Banzai Babe Ruth:
Baseball, Espionage & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan
by Robert K. Fitts
University of Nebraska Press, 2013
A beautiful blending of baseball and history, Banzai Babe Ruth engages the reader in the attempt to forge a friendship using America’s pastime. Author Robert K. Fitts presents the events from both sides of the Pacific—the Japanese businessmen who are intent on bringing the Americans to their country for an All-Star tour in 1934, and the hesitations of the baseball luminaries in America.
The book reads almost like a novel, recounting the interactions between Babe Ruth and his Japanese fans, Moe Berg’s purported spy operations, and Lefty O’Doul’s tutoring young Japanese ballplayers. Highlights of the games are also presented, along with statistics and line scores in the appendices. Some chapters barely mention baseball, focusing instead on the political climate of the time and the war.
Banzai Babe Ruth is great for fans of baseball history, shedding light on a little-known subject in these modern times.
Pitching, Defense, and Three-Run Homers:
The 1970 Baltimore Orioles
edited by Mark Armour and Malcolm Allen
University of Nebraska Press, 2012
Every franchise has a story to tell, and a true baseball fan can appreciate success that comes as the result of hard work, even if the winner is not that fan’s favorite team. In 1970, the Baltimore Orioles dominated their opponents on their way to a World Series championship. That domination was made possible by a system of belief that was ingrained in Orioles players from their days in the minors; that system was called “The Oriole Way.”
Editors Mark Armour and Malcolm Allen, along with biographies from the Society for American Baseball Research, celebrate “The Oriole Way” in Pitching, Defense, and Three-Run Homers. This volume is filled with statistics and anecdotes for all the contributing members of the 1970 squad, from skipper Earl Weaver and his “Ten Laws of Baseball,” stars Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson, to key role-players such as Chico Salmon and Terry Crowley.
In addition to the player biographies, Allen contributes a “Timeline” for each month of the 1970 season, displayed the Baltimore Sun‘s headline for each game as well as a brief write-up. The book culminates with a concise, three-page chapter describing the 1970 postseason. The authors don’t revel in the victory, but present a well-balanced, factual account of how the Orioles triumphed over their rivals.
Johnny Vander Meer’s Historic Night Under the Lights
by James W. Johnson
University of Nebraska Press, 2012
One of the most amazing feats in baseball history, Johnny Vander Meer‘s consecutive no-hitters may never be matched. Author James W. Johnson takes the reader on a journey through nine innings of unbelievable baseball as Vander Meer refused to allow a single Brooklyn Dodger hit. It was Brooklyn’s first ever home night game, Babe Ruth was in attendance, and there was electricity in the crowd. The rookie pitcher was unfazed, and with his family on hand, he made history.
Double No-Hit is more than a story about a single game, however. Johnson delights the reader with anecdotes about other players involved, both teammates and opponents, including Hall of Famers Ernie Lombardi and Leo Durocher. Vander Meer’s relationship with his manager Bill McKechnie and general manager Warren Giles is discussed, as well as the remainder of Vandy’s career and beyond. Johnson examines the pitcher alongside the careers of Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, and other Hall of Famers. The author argues that Vander Meer’s case isn’t as bad as his 119-121 record implies, but his career statistics are well below Cooperstown standards.
In the epilogue, Johnson takes a look at other pitchers who came close to matching Vander Meer’s feat, the closest being teammate Ewell Blackwell nine years later when he took a second no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth inning. Minor leaguer Tom Drees pitched back-to-back no-hitters in 1989, but one of those was only a seven-inning game. On the major league level, it has never happened since 1938.
Double No-Hit gives modern fans a new appreciation for Vander Meer’s accomplishment. The backstory adds more depth to the game itself, while the post-game history allows you to enter the pitcher’s mind and see his career as he saw it. A great read, recommended for fans of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball history.