In Pursuit of Pennants

inpursuitofpennants

By Paul Hagen / MLB.com

There’s not much in baseball these days that isn’t measured, computed, analyzed, collated, compared, studied, crunched and entered into a database. But as analysis has reached an increasingly granular level, one element missing is a big-picture view of why some teams win and some don’t.

Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt have addressed that in “In Pursuit of Pennants.” It is both scholarly — featuring charts, graphs and references to WAR — and eminently readable.

While there is obviously no single foolproof blueprint that guarantees winning the World Series every year, the authors have identified the areas in which successful teams have tended to excel over the last 100-plus years.

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The Game Must Go On

By Paul Hagen / MLB.com

thegamemustgoonMajor League games these days often include tributes to the military, a fitting way of thanking our service men and women for their sacrifices.

Neither should we forget that, during World War II, many star players did more than figuratively tip their caps to the troops. Some of the biggest names of that era gave up significant portions of their careers to serve their country.

In “The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray and the Great Days of Baseball on the Homefront in WW II,” author John Klima uses broad, omniscient brush strokes to look at the players who departed, the impact on the game they left behind and how it was all interconnected to the ferocious fighting overseas.

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Cal Ripken, Jr. to throw out first pitch, sign his new book on March 5 at Ed Smith Stadium

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

outathomeThe Orioles today announced that Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. will visit Ed Smith Stadium on Thursday, March 5 for the Orioles’ 7:05 p.m. game against the Toronto Blue Jays, where he will throw out the ceremonial first pitch and sign copies of his new children’s book, Out At Home, on the lower concourse beginning at 8:00 p.m.

The visit is part of a national book tour for Out At Home, the fifth installment in the New York Times best-selling “Cal Ripken, Jr.’s All-Stars” series. Ripken will autograph the first 300 books, which will be available for purchase at the game for $16.99. Due to time constraints, Ripken will be unable to sign additional items.

Tickets for the Orioles-Blue Jays game are available and can be purchased at the Ed Smith Stadium Box Office, via www.orioles.com/spring, or by phone at 877-222-2802.

The Matheny Manifesto

By Mike Baumann / MLB.com

mathenymanifestoWhen the St. Louis Cardinals named Mike Matheny manager after the departure of the legendary Tony La Russa, one prominent reaction was:

“How can the defending World Series champions be turned over to a rookie manager?”

Here’s how: What the Cardinals were getting was much more than “a rookie manager.” They were getting an individual of real substance. Cards general manager John Mozeliak knew that, even if many other people didn’t.

What followed with Matheny at the helm have been three straight appearances in the National League Championship Series, two NL Central Division championships and one appearance in the World Series.

That looks a lot like success.

If you have any questions at all about what Matheny is all about, apart from being a success as a big league manager, the answers are contained in Matheny’s book, “The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life” written with Jerry B. Jenkins.

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Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend

By Paul Hagen / MLB.com

tonyolivaTony Oliva is undergoing a sort of post-career revival. Back in December, the Veterans Committee came one vote shy of electing him to the Hall of Fame. Now comes Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend by Thom Henninger.

The timing is both coincidental and fortuitous, and there’s another parallel between and present and past at work here. With the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, which was preceded by the instant impact of stars like Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, the subject of Cuban players in the Major Leagues is back in the headlines.

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‘Champions Together’ official book now on sale

Champions Together

Orders are being accepted now for the new book “Champions Together” — the official account of the Giants’ latest World Series championship season, published by the front office just for their own fans. These are $40 limited editions that will disappear soon and won’t be available in bookstores or Amazon.

This hardcover collectible is filled with images taken by the Giants team photographers, already well-known within the MLB.com Blogs community for their incredible shots, and it goes from Opening Day through the third victory parade in a five-year run. Manager Bruce Bochy wrote the Foreword, and the last pitcher to win an official game in 2014, Jeremy Affeldt, provides the Introduction. You’ll also get a special Roger Angell profile of Madison Bumgarner. Click here to order yours while they last.

They Called Me God – The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived

Originally posted on Gregg's Baseball Bookcase:

Umpires are a vital part of the game.  They lay down the law and instill order on the field.  They keep the peace and pull the bodies out of the pile when mayhem ensues.  Without them, chaos would overtake the game.  Umpires could almost be considered the third team on the field, and if watched closely have their own game going on as well.  The men in black are an underappreciated bunch at best and are the only ones that have to be perfect when they start their careers and improve from there.  Today’s book looks at a Hall of Fame Umpiring career.

aharv

They Called Me God – The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived

By:Doug Harvey & Peter Golenbock-2014 Simon & Schuster

Doug Harvey’s career spanned four decades in the major leagues.  He got to witness some spectacular careers during their prime and saw first hand some players who were…

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Up, Up, & Away

By Paul Hagen / MLB.com

up-up-and-awayJonah Keri grew up an Expos fan, attending as many games at Stade Olympique as he could. Which helps explain how he ended up writing a book about a team that played its last game a decade ago.

