Archive for October, 2013

Or, one-paragraph reviews that weren’t lengthy enough for their own individual posts.

Cracking Baseball’s Cold Cases, Peter Morris (2013)

Morris is a member of SABR’s Biographical Committee and his area of interest is tracking down players with no known date and place of death. In this book he shares the stories of seventeen players whose information he has tracked down in the last two decades. He provides both the small and frequently interesting life stories of the players before, during and after they left the game and an explanation of how baseball research is done now and how it was done before the widespread availability of online public records. Recommended for those interested in the processes of historical research as well as those interested in everyday 19th and 20th century North American history, not just baseball history.

Francona: The Red Sox Years, Dan Shaughnessy and Terry Francona (2013)

I guess you can do a “tell-all” book about managing one team while still managing another: by not being excessively critical of still-active players and turning all cannons on one’s former employers. Most of the blame for the Red Sox zoo of the last few years is attributed to the zookeepers, more concerned about marketing the product and micromanaging that they forgot about the people who put on the games every day. So, really, nothing particularly revealing. Most of this stuff, especially concerning ownership interference with transactions, could have been sifted through in reports from Boston sports media if one had really wanted to, except the stuff about Francona himself. The first three chapters of the book go into his pre-Sox career and hiring and are the most interesting. Yes, it’s Brewers-relevant! He played for Milwaukee in 1989-90. And also pitched. His manager used him as a pinch runner so he’d make a games-played bonus in his contract. He also was one of the players’ kids hanging about the 1970 team, giving him his first experiences of the Bigs.

The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity (2002)

This book is part of Southern Illinois University Press’s Writing Baseball series; its focus is largely on how contemporary media portrayed ethnicity in baseball. We’re attuned to issues of color/race in media these days but the ways other groups seen currently as “white” were portrayed in early 20th century media is disturbing in the same ways; it’s a shortening to ethnic stereotypes, some positive but most demeaning. It’s a very, very, very small introduction to the experience of various ethnic groups in baseball, especially within the pro game. Its nine short essays cover the Anglo-American influence on the game, Germans, Irish, African Americans, Italians, Jews, Slavs, Latinos, and Asians. There have been many, many books about the African American experience in baseball, and a few more on Latinos and Japanese Americans, but not much else or not much good about other ethnic groups. The book is a very valuable read for that.

Matty: An American Hero, Ray Robinson (1993)

Probably should be read along with The Player–which I did not review–for context of the period, and Crazy ’08 for the 1908 World Series–what you are apparently getting with Christy Mathewson bios is “short”–he was good but boring and there really isn’t much ground to cover in a straightforward bio like this one is if you’re mainly interested in the baseball. This one doesn’t tell everything which is why it needs to be part of a paired reading. It’s an odd time: these bios were 1990s works, it’s too soon to do another, but now we’re out of living primary sources. I’m not complaining about this work by any means, just comparing it to newer works about the period’s players like Chief Bender’s Burden and thinking it’s just not as all-encompassing. It just may be due to a change in what’s expected out of historical biographies in the 21st century, though.


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Why’d I pick up a book about a manager I dislike and a season where his team prevented mine from making the World Series? It was on the new books shelf at the library and I wanted to encourage the purchase of more baseball books: just think of this review as a goodwill gesture towards the Dakota County Library and their circulation statistics.

Besides, I really did want to read about the 2011 NLCS, and about Jason Motte…and of course there was very little about that. There were a lot of complaints about Nyjer Morgan (if it’s OK for Chris Carpenter to have the hockey player mentality, why not Morgan? Morgan actually played semipro hockey) and a blatant admission of plunk wars. Well, at least we know now that our Brewers were hit on purpose.

I found the discussions of management–the off-field stuff–to be the most interesting. A lot of what La Russa says about baseball applies to the mundane workplace as well. I found his idea of a sounding board of veterans to be interesting.

It does look like he retired because his management style had stopped working. Vets were handling things themselves, younger players weren’t used to the system, and there were many interpersonal conflicts. I don’t think from the evidence given here that La Russa could really deal with the changes. There were lots of things left unsaid. But he blames agents, fans and media for the change; lots of blaming others. He really dislikes the fan-driven new media.

Where’s the Dave Duncan book? Duncan sounds like a super-interesting person and now that he’s retired I’d really like to know what his pitcher-fixing secret is.

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It’s the book form (obviously truncated) of NYU president Sexton’s religion course.

It uses baseball to explain religious (as in, human religion in general for the most part) concepts. Unless you have a complete antipathy to all aspects of religion–and I know that some of you who read this blog do–there isn’t anything here that’s offensive or preachy or specific to a certain faith.

The nine-inning structure takes one religious concept at a time–sacred space and time; faith; doubt; conversion; miracles; blessings and curses; saints and sinners; community; and nostalgia.

