Category Archives: books
Painting The Corners: Off-Center Baseball Fiction
by Bob Weintraub
Yucca Publishing, 2014
Baseball is, more than any other major sport, a game of numbers. Statistics play a greater role and hold more importance to fans in this sport than they do in football, basketball, or hockey. Pitching match-ups are analyzed, fielding metrics are scrutinized, hitting trends are studied, and all of this information is readily available to players, coaches, broadcasters, and casual fans with a few clicks of the computer mouse.
At the same time, however, baseball lends itself to art. Former Kansas City pitcher Dan Quisenberry wrote poetry about the game, and the late Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote an impassioned essay entitled “The Green Fields of the Mind” about the national pastime. The sport is a favorite backdrop for Hollywood as well, serving comedies and dramas as well as biographical films. It is no surprise, therefore, to find a collection of short stories involving the diamond.
Bob Weintraub’s Painting The Corners: Off-Center Baseball Fiction is a fine collection of eleven tales mixing humanity, irony, and humor with our favorite game. Whether it is an elderly man signed for the express purpose of bunting runners over or an old-timer getting a second chance to make a play he flubbed during his career, Weintraub not only infuses just enough realism to make each story plausible, but enough imagination to make them enjoyment.
The way the stories are crafted will allow the reader to forgive the author for any predictability in the plots. If you can’t wait for Opening Day, or if your team falters out of the gate, Painting The Corners may help cure your baseball blues.
Growing Up Pedro
by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, 2015
Following excellent books about Hank Aaron and Ted Williams, the latest subject of a Matt Tavares children’s baseball biography is new Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. Tavares tells young readers the story of a young boy who grew up watching his brother Ramon Martinez pitch in the Dominican Republic, dreaming of playing together in the major leagues. The author and illustrator follows Pedro’s journey pitching with his brother in Los Angeles, to becoming the best pitcher in baseball in Montreal, to a World Championship in Boston.
Tavares is in top form as his illustrations help tell the story of one of the greatest pitchers of the past thirty years. The book is aimed toward 8-12 year olds, and the text is certainly written on that level, but the artwork can be appreciated by baseball fans of any age. Tavares’ illustrations perfectly depicts Pedro’s intensity.
101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out
by Josh Pahigian
Lyons Press, 2015 (2nd Edition)
Everyone has a bucket list, even if it is not written down. Many baseball fans’ bucket lists are full of places to see, be it stadiums, museums, or other exhibits. Author Josh Pahigian gives baseball bucket listers a leg up with the second edition 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out. There are ballparks—major league, minor league, and amateur—and museums, but Pahigian goes a little deeper with some out-of-the-ordinary stops as well.
The Beyond the Vines Columbarium located at the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago has to be one of the most interesting entries. Although I would not rank it as high as Pahigian (who places it at #9), I am intrigued by the site and plan to make it a part of my next trip to Chicago, along with the Batcolumn (#32 on his list). I would personally replace several of the minor league and amateur parks with museums and major league stadiums, but that’s the beauty of bucket lists. Everyone has different goals and different destinations.
101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out is a must-have for the baseball traveler, a handy guide to alert yourself to baseball attractions in the vicinity of your next family vacation.
You Can’t Make This Up
by Al Michaels with L. Jon Wertheim
William Morrow, 2014
[Review by new TWJ contributor Jim. We are excited to have Jim as a part of the TWJ team, and look forward to future reviews!]
When I saw Al Michaels had written a book, I knew I would have to get my hands on a copy to hear all the great stories he had to tell. I was not disappointed in the least. Al was flawless in relaying hundreds of stories over his career and beforehand as well. Born to a loving mother and father in Brooklyn, Al never had to eat vegetables and grew up watching the Dodgers at Ebbets Field after attending school n the morning because the school was too crowded for him to go all day. Then he moved to Los Angeles and attended Arizona State University to develop his broadcasting skills.
Of his many stories, one of the highlights for me was him talking about his first impression of Cincinnati when he arrived. He was the broadcaster of a minor league team in Hawaii before he came to Cincinnati, so he was taken aback by the winter scenery. He also felt that living in the great state of Kentucky was a little too much of a step back from Hawaii. He tells of a time when Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall cussed out some players who were playing a joke on him and it went out on the broadcast. Growing up listening to Nuxhall, I laughed, picturing him doing something like that. All in all, You Can’t Make This Up is a great book for any sports fan. Al has experiences in many different sports, so there is something for everyone.
100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball by the Staff of Who’s Who in Baseball and Douglas B. Lyons (2015)
100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball
by the Staff of Who’s Who in Baseball and Douglas B. Lyons
Lyons Press, 2015
Who’s Who in Baseball debuted in 1912 with a cover price of fifteen cents. There were no new editions until 1916, when it became a yearly publication. Boasting lifetime records of star players originally, Who’s Who in Baseball now chronicles career statistics and photos of every major league ballplayer. This volume, 100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball, is not a collection of all those records, but rather a collection of the covers of each previous Who’s Who, along with brief biographical sketches of the cover boys—from Ty Cobb to Babe Ruth to Miguel Cabrera to Mike Trout—and happenings in the big leagues.
If you are familiar with Who’s Who in Baseball, and simply want to see every black-and-white (with a red background) cover through the years, you will not be disappointed. However, if you are looking for in-depth discussion of the players and events, you might find 100 Years lacking. Many of the biographies barely reach a half page, at least until the 1960s, when more than one player is consistently featured. There are also some editorial oversights throughout, such as listing Tom Browning‘s perfect game among the 1998 highlights rather than 1988.
As a history book, 100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball will leave the reader wanting more. As a celebration of the annual publication, though, it is adequate.