Fortunately, he is also an accomplished journalist and author, which definitely explains why “Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos” is such an enjoyable work.

Keri is no fanboy. But he admits to being one as a kid, and when he writes about those days with an endearing wonder at his youthful foolishness, it touches the inner child in all of us. The backbone of the story rests on dozens of interviews with former players, front-office members and media types that lend now-it-can-be-told perspective and help recreate the joyous atmosphere of a franchise that was unique in so many ways.

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Ted Williams, My Father

By Paul Hagen / MLB.com

tedwilliamsmyfatherTed Williams was one of the best hitters who ever lived. He was also a famously did-it-my-way sort known for, among other things, saying whatever was on his mind and to heck with the consequences.

In “Ted Williams, My Father,” Claudia Williams demonstrates that she is very much her father’s daughter. She has written a memoir that is tender and tough, poignant and heartbreaking, sweet and raw. And so honest that at times it feels like peeping into a stranger’s window.

Claudia was a product of her father’s second marriage, born a decade after he retired. She was largely raised by her mother. One theme that runs through these pages is her overwhelming need to be accepted by a father who doted on her brother John Henry and, if not a misogynist, held old-fashioned attitudes toward women. “You wouldn’t believe how many times during my young years I wished I had been born a boy,” she observes early on.

There’s a revealing story about an invitational cross-country race when she was in sixth grade. She had a chance to be the first girl to win it. Making the outcome even more crucial, her father was there. She was third going into the home stretch but, summoning every bit of determination she had, she ended up winning. It was a wonderful moment that she wanted to bask in with her dad. But the other parents came up and started asking him for autographs and she was gradually pushed aside.

Claudia is a talented writer. Example: “Although my father spanked me only once, he tested me on numerous occasions. His words could penetrate even the toughest armor, and many times his words stung for days — sometimes months. A few are still with me, like embedded splinters.”

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MLB.com writers share favorite baseball books

Time for some summer reading? You’re in luck. We invited our esteemed writing colleagues at MLB.com to suggest at least one favorite baseball book. Ball Four tops Moneyball, 8-6, for most mentions. David Halberstam has the most suggested works with three. Some titles will surprise you. These 47 folks write about baseball for a living, in some cases books as well, so take their advice and happy reading.

Jordan Bastian: Fifty-nine in ’84 By Edward Achorn.

Mike Bauman: Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof.

Summer of '49Jason Beck: I read Summer of ’49 while in college, and for me it’s still the standard. Really good individual storytelling woven into the bigger context of a pennant race and its place in the larger culture.

Barry Bloom: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella. Shoeless Joe was turned into a cliche by the movie “Field of Dreams.” Iowa stands on its own as a phantasmagorical allegory for an endless, timeless baseball game and how that applies to anyone’s life.

Hal Bodley: If I didn’t say How Baseball Explains America, my latest and just-published book, I wouldn’t be fair to myself and the 55-plus years it took to assemble the memories and the effort it took to write it. Other than that, it would have to be John Grisham’s Callico Joe.

Rhett Bollinger: Mine is Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It helped me change the way I thought about baseball.

Corey Brock: Dollar Sign on the Muscle introduced me to the world of scouting at a young age. Fascinating stuff. Still pick it up from time to time.

Ian Browne: Teammates by Halberstam.

Jim Callis: Five Seasons by Roger Angell.

Anthony Castrovince: Summer of ’49 by Halberstam. And I’ll always have a soft spot for Nash and Zullo’s Believe it or Else! Baseball edition, a ridiculous book of baseball oddities that I got as a little kid. Still on my shelf.

Bill Chastain: The Natural, by Bernard Malamud; Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris; and Ball Four, by Jim Bouton.

Ball FourGregor Chisolm: Mel Martin Baseball Stories. It’s a six-book set that was written by John R. Cooper in the 1950s. My dad owned the series when he was a kid and he passed them along to me when I first started getting into novels.

Anthony DiComo: I have to go with Moneyball … the first baseball book that got me thinking about the game on a deeper level.

Alyson Footer: Wait ’til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Also I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story.

Spencer Fordin: Idiots Revisited.

Joe Frisaro: BUMS by Peter Golenback. Boys of Summer is considered the ultimate Brooklyn Dodgers book. “BUMS” is a great read that really captured the bond between that team and its fans.

