Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Review: 'Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain' by Kevin D. McCann

Ken Boyer holds a significant, yet often unheralded position in St. Louis Cardinals lore. Playing during the intersection of the careers of franchise cornerstones Stan Musial and Bob Gibson, Boyer’s stabilizing at the hot corner is understated in its importance in Cardinals history.

Boyer is finally given his proper due in Kevin D. McCann’s new biography, “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain.” Boyer’s rise starts rooted in the small town of Alba, Missouri, as one of 14 children to Vern and Mabel Boyer. He grew up in a household deeply rooted in athletics, as all seven boys in the Boyer clan became professional baseball players, including brothers Clete and Cloyd who also became major leaguers.


The man who went on to be regarded as the best third baseman of his era was originally signed as a pitcher by the Cardinals in 1949. He pitched two years in the minor leagues before the Cardinals shifted him to third base due to a combination of his hitting prowess and lack of control on the mound.

McCann explores the details of Boyer’s transition from a moundsman to a Gold Glove third baseman, a ride that had its fair share of bumps in the road. His development was initially hampered by two years of service in the Korean War. Upon his return, the Cardinals shifted Boyer among the third base, short stop, and center field positions, trying to best utilizing his superior athleticism.

Once the Cardinals settled on Boyer playing third base, a star was born. Starting with Boyer capturing the first National League Gold Glove at third base in 1958, he reigned over the next seven seasons as the premier player at the hot corner in the perhaps all of baseball, culminating his run with National League Most Valuable Player honors in 1964.

While Boyer was making his triumphant ascent in professional baseball, McCann chronicles Boyer’s ups and downs with the management and press, who thought at times the third baseman appeared to lack hustle and vigor on the field. McCann quickly quells those notions from interviews with his living teammates, as well as pointing to his iron man status on the field, missing only 18 games during the aforementioned seven seasons, including playing the full 162 games during his MVP campaign.

Almost as quickly as Boyer’s career ascended, his MVP season became the pinnacle of his career. Slowed by injuries to his knees Boyer was traded to the New York Mets after the 1965 season, when he posted totals that were nowhere near his 1964 MVP performance. Boyer spent parts of two seasons with the Mets before moving to the Chicago White Sox. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969. While the latter stages of Boyer’s playing career are relatively a mere footnote in his career, McCann treats them with respect, giving them the same depth of coverage as his Cardinals days.

Clocking in at 463 pages, Boyer’s biography is incredibly well researched, although at times a bit too detailed. Each chapter of his playing career has details of almost seemingly every game he played in; crowding the lesser reported events of his playing days that are the true gems of this book. McCann manages to dig up rare details of his amateur career; including time spent playing against Mickey Mantle in amateur leagues before either signed a professional contract. Fans will also enjoy seeing photos from Boyer’s personal family collection, giving readers a deeper look into the details of his life.

His name continues to come up many times for the Hall of Fame, including the newly formed Golden Era Committee. McCann presents the entirety of his life, in what will be considered the definitive work on Boyer’s life and career, without waving the flag for Boyer’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Boyer passed away at the age of 51 in 1982 after suffering a bout with lung cancer. After reading “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain,” one will get the feel that they were watching the events of his life unfold right in front of them from the homemade ball field on the farms in Alba to his bedside during his final days of his life.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bartolo Colon joins unlikely group with first career home run

Bartolo Colon made history of sorts Saturday night when he hit his first major league home run off of James Shields of the San Diego Padres. The 42-year-old Mets pitcher joined a select group of major leaguers to homer in their age-43 season or later, a list that includes Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, soon-to-be Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel, 2000 American League MVP Jason Giambi, and All-Stars Julio Franco and Andres Galarraga. Unlikely company for a pitcher with a lifetime .089 career batting average.

Bartolo Colon hitting his first major league home run