The Art of Scouting

By Dick Kaegel /

ArtOfScoutingAlmost every day before a game at Kauffman Stadium, the baseball scouts gather at one end of the press box. They sit and they talk, and very often, Art Stewart is at the center of the group, telling stories.

Stewart has a lot of stories to tell, because at 87, he’s been scouting in seven decades. He’s a great storyteller and that’s why it’s our good fortune that he’s decided to put his tales in a book, “The Art of Scouting,” being published on Thursday by Ascend Books.

What co-author Sam Mellinger, a Kansas City Star columnist, has done so well is capture the cadence, the spirit and the enthusiasm of Stewart. It’s like you’re sitting right there with the scouts, listening to ol’ Art tell a story. Or two or three.

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Induction Day at Cooperstown

Induction Day at CooperstownBy Paul Hagen /

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and, needless to say, a lot has changed in the picturesque little village in upstate New York since the building was formally dedicated in 1939.

“Induction Day at Cooperstown” by Dennis Corcoran, as its title suggests, takes a year-by-year look at the most celebrated day of the baseball calendar. It’s a thorough examination of each Induction Day from the beginning through 2010. The who, what, when, where and why is here, and it’s an engrossing road map to the growth of the institution.

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Johnny Evers: A Baseball Life

By Paul Hagen /

Johnny Evers: A Baseball LifeExcept for a few rhyming lines dashed off by a long-ago sportswriter, second baseman Johnny Evers might be like most other Hall of Fame players from the early 20th century: Great then, largely unknown now.

The ode to the Cubs’ double-play combination of the day, Tinker to Evers to Chance, immortalized the trio. Shortstop Joe Tinker and first baseman Frank Chance are also enshrined in Cooperstown. But this has been a double-edged sword. It’s nice to be remembered. Evers thanked the author, Franklin P. Adams, when they met for the first time in 1937, for writing something that kept his baseball career alive. “I owe you a debt of lasting gratitude for keeping my name before the public all these years,” the former player said. “I’d have been forgotten long ago if it were not for [the poem].”

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Catch and Release

By Byron Borger

catch and releaseIn the last few BookNotes I’ve introduced you to some pretty serious books – from old theology to new liturgy, from a good, young writer talking about hard times to a respected older writer talking about God’s divine conspiracy. Soon I’m going to share an important list of books about some very heavy stuff, so for today I’m going to tell you about the feel-good book of the summer.

Interestingly, fun as it is, it includes some data about, and reveals a huge heart to work against sexual trafficking and modern day slavery. I’m glad to say that even though it has a sub-theme about justice, it is about that quintessential American game, baseball, but, even more, about the simple joy of having a game of catch. Catch and Release: Faith, Freedom and Knuckleballs is truly delightful, an enjoyably nice read, and at times, even stirring. I’ll admit, one touching chapter just slayed me and I closed the book, happy about the ending, but wishing for more. I loved this book about playing catch and trying to bring release to the captives.

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If These Walls Could Talk

By Paul Hagen /

shenkbookLarry Shenk’s first season as the public relations director for the Phillies was 1964. He was the third person in as many years to hold the position. That was also the season when Philadelphia saw a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games to play disappear, a World Series whiff that still lives in franchise infamy.

The Baron, as he is universally known, has more than overcome those inauspicious early omens. Shenk is still going strong as the vice president of alumni relations. Shenk started at Connie Mack Stadium, went to Veterans Stadium and now works out of Citizens Bank Park, where the press box is named after him.

In all those years, Shenk has seen and heard it all. Now, he’s sharing some of those tales in a breezy read called “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories From the Philadelphia Phillies Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box.”

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The Yankee Way

By Paul Hagen /

randolph-theyankeewayIt’s probably fair to say that Willie Randolph has had a better baseball career than most people realize. As a player, he was part of seven teams that went to the postseason, including five pennant winners and three that won the World Series. He made six All-Star teams and was a Yankees co-captain for three seasons.

When Randolph retired, he ranked fifth in Major League history with 2,152 games played at second base. As a Yankees coach, he went to the postseason 10 straight years and added four more championship rings. Randolph became the first African-American manager in New York City when hired by the Mets in 2005. A year later, he led the team to a 97-win season, which is the last time the team appeared in the playoffs.

All of which gives “The Yankee Way: Playing, Coaching, and My Life in Baseball” its authority. Randolph has produced a thoughtful volume that covers everything from growing up in the tough Brownsville section of Brooklyn to selecting an All-Star Yankees team from his playing and coaching time in that storied organization.

The title is a dead giveaway that Randolph focuses on his time in pinstripes. But there’s much more here.

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How Baseball Explains America

By Paul Hagen /

howbaseballexplainsBaseball touches so many aspects of society that most people barely stop to think about it. From the culture to the language to the history, the national pastime has influenced the way people talk, think and entertain themselves.

Veteran journalist Hal Bodley, the senior correspondent for, stopped to think about it. The result is “How Baseball Explains America,” a loosely arranged collection of 17 chapters that connects the dots between the game and the various ways it informs our workaday lives.

Some of the territory covered is familiar. Chapter 9, for example, is devoted to the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Of course, it would be impossible to write a book of this nature and omit Robinson’s enormous contributions and how the integration of baseball in 1947 is widely viewed as a spark for the civil rights movement as a whole.

On those occasions, the tone shifts from professorial examination to personal memoir. Bodley is in his sixth decade of covering baseball for a living. He has been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat at many of the important milestones that have occurred in the game since he began his career in 1958.

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Idiots Revisited

By Paul Hagen /

idiotsrevisitedAsk any baseball player who has just been part of a significant event — whether it’s a personal milestone or an important win for the team – about what it all means and his answer will almost always be the same. He’ll say that he hasn’t really had time to think about it, that it hasn’t sunk in, that he probably won’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what just happened until much later.

That’s because only time can add perspective to memories — not to mention that, after a decent interval, a certain now-it-can-be-told sensibility sets in. The statute of limitations runs out on stories that might once have been deemed better left inside the clubhouse.

Longtime Red Sox beat writer Ian Browne has deftly tapped into that reality with “Idiots Revisited: Catching Up with the Red Sox Who Won the 2004 World Series.” It is both an in-depth remembrance of the team that broke the franchise’s 86-year championship drought and a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most charismatic clubs in recent memory.

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By Paul Hagen /

1954-coverBaseball is justifiably proud of how the Brooklyn Dodgers’ signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947, breaking the unofficial color barrier, played an important role in promoting civil rights in this country.

Award-winning baseball writer Bill Madden makes a compelling case in “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever” that the real impact of that historic event on the sport wasn’t actually felt until seven years later.

It’s true that by then, Robinson was well-established in the big leagues. When Spring Training began that season, he had won a National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 and had made the NL All-Star team each of the previous five seasons. And it’s also true that the Dodgers had already added other African-American standouts such as Don Newcombe, Joe Black, Roy Campanella and Junior Gilliam.

But integration in the sport was still the exception more than the rule.

That was the year, for example, that Ernie Banks became a full-time player for the Cubs and when Hank Aaron made his Major League debut for the Milwaukee Braves. It was the year when, for the first time, both teams appearing in the World Series, the Indians and New York Giants, featured black players.

It was the year that Willie Mays returned from military service and blossomed into one of the most magnetic players in history. His outsized impact on his team’s success is duly chronicled. It was the year that the Dodgers started five blacks on July 17, the first time in history whites had been outnumbered in the lineup.

That was also the year that the Supreme Court ruled in “Brown vs. Board of Education” that segregation in public schools based solely on race was illegal. Still, at the beginning of the season, half the 16 teams that existed at the time had yet to use a black player.

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Turning the Black Sox White

By Paul Hagen /

hornbaker-comiskeyEverybody knows that one of the driving forces behind the 1919 Black Sox scandal was that the White Sox players were so upset with the penny-pinching ways of owner Charles Comiskey that they conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

But what if what everybody knows is wrong?

That’s the bold premise of Tim Hornbaker in “Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey.” And with the patience of a defense attorney, he builds a compelling case.

To say that point of view is contrarian is an understatement. The Old Roman, as he was known, has been consistently vilified in popular works such as Ken Burns’ acclaimed “Baseball” documentary and the book and movie “Eight Men Out” by Eliot Asinof.

Hornbaker documents numerous occasions when Comiskey went out of his way to show concern for the welfare of his players. As early as 1895, when he owned the St. Paul Saints of the Western League and organized a postseason barnstorming tour that went badly, he saw to it that the players weren’t stranded even though he lost money on the enterprise. On numerous occasions he bought players new clothes and handed out bonuses after big wins.

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