Search This Blog

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bob's Books - Temporary Insanity by Jay Johnstone and Rick Talley

Jay Johnstone was an interesting baseball player. He played twenty seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder, primarily being used as a pinch hitter for the last few years. For his 162 game average, he hit .267 with 9 homers and 5 stolen bases (and 5 caught stealing). Nothing spectacular, but good enough to keep him in the game for a long time.

But as you might guess from the book title, Temporary Insanity (not like the cover gives it away), Johnstone was a character. And while this book does convey that he worked hard to be a good hitter and fielder and that he played to win, he viewed keeping a team loose and laughing as a key part of his job. This book isn’t The Boys of Summer, or a Lou Gehrig biography, but it is one fun read.

Johnstone had over a thousand hits in his career; he may have had more pranks. His favorite target was Tommy Lasorda and the Dodger stuff alone is worth the price of the book. For example, Johnstone once used a rope and palm tree to lock Lasorda in his room at Dodgertown (formerly the team’s spring training complex in Vero Beach), causing the manager to miss breakfast before the day’s bus ride. Lasorda was not a man to miss meals. Once, during a real game, Lasorda looked up at the DodgerVision screen between innings to find Johnstone and teammate Jerry Reuss dressed up as groundskeepers, dragging the field. Teammates and managers alike received Johnstone’s attentions.

With AAA Seattle.
The Majors have no idea
what is coming
He also talks about other baseball oddballs he encountered or heard stories of. Moe Drawbowsky was a well-travelled relief pitcher from the fifties into the seventies. He once called Hong Kong from the bullpen phone and ordered Chinese takeout (they wouldn’t deliver). Having been traded from the A’s to the Orioles earlier in the season, when the two teams were playing, he called over to the A’s bullpen, imitated his former manager’s voice and instructed a coach to warm up a relief pitcher. There are plenty more.

Sometimes it was just a few words. Interviewed for NBC’s ‘Game of the Week’ (ballplayers were largely seen and not heard back then), he said, “I drove through Cleveland one day and it was closed.” The Mayor of Cleveland called NBC the next day and demanded an apology.

This is the first of three offbeat baseball books that Johnstone did with sportswriter Rick Talley. What comes through is a guy who took being on the field seriously, but who also knew that he was making a living at a boy’s game and wanted to make sure he enjoyed it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s fun. And that’s a good quality for a baseball book.

After the Dodgers beat the Yankees to win the 1981 World Series, Johnstone, Reuss, Rick Monday and Steve Yeager cut this record. They even sang it on Solid Gold. I consider this one of Johnstone's greatest pranks.

It's a put on, but it's still as bad as it looks

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Without You by David Guetta

I actually got chills listening to this. These guys are simply fantastic!!

Bob's Books - Sherlock Holmes: In His Own Words and the Words of Those Who Knew Him by Barry Day

There have been many quote books about Sherlock Holmes. Quotable Sherlock and The Complete Guide to Sherlock Holmes are two such offerings with many fine sayings from the Canon. And notables such as Vincent Starrett, William Baring Gould, Michael Hardwick and Michael Pointer have offered up biographies of the world’s first consulting detective. Barry Day approaches these matters in a new way.
Sherlock Holmes (In His Own Words and in the Words of Those Who KnewHim) is a book that gives us a non-chronological biography of Holmes and the people around him, through extensive quotes from the original stories. You would be hard pressed to find a page that doesn’t have at least four quotations, and most have more than that. Holmes, his methods, Baker Street, the police and villains, and of course, Watson, are all discussed using Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own words about them all.

It is fun to read speculative biographies of Sherlock Holmes. But Day does not venture into that field. He tells us what is definitively known, and he does it with lines from Holmes, Watson and the rest of the Canon’s cast of characters.

