There’s an excerpt from Emma Span’s recent book 90% Of The Game Is Half Mental: And Other Tales from the Edge of Baseball Fandom available for reading at Deadspin.
Chris Jaffe, who writes for the Hardball Times, has a new book coming out this December titled Evaluating Baseball's Managers, 1876-2008. The Hardball Times is running an excerpt from it about Billy Martin. Here's how it begins:
Billy Martin was the most fearless manager in baseball history. In 20 years of managing, he never backed down from a challenge. As has been well documented by others, Martin consistently caused dramatic improvements to his squads immediately upon arrival by pushing them hard. The A’s went from losing 108 games to fighting for .500. The Rangers, who had posted back-to-back seasons in which they had played .350 ball, suddenly won half their games when Martin arrived. The Twins and Tigers improved by 18 and 12 games for him respectively. The Yankees won their first pennant in a dozen years under him.
I'm looking forward to reading this book, particularly for Jaffe's evaluations of managers I know well. How is Torre viewed? Was Grady
Sizemore Little criminally underrated as I suspect? (I kid:)). And I also want to read about legendary managers such as Earl Weaver and Casey Stengel. This should be a fun read.
Master of Shadows
Regular readers of this site know that I haven't been posting (or commenting) with quite the frequency as in the past, even with the Yanks on what has thus far been another magical run deep into the playoffs. I've been watching, you can be sure, but I've also been distracted, and for good reason: this week I've published my second book, Master of Shadows, which tells the story of the secret diplomatic career of the painter Peter Paul Rubens. Now I know the first reaction here is: what is a guy who writes about baseball doing writing about art? Well, I'd like to think we can enjoy both high culture and popular culture—I'm no snob. And I'd point out that my first book, Spalding's World Tour, in its own way, was about diplomacy as well, though of a different sort. If you read both books, and I hope you've read the first and will read the second, I think you'll find Albert Spalding and Peter Paul Rubens quite similar as individuals: a pair of orphans with enormous physical and intellectual gifts and savvy business instincts. If you enjoyed the first, I think you'll enjoy the second. Frankly, I think it's a better book. You can read much more about it on my other website. I will say it's an absolutely beautifully made book, so a perfect gift with the holidays looming. If you patronize this site, I hope you will support its proprietors! If you're so inclined, also please do join the Master of Shadows Facebook group for updates and news about events.
Bottom of the Ninth
My review of Michael Shapiro's new book on the aborted life of the Continental League, a would be addition to the majors, appears in today's Los Angeles Times. (I sure picked the right day to run a baseball story in the paper.) "Bottom of the Ninth" is a book that's absolutely worth your time, though not an easy one, and not without its flaws. Though we all have a tendency to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to the ugly shenanigans that are the business of baseball—we watch baseball because it's supposed to be entertainment—unless we keep an eye on history's fine print it's impossible to hold accountable those who control the game. Those who are ignorant of the past, are condemned to repeat it. Or perhaps we'd be condemned anyway, but a little bit of knowledge doesn't hurt, especially if it comes in an enjoyable package.
In this week's New Yorker, Roger Angell, the dean of the press box, looks at the career of Joe Torre, dean of the dugout set, and his new book with Tom Verducci. Some of the choice bits:
For me, a longtime New York baseball fan, the shock of no Yankees in the playoffs was less than the shock of not having Joe Torre in town for the summer, and I feel the same way now, at the beginning of his second year in exile. What’s lost is not the winning so much as the elegant daily and weekly, home and away managing seminar on giving your team a chance to win, or get readyto win—or perhaps lose, if that’s the way things turn out. This tone or strategy may be only another way of enunciating Yogi Berra’s “In baseball you don’t know nothin’,” but it’s a lesson I did not fully grasp until I had watched Torre sitting immobile in the Yankee dugout through many hundreds of innings, with his lidded dark gaze raised to the level of the field; one hand occasionally reaching back for another swig of green tea; his head now and then tilting toward the words of his bench coach; and, late in the evening, his shoulders lifting as he prepared to get up and climb the steps and trudge to the mound to change a pitcher and exchange a word or two with his catcher about the situation at hand.
He’s a cinch for the Hall of Fame—as a manager, not a player—whenever he’s ready to retire, and he’s already in the Grownups Hall of Fame, which has a few more members than the one in Cooperstown but tougher admission standards.
A Race Like No Other
It's a great week for democracy here in NY. Friday was Halloween, and one of the highlights of that night is always the parade down in the Village. Anyone can participate; all you need is a little creativity and a sense of humor. Or you can just be a spectator. Next Tuesday, of course, we all get to exercise our right to vote, and we certainly hope you'll do that. But as far as I'm concerned, today is always the best day of the New York year: Marathon Day. It's a truly egalitarian world-class sporting event, and a day on which the city invariably puts it's best besneakered foot forward. If you can run 26.2 miles, you can enter. And New Yorkers will cheer you on in all five boroughs. As Liz Robbins notes in her fine new book about the event, A Race Like No Other, 749,741 runners have crossed the finish line since its inception in 1970. The book is an ode to the race, to the racers, and to the city in which it takes place. It tells the tale of last year's event by tracking a series of runners of different skill and background as they make their from Bay Ridge to Billsburg, Long Island City to the Upper East Side, Harlem to the South Bronx, all the way to Central Park. "Fans four deep line both sides of Fourth Avenue as they stand clapping and shouting, some banging on pots and pans for extra emphasis," she writes of the crowd in Park Slope, where we watched. We'll be there again this year, and suggest you join us, if not there than somewhere along the route. Or maybe you're running yourself. In which case, GO GO GO.
Studs Terkel: 1912–2008
Jules Tygiel, 1949–2008
We’re a bit remiss in posting a note on the passing of the historian Jules Tygiel, who died earlier this month in California, where he was a professor at San Francisco State. Tygiel was born in Brooklyn, and will always be best remembered for his wonderful biography of Jackie Robinson, Baseball’s Great Experiment. He was the author of several books on baseball and Robinson (among other subjects), all required of any sports library. Beyond his work on Robinson, we can be grateful to Tygiel for demonstrating that baseball, and sports generally, are subjects worthy of academic study that tell us a great deal about our culture and ourselves. He will be missed.
Eliot Asinof, 1919–2008
Eliot Asinof, in the starting lineup on any team of baseball literary titans, died yesterday in upstate New York. The nice obits on the author of Eight Men Out from our pals Alex Belth and Jay Jaffe are worth the time.
The Good Book
A few weeks ago, the editors of the Los Angeles Times Book Review asked me to write a short piece on the Baseball Encyclopedia, mythology, and the fragility of the historical record. It’s in today’s paper. You Could Look It Up. It was a special pleasure to interview David Neft, the Encyclopedia’s original editor, whose thoughts about records and typographic qualifications echo my own:
“I don’t believe in asterisks. Period. The record is the record. The record is the achievement. You may not like the person who holds the record. You may think he cheated. It doesn’t matter. He’s got the record.”
A Splendid Find
On Saturday we were upstate for the weekend with my diehard Soxfan parents, who made the trip out to Columbia County to visit the SF clan. Our son Isaac of course made his weekendly demand for a visit to our wonderful local used bookshop, Rodgers Book Barn. It must have been something about the high percentage of Royal Rooters in the house (literally, it’s a house), because as we were walking away we noticed a hardcover copy of the book that the above image is taken from, Ted Williams’ classic “The Science of Hitting“. It was four bucks, so an automatic purchase since our only copy of the book is a reprinted paperback. The bonus was that, upon further inspection, we discovered it to be a first printing, and in darn good shape at that. It’s worth well more than the four bucks we shelled out.
The 1971 book is a classic of baseball instruction full of helpful illustrations and handy tips for the devoted ballplayer, even if impossible to emulate as an amateur. Williams’ first person narration is rich and anecdotal; it reveals the great depth of Williams’ historical knowledge of the game. It is up there with Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, one of the greatest pro-to-amateur sports instruction manuals ever published. And, to this design nut, there is an amazingly modern graphic sense to some of the diagrams, particularly for a sports instruction book. The image at the top of the thread is from the cover, a hit chart representing Wiliams’ hot and cold zones, done decades in advance of the visual information we are given on a nightly basis via ESPN, NESN, YES, etc. There is also some beautiful photography, in particular a sequence showing Williams’ swing as it passes through the plate, shot dramatically from above the dish. We were lucky to find this.
A couple of pictures follow after the jump.
A bit of talk in recent days and weeks around here has been centering around the defense of our respective teams. A happy coincidence, then, that The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 focuses several analysis chapters to the subject of defense.
Perhaps the most interesting is Tom Tango’s look at shortstop defense over the past 15 years.
The article focuses on every Red Sox fan’s favorite whipping boy — Derek Jeter. I won’t go too much into the Jeter analysis, which I admit I did enjoy. It pretty clearly shows that Jeter isn’t just overrated on defense — he’s criminally overrated. Even arguments that he’s good at coming in on balls or leaping for line drives fall flat as Tango shows that Jeter makes fewer plays than almost every shortstop in the game when compared by the pitcher on the mound, batter at the plate, baserunner on first, or ballpark.
We’ll look a little at that, but what he doesn’t mention — and I was surprised to see — was how well this look at defense flatters Julio Lugo (Red Sox fans’ second-favorite whipping boy).
The Bill James Handbook 2008 has been out for a couple months now, but after receiving my copy earlier this week, I whipped through it in two days. Here are some interesting tidbits contained therein:
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the state of the Yankee starters, and given that Joe Torre was the manager, the Yanks had a league-leading 522 relief appearances. No other team even topped 490.
- In Fielding Bible voting, Kevin Youkilis was ranked third at his position, Robinson Cano sixth, Dustin Pedroia eighth, Mike Lowell 10th, Coco Crisp fourth, Jason Varitek fifth and Chien-Ming Wang third. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui also received votes. No respect, then, for Julio Lugo, Manny Ramirez (what?!) and Jorge Posada.
In case you missed Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning by the folks at BP, and Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top by Seth Mnookin, Publishers Weekly has some good news. Herald hack Tony Massarotti is at present working on “Dynasty: The Inside Story of How the Red Sox Became a Baseball Powerhouse,” for St Martin’s Press, and it’s being pitched as “an in-depth, behind the scenes look at how the Red Sox became successful.” Seriously? Tony? A new idea? Anyone? Please???
Doing the Right Thing
Let me toot my own horn and encourage readers to check out my Los Angeles Times review of a new collection of Jackie Robinson’s political correspondence, “First Class Citizenship.” I think it’s safe to say that most fans—most Americans—don’t realize what an important role Robinson played in the struggle for civil rights after his playing days had come to an end. Robinson made his misjudgments (on Nixon: “There is something about him that leaves me with the feeling of sincerity”), but his overall contribution to the American march for racial justice is hard to overestimate. He certainly wasn’t pleased with the direction of things when he died, in 1972. A few months before he passed away, he wrote his erstwhile friend Nixon, telling him “You are polarizing this country to such an extent there can be no turning back. I hope you will take another look at where we are going and be the president who leads the nation to accept difficult but necessary action, rather than one who fosters division.” Kind of hits home, doesn’t it?