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Posts Tagged ‘books on baseball hall of fame members’

Since baseball spring training is underway in both Arizona and Florida, I thought I’d change pace and write about my favorite books on baseball.

I have loved baseball for more than half a century.

It all started in 1960 when my father – a pastor – bought packs of baseball cards for me and my brother.  Some kid at church didn’t want his 1958 and 1959 Topps cards, and so Dad brought those home to us, too.

For years, I have wondered, “Why did those colored pictures of posed athletes mean so much to me?”  Maybe it’s that link to my father … or the fact that my friends began to collect cards, too … or because I was able to match the names of players that I heard about with their faces.

Growing up in Anaheim, California, my father took my brother and me to the Coliseum to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-2 in May, 1960.

Two things stand out for me from that game:

The grass on the field was so green that I instantly fell in love with being at the ballpark … and you could hear announcer Vin Scully’s voice reverberate throughout the stadium on people’s transistor radios.  (And 55 years later, the great Vin Scully is STILL the Voice of the Dodgers.)

We Dodger fans only got to watch 9 games on television every year: the games the Dodgers played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

That’s why the All-Star Game and World Series were so special to me as a kid … because they were on television.

We had a black-and-white TV even when everyone else on our block had a color set, but to me, it didn’t matter: it was baseball.

I remember running home from school in second grade to watch the end of Game 7 of the World Series and watching Bill Mazeroski hit a walkoff homer to win the Series for the Pirates.

Because you could only hear Dodger games on the radio, the only way I could gain more information about famous players was to read about them in books.  So I devoured every book I could find in the school library about baseball … and eventually read every book I could find on baseball in the public library as well.

I’ve read hundreds of books on baseball: biographies, oral histories, team histories, record books, forecast books … you name it.

And out of all the baseball books I’ve read, these ten are my favorites:

Number Ten

http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-October-Dodgers-Giants-Pennant-Race-ebook/dp/B008BG5AGY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425664223&sr=1-1&keywords=Chasing+October

Although I grew up a Dodgers fan, I greatly admired the San Francisco Giants.  In fact, when my brother John and I used to play baseball in our back yard (with a tennis ball), he would be the Dodgers, and I would be the Giants.

On September 4, 1962 – Labor Day – the Giants and Dodgers played a crucial game at Dodger Stadium.  Both teams were locked in a tight pennant race … back when there were only ten teams in each league.

The attendance that day was 54,418, including my dad, John, and me.  Even though the Dodgers lost, it was a day I’ll always cherish.

David Plaut’s book Chasing October gives all kinds of insights into that pennant race that an 8-year-old kid would never have known.  When I finally found the book at a reasonable price … and now you can buy it for just $7.99 for the Kindle … I read it quickly … on one memorable occasion, with Vin Scully announcing in the background.

Number Nine

http://www.amazon.com/Eight-Men-Out-Black-World-ebook/dp/B004VMWJBQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425665010&sr=1-1&keywords=Eliot+Asinof

Before I read this book – which came out in 1963 – I knew nothing about the fact that eight players from the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 1919.  As a child, I was absolutely shocked that players would actually cheat on the field.  (This was long before steroids!)

Several years after I first read this book, I began writing old-time ballplayers in the mail, asking for their autographs, and although I wrote people Chick Gandil and Eddie Cicotte, they never responded to my requests.

But the catcher for the Black Sox, Ray Schalk … who wasn’t involved in the scandal … did answer me, as well as Edd Roush, center fielder for the Reds.

This book was made into a movie … a very good movie, I thought, even though Charlie Sheen is in it … but I highly recommend this book, which has been deemed a classic since its publication.

Number Eight

http://www.amazon.com/Sandy-Koufax-Leftys-Jane-Leavy-ebook/dp/B000UVBT4U/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425665549&sr=1-1&keywords=jane+leavy+sandy+Koufax

It is hard to put into words how much Sandy Koufax meant to me as a kid.

He threw four no-hitters … and I listened to each one on the radio, including his perfect game against the Cubs.

He set the all-time record for strikeouts in 1965 … 382 … and I saw that last strikeout at Dodger Stadium when he beat the Braves to clinch the National League pennant in 1965.

He beat the Yankees twice in the 1963 World Series … and the Twins twice in the 1965 World Series … to bring both championships home to Los Angeles.

He seemed to be a modest, self-effacing man who was conscious of the fact that he was expected to be a role model for kids … and did it well.

In 1967, the All-Star Game was in Anaheim, and Koufax had signed to announce the game for NBC.  While hanging around the Grand Hotel the day before the game, I saw Koufax … asked him to sign my autograph book … went home for dinner … found my mint condition 1955 Koufax rookie card … went back to the hotel, and asked Koufax to sign that one as well.

I’ve been told that his signature on the card devalues its worth, but I don’t care … it still means a great deal to me.

Leavy’s book details how much Koufax meant to the Jewish community … how much he suffered as a pitcher … and why he retired at the age of 30 after winning the Cy Young Award for the third time.

Number Seven

http://www.amazon.com/Baseball-Biographical-Encyclopedia-Matthew-Silverman/dp/1892129345/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425667665&sr=1-1&keywords=the+biographical+baseball+encyclopedia

This is one of those books you’d like to have with you on a desert island … and it’s cheaper than cheap on Amazon.

The book gives brief biographies of every player of note … and many obscure players … through 2000.

There’s a small photo of each subject (color shots for more recent players) … a record of when and where they were born and died … one line of career totals … and hundreds of fascinating stories about the players.

It’s the kind of book to peruse while you’re watching a game.  If an announcer throws out the name of a former player, just turn to his entry, and you’ll learn not only what the player did on the field, but in many cases, what he did off the field.

The only problem with the book is that it’s heavy.

Number Six

http://www.amazon.com/Super-Stars-Baseball-Laughs-Laments/dp/B000GVHNPI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425666646&sr=1-1&keywords=bob+broeg+super+stars

Bob Broeg was a sportswriters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a frequent contributor to The Sporting News, which is how I first became acquainted with him.

This book … a classic published by The Sporting News … was published in 1971, so it leaves out great players like Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Derek Jeter.

But the book includes 40 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Mickey Mantle, and Cy Young.

Filled with rare photos, Broeg is a terrific writer, and brings each of these superstars to life with biographies that are both brief and yet complete.

The book is relatively inexpensive and seems dated, but when I finally bought it, I devoured it … right after I got married.

I’ll share my five favorite baseball books next time, but until then:

What is your favorite baseball/sports book … and why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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