The book also looks great, with over sixty black and white illustrations. There is a plethora of Paget, and we see Frederic Dorr Steele’s work before even the introduction. But George Hutchinson’s depiction of the first meeting between Holmes and Watson is shown. We see Watson and the nefarious Baron Gruner as depicted by Howard Elcock. Original drawings by Charles Doyle (Sir Arthur’s father), D. H. Friston, Walter Paget (Sidney’s brother) and J. Frank Wiles can be found as well. There’s something about reading Doyle’s words with an illustration in the vicinity.

Barry Day’s book is one of the most refreshing I have come across. Combining a biography with a quotation text creates a new look at an old subject. That is no easy task in the world of Sherlockiana. I enjoyed the look and flow of this book.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Day in Baseball History - Grass in the Astrodome

When the Houston Astrodome first opened in April of 1965, the field consisted of real, live grass, specially developed for indoor use. It received sunlight through transparent panels in the Astrodome roof. However, those clear panels made it difficult for Astros* outfielders to pick up the ball in flight. On May 23, with two out and two on, San Francisco third baseman Jim Ray Hart hit a routine fly ball to speedy center fielder Jimmy Wynn**. But he couldn’t see the ball and it fell for an inside the park home run. Instead of retiring the side three runs were in.

Grass, but an enclosed roof. A novel idea.
The next day, they painted the ceiling white. In a less than stunning surprise, the grass quickly died. Houston spent the rest of the season playing on dead grass, painted green. An artificial surface called ‘Astroturf’ was installed for the following season and indoor baseball  and football stadiums would follow this pattern until the Arizona Diamondback’s Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field) opened in 1998 as the first retractable roof stadium in the US.

The Astrodome was the first, enclosed multi-purpose stadium and dubbed ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ when it opened, featuring a $2 million scoreboard (that was a big deal). By the time the Astros left in 2000 for Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park), it was viewed as an ungainly albatross and certainly not cool. But it was a revolution in the nineteen sixties. I saw an NFL game there in the nineties. It  didn’t have much charm and it certainly paled in comparison to the Astros game I saw a few years later at Minute Maid.

* The Astros were named the Houston Colt 45’s for their first three seasons (1962-1964). The team was renamed for the stadium in 1965. Teams had been named after players, managers, traffic conditions (the Dodgers were the Trolley Dodgers) and many other things, but a stadium might have been a first.

**Wynn’s nickname was ‘The Toy Cannon.’ He was only 5’-10” but his bat had a big pop. It didn’t hurt that it also served as a play on the Colt 45’s name.

Wynn played center field for the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975, making the all-star team both years. This is when I began following baseball and he was one of my favorite players. He hurt his shoulder during the ’75 season and was out of baseball by 1978. He is one of many very good but not quite great players from the sixties and seventies.

Wynn garnered Comeback  Player of the Year in 1974,
helping the Dodgers to the World Series.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fidel Castro and Major League Baseball

“Lots of enthusiasm, not much of an arm. Suggest he go into another business.”

That quote is reportedly from Tom Callahan’s major league scouting report on Fidel Castro. In his early rabble-rousing days, Castro fancied himself quite a pitcher. This isn’t too much of a surprise, as baseball in the nineteen forties and fifties, as it is today, was hugely popular in Cuba. Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans are recognized as the first Cuban born players to appear in a major league game, and that was for the Cincinnati Reds all the way back in 1911. And in 1923, Dolfe Luque won 27 games for the Reds, while former Cincy slugger Tony Perez is in the Hall of Fame.

The Cuban Fireballer on the  mound in 1959*.
It has been widely reported that Fidel Castro was given a major league tryout (either by the Yankees, or the Senators, or both) and was found wanting. Yeah, not so much. In a baseball crazy country, Castro was like many other young men and fancied himself a ball player. He may well have played intramural baseball while a law student at the University of Havana. In fact, there is one box score that has “F Castro” pitching. However, there is no sign, ANYWHWERE, that he played at any higher level and it’s pretty unlikely he was given a tryout.

Callahan’s quote can’t be entirely discounted, but it certainly seems like a fabricated story. However, back in 1950, future major league infielder Don Hoak had an on the field encounter with Castro that is probably true.

