Veteran Presence Book Club II


(Originally posted 01/0/09)

Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember – Jon Feinstein

PR: Weird stories from the Yankees and inside the Mets collapse (the first one, hehehehe) – yup, this was a must read. I tend to read most of Feinstein’s stuff (though I am growing tired of the let me tell you what happens in the first chapter.) There are enough one liners to make me chuckle. The best part about this book is that my mom and sister actually borrowed the audio version from the library and were all over the Mussina loathes Carl Pavano’s existence stuff.

ED: This was my first Feinstein book and while he gets really good scoopage…dude really could stand to have an editor/fact checker. Just lots of little errors all over the place that become really irritating about 200 pages into a 500 page book. That said the scoopage is worth it. Maybe if you pick up the paperback they’ll get the errors corrected.


Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty – Jeff Pearlman

PR: I kept wanting to wait and wait and wait on this book and see if I could find it at the library or something. And then I just kept hearing more and more stories from it and I was like “well, F this. I’m going to have to buy this book.” The book opens with Michael Irvin stabbing Everett McIver in the neck which is only behind the beginning of The Blind Side (see Book Club Vol I) as greatest ways to make me love a book. You can see why Emmitt Smith is so adamantly opposed to this book. (If you flip around the dial enough, you are bound to stumble across Smith and Pearlman yelling at each other.) And I thought I loved touching myself but Charles Haley takes the cake. Umm… yeah, that didn’t come out the way I wanted it too.

ED: Yeah. After Phil told me of the way Dean had pimped the book to him it was a no brainer. And without question, THIS IS THE GREATEST FOOTBALL BOOK OF ALL TIME…or at least the greatest book to ever star Charles Haley’s penis. Read it now.


The Draft: A Year Inside the NFL’s Search for Talent – Pete Williams

PR: This was my bargain bin find as I got it at work during one of our Bargain Blowout sales for a $1. And it’s not to be confused with The Draft by Wil Mara who is not related to the Giant Mara family and his book is a fictional account of the draft. (Poor poor awkward book signing where the only person who went up to him worked at the store.) My biggest fear when first grabbing it was that I was going to end up reliving the Eli draft AGAIN. (Bill and I covered that all here). Fortunately, this is the 2005 draft (which we also covered) The book is fun for the “Hey – agents and colleges and the NFL in general is just as dirty as I think it is” vibe throughout it. It is not the Football version of Moneyball as some dope on the back cover proclaimed (Some dope is actually Pete Golenbock author of The Bronx Zoo – I just amused myself by calling him some dope.) There is a chapter on XXX (Yup – totally forgot to go back and look up his name – Rippa) and how he duped the Eagles into getting all the combine freaks. Poor poor Ray Rhodes. Williams also had really really lousy luck (or outstanding luck depending on your point of view) as he choose to follow, among others, Chris Canty, whose crippling senior injury made his draft stock plummet and Fred Gibson who was convinced he was a first day selection (the two were picked back to back in the 4th round.. Whoops!!!!) Does get cumbersome at times since there are like 84 different “characters” to follow but for a dollar I’m not complaining.


Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion – Roger Angell

ED: It’s funny. When I started getting into the online baseball nerd world, there would always be the occasional book talk and I, as a moron, would confuse Angell with Roger Kahn. Since Kahn wrote the incredibly overhyped Boys of Summer, I assumed he was the one to go to. Of course, we’ve all since learned that BOYS OF SUMMER SUCKS!!! HARD!!! And Kahn is not good. Angell, on the other hand, receives far less praise than Kahn but is like so immensely better it makes me wonder what sort of world we live in where Kahn is a frickin’ literary star and Angell is taken for granted. I discovered this when reading Angell’s fantastic David Cone book (A Pitcher’s Story: Innings with David Cone) – which, of course, is highly recommended – and then attempting to read some other Kahn book – something about pitchers than I gave up in the first chapter. Anyway, point is pick up all the Angell you can and…if you are a 70’s baseball mark like me, this is whatcha need. Angell covers the 72-76 seasons with reprints of stories he wrote for sordid magazines in that era. Point, is, if it’s this or the Cone book or something else, pick up all the Angell you can…and run as far away as possible as you can from Roger Kahn.


