Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review - Saving Babe Ruth by Tom Swyers

School is out and summer has arrived, time is abundant and the sun never seems to go down; a perfect storm for children to fill baseball fields across the country. Pass by most of the spacious greens now and they’re rarely used unless you are part of the elite who can afford the exorbitant rates collected by travel teams across the country. Securing not only the pocketbooks of parents nationwide, they’ve taken a firm grasp of the permits that control the access to these fields.

Standing in the face of these ever-expanding travel teams is David Thompson, a crusader for his town’s local Babe Ruth program. Thompson is the central figure in Tom Swyers’ novel, “Saving Babe Ruth,” which is based upon a true story of one parent’s fight to keep the field that has served his community so dearly for the continued use of all of its residents, instead of the exclusive group of the outsider travel program.

Saving Babe Ruth / Tom Swyers
This war of sorts is playing out in communities all over the country, with these hyper-selective travel teams starting at earlier ages, creating a chasm that are causing the community based programs to suffer. Suddenly at age 10, the travel team coaches are telling young Johnny that he is too good to be playing for the “in-house” league, as his career trajectory will be poisoned by playing with such inferior talent. Fields are going empty because these travel teams have swallowed the permits just to keep the recreational leagues from “ruining” their playgrounds.

Swyers documents how Thompson’s program is suffering from the presence of Rob Barkus and his Elite Travel Baseball League. Barkus is working in concert with the high school program to stop the kids from playing Babe Ruth, and monopolize access to the Babe Ruth fields. Very quickly Thompson realizes that he is not involved in a mere dispute, but an all out war. Barkus wants it all from Thompson, his fields, his players, and his program, stopping at nothing to turn the entire community against him.

At times Thompson is quixotic in his quest to save the program, even risking his own marriage to defend his territory and clear his name. Often he is met with indifference from parents who are blinded by visions of college scholarships and the effect that travel baseball is having on their community; travel ball is turning America’s pastime into an elitest pursuit. Yet despite the roadblocks put in his way, Thompson works feverishly to defend the opportunities of the silent majority, the kids.

Baseball fans will enjoy the passion that Swyers has put into Thompson’s efforts to keep the Babe Ruth fields available for kids of all levels. Parents are fighting this battle in every neighborhood, watching their local programs dwindle to benefit the select few playing for the travel team. Swyers reminds us why this is a war worth fighting; youth baseball is a sport that should be played by everyone, not just those with the financial means to wear embroidered uniforms and matching warm-up suits.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

'Tough Guy, Gentle Heart' by Felix Millan - Book Review

Tough Guy, Gentle Heart
Felix Millan’s choked-up batting stance and dazzling glovework at second base are deeply entrenched in the minds of baseball fans that saw him play in the 1960s and 1970s. Now well removed from his final play on the field, Millan has partnered with author Jane Allen Quevedo to pen his memoirs in “Tough Guy, Gentle Heart.” (Infinity Publishing, 2013).

The book weighs in at a lithe 129 pages, similar to the stature of Millan; and like the play of the All-Star second baseman, is as much about perseverance as it is about baseball. The young Puerto Rican infielder came from extremely humble beginnings in his hometown of Yabucoa, where he attended school barefoot, dreaming of his daily dismissal so he could go and play baseball. Using a glove made from canvas stuffed with newspaper, Millan devoted countless hours to developing the soft hands that made him a Gold Glove infielder.

As he grew in skill and size, Millan became widely known for his prowess on the diamond, enough that his high school English teacher let him sleep in class. She saw potential in Millan that would someday allow him to leave his town of Yabucoa.

Upon graduating from high school, Millan joined the United States Army, where he tried to navigate his way through his commands armed with only a little English. Luckily for Millan, after a transfer to Fort Gordon, he made his way on to the baseball team and rode out the rest of his time in the Special Services. Waiting back for him in Puerto Rico was a young girl named Mercy, someone he only knew through trading letters in the mail.

With Mercy by his side, Millan signed with the Kansas City Athletics in 1964 and blissfully entered the career he had envisioned ever since his elementary school days. His dream didn’t quite match up with the realities of the South in the early 1960s. Being a man of color who wasn’t fluent in English did not bode well for Millan during his rookie campaign in Daytona Beach. The harsh treatment he endured both on and off the field was enough for Millan to want to turn his back on the game he loved so dearly; that is until Mercy stepped in. With the encouragement of his wife, Millan chose to follow his faith and continue to pursue his career in baseball.

His strong faith, whether it came from baseball, his family, or his religion, is a consistent theme throughout the book. His perseverance in many situations reveals his strong character, one that further qualifies the title, “Tough Guy, Gentile Heart.

Millan shares choice details about his baseball career from start to finish, starting in Puerto Rico, progressing to the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, to his travels in Japan and Mexico at the end of his playing days. It is told in a way that does not turn his story into one of self-aggrandizement. Particularly touching is the story of how Hall of Famer Hank Aaron took the rookie under his wing when he was first called up to the Braves.