I don’t really think this is what Sexton had intended, but in a way this illustrates baseball as religion or a secular structure with all the experiences thereof. (There is community in atheism–I know a lot of people have found it in fandom of various sorts, including sports fandom) although he does say that baseball shares a lot with religion.

It’s very NYC-centric: the author is a Yankess fan who started as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. (The Conversion chapter is great: it’s all about changing baseball fandom. Oliphant on becoming a fan of the entire game is quite familiar to me–I love my Brewers, but there’s an entire deeper world of baseball out there.)

In the prologue–the ineffable, “something that defies reduction to words.”
FINALLY I understand the meaning of the phrase “all of the feels.”

Baseball really provides it for me. I can’t describe how my first trip to County Stadium felt. I can tell you about heat and twilight and seeing Don Mattingly during BP but I can’t describe the mix of excitement and anticipation–yes, all of the feels.

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A lot of reviews of this book seem to come with a lot of baggage around the subject. Due to paying minimal attention to baseball between 1994 and 2007, I came in with very little: I only remembered Piazza at Oakland’s DH in 2007, I vaguely knew that he had a reputation as a bad defensive catcher, and my NYC friends kept asking me about tabloid gossip in ’02. (And then they all were Belle and Sebastian fans…the risk of being in a certain niche of anime/manga fandom a decade ago. Anyway.) The advantages of reading a book about a player one knows little about and isn’t invested in are that one is free to judge on the information received and create their own opinion. Unfortunately, most of you reading probably won’t be able to do that unless you were also under that rock for a decade. That’s a shame; this book is valuable as one of the first player accounts of the 1990s, a transitional period in the game that will probably end up maligned or ignored.

Things covered in the book: (1) For all the family wealth, it’s interesting to see what’s mentioned: hard work and luck. They wouldn’t have it without the luck, or the work (being in the right place at the right time: the import boom of the 1970s.)
Anyway, the cultural history of Pennsylvania, once again, is the interesting bit.

(2) Prospects vs hard-working ignored low-round picks–the more things change, the more they stay the same. Organizations have preconceived slots for minor leaguers (and thank goodness for nepotism in this case.)

(3) changing perceptions of loyalty, more openness about the sport being a business. Teams are important everywhere, of course, but it’s this constant theme of disillusionment.

(4) Related to that, this is another switch, to celebrity culture; and from what’s here I don’t think it was one Piazza was ready for–scrutiny, parasites, etc.

(5) PEDs, the bombshell people were waiting for. Nothing exciting–we already know that ballplayers are crazy for supplements; it’s just that a few of them are illegal now and weren’t 15 years ago.

(6) If I see another bio where the back material is trying to make a Hall of Fame case, it will be too soon. There’s a place to admire good players without insisting they’re among the greats (even if they are.) It’s one of the things that irked me the most in a recent Gil Hodges bio. It irks less here but I’m wondering why.

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This book is the story of the World Champion 1957 Milwaukee Braves. Part of that story, of course, is the backstory and Klima starts off with the Braves’ journey from Boston to Milwaukee. The Braves were the first franchise to move in the modern era and kick off the western expansion of MLB. The story of the Braves in general resembles that of the Brewers; unlike the Pilots, however, the Braves moved not due to mismanagement but a lack of fanbase in Boston and New England. Even back in 1953, the Red Sox were the king of the market; there may have not been a Red Sox Nation yet but it was definitely Sox territory. The Braves fanbase in Milwaukee is much the same as the Brewers one now; they turn out in droves even for playoff-losing teams and parade for playoff losers as much as for winners. Even then, Milwaukee was spoken of as the best of the small-market fanbases. Tailgate culture existed back in the 1950s, too.

One of the interesting things here was the discussion of bad TV contracts (another thing in common with the Brewers!)–the Braves’ owner didn’t want to televise home games because he thought it would reduce attendance.

Luckily Klima still had primary sources to draw from for his research; he used Henry Aaron, Dal Crandall, Joe Torre, Johnny Logan and Red Schoendienst as sources. (If you forgot Schoendienst played for a team other than the Dreaded Cardinals, you’re not alone. The Cardinals rivalry also existed when the Braves played in Milwaukee!)

Oh, and everyone hated the Yankees then. Some things never change.

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This book (and its baseball) was far more successful than most of the baseball fiction I read in 2012, which is high praise indeed for a self-published work of regional fiction. Last year I had the privilege of reviewing Brian Carriveau’s nonfiction overview of Wisconsin town ball It’s Just a Game for Brew Crew Ball and this novel is a great companion to that. Carriveau’s book covered the town ball league in the Madison area and Eidem’s focus is on town ball in the St. Croix Valley and surroundings but the sorts of people depicted are similar.

