Entries Tagged as 'book'

Book Review: Campy: the Two Lives of Roy Campanella

campysimonschusterThe last three years have been a major boon for the publication of significant baseball biographies featuring one of baseball’s most neglected positions- the catcher.

The much maligned defensive spot featuring the uniquely named tools of ignorance has come into its own since 2009. For that was the first year that launched a triple crown of baseball backstop biographies with the publication of The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain- the Biography of Thurman Munson by Marty Appel.

In 2010, another all- time Yankee and the subject of numerous books in the past Yogi Berra was covered in a very thorough and excellent biography- Yogi Berra- The Eternal Yankee by Allan Barra.

Now in 2011, completing the baseball biography trilogy of great backstops and not insignificantly the third player from New York, the Brooklyn Dodger great and Hall of Famer Roy Campanella is profiled. Neil Lanctot’s new biography called Campy The Two Lives of Roy Campanella (Simon and Schuster 2011 516 pages) came out in March and is a nice addition to anyone’s baseball shelf.

The two lives of Campanella refers to his life before and after his tragic automobile accident in early 1958 that nearly took his life but did leave him paralyzed, although the book spends relatively little time on that particular aspect of Campy’s life.

Since Campanella appeared to have had several contrasting phases in his life, the two lives might also have referenced his baseball life in the Negro Leagues (while still in high school at that) and his second life in the major leagues for the powerful Brooklyn Dodgers. Perhaps the two lives encompassed Campanella’s status as arguably becoming the most popular black superstar in baseball in the 1950’s after languishing in the shadow of his teammate the great Jackie Robinson for the early part of his career.

Whichever the case, I especially enjoyed Lanctot’s look at Campy’s early years in the Negro League with Baltimore and also his many winters in the Mexican League.

Lanctot also brought to life what to me was relatively unknown aspect of Campanella’s life, his on-going feud later in his career with his long time teammate and former good friend Jackie Robinson . Lanctot discovered that it’s really difficult to know the real Roy Campanella, since he made every effort to avoid any shred of controversy, unlike Jackie Robinson . Campanella’s failure to take a significant stand on race relations Lanctot intimates, may have been at the root of his disagreements with Robinson, although it is also suggested and possible that Jackie may have simply resented some of Campy’s growing popularity, once reserved for Robinson himself.

After Campanella’s tragedy, his upbeat personality and his love of and involvement in the game of baseball kept him in the public’s subconscious until his death in 1993. This three- time MVP should be remembered fondly as not just one of baseball’s all time great catchers but as one of baseball’s all time greats – period! Lanctot succeeds at doing just that.

Lanctot’s book should bring back fond memories for those who still remember those times as well as new insights into Campanella and his impact on the national pastime and Brooklyn baseball in the1940’s and 50’s

Book Review: Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert

satchdizzyrapidrobertI’m in the middle of reading a pretty decent book right now.  It’s called Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson authored by Timothy Gay. 

Unless we’re baseball historians, most of us have the notion that interracial baseball simply did not happen before Jackie Robinson’s momentous year when Branch Rickey made the decision to integrate baseball.  Gay’s book, Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert documents in detail how blacks and whites played the game of baseball throughout the 20th century, mostly manifesting itself in barnstorming sessions after the American and National Leagues had finished their seasons. 

Gay covers in detail the careers of Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller (hence the name of the book) even above and beyond the interracial baseball angle.  We get a quite thorough bio of each of their lives.  That said, I think Gay uses the three as a vehicle to discuss the issue of barnstorming baseball between whites and blacks and how it affected both Negro Leagues and “white” baseball.  Gay talks about Negro Leaguers Oscar Charleston, Turkey Stearns, Cool Papa Bell as well as white ballplayers such as Mickey Vernon, Leo Durocher. 

I have just finished the chapter on Bob Feller which I found fascinating mostly because I’m surprised how little I knew about him.  His media-perceived arrogance, his financial shrewdness, and his opposition of the reserve clause, for example.  Our family passed by his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa last year and didn’t have time to stop.  We’ll be going by there again this summer.  This time, I’ll insist.

Timothy Gay’s book, Satch, Dizzy and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson is published by Simon and Schuster.  It’s definitely worth a look for anyone who is interested in baseball history or even race politics. 

Burgos to speak at UI

For those in the Champaign-Urbana area, professor and noted author Adrian Burgos will be giving a talk at the Y Friday Forum this week.  The title of the talk is “Playing for the Dream? Baseball, Latinos, Immigration and the American Dream”. 

Burgos is an associate professor at the University of Illinois and has wrote Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line (a good book if you haven’t read it).  He specializes in Latino and race relations and yes, baseball,

Friday, October 15 · 12:00pm – 1:30pm
More details at the University YMCA’s website.

Book Review: High Heat by Tim Wendel

This book review is written by guest author CLuke who despite being a White Sox AND a Northwestern Wildcat fan, is a pretty cool guy.

image002 In his new book High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time (2010) author Tim Wendel has gone on a quest for speed. His speed obsession is very specific and as a matter of fact coincides with one of my favorite obsessions- baseball. Tim has traveled on an enjoyable literary journey to find one or in this case the fastest pitcher of all time.