Diehard baseball fans may find “Tough Guy, Gentle Heart,” a bit short on winding tales inside the lines; however, those gaps are neatly filled with the rich life experiences that helped to shape one of the sport’s finest gentleman.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book review: Dallas Green - 'The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball'

Dallas Green has seen it all in his sixty year involvement with Major League Baseball, and with the release of his autobiography, “The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball,” Green holds back very little when detailing his time in between the lines.

The Mouth That Roared / Triumph Books
While he is most famous for piloting the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980 to a World Series victory over the Kansas City Royals, Green built his foundation as a flame-throwing pitcher with the Phillies organization starting in 1955. He spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues with the Washington Senators and New York Mets in addition to his parent club of Philadelphia. Hindered by a lack of control, Green posted a journeyman-like record of 20-22. His fiery persona, akin to his fastball, was something that followed him as he transitioned from a player to a front office man.

No more was this evident than when Green took over the reins of the Phillies after Danny Ozark was ousted in 1979. At the time, Green was working as their minor league director when he was dragged into a late night session with general manager Paul “Pope” Owens on August 29, 1979. By 5:00 am the next morning, he agreed to take the job. The Dallas Green era in Philadelphia had official begun.

He wasted no time in making his vision clear. Play hard or look for a new job.

Right away he went after their veteran leaders, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, and Mike Schmidt, all who were feverish supporters of Ozark.

“I’m sure a few holdouts felt the team was winning not because of Dallas Green, but despite Dallas Green,” he said. “It would later be said that they may have been winning to spite Dallas Green.”

His charging ways helped the Phillies develop a resiliency that allowed them to come back from a 5-2 deficit during the deciding game of the 1980 National League Championship Series. The team rode that momentum into the World Series against the Royals, and won the series 4-2 in convincing fashion. The late Tug McGraw, the team’s ace closer, gave Green much of the credit for their championship run.

“He told us we had to be a team with character, that we had to look in the mirror,” McGraw said. "He was just an average player at best, and where he got his ‘Phillie baseball’ is beyond me. But he had confidence in his ideas, and he backed his people. It took us a few months to catch on, but then we did.”

A World Series ring for a manager brings attention and greater scrutiny, and Green was not immune. The 1981 season was plagued by the baseball strike, and the Chicago Cubs were looking to turn around their organization. After refusing their first two offers, Green left the only organization he knew to become the general manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Green wasted little time in making Chicago “Philadelphia West.” His first order of business was to hire his friend and third-base coach Lee Elia for their managerial position. He brought along John Vukovich, as well as a half-dozen scouts from their organization. He was ready to go to work.

Looking to add someone who would bring the emotional response he expected from his players, he traded with the Phillies to acquire Larry Bowa. He held up the deal until they threw in a young infielder named Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg went on to a Hall of Fame career and that trade was one of his defining moments of his time in Chicago.

Green’s wheeling and dealing did help the team get to the NLCS in 1984, but he might be better remembered for what Cubs fans called, “Bloody Monday.” At the end of the 1982 season, he cleaned house, firing most of the team’s support staff and related personnel. Even Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was not safe from Green’s wrath.

Green lasted until the end of the 1987 season with the Chicago Cubs, signing free agent Andre Dawson after Dawson presented them with a blank contract. After the 1986 fiasco where the owners colluded against signing free agents, Green offered Dawson a $500,000 contract with incentives, and to Green’s surprise, Dawson accepted. Dawson won the 1987 MVP, probably the only highlight for the last place club, and Green’s last hurrah.

That is until George called.

The Yankees were in search of a new manager after George Steinbrenner dumped Lou Piniella at the close of the 1988 season. Steinbrenner called upon Green, whose relationship dated back to 1960 when Green played in Buffalo and “The Boss,” used to pass through a Royal Arms tavern, a frequent hang out of the two at the time.

“It’s difficult to function in any job where your boss is seeking to control you. I guess we were doomed from the beginning by my big mouth and George’s lack of patience.”

Green lasted until August, doomed by a team full of aging veterans and non-descript arms. Leaving the Yankees by mutual disagreement, he took over the 1993 Mets and immediately was immersed in controversy. Doc Gooden continued to battle his drug problems, Bret Saberhagen injured himself in a jet-ski accident, Bobby Bonilla threatened to knock out the teeth of writer Bob Klapisch, Anthony Young mired his way to a record-setting 27 consecutive losses, and to top it all off, Vince Coleman set off a large firecracker at Dodger Stadium that left three people injured.

Green had a tough time steering the ship on the way to a 103-loss season. He hoped for better results in 1994, but that was dashed quickly when the players decided to go on strike. During the strike, Green earned a reputation of being one of the hardest driving managers of the replacement players.

Green stuck around long enough to usher in the “Generation K” era, but with the trio of pitchers being rushed to the majors, their unfolding led to Green’s firing in 1996. He was replaced by Bobby Valentine, whom he later held in disdain for remarks that he made after Green was rehired by the Phillies as a special assistant to the general manager in 1998.

“Bobby will always be the guy who dressed up in a Groucho Marx disguise and snuck back into the dugout after being ejected from a game in 1999,” he said. “This guy has always been a phony.”

One gets a sense that there is very little that could silence Dallas Green. And yet he chose to end his book with the heart-wrenching loss of his granddaughter.

