VETERAN PRESENCE BOOK CLUB III
VETERAN PRESENCE BOOK CLUB
|The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches – Rob Neyer & Bill JamesPR: Ooof… I really wanted to love this book from my historical/stat nerd perspective. Alas, it was not to be. First thing to understand is that this isn’t really a book per se. It is more something like Bill James’ Baseball Abstract or a Baseball Prospectus. Of course, who Neyer and James pick and choose to add more detail to is baffling. I can not explain to you why but Atlee Hammaker getting nothing but Chris Hammond getting like two column lengths infuriated me. And apparently the only thing about Rick Honeycutt was that Peter Gammons accused him of throwing a spitball in 1980, which is really ironic all things considered. I think Ed liked this book far more than me.
ED: I hated the book less than Phil. That does not mean I actually would use the work like in the conversation. Yeah, a really fun concept gone awry given Neyer and James’ strange picks on whom to talk a lot about or whom to speak nothing of. It’s a fun little reference book to have around if you want to know what certain pitchers threw, but…god, that is what a library is for. Don’t spend a cent on this unless you can get it at like a flea market or used store for next to nothing. And grumpy James at the back of the book throwing up some strange smoke to hide the fact that he knows nothing about Pitcher Abuse Points to which Rany Janzsdfhsdiopfhsiofjsdiofi tried to politely tip-toe around calling James a sad old confused man really was the best part of the entire book.
|Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups : A Complete Guide to the Best, Worst, and Most Memorable Players to Ever Grace the Major LeaguesPR: Since we (ok – at least me) were murdering Neyer’s pitching book, I decided to take this one out of the library and murder it too. This is the most infuriating book as it’s the world’s simplest concept that clearly took him no time as he basically just cuts and pastes stuff from the internet. Plus, since the book was done in 2003 it is woefully out of date. Heck, it was pretty much out of date the moment it was published. And then he would do douchey things like “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I PUT TINO MARTINEZ AHEAD OF DON MATTINGLY!!!! SUCK ON IT!!!!” Stupid baseball. OH! And I forgot I had this book too so I ended up having to pay a fine at the library. Grr…ED: I warned Phil about this too. He did not listen. I remember back in the day just bashing the crap out of the mere thought of this at Primer when it was released – oh, the good ol’ days of Primer when people would post randomly with some sort of handle insinuating Mike Piazza was gay! Oh, misty, water-colored memories… – and everyone joining in on how Neyer had lost it…until Neyer joined the fray and everyone kissed his butt. I was right. I ended up getting this at a used store for like a buck and felt like I was touched in a bad place by a bad man. Seriously, any one of us could have done a better job with this. Let’s just move along.|
|Is This A Great Game, or What?: From A-Rod’s Heart to Zim’s Head – My 25 Years in Baseball – Tim KurkjianPR: During the Christmas break, I spent a week working at my old Borders so I picked a giant batch of books. I mean Bargain Blowout + employee discount = things I would have never thought about reading otherwise. God, this is so not a good book. Honestly, it’s like reading the longest Larry King column ever. The entire book is basically Timmy K fawning over the various players and managers who were nice to him. And if you didn’t know it already, I think Kurkjian would have a threesome with Cal Ripken Jr. and Earl Weaver. Avoid this.|
|Three Nights In August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager – Buzz BissingerED: I read this ages ago. I warned Phil. He does not listen to me. Bissinger is a good writer and can tell a tale – even if he probably hates Phil and I for being on this whole confusing internets thing. Unfortunately, this tale is about Tony LaRussa and there is no way to polish that turd. God I hate Tony LaRussa. Grr. Just read Friday Night Lights instead…Seriously.
PR: Originally, I was like “Hey – we are including this book. Buzz will see it and go crazy. WE WILL GET MAD HITS!!! TRAFFIC~!!!!” Of course, that was like six months or so ago. Nothing like striking while the iron is hot. Bissinger’s new book is about Lebron James so maybe he will still find something else to be crazy at the internet again. Oooh… then we will be TWO STEPS AHEAD OF YOU!!!! again. As for the book its perfectly fine but the fawning of LaRussa gets way out of control.
|The Great Book of Washington, D.C. Sports Lists – Andy Pollin and Leonard ShapiroPR: I have realized that I have almost spent half of my life in the Washington DC metro area which was a scary thought. That being said, a local book like this is perfectly fine bathroom reading that allows one to giggle at the comedy that is the DC sports scene. Since Pollin and Shapiro are grumpy grumpy old man there are a lot of “BACK IN OUR DAY!!!” type comments. And there is a lot of focus on Art Monk finally getting into the Hall of Fame and Sean Taylor dying. You also get random folks (like Tony Kornheiser, Sally Jenkins, John Thompson, etc..) showing up with their lists of whatever. As I said – a fun read for when you are on the toilet and you are interested in the sports scene of this area. Which means Mark Coale is the only other person to have read this book. (BTW – you can find other cities have similar books done by the publisher. Like I see a Detroit and Seattle one so Marcel and James can be infuriated.)|
|The Yankee Years – Joe Torre with Tom VerducciED: I believe I pretty well synopsized this in the Dodgers preview – everything that went right was because of Torre’s TRUST~!!!!!!. Everything that went wrong was because people could not earn Torre’s TRUST~!!!! I am not sure where that places the shredded arms of the countless relievers he crippled but…whatever. You want the dirt, here’s the dirt – Clemens and Kyle Farnsworth were the pitchers he caught crying in the clubhouse during the games. Even though Torre earned the TRUST~!!!! of all his players and knew what they were doing at all times, he had no idea anyone ingested a steroid in his clubhouse. Oh yeah, and Brian Cashman and his stats are the cause of the downfall of the Yankees. I seriously hope someone makes a movie of this and casts Danny DeVito as Torre. Stupid horrible book. Oh yeah, and the word TRUST~!!! is used like 9000 times in a 400 page book. God kill me now.
PR: I really shouldn’t have mocked Ed about reading this because what I knew would happen happened. I went to visit my Mom and she had the book out from the library so I ended up reading a good chunk of it. Of course, she had the large print version which did lead to the great fact that there are random words bolded on each page. And while it seems random, the words always seem perfect in context – like they needed the extra emphasis. Thankfully, TRUST~! was not one of those words. It was maddening made even worse when Ed said that there were no bolded words in the regular version.
|Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run – Shizuka IjuinPR: Another in the “found at my Mom’s when I went home” category. I had zero intention of reading this but the book is literally like 130 pages long with giant f’n print so I got through it in like an hour. The entire thing reads almost like a penthouse letter to Matsui since Ijuin was a big fan of Matsui before even meeting him and now they are close friends. The only thing of note is that it is clearly obvious that Ijuin’s wife wants to sleep with Matsui. Maybe she was the mysterious charcoal sketch lady.|
|Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story – Eric Davis and Ralph WileyED: Flea market finds are the mixed bag. Sometimes you get the Dick Williams book, sometimes you get…this. God was I completely unprepared for this…well, completely unprepared for Ralph Wiley co-writing this. I picked it up and was like – hey, you know, it has been a while since someone has called me a white devil in incoherent sentences. Ahh, it took less than three pages to get that in. RIP – Ralph, I hope you did not get a white tombstone. Grrr…anyway. Yeah. Flea market find for like four bits. It…well…come on. While I like Davis and consider him one of the most underrated players of the 80’s, this is a black man from South Central LA writing about becoming a star player in a lily-white sport in a racist, backwater city AND it was co-written with Ralph Wiley. There was more than one race card thrown around here….I think…I’m gonna be honest, there were whole sections where I was far too white to understand what was being said. And I was too busy running the banks and stuff. There are some amusing tales of Marge Schott and Jim Bowden stupidity…and of later Frank Wren stupidity. But not enough to really advise wading through. Sorry, Eric. You do seem like a good guy though.|
|The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower – Christopher PricePR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I am an idiot. I mean I know this was going to be terrible but I kept thinking “Well – maybe this won’t be too terrible.” What I didn’t realize is that Price is a Pats mark who spends the first like two pages talking about how he partied after the Super Bowl win over the Rams. The book is basically what you would think a New England Patriots book written by Bill Simmons would be like. Apparently the only reason the Pats won the Super Bowl was because they cut a specific person at a specific time. THEY ARE 69 STEPS AHEAD OF YOU!!! JUST STOP TRYING NFL!!! YOU SHALL NEVER DEFEAT NEW ENGLAND!!! UNLESS YOUR NAME IS THE NEW YORK GIANTS!!! Aww….|
|Bat Boy: Coming of Age with the New York Yankees – Matthew McGoughPR: Ed warned me about this book. I should have listened. It’s my own fault. I was in the library and trying to keep my son from destroying the place so I was like “HEY! Less than 300 pages! I can knock this out in no time! Sold!” My biggest problem with the book is that I discovered that McGough is my age and grew up 20 minutes from me. And then he rambles about how Don Mattingly was his idle. DAMN YOU!!! STOP LIVING MY DREAM!!! I HATE YOU!!! NO I AM NOT CRYING!!! Umm… okay. I am better now. This book is dreadful as you quickly realize that McGough is way more concerned about talking about himself than really talking about any good stories. The only thing that stopped me from burning this book was Mickey Mantle swearing at McGough.
ED: Phil and I were just discussing whether this or the Neyer Lineup book angered us more. This book did not really anger me – well, other than general anger for pissing away $5 on this – but the lineup book was just Neyer flipping us all the bird and saying – CAN YOU BELIEVE SOMEONE IS PAYING ME FOR THIS???? Plus, the Mantle swearing was worth the $5 right there. WHEN A BAT BOY WRITES A BETTER BOOK THAN YOU, NEYER, THEN YOU HAVE TO ADMIT TO SUCKING!!!!
|Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story – by Stan Musial, as told to Bob BroegED: Oh, this is long out of print, but for the grace of a flea market find…oh, as opposed to the next book on the list, this is a long stroll through Sunday school. And there is no way to read this without thinking Stan Musial is one of the nicest people to ever walk the Earth. I wouldn’t exactly kill to read this, but it was fun and pleasant and nice. If your local library still has this, it’s worth a read. But I could have lived with just a LITTLE dirt there, Stan.|
|Ball Four Plus Ball Five and update 1970-1980 – by Jim BoutonED: Oh, I’ve read this long before, I just found the hardback version with Ball Five at a flea market for two bits and could not resist. Still the best baseball book ever written – though Ball Five was mostly needless and unnecessary. I may have read Ball Four like…10 times now and it never fails to bring the goods. Only avoid this if you hate America, Terrorist.
PR: I swear that I feel like Ed has reviewed this each time we have done a Book Club. He loves talking about Jim Bouton. Of course, he might be doing that just so he can fit in in his little blue state that is really a red state.
|The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality – by Jeff PearlmanED: True story, I picked this up at a grocery story for like $10. Phil mocked me (as well he should) but I could not pass it up for that price…and for it being right beside the sausage aisle. You’ve heard it all before and Pearlman can present a tale in a very readable way. It’s on par with his Bonds book – definitely not as good as the Mets or Cowboy books, but OK for what it is. You don’t need to read this, but if it’s there and you are bored, you can do much much much much worse…like…
PR: Nothing will ever be as good as the Cowboy book unless Clemens’ stabs Brian McNamee in the neck with scissors or he likes to teach kids how to pitch by showing them his penis.
|Miracle Man: Nolan Ryan the Autobiography – by Nolan Ryan and Jerry B. JenkinsED: Funny enough this was next on my list of books to read when reading the Clemens book. I took a pause at some part where Clemens was called the most egotistical player ever and flipped through the Ryan book – a book that barely touches 200 pages in actual story, but with 70 pages tacked on at the end to list all of his K’s (to that point) and box scores of his important games. Yeah, CLEMENS was the egotistical one. Or else it’s just a Texas pitcher thing. Anyway, god…this too was a flea market find for like a buck…and I got hosed. This is exactly what you expect (not that I was expecting Faulkner or something) – dry, terse, humble stories about a man, his truck, a dog, his fastball, family and…Texas. And since this was written before the Robin Ventura incident, you don’t even get to look forward to him talking about beating up a young pup. A-VOID!!!|
|Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded – by Gene CarneyED: I assume most of you reading this have at least seen Eight Men Out….and I’d assume at least half of you have read the book. Well, throw that all out, since Carney basically rips EMO a new butthole. He basically re-researches things from scratch and retells the story correctly and he points the blame at White Sox owner Charles Commiskey and the heads of baseball at the time not for letting this happen (since throwing World Series games, if not entire series’, had very likely happened before – e.g., the 1914 World Series) but for doing everything in their power to sweep the entire mess under the rug. The only major problem with this is that it’s strongly academic so it can be very tiresome to read the text AND the countless footnotes (which you HAVE to read). It’s worth your while but…man, it’s a haul. Very highly recommended but you’ve gotta put a lot of effort into it.|
|Dreaming Baseball – by James T. FarrellED: I don’t just read baseball books – I try to read two actual novels in between two baseball books, this just so happened to be a baseball novel. Sue me. It’s a fictional tale of a reserve player for the 1919 Black Sox and all that ensued with that Word Series and the 1920 fall out. Funny thing about this is that Farrell wrote this in the 50’s as a way to somewhat put to rest his angst over the Black Sox but no one would touch it. Supposedly, Eliot Asinof used this as a sort of blue print for Eight Men Out…except Asinof decided to make EMO a romantic view of innocents turned bad by negative influences. Dreaming Baseball is far more along the order of Burying the Black Sox – everyone is guilty, the difference is in your degree of guilt. It’s a nice little read but not really necessary if you’ve read at least Burying the Black Sox.|
|The Great American Novel – by Philip RothED: Phil and I had a discussion about this – there are certain books/novelists we will not touch just because of the people who pimp it. I avoided GAN based purely on the fact that the people who pimp Roth are the same people who would, say, pimp Norman Mailer or John Updike or Thomas Pynchon. And there is no reason to pimp any of them. GAN is pimped far too heavily by the smart baseball crowd and…that’s enough to chase me away. Sadly, I FINALLY got around to reading it and it’s brilliant. OK, the end is a bit too clever and leaves a sour taste in your mouth the way clever books tend to do. But yeah…this is great. I kick myself for not reading this earlier. But…hey…you get the Primer morons pimping you, you get avoided by the masses…like Sabermetrics.