The true baseball fan will recognize the paths that Mr. Wendel will take you down must include such names as Walter Johnson, Bob Feller and of course the Express- Nolan Ryan. What many fans may not expect are hearing names such as Rusie, Dalkowski and yes even Wagner and Zumaya contained in this elite group.

Newer pitchers such as Steven Strasburg and David Price are mentioned as well as sometimes overlooked pitchers like J.R. Richard, Sam McDowell and Pud Galvin (an often forgotten Hall of Famer).

Wendel interviews great fastball pitchers, batters who’ve faced them and other baseball intelligentsia in what is a pleasant celebration and quest for one of the most dangerous elements in the sport of baseball- a horsehide flung at speeds up to and over 100 mph!

One of the more fascinating aspects to Wendel’s book is his comparison of how the speed of a fastball has been measured down through the years.

In the closing days of the 1912 season Baseball magazine convinced the two fastest pitchers at the time Washington’s Walter Johnson and Brooklyn’s Nap Rucker to travel to Bridgeport Connecticut and there at the Remington Arms Company bullet-testing range measure the speed of a fastball for the first time. A tunnel that was intended to be used for testing the speed of bullets was used in an attempt to measure the fastballs of each of the two hurlers. After considerable effort and a consequent loss of speed (per the book quoting Baseball Magazine) Johnson clocked in at 86.6 mph and Rucker only 76 mph. The test probably had some significant flaws however.

Later Bob Feller had to fling a baseball past a speeding motorcycle in attempt to measure the speed of his pitch. Even today with the apparent sophistication of measuring devices Wendel notes that there are discrepancies between radar guns in different stadiums.

All in all an enjoyable book that took me to a few places that I’ve never been before. I particularly enjoyed hearing once again the story of Steve Dalkowski a Baltimore farmhand in the 1960’s who never made it to the big time but may have had the fastest fastball of all. Wendel depicts a fascinating story about Dalkowski and HOF manager Earl Weaver. “In 1962 with Weaver instructing him to throw only his fastball and his slider Dalkowski went on to have his best year ever. In the final 57 innings pitching for Weaver at Elmira, the left hander gave up only one earned run and struck out 110 batters and walked only 21”. He would go to spring training the next year with the Orioles but I’ll leave it for the author to tell the rest of this tale.

I would recommend High Heat as a pleasantly readable and enjoyable romp through the history of the fastball and many of the men who threw it. With this meaty of a topic however, I was a little bit disappointed that the book was only a little over 200 pages and it did seem to be lacking on serious stats for all of the sabermeticians out there.

Still in all this, is a worthwhile read and a nice addition to the library of the true baseball fan.

I’m giving it 3 and a half bats.

bat bat bat 12bat

You can pick up High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time at any fine book store near you or order it from Amazon.  You can also check out the book’s blog site.

As an aside, I was intrigued to learn that Mr. Wendel has written a book on the long forgotten Buffalo Braves of the NBA. This one may also be worth checking out if I can find a copy.


The Schillings and Asperger’s Syndrome

Shonda Schilling, the wife of former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, has come out with a book.  And unlike most books penned by former athletes or their wives, this one has peaked my interest.  It’s called The Best Kind of Different: Our Family’s Journey’s with Asperger’s Syndrome

One of the Shillings’ sons has Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism.  The book is written mostly by Shonda with help from Curt (he also wrote the foreword).  There’s a lot I could tell you personally about AS but if you’re interested, read the book.  I had the chance to listen to an interview with both Schillings on March 26th’s episode of ESPN’s Baseball Today where they spoke about their challenges and joys of raising an AS kid. 

The Baseball Today interview did around to baseball, by the way.  Curt Schilling does NOT miss baseball though he did take part in a fantasy league for the first time (he says he won the league “against some media types”. 

Bet that made him feel good.

Add Fear Strikes Out to my favorite list

I ran across this recently…   Ten Baseball Movies That Belong in the Hall of Fame from VideoHound. 

Most of the usual suspects are there and I don’t disagree with almost all of them on the list.


A movie I’d have to add to the list is a classic from 1957, Fear Strikes Out based on the autobiography of Jimmy Piersall.  Anthony Perkins in his pre-Norman Bates days, plays the lead role and Karl Malden plays his father. 

The story of Fear Strikes Out deals with Piersall’s battle with both his mental illness and his overbearing father as he came up into the major league system. 

Apparently, Jimmy Piersall wasn’t pleased with the final product of the movie and didn’t give it his seal of approval mostly due to some stretching of the truth in the screenplay. 

That said, it’s a moving film and one of my favorites. 

Book Review: What if the Babe had kept his Red Sox?


what if the babe

Bill Gutman has penned an interesting and thought provoking series of “What if?” questions related to all of the major sports in his new book: What if the Babe had kept his Red Sox? (And other Fascinating Alternate Histories from the World of Sports)

(Skyhorse Publishing– Paperback 2008).