A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170 Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL – Stefan Fatsis

PR: As established in Vol I – I am a sucker for day/week/season in the life of books. Mainly because they are quick reads and you get to mock at least one person for their stupidity. The concept of this book is that Fatsis is a kicker for the Denver Broncos during training camp of the 2006 season. (It’s basically a distaff Paper Lion, which Fatsis acknowledges several times was his inspiration for the book.) Since Ed and I were WAY too amused at Todd Sauerbraun’s antics over the years – this book was perfect because you see what a fool Sauerbraun is and enjoy as he gets suspended for the first 4 games of the season, and grilled by his teammates and then eventually cut. The rest of the book is fine if unspectacular – Mike Shanahan is a control freak (and still hated by Ed), Jason Elam is a really nice guy who doesn’t have to do much. Actually, probably the most stunning detail is that the Baltimore Ravens actually turned down the request to have Fatsis kick with them. (They were his first choice since at the time Brian Billick hadn’t found a source of publicity that he hadn’t exploited yet.) Actually – the epilogue is outstanding as Fatsis suddenly reveals a bunch of “what happened too” type stories – none of them making Shanahan looking good.


God Save The Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports (And How We Can Get It Back) – Will Leitch

PR: The one thing I will miss about leaving my job at Borders is that I will no longer be able to borrow books. Which really sucks since a whole lot of these books I would never actually spend money for – I’m gonna have to investigate the library two blocks away. This was the 2nd to last book I ever borrowed (the Few Seconds of Panic was the last). Written by the now ex-editor of Deadspin, the book is your standard collection of essays on popular topics from the website. It’s easy to get through and since written in essay form, quite easy to skip the parts you could care less about. To Leitch’s credit – there are only about 2 instances were he just reprints full articles from the sites (as opposed to other books that I refuse to read)

ED: Some days I wonder why Phil is so bitter. Then I realize he has read this AND the Eisen book. Good Christ.


Tip Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever – Filip Bondy

PR: Another one of those “Glad I borrowed would have never read otherwise books”. Bondy goes deeper into the 84 draft looking at six different selections: The Hall of Famers – Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Hakeem Olajuwon along with poor poor Sam Bowie and crazy Sam Perkins. As an actual book it’s okay but there are tons of little pieces of information that make it worth it ie: Jordan almost being traded straight up for Clyde Drexler or how David Stern was screwing teams over right from the very start (poor poor Dallas). I would recommend reading this if you can find it at the library or if it comes out in paperback. Far better than the other basketball book I tried to read recently. Stupid 7 Seconds or Less.


Yankee for Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes – Bobby Murcer, Glen Waggoner

ED: See, Phil and I read things like this then we make uncomfortable jokes about how Murcer taunts death in this book and still dies AND THEN we wonder why life craps on us.

PR: I also freely admit that I didn’t want to read this book because I knew it would make me think of my Dad and then I would cry. I suck.


The Greatest Game: The Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Playoff of ’78 – Richard Bradley

ED: See, the great thing here is the guy wrote the book for the 30 year anniversary of the 78 playoff game probably figuring 30 years later the Yankees and Red Sox would be battling it out for the AL East yet again. Whoops. Yeah, so that didn’t happen. Actually, this was a pretty fun book if you can look past the fact that Bradley kept confusing left and right field to the point where Jim Rice HAS to be a HOF’er given all the range Bradley gave him in this game.

PR: Grr…. I went on a bargain book buying spree over the holidays and I had this one in my hands but I let a coworker buy it since I already had like 6 other titles. I will have to see if the library has this now and make lots of “Roy White is better than Jim Rice jokes in my head”.


