It’s baseball season, which means a new class of baseball books. Between games, or when the game is just too painful to watch, get up to date with these.
Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History, by Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce with Daniel Paisner, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. June 2, 2010, Comerica Park, Detroit. Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game except for one bad call by umpire Jim Joyce in the ninth inning. The umpire screwed up — he admits as much — but what’s done is done, and the baseball commissioner refuses to overturn the call. In this book, Galarraga and Joyce present themselves through their reflections on that game and their careers. Read the first chapter, in which Galarraga recounts the big play, and you’ll be hooked, not so much by the play as by his voice and the grace, humility and simplicity with which he tells the story. In alternating chapters we hear pitcher and umpire recount how they experienced that game and how their careers led them to it. What makes the book so perfect and poetic is the way the two men’s voices come through — and the subtle parallels between their lives. The game, the moment, the fateful play were somehow poetic and the book reflects that perfectly. It is a good book, and not only for serious baseball fans (although if you know zero baseball, you might get frustrated). It’s a story of two young men trying to climb their respective career ladders and making it. As the players in a news story in 2010, they were two characters: Pitcher and Umpire. Here they are two real guys, ordinary guys, each with a mom and a dad and a wife and a job and daily stuff going on that happens to include this baseball game. “Nobody’s Perfect” is a great title for a great story well told.
Knuckler: My Life with Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch, by Tim Wakefield with Tony Massarotti, 2011. You would think a book “by Tim Wakefield” would not refer to him in the third person, even if it is written “with” someone else. This book, however, is definitely about Tim Wakefield, in the third person. “Wakefield did not know what hit him,” it says. And “Later that morning, as Wakefield sat at his locker…” and so on. What makes it “by Tim Wakefield” is that sprinkled throughout the text are Wakefield’s thoughts, always in italics. Like so: “Wakefield was disappointed at the departure of Mirabelli, whom he regarded as a big part of his success over the past five years. Dougie knows how I think, and he knows how the pitch moves. Red Sox officials had expected Wakefield to be disappointed….” If this does not drive you crazy, and if you are a deep enough fan that you want to read every player biography, well, here you go.
The Red Sox Annual 2011 from Maple Street Press (maplestreetpress.com) is a beefed-up magazine filled with detailed profiles of this year’s team. For each player there’s a picture, stats, and a graphic that shows his favored hitting styles and percentages. This is the book baseball nerds can pore over, collectors can lovingly caress, and newbies can dive into to get quickly acquainted. Maple Street Press, in Hanover, Mass., produces books like this for teams across major-league baseball and other sports. It’s written with a pre-season rah-rah sensibility that even now, just weeks into the season, is interestingly out of date — all about how awesome Carl Crawford is, etc. — but it does temper the rah-rah with some “We’ll see” moments. The perfect book for a new or enthusiastic team-follower.
Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King, written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Zachary Pullen, 2011, Sleeping Bear Press, is a hardcover nonfiction children’s picture book about a time when the game was called Base. Lip Pike is a boy growing up in Brooklyn and loves to watch neighborhood teams play. Soon after his bar mitzvah he joins the junior team, and when he turns 21 he moves to Philadelphia to play for the Athletics for $20 a week. There are hints of his being outcast for being Jewish; it isn’t explained, just presented as a fact, when the left-fielder says “Besides, I hear that Pike’s a Jew. How can we trust him when we play against Brooklyn?” After the fictionalized story ends, a history page sums up Pike’s life as “the Iron Batter” and a home run leader, then an author’s note talks about the history of baseball and how Brooklyn and Jews were part of it. Author Richard Michelson lives in Northampton, Mass.
Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences behind how Sports are Played and Games are Won, by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, Crown Archetype, 2011, 288 pages, concerns many sports — golf, football, etc. As for baseball, this is where you go to learn things like: the strike zone on three-ball counts is 92 percent larger than on two-strike counts. These guys have used computer number-crunching to churn out tons of facts like this from major-league sports data, of which there is a great deal available. What it all means, if anything? Is for you to discuss over drinks and burgers while you ignore a game. Especially what it will mean if there are conflicting influences, like that the pitcher is likely to do X because it’s 3-2 and he’s losing but he’s likely to do the opposite of X because the batter is left-handed. It’s cool to know how umpires’ judgments and players’ choices can be influenced, but the details are a bit much. Fun information for so-inclined fans but probably crazy-making for players, though I suppose they might find validation of some hunches.
And there are these books I haven’t seen but have heard about:
Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011, 384 pages. A book that Publishers Weekly says is “dense with key figures and historical minutiae.”
Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, Baseball’s Longest Game, by Dan Barry, 2011, Harper.
Something about the Pawtucket Red Sox vs. the Rochester Red Wings playing a Saturday game that lasts into Easter morning in 1981. Featuring Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken.
When the Red Sox Ruled: Baseball’s First Dynasty, 1912-1918, by Thomas J. Whalen, 2011, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 240 pages. Whalen is a professor at Boston University and author of a previous book about the Celtics. Read a recent interview with him about the book in BU Today at www.bu.edu/today/node/12680 and watch his excellent video trailer for the book at the BostonUNews channel on YouTube. It’s all about team spirit — Protestants vs. Catholics, a KKK member — and Babe Ruth.