Hoak (#43) was at third for an
injured Jackie Robinson when
Johnny Podres clinched the
only World Series title in Brooklyn
Dodgers history in 1955.
Hoak played in the majors from 1954 to 1964, mostly at second, third and the outfield. He was a career .265 hitter with 89 homers and 64 stolen bases. He was primarily known for his hardnosed approach to the game and playing hurt. His standout season was in 1960, when he finished second to teammate Dick Groat in the MVP voting. Hoak was on two of the most famous World Series championship teams: the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.

During a winter league game in 1950 or 1951, Hoak was playing for the Cienfuegos club when a group of law students took over the field and Fidel Castro took to the mound. Hoak recounts the experience that he wrote with legendary Pittsburgh Steelers announcer Myron Cope in The Day I Batted Against Castro.

*Shortly after assuming the Presidency, Castro founded a barnstorming baseball team, 'Los Barbudos' (The Bearded Ones), consisting mostly of rebels who had fought with him. They played games to raise money for the Havana Sugar Kings**, who played in the AAA International League from 1954 to 1960 as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. On July 24th, 1959, Los Barbudos played an exhibition against the Cuban National Police prior to a Sugar Kings – Rochester Red Wings game. 26,532 fans saw Castro pitch one scoreless inning, striking out two (no doubt with a generous strike zone from the umpire).

**In 1960, after Castro had nationalized all US owned enterprises in Cuba, baseball Commissioner Ford Frick moved the Sugar Kings to New Jersey, where they became the Jersey City Jerseys. That team eventually moved to Norfolk, VA and became the Tidewater (now Norfolk) Tides.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives - Jackie Robinson

Just after signing with the Dodgers; an act
that changed American society

In 1940, Joe Black was a senior at Plainfield High School in northern New Jersey. He was the star of the team, but his dream of playing in the major leagues was crushed one day in the team’s clubhouse. As Black relates:

“My junior year, I hit .357, my senior year I hit .380. And the scouts are signing guys, and nobody said a word to me. My foolish self, I went to a scout and said, “Hey, I’m the best hitter on the team. How come you don’t sign me up?” And he said the dreaded word. He said, “Colored guys don’t play in the big leagues.”

I said, “You’re crazy, man, you seen me playing baseball.” He said, “I didn’t say you can’t play baseball, but they don’t play in the big leagues.”

And they got silent in that clubhouse. I looked at the coach and the kids and I ran all the way home, about two and a half miles to my house from the field house and went up in the attic and I got my scrapbook. Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Rudy York, Carl Hubbell, Harry Danning, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig – and he was right – there wasn’t a face of color there. And I tore them all up except Greenberg* and just laid in the bed and just cried.”

Joe Black had to play in the Negro Leagues because even though Hall of Fame Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis said in 1943 that, “Each club is entirely free to employ Negro players to any and all extent it desires,” blacks were not allowed in the major leagues. Or even the minors.

But as a rookie in 1952, he helped pitch the Brooklyn Dodgers to the national league pennant. What happened between that shattering 1940 day in the clubhouse and the 1952 World Series? Just one thing: Jackie Robinson happened in 1947. Jackie Robinson changed lives. Joe Black’s life would have been very different had Robinson not smashed through major league baseball’s color barrier. The daily existence of a Negro League ballplayer was very different from that of a white man playing professional baseball. And by ‘different,’ I don’t mean ‘better.’

Joe Black pitching against the Yankees
in Game One of the 1952 World Series

Professional sports are full of narcissistic, self-absorbed, shallow, people. I can look to my favorite football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and see several people I don’t want my son to look up to. It’s easy to pick out famous athletes in sports and see a lack of admirable qualities. Heck, the phrase “Manny being Manny” embodies EVERYTHING Jackie Robinson did not represent. But yet again, another team is ready to accept Manny into the clubhouse.

Robinson’s own words are carved on his gravestone, “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.” He was a great ballplayer who lost a couple of early years to society's rampant racism. But he still managed to make it into the Hall of Fame. What he did between the lines, while impressive, is just a small part of Robinson's legacy. No professional athlete had such far reaching impacts, on and off the field, as he did. The term “hero” applies to very few athletes. But Jackie Robinson was one in every sense of the word.

On a side note: Back in 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker played for Toledo in the American Association, which was a major league at the time. He is acknowledged as both the first black man to play major league baseball, and as the last one to do so before Jackie Robinson. Shortly after he left baseball, the de facto segregation of baseball was adopted by the various major and minor leagues and would continue until Robinson played at AAA Montreal in 1946.
Moses Fleetwood Walker

Thus, Robinson is recognized for breaking the color barrier, though Walker deserves mention.

*I wonder why Black kept Hank Greenberg's picture when he destroyed the others? A Hall of Fame slugger for the Tigers, the Jewish Greenberg had endured horrible insults and prejudice in the major leagues. Many believe of all the players who came before Robinson, Greenberg was subjected to the most racial abuse.

In 1947, the two men collided on a play at first base (Greenberg was with the Pirates by then). The next time Robinson reached first, Greenberg said, "I forgot to ask if you were hurt on that play." Robinson said that he was fine and Greenberg rplied, "Stick in there. You're doing fine. Keep your chin up."

Such a simple gesture, but a giant one in its context. Robinson called Greenberg his "diamond hero," and said, "Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg."

Robinson always remembered that kindness given in a season with very few of them.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What I'm Reading - 8/18/10

I have somewhere around 2,000 books at home and am usually reading at least one fiction and one non-fiction book. I usually go through ‘phases’ where I devour several books in the same genre, recently having finished a couple books on one of my favorite subjects, the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

I’m currently close to finishing Thieves’ World: Enemies of Fortune, edited by Lynn Abbey. This is sword and sorcery stuff, but with an original premise. The original Thieves’ World series started back in 1979 and was unique in being a ‘shared universe.’ Each book contained multiple short stories written by different authors. The authors mixed and matched characters and storylines.

The main setting was Sanctuary, a city at the edge of the Rankan Empire, nicknamed Thieves’ World. The original series consisted of twelve anthologies, as well as six official spin-off novels. There were several unofficial spin-off novels and short stories as well. Robert Aspirin started the project, and his now ex-wife, Lynn Abbey, was a major participant. The whole shebang ended in 1993.

But in 2002, Lynn Abbey revived the Thieves’ World brand (though set years later than the original series and using almost all new characters) with the novel, Sanctuary. This was followed by a new anthology, Turning Points, and finally, Enemies of Fortune. There have been no new books since the latter came out in 2004.

The original series, while pretty dark at times, was, on the whole, very good, with some quite interesting characters. And the two new anthologies aren’t bad, though the novel Sanctuary was a huge disappointment.  It reminded me of somebody tearing down a big sand castle and building a new one on the same spot. And then saying, ‘Look at mine. It’s much better than that old one.’ Lynn Abbey basically peed on the original.

This is an informative site for the series:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Live for This by Tommy Lasorda and Bill Plaschke

This is a tough book to review. I like Tommy Lasorda. He is the face of the Dodgers to me, as I began following the team about 1974, just before he become their manager. And regarding baseball, the Dodgers, America, God and (sometimes) being a nice guy, he is a shining example. But in several parts of this book, he comes across as annoying, argumentative, self-absorbed and kind of a jerk. I liked Lasorda more before I read I Live For This.

The book doesn’t follow a straight chronological path, which makes for a more interesting read than the traditional biography route. Because Lasorda is, well, Lasorda, there is no shortage of anecdotes and vignettes to insert. And many of them are certainly entertaining. Tommy Lasorda bleeds Dodger blue: anybody who knows about him knows this, and the book reflects it. No surprise. But we get a look at what makes Lasorda tick: he is fighting the world all the time.
Lasorda refused to admit defeat. As a kid, he needed a baseball glove, so he stole one. A pitcher of marginal talent, he pitched a total of 26 games over three major league seasons (he lost a roster spot to Sandy Koufax in 1955: Lasorda says it took the greatest lefthander ever to keep him out of the majors), though he was a successful minor league pitcher. But as a player, a scout, a coach and a manager, life is a war to Lasorda. One he refuses to lose. It made him the Hall of Famer he is. But it also made him someone you don’t necessarily like, or always admire.

Don’t get me wrong: Lasorda did a lot of good things and certainly helped a lot of baseball players succeed. And he truly is an ambassador for the sport that we’re unlikely to ever see again. And much of the good about Lasorda comes out of this book. Like how he treats low level staffers and efforts to help inner city kids learn baseball. But it’s hard to come away from this book without some negative vibrations.

We do get some inside looks at situations within the Dodgers franchise, like the rift between Lasorda and his successor and former player, Bill Russell. And the exchange between Lasorda and Doug Rau during the first inning of a World Series game is amusing. Sort of. Plus, you’ll learn how Tommy became the national face, or waistline, for a then-unknown product called Slim Fast.

I was intrigued by the book’s ending. The Fox/Murdoch team had effectively banished Lasorda to Siberia. He had no real role with the Dodgers, nor, according to the book, was he respected or valued at all. But then Frank McCourt and his wife bought the team and Lasorda was established as McCourt’s right hand man. Essentially, he was reinstated as Chief Advisor to the new King, if you will. Lasorda says, “You know what the MCourts gave me? They gave me back my prestige, my honor, my dignity. They gave me back my life.” I’d guess this was said somewhere around 2006. Now, in 2012, after the long, dark tea-time of the Dodger’s soul that was the McCourt Era has passed, I wonder how Lasorda feels about the man now?

I think Tommy Lasorda is a great boon to major league baseball, and he is certainly an important part of Dodgers history. I’m a fan. And you’ll enjoy learning how he got Mike Piazza signed and coached the US Olympians to a gold medal, but if you read I Live For This, be warned, your perception of him may change a bit.

Friday, May 11, 2012

You know, doesn't matter what a politician does or does not do. This won't change:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Believing in the Bible in a non-Christian Culture (or Save the Trees and Kill the Children)

I am a Christian. That word seems to have a rather broad definition in today’s culture. And it means different things to different people, certainly including self-proclaimed Christians themselves. By saying “I am a Christian,” I mean that I believe we are all sinners and only by believing in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and as the payment for our debt can we be saved. All else pales before this truth. The three verses beginning with John 3:16 sum it up:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

So, as a Christian, I read the Bible and I try to live my life by the words contained on the pages. It is my self-help book. I don’t understand it all, but I don’t say “Well, a loving God would not send people to Hell forever, so there must be a ‘Get out of Hell free’ card at some point.” That’s not what the Bible says. Hell is real and hell is eternal.

And the Bible tells us that we are only saved by faith alone, so I don’t believe we ‘work our way’ into Heaven. That’s not what Jesus said (though works are an important part of choosing God). I try to understand and accept what the words actually are, not what I want them to be or what I’d like them to mean so my life will be easier. I struggle (why doesn’t Paul simply admonish slavery in his Letters?); and I try to live up to the message, though I consistently fail in my daily walk. But I keep trying.

I have Christian friends, non-Christian friends and friends who created their own religion. I have heterosexual friends and homosexual friends. The point being that whatever social relationships I have or societal beliefs I encounter daily, I believe, first and foremost, what the Bible tells me. Thus, I choose to live my life not by what modern culture says is okay, but by what the Bible tells me is right. And I won’t change that, regardless of whether or not society agrees with me or says it’s ‘not nice’ or ‘not politically correct.’ I do believe in the phrase, “hate the sin, not the sinner.” The two can, nay, must, be distinguished from each other.