 Gutman includes all major sports and is sure to satisfy the Sports Historian in your family. He includes such eclectic and intriguing topics such  as “What if Sonny Liston had knocked off Muhammad Ali (not as far-fetched as you would think given Liston’s punching ability) and What if Vince Lombardi had  left Green Bay after two seasons to take the vacant New York Giants job- also  within the line of logic and reason since St. Vincent had long roots to the east coast and specifically to the Giants and their owners . Don’t worry basketball golf and even hockey fans (and you two guys know who you are.) Gutman has something for you as well!


Since the Baseball Zealot is where we’re at, I want to hone in on some of the book’s baseball questions and possibilities. Gutman has plenty of these conundrums to satisfy all baseball fans. Do baseball fans discuss their sport’s history more than fans of any other sport? I think so.


Gutman discusses what the ramifications would be for the Yankees and the Red Sox if Babe Ruth stayed with the Red Sox,.hence the title of the book. (Coming from Chicago I refrain from using just “Sox” to describe New England’s version of hose since I reserve that for Chicago’s team but I digress.)  The author thoughtfully and informatively includes nuggets like not only did Boston’s owner Frazee sell the prized “Babe” to the Yankees he also gave them such players like Herb Pennock (Hall of famer), Carl Mays and others.


Continuing on to other plausible national pastime scenarios, Gutman discusses what the potential impact would have been if the Phillies would have signed Negro league Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson (The so-called Black Babe Ruth) to major league  contracts back in 1936!


I’ll let the reader discover the many other nuggets included in this book but a couple of other “What if’s” to further whet the appetite are what it would be like if Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean and even football great Gale Sayers did not have their careers cut short by injuries.


How about what if John Smoltz never made it to the Braves from the Tigers. (Who remembers that deal?)


All in all Gutman has put together an enjoyable read for the serious sports fan or dare I say the Sports historian. He ha buttressed his arguments with nice accompanying background information and stats and has made plausible summarie son what might have occurred and why. I was skeptical at first at the book’s premise of What If’s but was pleasantly surprised after I dug into the text. A nice nugget to put on anyone’s Christmas list. (At least those of us sports/baseball nuts who frequent the Zealot). 

You can find this book on Amazon or at Skyhorse Publishing


Three bats.


 bat    bat    bat 


Author Burgos interviewed

Zealot friend Adrian Burgos, author of Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line, was the topic of a feature article on Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf.

Burgos is back teaching at the University of Illinois after a sabbatical.  During his sabbatical, he was working on his second book, a biography of Alejandro Pompez who was the owner of the New York Cubans and later the director of international scouting for the Giants. 

Book Review: Ten Moments That Shook the Sports World



I just finished Stan Isaacs’ Ten Moments That Shook the Sports World: One Sportswriter’s Eyewitness Accounts of the Most Incredible Sporting Events of the Past Fifty Years and I have to say I enjoyed it. 

Isaacs is an award-winning former feature columnist for Newsday and has certainly been around the world of sports.  He writes about ten events in sports history (all which he has witnessed personally) in great detail.  Events such as Secretariat’s win at the Belmont Stakes in 1973, Bobby Thomson’s "The Shot Heard ‘Round the World" and the massacre of the athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The book is formatted into 10 chapters… one for each ‘moment’, in countdown fashion so it is evident Isaacs is helping your opinion which events had the most impact, at least in his experience.  Maybe I being simplistic, but I enjoy books like these.  They’re easy to pick up and read. 

As a matter of fact, I didn’t even start with the beginning.  I began with the chapter on the 1972 Munich Olympics for two reasons.  One, I’m not that familiar with the event and two, the Olympics were starting up soon at the time and that I knew the mass media would be talking about it a little.  

After that, I jumped around from Bobby Thomson’s ‘Shot’, to Casey Stengel’s ‘Amazin’ Mets’ and kept reading till I read the whole book.

Isaacs strength (other than he actually witnessed these events rather than reading about them or watching them on a screen) is that he provides a good background for each of these events.  For Bobby Thomson’s ‘Shot’, for example, he doesn’t start with the morning of the game.  He provides detail on the rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants for the 1951 season (and even gives some background history). 

Give the book a try.  I really enjoyed it. 

You can get it from Skyhorse Publishing or from Amazon

Book Review: Mets By The Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Amazin’ Mets by the Uniform Number

172 I just finished the book Mets By The Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Amazin’ Mets by the Uniform Number by Jon Springer and Matthew Springer.  The book’s title is pretty self-descriptive.  I don’t think it leaves out a single player that ever played for the NL New York team.  Creatively titled chapters start from Uniform #1 and the New York Mets that had that number and go from there.

There’s a bit of a bio or trivia that goes with each player (at least the ones that any major playing time).  Plus at the end of each chapter, a complete rundown on the uniform number; how many Mets had the number, the best season by a Met with that number etc.

From Mookie Wilson (#1) to Turk Wendell (#99) not to mention Rey Ordonez who debuted with a #0, this book delivers as promises.  It goes without saying that this book would definitely interest a New York Met fan more than anyone.  It’s possible that a baseball history buff might enjoy this as well for all the trivia as well. 


Mets By The Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Amazin’ Mets by the Uniform Number

Author: Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing