Monday, May 21, 2012

Is Pujols the next to join the cast of 'Mendoza's Heroes'?

Al Pepper's Mendoza's Heroes / Pocol Press
While Albert Pujols flirts with the proverbial “Mendoza Line,” one would consider his $30 million dollar a hefty price tag for someone whose output is resembling that of Luis Pujols (no relation), the former catcher for the Houston Astros in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. For every superstar such as the younger Pujols, rosters across major league baseball have been filled with good-glove, no-hit backup infielders, fifth outfielders and defensive-minded catchers in the mold of the elder Pujols.

Light-hitting crusaders such as Choo Choo Coleman, Brian Doyle, and Ray Oyler are valiantly profiled in Al Pepper’s book, “Mendoza’s Heroes: Fifty Batters Below .200.” Pepper provides vivid details on the un-heralded careers of these blue-collar players that struggled mightily at the plate in the majors. Included in the bunch are players that would go on to become stellar major league managers, Herman Franks, Charlie Manuel, and future Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa who is the owner of a career .199 average.

While nobody expects Pujols to be celebrated as the next of Mendoza’s Heroes, Pepper’s attetion to the careers of these anonymous journeymen is a keen reminder that many in baseball have spent their entire careers fighting through the struggles that have the power to humble even the game’s biggest star.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book review: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball - R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey - Wherever I Wind Up / Blue Rider
The title of New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey’s autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up:  My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball (Blue Rider, 2012), holds a meaning of unpredictability that has followed him from his youth all the way to the mound at Citi Field. The metaphoric title refers to much more than the curious flight of his knuckleball, with Dickey bearing much of his soul in this unprecedented work.

Click here to read the full review of Dickey's exceptional tale.
 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book review: Heart & Hustle - An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer by Frank Catalanotto

Signed as a skinny 18-year-old from Smithtown, N.Y., Frank Catalanotto was almost cut from the Detroit Tigers during their fall instructional league after his rookie season in the minors. That was until minor league hitting instructor and former All-Star Larry Parrish intervened on the kid’s behalf.

“Yes, he’s weak and needs to get stronger, but his hand-eye coordination is great.  … He’s got a God-given gift. He never misses if he swings at it,” said Parrish to farm director Joe McDonald.

Parrish’s words were enough to save Catalanotto from baseball purgatory and give him the push he needed on the way to the major leagues. He is a central figure in Catalanotto’s rise to a 14-year major league career, detailed in his new autobiography, Heart and Hustle: An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer (Bantry Bay, 2012).

Frank Catalanotto - Heart and Hustle / Bantry Bay Books

Heart and Hustle is both inspirational and instructional, written not only for those who have followed Catalanotto’s career, but also for youngsters dreaming of following in his footsteps.

The first half of the book is dedicated to detailing Catalanotto’s trials and tribulations on his way to the big leagues. He opens the door to the exhausting grind of the minor leagues: the long bus rides, substandard food, lack of sleep and other challenges to your general well being while trying to play baseball at an optimal level.

For all of the challenges and setbacks that he faced in the minor leagues, including his near release, they were made that much sweeter when the Detroit Tigers made Catalanotto a late-season call-up in 1997. He would hold on that ride for thirteen more seasons, playing with the Rangers, Blue Jays, Brewers, and Mets before retiring after his release during the 2010 season.

Catalanotto breathes life into his expedition with a behind the scenes look at the game, detailing his game day routines, pulling back the curtain on a day that starts with him arriving six hours before the first pitch to begin treatment and all of the necessary preparations for a 7:05 PM start. Catalanotto’s immense pre-game preparation is just the tip of the iceberg regarding his attention to detail.

So meticulous is the Long Islander, that he kept a handwritten notebook with a scouting report on every major league pitcher he faced, using the advice of Parrish from his minor league days to keep records of the pitchers he would see on his way up through the minors that would follow him to the major leagues. Peeling away another layer, Catalanotto takes you deeper into the lengths he would go through to gain an edge on the competition, providing full page photos of the scouting reports he wrote.

He is also quick to reveal the most humbling time in a player’s career; the time when you find out it’s over. It is the rare player that can go out on their own terms, such as Chipper Jones, who is making his final lap around the league this year. For the majority like Catalanotto, a tap on the shoulder after the game and a quick talk with management seal the deal. He openly takes us inside the manager’s office and the locker room after a mid-season game with the Mets in 2010 that came with the worst news for a veteran; you’ve been released. The reader can only help but feel Catalanotto’s emotions as he wrestles with life after baseball.

Catalanotto bounces back quickly after accepting his retirement and settles the second half of the book serves with an informal baseball “how-to.”  He provides plenty of pointers from a major league perspective regarding conditioning, hitting, and psychological preparation, finishing each chapter with a neat summary of “Cat’s Tips,” which are easily digestible for young ballplayers.

While the sub-title of Catalanotto’s book suggests that his journey to the major leagues was unlikely, it is evident after reading that his character and determination put him on a direct path with destiny to a successful major league career when many other 18-year-olds would have thrown in the towel.