Posted on March 31, 2012 at 6:36 PM
Filed Under: General Baseball
As I've mentioned before, I am blessed in this blogging game to occasionally be sent free copies of books to review. Right now I have a huge pile of them that I am working my way through, but I finished a couple recently that I wanted to share with you, plus one that I've not completely finished, but wanted to link up anyway.
Steroids. It's something that we don't really like to talk about as baseball fans. We will, when we have to, but we hope that the Steroid Era is well behind us now, though the offseason issues with Ryan Braun may indicate that we aren't as far along as we'd like to think. However, that's the topic of Trading Manny
, written by Jim Gallo. The book details the relationship between Gallo and his son, Joe. Joe's been bitten hard by the baseball bug and, as they live in the Seattle area, they get a chance to see games on occasion. Gallo encourages his son's love for the game as they play pickup games in the backyard, pretending to be different batters or pitchers.
However, into this sort of idyllic love of the game intrudes the real world in the form of the Mitchell Report. Suddenly, Gallo is having to talk to his son about steroids and the ramifications of using them. In that child-like approach, Joe is certain that they are wrong and wonders why these guys aren't getting punished. Not having the answers, Gallo starts on a journey to try to get them. He talks to a lot of people, including minor league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst (who also has a new book out
, one I've not been sent a copy of but may pick up sometime anyway) and former player Scott Brosius.
In my opinion, there are times where Gallo is like a dog with a bone, more so than he probably needs to be. He ambushes Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Mariners, with steroid questions that Niehaus really doesn't want to talk about. Not that he's guilty of anything, of course, he's just uncomfortable with the line of questioning and, like many baseball fans, wants to move on. Gallo's hounding of a guy that might only be tangentially attached to the topic is a low point in the book in my mind--you want him to pack it in, but he keeps going until Niehaus explodes.
On the whole, though, this is an intriguing book. I went into it not expecting to be all that excited about it, because I am one of those fans that would like to put the steroid era away. Instead, Gallo got me thinking about how I would talk about this with my son whenever the time came. I don't think, unlike Joe's favorite player Manny Ramirez, I'd have to deal with the disillusionment that came with a hero using the drugs, but you never know. It was hard enough talking about Albert Pujols going to Anaheim, but to have to explain this.....
Again, I think Gallo gets a little too fixated on having to find answers at times, but his journey makes for good reading and some thought provoking issues. I'd recommend checking it out, especially if you have young baseball-loving kids in the house or in your circle of influence.
The second book comes from our friends at the University of Nebraska press. It's called Double No-Hit
and you don't have to be much of a baseball fan to know that we are talking about Johnny Vander Meer and his historic feat of throwing no-hitters in back-to-back games. Something that's never been done before--really rarely even been approached.
The book mainly focuses on the record-setting second no-hitter. Interestingly enough, it was also the first night game played in Brooklyn, which added to the hoopla surrounding the game. Author James W. Johnson intersperses game action with the Vander Meer's history, similar to the way the move For Love Of The Game
does. We get into Vander Meer's history, how he got into baseball, and how his career had been going.
I'm pretty sure I didn't realize that Vander Meer's no-hitters came in his first full season. He played 19 games the year before, but just 84 innings. Vander Meer was also similar to Nolan Ryan--a flamethrower that didn't always know where it was going. That helped him some, but the wildness was, at times, too much for him to overcome.
Vander Meer was more than just those two games, of course, even if he finished his career slightly under .500. He won 18 games in 1942 and 17 in 1948, showing that he could still make an impact. He just couldn't ever quite harness his stuff the way players like Ryan did and, if he wasn't a part of baseball history with his amazing feat, he likely would be one of those guys that you occasionally read about in baseball history books but never one that anyone would make a fuss over.
Vander Meer stayed in baseball after his career and was credited as being a very good manager and coach in the minors. Eventually, though, he had to hang it up from there as well. He always was proud of his accomplishments, though he seemed to be fine with the thought that they could be tied or broken. That never happened during his lifetime. Probably isn't going to happen in mine, either.
Johnson does a good job of relaying what Vander Meer was like and the troubles he had. If you are a baseball history buff but haven't read a lot about Double No-Hit, it'd be worth your while to pick this one up.
Finally, we come to Baseball's Starry Night
. Unlike the two books before, this one, written by Paul Kocak, is as recent as you can get, chronicling all that happened last season on September 28, 2011. You know that night. Game 162.
Kocak does a good job of outlining the situation, putting it into context, and then letting it play out. As I say, I've not read the whole book yet (I've got it on my Kindle and I'm going through it as I can), but I've read the important parts--the Cardinals are one of the earlier chapters.
What Kocak does that is so unique is that he went directly to the fans to put together this remembrance. He contacted a number of bloggers, Tweeters and other fans that may have been at the ballpark or at least had a significant rooting interest in that evening's activities. You get beyond what the national media has been saying and get to the heart of fandom.
I was privileged to be a part of the Cardinal section, as well as Dathan Brooks
, Christine Coleman
, and Chris Malonee
. It was a lot of fun to read this book and see these names that I know so well in print. If nothing else, the Cardinal section is definitely worth the $5 the Kindle version will cost you. Paul was on the UCB Radio Hour a few weeks back and he's an interesting person to listen to. Give him some support and buy a copy of this great book!
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