunaway, the "surprised and delighted Negro lad" from Patterson's story. Section 3 completes the Dunaway quest, filling in his background and laying out his version of the story. In Section 4, Leavy brings in a leading physicist to evaluate the possible trajectories of the ball.

Last Boy is a fantastic read, hard to put down, and with an interesting insight or anecdote on every page.  Add to that the refreshing quality of the narrative, and the real work and exploration done by Leavy, and this may become the classic book about Mantle, the people who loved him, and the fans who adored him.

What was your favorite part of Last Boy? What didn't you like? Did you learn anything new, or was anything put in a fresh perspective?

I thought the exploration of Mantle's relationship with the media was one of the most insightful aspects of the book- the way it allowed Mantle to get away with anything, and fed his personal disregard for social niceties.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Q&A with Chris Donnelly, Author of Baseball's Greatest Series

 Originally published at Pinstripe Alley.

Chris Donnelly is the author of Baseball's Greatest Series.  He agreed to answer a few about his new book on the Yanks-Mariner's '95 series.
PA: Your book is subtitled "The 1995 Matchup that Changed History."  For a division series between two team that didn't make the World Series, that seems like hyperbole.  Why is this series so important?           
Chris: The Seattle Mariners were leaving Seattle that year.  There is no question or doubt about it.  The owners had made clear that they wanted a new stadium or they were leaving, most likely for Tampa.  A public vote to approve a new stadium had failed in September, but the Mariners historic run allowed them to maintain momentum in the public eye.  The series was the culmination of that.  Had the Mariners not beaten the Yankees, it would have been difficult for them to keep that momentum going, because the legislature was set to meet that week to work on a new stadium funding formula.  Because the Mariners won and were playing in the ALCS, the pressure stayed on the legislature to get the deal done.  One member who was heavily involved in the negotiations essentially said they couldn't have gotten the stadium deal if the Mariners were no longer playing.  So, in short, if the Mariners hadn't won that series, we are looking at the Tampa Bay Mariners right now.