On January 8, 2011, a deranged gunman opened fire at a public meet-and-greet with Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Christina-Taylor Green had been invited to the event by a neighbor, hoping to offer her a chance to experience how our government worked up close. She never got the chance, falling victim to the recklessness of the individual who orchestrated this horrific act. The news was painful for Green to swallow.

“And there are still no words to adequately describe my feelings about what happened. After losing my granddaughter, my heart will never fully heal, but I’ll go on.”

Through the book Green rambles, rants and raves through his rollercoaster managerial career. The strengths of the book are his readily offered, candid opinions, which give you a vivid picture of his strong personality and old-school, tough love style. On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook the fact that his presentation of events is decidedly one-sided. Green is clearly not someone who plays well with others, and it begs the question of whether his abrasive style created more problems than it cured.

In the end, though, it’s hard not to like such an abashedly colorful character in an era when athletes and front office staff speak in media coached, prepared sound bytes. For that reason, as well as the unvarnished look into the dynamics between front office and players, this is a book worth diving into for an entertaining weekend read.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A literary tribute to Satchel Paige

In celebration of Satchel Paige's July 7, 1906 birthday, I offer a literary journey into the life of Satchel Paige. An eccentric character on and off the field, chronicling his career has spawned many books including two that he co-wrote.

Below are some of the best books that showcase the life and times of Paige.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yankee hurler Fritz Peterson explains 'The Art of De-Conditioning'

Former New York Yankees hurler Frtiz Peterson has a simple, yet effective message with his new book, acceptance. Weary of the rat race to stay in playing shape during his professional baseball career, Peterson found peace within himself once he was able to accept his own eating habits and no longer worry about his weight affecting him on the field.

The Art of De-Conditioning - Lightside Books
Peterson’s quick and witty, “The Art of De-Conditioning: Eating Your Way to Heaven,” is an adventure into his journey of extreme de-conditioning. After finishing his 11-year major league career in 1977 that included time with the Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and the Texas Rangers, Peterson vowed he not only wanted to weigh 300 lbs., but that he would never again run another wind sprint, lift another weight, or go on a diet.

Many professional athletes, after devoting incredible amounts of time to preserving their physical condition and restricting their diets in the name of increasing their performance look forward to the day they can hang up their spikes, sit down on the couch, eat, drink and be merry! This prescription of eating, rest, and happiness are cornerstones of Peterson’s call to action, all of course under the direct supervision of a physician.

Peterson, through a series of entertaining vignettes, encourages his readers to embrace their love affair with food. As a cancer survivor, he brings a sense of urgency to enjoy the time we have on this earth and not sweat the numbers on the scale, as there are other more important things to do, like finding a great slice of pizza!

For those expecting a baseball themed book by Peterson, one may be better off with his 2009 work, “Mickey Mantle is Going to Heaven.” This current effort by the crafty lefty is meant to be an easily digested snack for those looking for a refreshing take on life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Johnny Antonelli opens up the doors to his baseball life with 'A Baseball Memoir'

Johnny Antonelli has been out of baseball for 50 years, yet with the release of his new autobiography, "Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir", he finds himself back on the mound one more time.

“It feels pretty good. I’m not one that ever flaunted myself to be recognized. This has given me something that I probably missed since 1962 when I left. It’s something that kind of brings back memories,” Antonelli said during an August telephone interview. 

Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir / RIT Press

The southpaw collaborated with award winning journalist Scott Pitoniak to chronicle his story, one that he was initially reluctant to engage.

“He was asking me for a few years about doing a book and it wasn’t really my cup of tea, so I kind of put him off for a while. Finally I agreed to do it,” he said.

The deeper the once-hesitant pitcher went in the process, the more he enjoyed it. Their conversations elicited memories that Antonelli had once locked away.

“He kept asking me questions and dug up a lot of things that would bring back memories of all the things I went into when I was playing baseball," he said. "We got together quite often and I would say for about six or eight months that we talked and he came up with ideas. He dug into the history and I thought he did a pretty good job with it.”

Antonelli was a star at Rochester’s Jefferson High School and in 1948 was on the top of every scout’s list. His father arranged for the young lefty to pitch in a semi-pro game in front of a sellout crowd at the stadium of the Rochester Red Wings. Antonelli did not disappoint, striking out 17 on his way to a complete game no-hitter. The next day, the scouts lined up outside of his front door, waiting for their turn to woo him into their organizations. After the smoke cleared and $52,000 later, Antonelli was officially a member of the Boston Braves. In less than 48 hours, Antonelli went from a high school star straight to the major leagues at Braves Field.

Major League Baseball had a established a bonus rule at the time, where players who were signed for more than $4,000 had to be placed on the major league roster for at least two years. Antonelli’s arrival meant that someone had to be displaced from the big league club. The loss of one of their own, coupled with a hefty salary of the unproven high school player, irked many of the veterans.

“They were fighting for the pennant at the time of course and they had to get rid of a ballplayer, Jim Pendergrast, who was also a left-handed pitcher," Antonelli recalled. "He was sent down and of course there were some feelings about that with the team because he was friendly with them, and here I am a young 18-year-old coming in with a bonus. I think that upset a couple of the players, mainly Warren Spahn. For some reason, it bothered him more than any of the others.”