The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty – Buster Olney

PR: I have now read this book twice. This version is the “newly expanded edition” which is basically Olney throwing in like 20 extra pages on intro so he can basically taunt George Steinbrenner in that “Hahahahah – die you old bastard” kinda way in addition to making it like he was trying to get to the top of any Goggle search “A-ROD! STEROIDS!”. Anyway, the premise of the book is that Game 7 of the 2001 World Series was really the last day of the Yankee “dynasty” of the late 90s. (Mind you – there is a blurb in the new stuff where Olney kinda of admits rooting against the Yanks in 03 & 04 because winning another WS would not help make him look good.) First of all – Game 7 is one of those games that I still can’t talk rationally about (Super Bowl XXXV and the Charles Smith not dunking games are other examples). Now, in terms of pure information dumps, it is really really really hard to top this book. As a Yankee fan, a lot of this stuff is great (Chad Curtis bitching that he wasn’t as respected as Derek Jeter, Joe Torre hating and using Michael Kay). A Yankee hater will find lots and lots of stuff (outside of them just losing this game. Grr…) BTW – anyone (okay, Pieman) who reads the site knows how less than pleased I was at Gary Sheffield was on the team. Well just imagine if it was Albert Belle. Yup – my stomach hurts just from rereading that chapter. Highly recommend to anyone into baseball.

ED: Yeah. Completely forgot about this one. All that sticks with me is that Chad Curtis is a…uhh…crap. Forgot about not being able to work blue. The Chad Curtis stuff is fun. The rest I don’t recall at all…oh! Wait! I know what else amused me! The bit where Olney was trying to blame Rivera for blowing Game 7 of the ‘01 WS due to him giving a pre-game pep talk. Yeah.

PR: Oh yeah – I offered this book to my mom and sister to read and I mention the whole “It’s Mariano’s fault for basically saying Jesus guaranteed that they would win” thing and my mom refused to read it. Thankfully, Xmas was saved by my sister getting her a Rivera bobblehead.


Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero – David Maraniss

ED: I have no beef with Roberto Clemente, but man is his story not any joy to read. When the most interesting part of a bio is basically the description of a murder weapon (or in this case, the scumbags who provided Clemente with the plane for his ill-fated trip to Nicaragua)…then yeah. Meh.

PR: I grabbed this book for the glorious price of $1 and then Ed told me how dreadfully boring it was. Now, it will be moved into the giveaway pile without me even breaking the spine.


Tarnished Heisman: Did Reggie Bush Turn His Final College Season into a Six-Figure Job? – Don Yaeger

ED: Yeah, if the hardcover was not in the discount bins I would have never bothered. I still have no idea why I wasted a buck on this considering – I DESPISE COLLEGE SPORTS and I already knew the gist of this given how Yahoo! played up the story for ages. Still, it’s a fun enough read if just to make you wonder how Reggie Bush has not been crippled by someone named Guido.


The Last Real Season: A Hilarious Look Back at 1975 – When Major Leaguers Made Peanuts, the Umpires Wore Red, and Billy Martin Terrorized Everyone – by Mike Shropshire

ED: Shropshire’s Seasons in Hell is possibly the funniest baseball book ever written (I will listen to arguments for the classic Ball Four, of course) and the above picks up from where Seasons leaves off. You want drunken Billy Martin stories? Oh, you’ve got it. Honestly, if can even just remotely tolerate baseball at all you really need to read all of Shropshire’s stuff. Highest highest recommendation.


Hammerin’ Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid – John Rosengren

ED: Continuing on with the 70’s baseball tip, this covers the entirety of 1973 – the season that featured the arrival of Reggie Jackson on the national stage, the sad public decline of Willie Mays: the Met, Hank Aaron chasing Ruth and a certain shipbuilder from Cleveland. I am a 70’s baseball mark so this was so very wonderful to me. Your mileage may vary. If you just need one (or two) books on 70’s baseball, pick up the Shropshire books. If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll take all of that and…



Throwing Bullets: A Tale of Two Pitchers Chasing the Dream – Roy Rowan

ED: Sometimes you get lucky in the bargain bin…sometimes…you get this. There’s really no way to describe this. Rowan is this 7000 year old looking man (judging from the dust cover) who spends a summer following around two Twins minor league P’s. One is Justin Olson, whom you’ve never heard of nor never will. The other? Francisco Liriano. So you’re thinking – bingo! Rowan struck gold! In theory. In execution, Liriano gives Rowan little – likely because he spoke/speaks little English, so Rowan spends more time talking to Olson and talking about rural New York scenery than he anything else. Yeah. I mean, if you get it for a buck like I did, great. Otherwise…meh.



The Code: Baseball’s Unwritten Rules and It’s Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct – Ross Bernstein

ED: So, you know how, like by midseason when the beat writer runs out of actual material and human interest stories for your local team that he’ll invariably write an article or two about how a player broke one of the unwritten rules of baseball? Yeah, this is a whole book of that. All of the supposedly unwritten rules of baseball finally written down! Whee! You know all this already of course – the unwritten rules are retarded and contradictory. But there ya go. It’s decent enough toilet reading material…and if you like yourself some former Twins, this is the book for you since I think anyone who ever saw Kent Hrbeck and Kirby Puckett naked contributed to this book.


Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling – Bret Hart

PR: The more amusing thing about reading the Bret Hart book is how Ed got his hands on it (and then lent it to me). About a year ago, Ed found it in his local Borders. Which is really interesting since it isn’t going to being published in the US until October. For some reason, this Ohio bookstore thought it was Canadian. And you wonder why it is so messed up every election year. Anyway – the book is every bit of giant that Dave Meltzer made it out to be. It’s really enjoyable as Bret Hart is one bitter bitter man. Despite everything that happened, Bret is fairly reasonable when it comes to Vince McMahon. Shawn Michaels… not so much. Also the Hart family will ALWAYS make you feel better about your own family. You, the reader, can also be amused as Bret makes several attempts to justify cheating on his wife. As mentioned, it is finally making its way to a US printing and you should read it and then you can use the book to support a levee or something.

ED: Yeah. Phil and I also had an awkward conversation where he was trying to figure out Ohio’s nearest Canadian province and all we could come up with was Michigan.


A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex – Chris Jericho

PR: This is the other wrestling recent wrestling bio that both Ed and I ended up reading in the last six months. Interesting as it sorta comes from that same world as Bret Hart’s book but not really. Ed and I each being huge dorks really love the sections on Mexico. I also will always enjoy stories about WCW’s stupidity. It’s coming out in paperback in October and I am sure that version will including an updated chapter on him taking giant wads of money to go back to the WWE.

ED: This was better than the Hart book. By a mile.


Catch Every Ball: How to Handle Life’s Pitches – Johnny Bench

ED: Oh shut up all of you. Johnny Bench could go all OJ or Benoit and I would still defend him. That said, this book is only 120 pages and it’s nothing more than some sort of motivational speech he’d give. But hey, Johnny killed no one (as far as I know), so we’ll just move along.


Change Up: An Oral History of 8 Key Events That Shaped Baseball – Larry Burke, Peter Thomas Fornatale and Jim Baker

ED: Oral histories are pretty passé by this point. Baseball oral histories especially so since they’ve been done to death…and because the memories of those who’ve contributed are shoddy at best. This runs the gamut between good and bad w/r/t the possibilities of baseball oral biographies. In case you’re wondering the 8 “key events” are – The Latino Wave (meh), The 1962 Mets (expansion) (thumbs up), Ball Four (double thumbs up!), Birth of the Players Union (eh), The Designated Hitter (YAY!), The First African American Manager (feh), Cal Ripken’s Streak (ugh), Ichiro Comes to America (oof). Pick it up out of the library if you must…and only really read the Mets and Ball Four stuff. The rest you can skim. And if you really want to hurt yourself, read the Ripken stuff AFTER reading the Clemente bio just to see how much hero worship you can stand.


A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football (Revised Edition, 1971) – Paul Lionel Zimmerman

ED: Paul Lionel Zimmerman is of course, Dr. Z – without question the best mainstream writer on football over the past 40+ years. And yes, this was a $1 flea market find. And yes, this is lonnnnnnnnnng out of print. And yes, this is just as tremendous as you’d assume. The sad thing about this is that football really has not changed that tremendously much since Dr. Z wrote this in 1971. I don’t expect you to find this, but if you can, grab it without a second thought.

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