PR: Philip K. Dick is probably the biggest one for me. OH! and Chuck Palahniuk. OH! OH! Chuck Klosterman too. Man, working in Borders was such a blessing and a curse.
|Birdie: Confessions of a Baseball Nomad – by Birdie Tebbetts and James MorrisonED: Couldn’t find this anywhere on Amazon so a hyperlink to Bridie’s Wiki page will have to do. Tebbets was everywhere over his career as player, manager, coach and scout and supposedly kept meticulous journals of his experiences…so post-mortem this comes out…all barely 200 pages of a 50+ baseball career. Yeah. This was supposed to tell the tale of why Joe McCarthy pitched Denny Galehouse in the 1948 playoff game against the Indians when Mel Parnell was available…and does not tell that tale. So yeah…again, this was a flea market find for two bits. I still feel robbed.|
|Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong – Baseball ProspectusPR: When I was packing, I was going through my books to see what I could donate because there was no chance I would ever read it again. I found this one from the folks over at Prospectus. First, I had forgotten I even owned it and I don’t remember how I acquired it since I can’t imagine I would have actually paid the $15 for it. I am assuming I got the promo copy that came to Borders but who knows. Second, I could have sworn that the reason I forgot about it was because I already already talked about it in one of the previous book clubs and moved on. Well – clearly that isn’t the case. Or I can’t use Google. Or I am an idiot. All of these highly likely. This book – besides being A SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.COM BOOK OF THE YEAR!!!!!! – is almost like a collection of essays taken from Baseball Prospectus. Of course, if you don’t buy Prospectus you have no idea what I am talking about. Since this came out a few years ago – this was still during that whole period of “OMG! OMG! OMG! MATH IS TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!! KILL IT!!! KILL IT!!!” (Now everyone has moved on to making fun of Billy Beane – WHERE’S YOUR MESSIAH NOW STAT BOY?!?!?!?!). I say this because the topics tackled in the book are of the beaten dead horse quality (Can Derek Jeter field? Four starters or five? The Coors Field effect) but back then they were fun things to read about and more importantly see people freak out over. Still my favorite ones in the book are “Why Kevin Maas was a bust?” and “What if Rickey Henderson Had Pete Incaviglia’s legs?” (Oh the Yankees of my youth…) There are a bunch of other fun ones sprinkled throughout too. Of course – if you hate the nerd-stat movement, you are going to hate this. And the douchey title and tone through the book is the kind of stuff that old fat baseball writer guard loves to complain about. Definitely worth checking out from the library or if you run across it at a flea market.
ED: Oh yeah. Completely forgot about this too. I read this a while back since I am certain I picked it out of a bargain bin. There was a lot of math and…umm…stuff. All I can really recall of this is that most of the normal things Prospectus has beaten to death got a new flogging. I was a little bummed that Will Carroll did not have someone else write him up a piece on the history if injuries. Oh, poor lazy fat man. So yeah, what Phil said.
|The Pitch That Killed – Mike Sowell ED: Yes, I should have read this long ago. I did not. I suck. Anyway, this is the story of the 1920 American League pennant race between the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox which also just so happened to have coincided with 1) Yankees P Carl Mays killing Indians SS Ray Chapman with a pitch; 2) the Black Sox getting their “eight men out” banned from the game in the stretch drive; and 3) the emergence of a guy named Ruth as a new Yankees OFer. The story is centered on Mays and Chapman though (ergo, the title) and could have benefitted with more of the latter two elements…but what can you do? It’s a good quick read that’s highly recommended. You should be able to find this at your local library easily enough. Read it.|
|Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train – Henry W. ThomasED: Couple of warnings here – Henry Thomas is Walter Johnson’s grandson, so don’t expect any dirt. The other thing is – there really was no dirt on Walter Johnson anyway. So you’ve got 400+ pages on the best pitcher ever (or second best pitcher ever if you side with Lefty Grove over Johnson)…OR THE WORST PITCHER EVER!!!! if you are of the new stathead think that older players cannot compare to the players of today. GRRRR. OK. You’ve got 400+ pages on one of the best pitchers ever who was also a really good person. Yeah. Not terribly interesting. Sorry. It’s a fine enough book and well-researched and all that. It just suffers from Johnson being really dry subject matter. Wouldn’t go out of my way to read this if I were you.|
|Men of the Machine: An Inside Look At Baseball’s Team of the 70’s – Ritter CollettED: Oh yeah, another flea market find. By the title alone you might think this was about the 70’s A’s…and you’d be wrong. This is about the Big Red Machine Reds written in 1977 as the glory days of the Reds had begun to fade – the Perez and Seaver deals had already gone down and the Reds would only see one more playoff appearance (in 1979) before the Machine was dismantled. That’s right, Ritter is calling the Reds the team of the 70’s after two World Series wins…the same amount of World Series wins the Yankees and Pirates would have that decade and one less than the A’s had. Needless to say, Ritter was a beat writer for the Reds in the 70’s (and a HOF one at that), ergo him giving the Reds the team of the decade title. Actually, I just read this to get amped up for Posnanski’s book on same-said Reds coming out in the fall and was not expecting much of anything from this. But it’s a perfectly acceptable little book. Then again, I am a sad Johnny Bench mark so there was little chance of failing. But it was really kinda fun – JOE MORGAN TALKS IN THE THIRD PERSON ABOUT JOE MORGAN!!!, Johnny Bench gets his own chapter and there’s a shout out to UPCOMING STAR MARIO SOTO!!! (yeah, I really need to do that FPOTM). You won’t find this unless you really want to pay outrageous prices on the net through a rare book dealer. Don’t worry. The Posnanski book on the Big Red Machine comes out in September. You can pick up your copy of that after I get mine.|
|A Game of Inches: The Game On the Field – Peter Morris
ED: Oof. Fun book, good concept, dry read Morris delves into the history of the game to discover what he can about the innovations of baseball plays, rules, styles, strategies and trends. Basically he discovers that nothing new has really happened to the game since the development of baseball from its rounders and cricket origins in the mid-to-late 1800’s…oh yeah and he also firmly reveals that Henry Chadwick was a huge friggin’ stick in the mud. It really is a nice little book in concept but man is it a really-really-really dry read. This is something to check out of your local library…several times to get it all read. Worth the while, but man is it slow going.
|The Best American Sports Writing 2005 – edited by Mike LupicaThe Best American Sports Writing 2006 – edited by Michael LewisPR: Y’all have probably seen these around (and not just the sports writing ones). It’s the usual collection of pieces that were written for newspapers, magazines, the internet, etc… I grabbed these two because they were in the $1 bargin bin at Borders. I more wanted the one edited by Lewis just to see what it was like. The Lupica one I grabbed just so I could pad this piece because I knew it would enrage me (and it did). As you can see, there is a guest editor each year and they are (and have been) your usual big names of sports reporting (David Halberstam, Frank Deford, George Plimpton, etc… The 2009 version is being edited by Leigh Montville for those that care). The Lewis one seems to have a little more variety while Lupica’s book really seemed like he picked a lot of stories written by his friends. I should also warn you that every book will have articles from the Hunting and Gaming magazines and more often than not, you have to suffer through the SI Sportsman of the Year article. (Since the one in Lupica’s book was Verducci’s Sportsmen article on the 04 Red Sox – I really lost my mind.) With the ability to find, I would say, 95% of this stuff online now, you really don’t need to get the books. Unless you want to read Lupica carry on about how IMPORTANT THE WORDS HE WRITES ARE!!!!! Grr….|
|REFERENCE BOOKS!!!!Baseball Prospectus 2009: The Essential Guide to the 2009 Baseball SeasonBaseball America 2009 Prospect Handbook: The Comprehensive Guide to Rising Stars from the Definitive Source on ProspectsBill James Handbook 2009
ED: We’d be remiss if we did not at least mention these books since they helped us get through the 2009 preview. No, we didn’t read them all the way through. We’re not THAT nerdy.
PR: Prospectus is Prospectus and I enjoy them and am infuriate at them at the same time. The BA Handbook is great just because they too have amazingly warped logic at times. I also threw in what is the bane of Bill’s existence. Poor poor flaky book publishers.