Spahn, who was the ace of the staff, resented the fact that Antonelli’s bonus more than tripled his salary.

“It was a unique situation, having received this bonus coming in, and then having resentment from some of the ballplayers," he said. "People have to understand and I did then that everyone wasn’t making much money. Our catcher Phil Masi would catch double headers and he was making $8,700. Spahn was making $15,000. How could you give a kid $52,000 and here we’re winning a pennant, want a raise and can’t get it? Then they went up [to owner Lou Perini] and got it. They should be happy in that respect.”

It took Antonelli a few seasons and a tour of duty in the military during the Korean War to shake the label of a bonus baby and quell all of his doubters. He missed two seasons due to his service (1951-52) and returned in 1953 to become a vital cog in the Braves rotation, going 12-12 in 31 appearances. He credits his increased role and performance due to the experience he gained pitching for his Army team.

“There was always a feeling I didn’t have the minor league experience," he said. "I always felt that I was as good as at least three-to-four of the pitchers that they were using. Not being used, you kind of lose your confidence. When I went into the service, I was pitching for Fort Myers, Va., and we had a pretty good ballclub. We won the Service Championship for the district of Washington. I got to pitch quite often and went 42-2 during that time."

His showing in Milwaukee was enough to attract the attention of the New York Giants, who traded star outfielder Bobby Thomson for his services. While Antonelli saw potential with the young club he was leaving, he was about to embark on a journey that would quickly change the course of his career.

“I enjoyed playing with Milwaukee and playing with that club, because I knew with the youth we had on that club, we were going to be good for many, many years" he said. "When I was told I was traded, I felt kind of bad about that because I thought we had a lot of future. I went to New York and we had pretty good success there, so I guess I can’t complain.”

Johnny Antonelli’s 1954 season with the Giants was one that baseball dreams are made of: 21 wins, an All-Star appearance, a third place finish in the MVP voting, and a World Series Championship that included him earning a win in Game 2 and a save in Game 4 that secured the final out of the Giants’ sweep of the Cleveland Indians.

He played with the Giants through the 1960 season, weathering their move to San Francisco to earn five All-Star selections. A New Yorker at heart, Antonelli didn’t enjoy the change of scenery.

“Going from New York to San Francisco was not my happiest time because I had a lot of success pitching in the Polo Grounds and I was concerned how I was going to pitch in San Francisco,” he said. “I felt very comfortable pitching in the Polo Grounds even though they had the short porches. As long as I kept them from pulling or hitting down the line, I had Willie Mays there catching all the mistakes I made.”

Antonelli split the 1961 season between the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Braves, retiring at the end of the season, thwarting an offer of over $30,000 to join the New York Mets in 1962. He had a successful tire business in Rochester and no longer desired the time away from his family that a major league career required.

“I had just turned 32," he said. “I was still young enough to play, but my problem was I was not a traveler; I didn’t like being away from the family. I kind of chose that time to get out. I didn’t want to be a pioneer.

"I knew they were going to have problems. It’s tough enough to live with a decent ballclub, but they were a very poor ballclub at the early stages. Even though they had some great names on the team, they were getting older. I remember someone told me that Casey Stengel said because I was in the tire business I had turned them down. They had sent me a contract for $38,000, which was a pretty good number at the time. He said, ‘He must be selling a lot of black donuts in Rochester to turn a contract like this down.’ On second thought, maybe I would have liked to play there a year or two, as I was comfortable, but again I had already made the decision.”

Turning his attention to Mark Appel’s recent rejection of a $3.8 million signing bonus with the Pittsburgh Pirates to return to Stanford, Antonelli had difficulty accepting that a player would turn down such an amount that could set themselves up financially for the rest of their lives.

“It’s hard to believe, hard to understand that somebody would turn down such a contract," he said. “I do believe that players are people. If they can get the college education, that’s great. Not too many every year make it to the major leagues. I think an education is always the best way to go, but when someone says, 'Here’s $4 million to sign a contract,' it’s kind of hard to turn away from that.

"I know in our day, when my father accepted $52,000 from Lou Perini, that was like all the money in the world. Now it’s $4 million, and that even opens my eyes a bit more."

The longer he pondered Appel's decision, the more he saw the disparity between Appel’s bonus and his own.

“I think it’s become accepted [to turn these offers down],” he said. "The minimum pay is well over $400,000. They don’t frown on that the way the $52,000 I received. … How many ballplayers every year that come out of high school or college make it? How many are successful? The average years [for a player] when I was playing ball, was 3.5 years. You couldn’t make enough in 3.5 years to retire for life; my contract was for $5,500 a season. If you are getting $4 million up front, you should be able to save a percentage of that, leave it alone and let it grow. It’s very hard for me not to take that contract.”

Now at 82, Antonelli is happily retired from the tire business with his second wife Gail, splitting time between New Mexico and Rochester during the year. He continues to follow the game, making appearances at Frontier Field in Rochester where he was honored with a spot in their Walk of Fame. The book release has provided Antonelli the opportunity to relish in the memories of his teammates and all of the wonderful people he met along the way.

“I never met a real bad person in baseball,” he said. "Most of the things I’d say about any of the players I played with were that they were all nice people.”