Eidem is based in Prescott and plays town ball. He’s writing what he knows, the leagues, towns and people of Western Wisconsin. In the text, the protagonist points out that most people think that town ball/adult league baseball is more of a Minnesota thing; Minnesota gets most of the attention, to be sure, but there are a lot of similarities to these states.

Despite liking the book, it’s definitely a “plot? what plot?” sort of thing going on; the book is the first-person recollections of Lance “Fan” Chatworth (nicknamed not because he’s a baseball fan, but due to an in-game incident of waving paper around to get cool) and his experiences of playing for the Spring Valley Hawks and in their annual Memorial Day tournament. Each section takes place 10 years apart, starting in 1989 and ending in 2009. The guys on the team get older, but the bars in the towns and the character of the team largely stay the same. You get an incredible sense of place in this novel, but the problem, and the reason this ends up in the self-published end of the literary pool, is that the place is the St. Croix Valley and the interest in such a subject–small town adult amateur baseball–doesn’t have a wide reach outside the region. It rang true to me (especially the cracks made about Woodbury, ha!) and it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the area or the sport.

What I did find odd was the amount of Brewers references in the book. It probably reflects authorial bias, as most of the baseball fans from the area I’ve encountered in the wild tend to be Twins fans. Most of the characters in this book are Brewers fans and the only Twins reference is that the protagonist thinks that Target Field is too polished. Perhaps the characters are Brewers fans because they’re the right age to have hooked on to the team during their magical 1982 season. The protagonist’s best friend is one of those superfans of the ’82 team to the point he named his kids after members of the team. I’m a Brewers fan too but wow, that’s going too far. (Well, our site editor named his dog Gorman…does that count?)

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Banner, a legal historian, covers the history of baseball’s antitrust exemption in this book. Along the way, we learn why other major professional sports have no exemption as well as how changes in the Supreme Court and Congress over time effect how laws are interpreted and created. The continued existence of the exemption is dependent on when the Court heard cases and why.

This is a chronological history, starting in the late 19th century until the most recent challenges and evolutions of the exemption. The reserve clause and the various alternate major leagues of the late 19th and early 20th century planted the seed, but the real establishment of the exemption came in 1922, when an interstate commerce challenge reached the Supreme Court. There had been previous cases relating to entertainment involving opera companies and the vaudeville circuit. Here, the Court ruled that baseball was a local activity involving some interstate travel but was not interstate commerce. Next, players who had jumped to the Mexican League in the 1940s had sued for reinstatement into organized baseball. In 1953, the Court ruled that this was the responsibility of Congress, which didn’t touch the matter. (The suits were settled out of court.) Antitrust cases against boxing and football also occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, establishing that neither sport was exempt.

The most fascinating chapter to me dealt with states turning to state antitrust law to challenge baseball and baseball owners. The major case involved the moving of the Braves from Milwaukee to Atlanta. Milwaukee’s TV market was (and is) small, but Atlanta was growing and booming. The new owners of the Braves wanted more TV money. A group of Milwaukee-based businessmen tried to buy the team from the new ownership in 1964, but were refused. Milwaukee County sued to prevent the move to Atlanta due to breach of contract; the Braves were under contract to play at County Stadium through the 1965 season. The state of Wisconsin used state antitrust law to prevent the move because according to the interpretation of the law at the time, baseball was not interstate commerce. The trial took place in spring 1966, right before the Braves were to begin their first season in Atlanta. The state won the case; part of the ruling was that the Braves would be allowed to move if Milwaukee would be given a new major league franchise in 1967. The appeal took place during the season and the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled the decision. There would be no recourse for the state in the United States Supreme Court; Congress must rule if baseball is interstate commerce. Oddly enough, state suits were the same method pursued after the Pilots went bankrupt and moved to Milwaukee in 1970. The settlement of the suit led to the creation of the Seattle Mariners in 1977.

Another astounding thing covered was the resolution of Curt Flood’s suit challenging the reserve clause. Flood lost his case but the rise of the MLBPA would eventually destroy the clause. Part of that change came due to Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion where most of it was a “back in the good old days” tribute to baseball instead of anything to do with legal opinion. In retrospect, this looks like a very poor judgment on his part.

The book concludes with cases in the 1990s reducing the scope of the exemption, allowing cases on sex discrimination against female umpires to be heard as well as several challenges by the state of Florida involving the Giants’ proposed move to Tampa-St. Petersburg.

This is an excellent book for those interested in a clear look at baseball as a business as well as legal history through the lens of a very specific set of challenges.

Banner, Stuart. The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption. Oxford University Press, 2013. Copy originally obtained from publisher via NetGalley, copy actually reviewed checked out from Hennepin County Library

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