Brittany Ghiroli: Moneyball!

Steve Gilbert: Weaver on Strategy.

Alden Gonzalez: Men At Work: The Craft Of Baseball by George Will. I read it early in my career, before taking on a beat, and it made me understand and appreciate the game in a whole new light.

Ken Gurnick: Boys of Summer.

Paul Hagen: Favorite anthology, and one of the books that got me hooked on reading about baseball as a kid: The Fireside Book of Baseball. Novels: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, The Natural by Bernard Malamud, The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. by Robert Coover. Biographies: Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Kramer, Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy, Steinbrenner by Bill Madden, Ted Williams by Leigh Montville, The Last Boy by Jane Leavy, Clemente by David Maraniss. Autobiography: Veeck As in Wreck. Specialty subjects: Dollar Sign on the Muscle by Kevin Kerrane on scouting, The Chrysanthemum and the Bat by Robert Whiting (baseball in Japan), Moneyball by Michael Lewis (front office), The Ticket Out by Michael Sokolove (sociology). Seminal works: The Long Season by Jim Brosnan, Ball Four by Jim Bouton, Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, Miracle Ball by Brian Biegel.

Glory of Their TimesChris Haft: Since I was here in Cooperstown to pay my respects to Roger Angell during this invite, I have to go with his Five Seasons.

Bryan Hoch: I’ll go with Jonathan Eig’s Luckiest Man, and Bouton’s Ball Four. Also honorable mention for The Worst Team Money Could Buy, which I dog-eared as a teenager. And two more I have to mention: The Bronx is Burning and Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball.

Greg Johns: I’ll go back to my youth . . . Ball Four by Jim Bouton.

Richard Justice: Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion by Roger Angell.

Dick Kaegel: Not even close. The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter.

Jenifer Langosch: October 1964.

Matthew Leach: Ball Four.

Jane Lee: Have to go with Ball Four.

Jonathan Mayo: I would pick Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 and October 1964.

Adam McCalvy: The Milwaukee boy in me really liked Me and Hank by Sandy Tolan.

Brian McTaggart: Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, by Richard Ben Cramer.

Scott Merkin: The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle.

Doug Miller: The Long Season by Jim Brosnan.

Carrie Muskat: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

ClementeMark Newman: I need a bracket tournament to choose from among (a) The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams and John Underwood; (b) Clemente; (c) Catcher with a Glass Arm by Matt Christopher; and (d) Men at Work by George Will. If I wasn’t surrounded by luminaries here I would make my grandmother proud and go with C, but instead we’ll give the nod to the bio that captured Puerto Rico’s beloved legend. Oh, and I still have that little Dope Book I wrote about here four years ago.

Tracy Ringsolby: Favorite baseball book is Babe Ruth Caught in a Snowstorm.

Phil Rogers: Put me down for Heart of the Game, Scott Price’s book on Mike Coolbaugh and the line drive that killed him while he coached first base. Runnerup is Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ’69, by Phil Rogers. That was a hell of a book.

Jesse Sanchez: Clemente by David Maraniss is my favorite.

John Schlegel: Red Smith on Baseball. It’s a collection of the great columnist’s works on baseball, and it becomes sort of a time portal to an era when baseball really was America’s only pastime and newspapermen were the great communicators of the game’s beauty. The way he crafted his columns, it could be a sportswriting textbook. I also like Teammates, Moneyball (even though I disagreed with the general sentiment, it’s so incredibly well written and researched) and I Had a Hammer.

Mark Sheldon: Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig. Also Jane Levy’s The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.

Tom Singer: I’m going old school: Jim Brosnan’s Pennant Race and Mark Harris’ Bang The Drum Slowly.

Lyle Spencer: Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend, by James Hirsch.

MoneyballT.R. Sullivan: If I Never Get Back. It is a novel by Darryl Brock about a man who gets stuck back in time and ends up as a reserve for the 1869 Cincinnati Reds.

John Thorn: Let me mention three. Favorite baseball book with a historical theme: Larry Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times. Favorite baseball history: Harold and Dorothy Seymour’s Baseball: The Early Years (Volume I, to 1903; Volume II was great too: Baseball: The Golden Age … to 1930). Favorite baseball book, and the most important one, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. For other favorites of mine (as if these were not enough!), see: http://fivebooks.com/interviews/john-thorn-on-baseball

Meggie Zahneis: What a coincidence! Before checking my phone and seeing this invite, I finished Mariano Rivera’s autobiography, The Closer, and loved it. I really enjoyed The Baseball by Zack Hample as well.

Todd Zolecki: Ball Four and Moneyball.

Share your favorites in the comments and let us know what you think of the list.

— Mark Newman

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