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ted Reed breathes life into Furillo's Dodger legacy

What began as a senior thesis at Wesleyan University over forty years ago for Ted Reed, turned into a long overdue tribute to one of Brooklyn’s overlooked “Boys of Summer,” Carl Furillo. Reed, author of “Carl Furillo: Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star,” (McFarland, 2010) appeared Wednesday evening at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in New York to set the record straight about the rifle-armed right fielder’s legacy regarding Jackie Robinson’s debut and Furillo’s messy divorce from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Carl Furillo: Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star / McFarland
Furillo was wrongly labeled as an opponent to Robinson’s entry into the Brooklyn Dodgers, with false innuendo spreading that he was one of the players circulating a petition against Robinson.

“Furillo was wrongly painted as a racist [in the media],” Reed said. “He was the Italian fall guy [so the writers] could make Branch Rickey look better.” This tag would follow Furillo into retirement, infuriating the long-time Dodger outfielder. In fact, Furillo was so affable with Robinson, Reed revealed that Furillo kissed both Robinson and his wife Rachel after winning the 1955 World Series.

Ted Reed at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse / N. Diunte
He was part of an aging group of veterans that followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958. Like his Brooklyn counterparts, the sun was setting quickly on his career, moving to a platoon role by the 1959 season. Furillo was potent enough to help the Dodgers win Game 3 of the 1959 World Series with a pinch-hit single; however, that was his last hurrah, as injuries would force the end of his career early in the 1960 season.

The injury left Furillo just short of earning his 15th year of service time for the major league pension, which would have greatly impacted his pay in retirement. He sued the Dodgers for the remainder of his 1960 salary and entered in a drawn-out battle with Buzzie Bavasi in the newspapers. The Dodgers moved to settle and pay Furillo’s demands. While Furillo may have won the battle, the bitter Dodgers won the war. Furillo would never work in baseball again.

Reed encountered Furillo at the same time he was being interviewed for Roger Khan’s epic, "Boys of Summer." While still bitter with baseball, Furillo opened up to him, building an unparalleled relationship with the upstart biographer. The result of their friendship is an illuminating look into Furillo’s career, one that deserves the same platform as his legendary teammates Reese, Robinson, and Snider.

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

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.

R.A. Dickey - Wherever I Wind Up / Blue Rider
An All-American and Olympian from the University of Tennessee, Dickey was on a direct path to major league stardom when the Texas Rangers in the 1996 draft drafted him in the first round. Offered a bonus of $810,000, Dickey began to envision a life of financial security and a fast track to the major leagues; however, the same arm which enamored the Rangers’ top scouts, almost brought Dickey’s career to a screeching halt before even a pitch was thrown.

Noticing a slight irregularity in the angle of Dickey’s elbow from a baseball magazine cover, the Rangers wanted an MRI of his golden arm. A few hours later, the Rangers rescinded their offer. The culprit was Dickey’s UCL or lack thereof. The ligament, which keeps the elbow secure while pitching, was missing after multiple MRIs. It was a medical wonder that his arm stayed in one piece after all of those innings of 90+ MPH fastballs.

Labeled as damaged goods and ready to walk away from baseball, the Rangers made Dickey a take-it-or-leave-it offer of $75,000. Starting from baseball’s murkiest depths, Dickey embarked on a path toward the major leagues that was anything but direct and haunted by the demons of an unspeakable past.

Reaching into the darkest places where no child should ever visit, Dickey peels away layers of a child tortured by vagrancy, alcoholism and sexual abuse. In a bold move, especially for an active player, Dickey publicly reveals his victimization by a family babysitter at the age of nine. Opening the door to a place that he locked away before revealing it to his psychologist in his 30s, Dickey suppressed the anger and horror of a child whose innocence was taken too soon.

On top of the abuse he suffered, Dickey discovered in his teenage years that living with an alcoholic parent only compounded the dismay he faced, leaving him to seek refuge as a vagrant, spending many nights sleeping in vacated homes. Despite these tremendous obstacles that Dickey faced, he earned a scholarship to Tennessee, where he majored in English, a skill he was passionate about that is obvious from this work.

While it seems miraculous that Dickey garnered the necessary strength to continue to excel on the mound as an amateur, getting signed was only the beginning of a tumultuous relationship with baseball.

Trolling the minor leagues for five years, Dickey finally received the call from the Rangers in 2001. Four short appearances later, he was back in AAA with the Oklahoma City 89ers. He wouldn’t return to the majors until 2003. After three unremarkable campaigns with the Rangers from 2003-05 and a shoulder injury, a meeting with Rangers manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser would once again change the course of Dickey’s career. They asked him to give up being a conventional pitcher and convert to throwing the knuckleball full-time. Realizing he was at a crossroads, Dickey accepted the challenge.

As with the uncertain nature of the knuckleball, Dickey experienced a hellacious ride back to the major leagues including giving up a record-tying six home runs in his first start as a knuckleballer. Looking for help that his major league coaches could not provide, Dickey sought advice from Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, and Tim Wakefield.

Despite following the Rangers’ request to covert, they released him after the 2006 season. Dickey bounced around organizations more than a spinning knuckleball. Signed by the Milwaukee Brewers, Dickey lasted one year with their AAA club, before shuttling between the Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins. Released by the Twins in 2009 after an unspectacular 1-1 record in 35 appearances, he was running out of time and options. Lost in the mix of his rapid change of uniforms, Dickey almost died trying to swim across the Mississippi River, and his wife moved to another house after discovering his infidelity. Desperate for a paycheck that would offer more than that of a sojourning baseball nomad, Dickey contemplated playing in Korea before the New York Mets offered him a shot to go to spring training in 2010.

Rejuvenated by a move to the National League and a struggling Mets club, Dickey liked his chances to play in New York City. To his great surprise, he was the first person cut from the major league club in spring training. Still, driven by his tremendous spirit, Dickey soldiered to Triple-A, determined to stand tall in Queens. After pitching a nearly perfect game early in his Mets minor league campaign, the Mets summoned Dickey to Flushing, where he has remained a fixture in their rotation, earning his first multi-year contract at the beginning of the 2011 season.

Dickey’s story reaches far outside the lines of the baseball diamond, touching widespread emotions unseen in any baseball autobiography. The courage he has displayed to tell his story in full leaves behind a human element that is sorely missing in this era of distant multi-millionaires.

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.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book review: Jim Abbott - Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Jim Abbott at signing for Imperfect
Jim Abbott stood in front of an eager group of preschoolers ready to talk about the tenets of his baseball career. Little did he know that the most challenging question was going to come from his four-year-old daughter Ella.

“She raised her hand and I had no idea what was coming,” Abbott said at a recent book signing in New York City. “She said, ‘Dad, do you like your little hand?’ That question took me back. I didn’t quite know what to say. We never called it my little hand at home. My whole life, I never thought about liking it.”

After a short pause to further consider her inquiry, Abbott reflected on what he learned from his deformed hand. “I looked at her and said, ‘You know what honey, I do. I like my little hand. I haven’t always liked it and it hasn’t always been easy, but you know what, my little hand has taught me important lessons that life’s not easy and it’s not always fair.’”

Abbott was at the Upper West Side location of the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in early April to promote his autobiography, Imperfect: An Improbable Life (Ballantine, 2012) which he co-authored with former Los Angeles Times writer Tim Brown

Click here to read more about Abbott's new book as well as watch video of his speech from a recent book signing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review - A Pirate's Journey - The Life Story of Major League Catcher Hank Foiles with Douglas Williams

Spending 16 years behind the plate in professional baseball, Henry “Hank” Foiles saw more than his share of fastballs and foul tips. Along with the many games logged on his aching knees, his travels allowed him to forge relationships with many of the greats of the golden era, not only in baseball, but also pop culture. It is these experiences that comprise Foiles’ recently released autobiography, A Pirate’s Journey, which is co-authored by Douglas Williams.

The Virginia native grew up as the son of a former minor league baseball player and developed into multi-sport star at Granby High, where he paired with future major leaguer Chuck Stobbs to dominate prep competition in baseball and football. In addition to his prowess in the aforementioned sports, Foiles found time to earn All-American honors in the javelin throw.

A Pirate's Journey / Hank Foiles

Baseball, however, was Foiles’ first love, and he signed with the New York Yankees in the fall of 1947. Earning his baptism by fire, he entered major league camp in 1948 to serve as a batting practice catcher while the regulars played their way into shape. Foiles relished this opportunity, anonymously baking in the hot sun behind his catcher’s mask, dutifully catching an endless stream of pitches.

A chance encounter in the locker room allowed him to befriend the biggest star in baseball, Joe DiMaggio. Foiles reveals a gentler side of, “The Big Dago,” who took the young catcher under his wing while he was an awe-struck Yankee farmhand. He pays a touching tribute to DiMaggio in a chapter devoted to their friendship they developed that spring.

Hank Foiles
Foiles doesn’t dwell on painstaking details about every happening of his career. He has chosen to keep it light with entertaining stories about travels in baseball, such as the one with DiMaggio. Another golden nugget is when Foiles reveals the special antics he used to silence the bat of the mighty Willie Mays, gained from their encounters during military competition.

The autobiography is filled with these type of anecdotes that further shine light on the rich experiences of players in the 1950s and 60s, ones that happened far away from the eyes of full-time sports network programming and social media. They reveal layers of the private lives of the ballplayers that make you wish you had a seat next to them during the experience. Williams expertly has you riding shotgun while Foiles serves as your guide on this magical expedition.

The long-time catcher played for seven major league clubs during his major league career, sometimes getting traded so often that he didn't know if he was coming or going. Even though he made the All-Star team in 1957, his name may not resonate with baseball fans the same way as his cronies DiMaggio and Mays, but it is his journey through these various organizations that is special and worth investigating.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ralph Branca: A Moment in Time - Book Review

The essence of a man’s life cannot be captured by any singular event or circumstance. Ralph Branca’s new autobiography A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak and Grace (Scribner, 2011), attempts to quell the notion that his career is summarized by the high-inside fastball he threw to Bobby Thomson on October 3rd, 1951.

Informed by one of his Detroit Tiger teammates in 1954 of the Giants intricate sign-stealing system that included a buzzer system and telescopes, Branca held on to his secret for decades. Battling the burden of bearing the weight of the hopes of an entire city being dashed by one pitch, Branca finally felt that the time was right to illuminate his career after being quiet for so long.