If you’re still reading, you may wonder what prompted all this. It was the news story about President Obama’s announcement that he (a self-professed Christian) supports same sex marriage. I went back to something I read in Bible Study just a month or two ago. It’s all right there, on the page, in Romans 1:18-32.

Many don’t believe these words. But I’m among the many that do. And I believe that what Paul is saying will apply to everyone, believers or not.

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Some people ask “Why would you want to believe all this stuff? It’s depressing.”

We live in a “Me” society. We believe that we are the center of our personal universe and that we control our destinies. Reality television, Facebook, blogs (kinda ironic that you’re reading a blog post; possibly via Facebook); we want the focus to be on us. This generation’s catch phrase should be “Look at me!”

A fundamental part of being a Christian is accepting that it’s not all about us; that there is something greater than us. It is humbling to admit: have no doubt of that. It is convicting to the very core of your being. But if you do accept that basic premise, the Gospel is exactly what that word means: Good News.

This messed up world isn’t all that there is. There is something more, and if you believe, it’s a joyous future. Our wearying lives and inevitable deaths are just temporary: there is an eternal reward. If you are a Christian, you believe in Hope. But it is the Hope of certainty, not just wishful thinking. So, Christianity isn’t depressing at all: it’s Glorious.

The post's parenthetical title is a lyric from While You Were Sleeping, by Casting Crowns

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 7, 2012 - A Great Night at Dodger Stadium

Last night was the first home game since the new group took ownership and a new era of Dodger baseball began. Jackie Robinson's widow, Sharon, attended. And that handsome man throwing out the first pitch is Don Newcombe.
Big Newk was the major's first black pitcher after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Newcombe, who started out in the Negro Leagues, would be a Rookie of the Year and win a League MVP, a World Series ring and was the first Cy Young Award winner.

Newcombe (and Roy Campanella) helped ease Jackie Robinson's incredible lonileness during the pioneer's second season.

It's great to see Don Newcombe honored last night. In 1946, society said he couldn't play major league baseball, but he fought for his country in the Korean War in 1949 and 1950. I've said it before: what Jackie Robinson did in 1947 helped transform American society. And those who immediately followed, like Don Newcombe, helped him do it.

Heres's a great article on Newcombe.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bob's Books - Out of the Blue by Orel Hershiser and Jerry Jenkins

Out of the Blue was written after Orel Hershiser’s amazing 1988 season. Hershiser, who won a Gold Glove and the National League (NL) Cy Young Award for his regular season work, also picked up the NL Championship Series MVP, World Series MVP, and the Babe Ruth award (given to the player from either league with the best post season performance). En route, he finished the regular season with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, breaking Don Drysdale’s record. He even added 8 more in his first playoff appearance but that didn’t count towards the streak. The NL leader in wins, innings and complete games, he was absolutely overwhelming.

After relating how he was given the nickname 'Bulldog' (which he didn't like) by the always entertaining Tommy Lasorda, Hershiser starts the book by talking about his approach to pitching. He breaks it down into five parts: attitude, mechanics, strategy, regimen and game day.  I’ve never been a pitcher, and while I understood what he was conveying and why it was important, I didn’t find it very interesting. Since that’s about 25% of the book, well, not good.

Tebow wasn't the first athlete to thank
God for his accomplishments
He talks a bit about growing up and getting into baseball, including his first failed attempt at college. I don’t mean as a pitcher: I mean, life. He discusses how he found Jesus (Hershiser is an overt Christian) and met his future wife, Jaime.
The remainder of the book is about the streak and the fantastic 1988 post season Hershiser and the Dodgers enjoyed. This squad has been called the weakest World Series winning lineup in the modern era (be quiet, Bob Costas). But it beat the heavily favored Mets of Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. And Kirk Gibson’s improbable home run in game one led them to a stunning upset of the Oakland A’s, starring Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire during their Bash Brothers glory days. 

THE home run
The main flaw I found in this book was that it didn’t really convey the drama of the post season. A Dodgers fan, I was surprised to find out that Gibson wasn’t even in uniform for most of game one of the World Series. So, Hershiser gives you some behind the scenes stuff. But you’re not spellbound with a “what happens next?” feeling, which so many good baseball books do.

Of course, 1988 wasn’t the end of his career. He went on to win another 121 games over 12  more seasons, helping the Cleveland Indians reach their first World Series in forty-one years. He is currently a pretty good analyst at ESPN.

I am a fan of Hershiser as both a pitcher and a Christian, and Hershiser’s scoreless inning streak and the Dodgers’ run to the World Series are great moments in the team’s storied history, but this is just an okay baseball book. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t expect to be drawn back to it again.

Hershiser threw a three hit shutout against the most powerful offense in baseball in game two of that 1988 World Series. The next year, Sports Illustrated walked through that game, batter by batter, with his catcher, Mike Scioscia (now manager of the Angels). It’s an inside look that few people ever get.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bob's Books - The Era, 1947 - 1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World by Roger Kahn

In the forties and fifties, baseball was the national pastime. No other sport, professional or collegiate, was remotely as popular. And from 1947 to 1957, New York City, home to the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers, was the undisputed center of the baseball universe. Roger Kahn, best known for The Boys of Summer (the most compelling baseball book I have ever read), chronicles this glorious period of baseball in the aptly titled The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World.

In 1946, the Yankees finished seventeen games out of first place while the Giants were dead last in the NL at 61-93. The Dodgers, who finished tied with the Cardinals (but lost a best of three playoff series in two games), had won only one NL pennant since 1920. But everything changed in 1947, starting with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.

In The Era, there were eleven World Series played. Nine of those World Series were won by a NYC team (7 by the Yankees, 1 by the Dodgers and 1 by the Giants.  The Yankees lost another one: only the 1948 matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Braves did not feature a NYC ball club. Eleven seasons of baseball; eleven World Series; and a NYC team in all but one of them. And in seven of them, two NYC teams played each other!
My favorite Brooklyn Dodger: Pete Reiser. Leo Durocher said that
Willie Mays was  the geatest player he ever saw. But that the
oft-injured Reiser could have been .
So, of the twenty-two teams competing in the World Series between 1947 and 1957, seventeen of them were from NYC. Though the domination of these three teams would continue (the Dodgers, Yankees, or both would appear in the ensuing nine World Series, with the Giants making one appearance), the Dodgers and Giants would be based in southern California beginning in 1958: the Era of New York City baseball was over.
Jackie Robinson stealing home in the
1955 World Series
Kahn digs into the amazing cast of characters from the Era. Managers like Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel and Leo Durocher. Owners such as Branch Rickey, Walter O’Malley, Harry Stoneham and Larry MacPhail. And the players: oh my. Some shone briefly and flared out, like Pete Reiser, Bobby Thomson, Preacher Roe Vic Raschi and Bobby Brown. Others contributed great individual moments, like Bill Bevens, Don Larsen, Sandy Amoros and Johnny Podres. And some etched their names into baseball history, like DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Hodges, Snider, Robinson, Campanella and Mays.

'The Catch' by Willie Mays. This book tells you that
Joe Dimaggio thought that it was only the second
greatest he ever saw.
Kahn includes his own memories of being a NYC reporter then, along with contemporary interviews of notable participants. And he ties in events of the time, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee (before which Jackie Robinson testified) and Harry Truman watching the World Series from the White House. Every generation seems to romanticize the one that came before. But there is no denying that NYC baseball during The Era was simply amazing. And baseball changed when the Dodgers and Giants moved west. You could look it up (Casey Stengel reference, there). 

Did you know that the Yankees (bigotry) passed on Willie Mays? And the Dodgers (decelerating their affirmative action program) had also looked at him? Snider and Mays. Wow. Mantle and Mays. Stratospheric. And there is a great picture of young Mickey Mantle collapsing at Joe Dimaggio’s feet on a fly ball during the 1951 World Series.  The aging Joltin' Joe called  off the young Commerce Comet at the last moment. How good would Mantle have been if he hadn’t blown out his knee on that play?

This book is an excellent account of perhaps the most compelling time in baseball, on and off the field. It is well worth reading.
Mickey, Willie and Duke: 3 of the greatest
center fielders of all time in one city

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

STEELERS - The 2012 Draft, Rounds 1-3

Well, the Steelers' draft has been widely hailed as an "A": I haven't seen one critical review yet. I'm sure SOMEBODY out there isn't happy with it, but it looks like the Steelers picked very well, though there are a few points worth mentioning. I'm going to break down the review into a couple emails due to time constraints.
1st Round/24th Pick
DAVID DECASTRO (Stanford)- There are no sure things in the NFL draft. And sure fire linemen miss, like at every other position (Steve Everitt, Tony Mandarich, Dean Steinkhuler, etc). But DeCastro, from Stanford, appears to be the best guard prospect since former Buckeye Orlando Pace, who went first overall in 1997. He could fail, but the odds for him to excel look good. DeCastro can block and pull. Think Alan Faneca (a borderline hall of famer). If he pans out and stays healthy, he and Maurkice Pouncey will anchor the Steelers line to the end of the decade. A TREMENDOUS first pick that fills the Steelers' biggest weak spot. Could not have done better here.
2nd Round/24th Pick
MIKE ADAMS (Ohio State) - I've thought more about this pick than any other. Some folks projected the Steelers to take him in the first round, so getting him in the second could be considered a bargain. Could be. Adams is considered a "soft" 6-7, 323 lbs. He has the size to dominate, but quite simply, he didn't. He was involved in TatooGate, which tells you he doesn't follow rules well. And he showed up to the Combine with marijuana in his system. Which tells you he's dumb. Then he lied about it. Which shows a further character issue.
A Pennsylvania kid who wanted to be a Steeler, he drove to Pittsburgh and basically apologized for being stupid. The Steelers told him to do some things to get back on their draft board; apparently he did so, whatever they were. And they took him. He can pass block well and knows how to use his size. But over all, he just didn't do a lot as a starter at OSU. And he's had knee and shoulder surgeries already. Because of the Combine debacle, he already has one NFL strike: his next offense will be a mandatory four game suspension. And he hasn't even put on a uniform yet.
Offensive line coach Sean Kugler has done a good job patching together a functioning offensive line. Adams will be a different kind of challenge: getting an under achiever to live up to his full potential. If Adams (a high school all american) stays healthy, stupid-free and utilizes his skills, he will be a starter on the Steelers line. And with Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert and DeCastro, would round out the nucleus of a solid, young, line. But that's a lot of hoping. Adams is clearly a gamble. And with his multiple off field problems (he was also arrested as a freshman), this is the type of player the Steelers' have shied away from in the past. Combined with his mediocre on-field production, it was an interesting pick. The Steelers, who clearly need tackle help, must have been convinced they can bring the best out in him. I hope so, but I'm not too impressed with this choice yet.
3rd Round/23rd Pick
SEAN SPENCE (Miami) - This is the pick that seems to have puzzled most draft pundits. Spence is a VERY quick outside linebacker who can cover and flies to the ball. But at only 5'-11", he's small. The Steelers' scheme uses fast, strong guys to rush the passer.He gets high scores for toughness and on field leadership (and he stayed out of trouble at Miami, which is uncommon). He fits the mold of the guy the Steelers take not for need, but as the best athlete on their board. Expect him to play special teams for a couple years. I kind of doubt he's going to become a starting OLB in Pittsburgh (based on his size) but he could impress the coaches. We'll see.
So, a grand slam in the first round, a casino gamble that's more likely to be a bust than a black jack in the second, and an athletic kid outside the mold in the third. Next up, the remaining four picks, which were pretty good.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Christy Nockels - Healing is in Your Hands

I would sit and listen to Christy Nockels read aloud the telephone book. Her voice is AMAZING.