Click here to see video of Branca discussing his new book, as well as to read the entire review.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mitch Williams - Straight Talk from Wild Thing - Book Review

Admittedly, Mitch Williams’ best pitch was his fastball. No deception, just a high hard one that was at times, known to have a mind of its own. Earning the nickname “Wild Thing,” for his ornate pitching motion and resulting lack of control, Williams stays true to form with his new book, Straight Talk from Wild Thing co-authored by Darrell Berger.

Click here to read a full review of Williams' new book as well as watch video of him discussing the work on NBC 10 Philadelphia.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review - Always a Yankee - By Douglas Williams and Jim Coates

The prestige, honor and infamy of wearing the Yankee pinstripes are some of the most magical forces in sports. Players who spent even a short time with the Bronx ballclub are often identified by their ties to baseball’s most storied franchise. Therefore, it is only right that Yankees World Series hero Jim Coates has titled his memoirs, "Always a Yankee: A Pitcher's Story; Jim Coates, He Beats the Odds to Become an All-Star and a World Champion". Co-authored with Doug Williams, Coates tells vivid tales of how he made it to the Yankees from the farms in Virginia.

Click here to read the entire review of Coates and Williams' "Always a Yankee."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bill White: Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play

Bill White, the former All-Star first baseman, National League president and New York Yankees broadcaster recently released his memoirs, Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play. White speaks openly about his lengthy multi-faceted career in baseball and why he has distanced himself from the game. Click here to read the entire review of the book, as well as video of White speaking from his book signing in New Jersey.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eddie Robinson: "Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball"

Anyone who is involved in the game of professional baseball for sixty-five years is more than lucky; they’re blessed. Eddie Robinson, now 90, recounts his lengthy career as a player, coach and executive in his autobiography, “Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball,” which is currently available via SMU Press.

Eddie Robinson - Lucky Me / SMU Press
Robinson, along with help from co-author C. Paul Rogers III, speaks eloquently about his six-plus decades in baseball. Growing up in Paris, TX, Robinson had his start from humble beginnings in the farming community during the Great Depression. Signed into professional ball in 1939, he began a career that saw Robinson make stops with seven different American League ball clubs from 1942-1957, as well as three years of World War II Service that almost stopped his playing days dead in its tracks.

Recovering from a botched surgery to remove a bone tumor during World War II, Robinson endured a long and hard road to return to baseball in 1946. Not only did Robinson come back, he excelled. Robinson had a banner year that season, winning the MVP of the Triple-A International League, beating out an upstart Jackie Robinson, who was on his quest to make baseball history. This wouldn’t be the first time that the Indians farmhand would have a brush with baseball’s integration, as he was involved in some controversy surrounding the debut of Larry Doby the following season.

Robinson was the only right-handed first baseman on the club, and was asked to defer to Doby by lending the rookie his glove to play the position. Only days before, manager Lou Boudreau has assured Robinson that he was the team’s primary first baseman. A flummoxed Robinson threatened to quit after lending Doby his glove; however, he explained his reasoning was not due to Doby’s race.

“I threatened to quit because of my anger at Boudreau, not because he was a black guy coming in,” he said.

After winning the World Series with the Indians in 1948, he was traded to the Washington Senators for Mickey Vernon. This would begin the merry-go-round that would see him visit seven teams in the next nine seasons. It is through these travels where the book takes shape.

Robinson adds colorful tidbits about his career at the end of extra chapter entitled, “Extra Innings,” which are anecdotes that enliven the stories of his career. Through his play with seven different franchises, Robinson details many innings that illustrate the depth of his career. Robinson has a story for seemingly every “name” player from the 1940s and 1950s and tells them in a manner that keeps the pages turning.

For the New York fans, Robinson expertly details his time as a member of the New York Yankees from 1954-56, where he helped man first base under Casey Stengel’s platoon. Robinson would later return to the Yankees in the early 1980s as a scout.

While not a Hall of Famer, Robinson merits a lot of credit for his long relationship with the national pastime. Whether it was as a player, coach or executive, Robinson put his best foot forward and reaped the rewards of a long-time association with the sport. “Lucky Me,” allows the reader to ride along with Robinson through his sixty years in baseball, taking in the scenery every stop of the way.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scooter: The Biography of Phil Rizzuto

Carlo DeVito
Triumph Books, 2010 
368 pp.
"Holy Cow!" The trademark line from one of New York's most beloved baseball figures resonates vividly in the minds of fans across the country, long after his days in the Yankees broadcast booth. If Phil Rizzuto was still alive, it would be likely that he would exclaim his famous catchphrase after reading Carlo DeVito's “Scooter.”

DeVito provides in-depth detail of the entirety of the Hall of Fame shortstop's life, a career that was almost derailed when Rizzuto dropped out of high school in 1936. Deemed “too small” by the Dodgers and the Giants, Rizzuto was put back on track to embark on what would be a 60-year journey through baseball with the help of his high school coach Al Kunitz and the watchful eye of Yankee scout Paul Krichell.

Signed by the Yankees in 1937, Rizzuto's career was almost over before it started. During his first season in Class-D Bassett, Rizzuto tore a muscle in his leg and was told that his baseball playing days were over. Miraculously, he recovered quickly enough to return that same season and finish with over a .300 batting average. He would go on to hit over .300 at every stop in the minor leagues before debuting with the Yankees in 1941.

DeVito explores the high regard in which Rizzuto's teammates and opponents held his talents. Often overshadowed by the prowess of Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle, DeVito illustrates how many in baseball felt it was Rizzuto that was the vital cog in the seven Yankee World Series championship teams he played for. He would stay with the Yankees through the 1956 season, with his career being interrupted from 1943-1945 due to his service in World War II.

The second half of the biography focuses on Rizzuto's storied broadcast career, which endeared him to a whole new generation of fans, many of which only know Rizzuto from his work behind the microphone. Starting in 1957, with the urges of Yankees' sponsor Ballantine Beer, Rizzuto began a 40-year journey in the booth. DeVito expertly chronicles Rizzuto's ups and downs as one of baseball's most recognizable voices and his ever changing partners in the booth.

The final two chapters in “Scooter”, which detail his playing and broadcast careers respectively are over 100 pages each. In these lengthy chapters, the stories switch so much, that it is difficult to find continuity among the tidbits presented. The book would have been better served to be broken into smaller chapters to enhance the flow of information and keep the reader focused on what DeVito is attempting to illuminate.

Small criticisms non-withstanding, “Scooter” is a great look inside the career of one of New York's most cherished and respected homegrown baseball figures, that will please even the “huckleberries” who choose to pick it up.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Review: Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial

Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial
Wayne Stewart
Triumph Books, 2010
256 pp.

Somehow Stan Musial's name seems to be omitted when discussing the upper echelon of baseball's royalty. He ranks fourth all time in hits (3,630), sixth in RBI's (1,951), appeared in 24 All-Star games and won the National League MVP award three times. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 with over 93% of the votes.

Donora, PA native Wayne Stewart does his best to elevate Musial's standing in the public eye with his biography, "Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial." Stewart treads down a similar path that others have traveled chronicling Musial's upbringing in the small town of Donora. We watch Musial develop into a multi-sport athlete at Donora High School where he would play with Buddy Griffey, the patriarch to the Griffey baseball legacy. He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 18 out of high school and the rest shall we say has been well documented.

While Stewart attempts to follow Musial through his Hall of Fame career, he leaves bits and pieces of different stories hanging, leaving you wondering why certain anecdotes weren't further developed or why they were mentioned in the first place. He attempts to fill the gaps by quoting some of Musial's living teammates and opponents, most notably Carl Erskine, who is frequently quoted during the book. Conspicuously absent are testimonials from Musial's long time teammates Red Schoendienst, Marty Marion and Musial himself.

For the younger fans who aren't familiar with the achievements of Musial, "Stan The Man" will serve as a primer about the Cardinal great to whom Albert Pujols respectfully deferred the title of "El Hombre". For the baseball fan or historian that is searching for greater depth into the annals of Musial's career, they may not be satisfied by Stewart's work.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner

Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles
Michael D'Antonio
Riverhead, 2010
400 pp.

In the hearts of Brooklyn baseball fans, the name Walter O'Malley evokes painful memories of the Dodgers being uprooted from Ebbets Field and moving to the far extremes of the West Coast. For the citizens of Los Angeles, O'Malley represents a forward thinking visionary who lead the progress of Major League Baseball to grow with our nation's westward expansion.

In "Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles", Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael D'Antonio paints an in-depth account of O'Malley's life that goes beyond the Dodgers moving out of Brooklyn.

D'Antonio explores how O'Malley ascended the ranks as the son of a Tammany Hall pol to become one of the most influential lawyers for the Brooklyn Trust Company. It was there with the Brooklyn Trust Company that O'Malley would enter the foray of Brooklyn Dodger ownership, buying shares of the company in 1944.

Great and exciting detail is given to how O'Malley positioned himself to purchase the controlling shares of the Brooklyn Dodgers, including those of general manager Branch Rickey. With complete control of the Dodgers ballclub, he lobbied tirelessly to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. It is during this period that he would meet his greatest rival, Robert Moses, the powerful head of city planning. The two would engage in an embattled series of exchanges that would eventually lead O'Malley looking to California's greener pastures.

For the truly die-hard Brooklyn Dodger fans, the story might as well end here, as they could no longer cope with seeing the Dodger Blue wear jerseys that represented such a far away city. For the readers of "Forever Blue ..." this is just where the story picks up, as O'Malley has his own set of challenges moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles. See how he maneuvers through various lawsuits and city referendums before being able to build Dodger Stadium to the tune of $20 million.

D'Antonio does his best to devillify O'Malley as the leading cause for the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. He is presented as a sharp businessman who dealt heavily with the politicos of his time to advance the positioning of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The book drags initially with an overload of information on O'Malley's upbringing and formative years. While necessary to develop the scope of O'Malley's persona, the real crux of the action begins when O'Malley gains his first stake in the Dodgers and continues his maneuvers until he has complete control of the ballclub.  It is at this point where baseball fans will take interest in the rest of the details of his journey.