Henry Aaron’s Dream
by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, 2010
When Hank Aaron was young, there were no black men playing baseball in the major leagues. Jackie Robinson‘s debut in 1947 paved the way for players like Aaron to show the world their talents. Author Matt Tavares writes about a time in Aaron’s life many ignore: his early years in Mobile, Alabama, and his brief time in the Negro Leagues with the Mobile Black Bears and Indianapolis Clowns. There are also several pages devoted to Aaron’s life in the minor leagues, both on and off the field, and finally his ascent to the majors in 1954. Though he was not the first black baseball player, Aaron still faced a great deal of racism as he played the game he loved.
Much like There Goes Ted Williams, the best part of Henry Aaron’s Dream is the artwork. Written for third through seventh graders, Tavares’ artwork makes the story come alive for youngsters who are being taught about the legends of baseball as well as important social issues. There is nothing new here for long-time fans of the great home run hitter, but the beautiful illustrations easily make it worth the purchase price.
Super Baseball Infographics
by Eric Braun, illustrated by Laura Westlund
Lerner Publications, 2015
Infographics are a great way to learn facts about almost subject. The internet is littered with thousands of infographics on a variety of topics. Eric Braun and illustrator Laura Westlund have joined forces to put sports facts in infographic form for younger readers to introduce them to the games we play. Super Baseball Infographics is a nice collection of random facts, such as the greatest home run hitters in history, the number of World Series won by each team, and the science behind fastballs and curveballs.
Super Baseball Infographics is designed as a simple introduction to the sport, and does not contain a great deal of information so it should not overwhelm young readers who are just learning about the big leagues.
Facing Michael Jordan: Players Recall the Greatest Basketball Player Who Ever Lived
edited by Sean Deveney with Kent McDill
Sports Publishing, 2014
Former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, “[I]f you don’t take a peek back every once in a while, you can start to forget just how great he was.” Only twelve years after his retirement, it is difficult to believe anyone has forgotten Michael Jordan‘s legendary work on the hardwood. But just in case anyone has doubts, fans can be reminded by reading Sean Deveney and Kent McDill’s Facing Michael Jordan: Players Recall the Greatest Basketball Player Who Ever Lived.
First-hand accounts from Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, and Dominique Wilkins show the respect that even the greats had for the greatest. But Deveney and McDill did not simply talk to the household names for this volume. They also included memories from David Henderson, whose experience with Jordan happened in college, and Iowa coach George Raveling, who was introduced to MJ at the 1984 USA Basketball tryouts. Several modern players were also interviewed for the book, including Dwyane Wade and Jabari Parker, who talked about the legacy Jordan left for younger generations.
The only shortcoming here is the omission of Jordan’s short-lived and less-than-stellar professional baseball career. More than fifty NBA players and coaches shared their memories and experiences with the greatest basketball player of all-time. Facing Michael Jordan is a wonderful tribute to the man who inspired many to spend a little more time working on their dunking skills and tongue-wagging.
Great Stuff: Baseball’s Most Amazing Pitching Feats
by Rich Westcott
Sports Publishing, 2014
Even in the era of inflated offense, great pitching shines through. Author Rich Westcott looks back at the history of pitching since the distance of the mound was moved to sixty feet, six inches, and examines some of the greatest performances on record. Certainly most will recognize the Hall of Famers included in this volume, such as Steve Carlton, who won 27 games when his team only won 59; Bob Feller, whose big league debut is unmatched to date; and Nolan Ryan, the master of the no-hitter. Also included are lesser-known hurlers such as Mike Marshall, who appeared in 106 games in one season; Don Newcombe, who won both the Cy Young and MVP Award in 1956; and Ed Reulbach, who pitched two shutouts in a single day. The book isn’t entirely about old-timers. Modern pitchers such as Francisco Rodriguez, Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, and Justin Verlander are also featured.
Westcott delves deep into these men, their feats, and what they meant to the game. The emphasis is not on a player’s career, but rather single season or single game feats, though career highlights are a part of the discussion where appropriate. Johnny Vander Meer‘s back-to-back no-hitters are obviously a part of the book, but Westcott also makes mention of his 1952 minor league no-no, pitched in front of only 335 spectators.
Great Stuff is a great overview of pitching accomplishments that may never be duplicated again. Baseball history buffs will absolutely love it. The only knock against it is calling Mark Buehrle “Mike” in the chapter that extols his 45 consecutive hitters retired.
Hoosier Killers: Indiana’s Darkest History
by Ed Wenck
Blue River Press, 2014
The level of depravity to which some humans are able to sink is a source of fascination for those who are otherwise “normal” people. From true crime television programs such as Snapped to fictional drama series like Criminal Minds, the general public loves to explore evil minds. There is no shortage of books on morbid subjects, either.
Hoosier Killers: Indiana’s Darkest History by Ed Wenck is one of the latest true crime books that examines a variety of murderers. There are sections devoted to serial killers, mass murderers, killings motivated by racial factors, gang killers, individual homicides, and notorious murderers that spent a portion of their lives in Indiana prior to succumbing to the urge to take another life. Wenck does not pull any punches, describing in detail some of the gruesome acts perpetrated by Leslie Irvin and William Clyde Gibson. There is the unsolved case of four young fast food employees killed during a robbery at a Burger Chef restaurant in 1978; the bodies were found weeks later in three different locations.
A number of female murderers are also profiled, including Sarah Jo Ponder and Gertrude Baniszewski. Perhaps the most interesting, however, is Belle Gunness, who did her dirty work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and purportedly evaded capture by killing and burning a newly hired housekeeper while leaving her own dental bridgework. Wenck points out inconsistencies between Gunness and the charred corpse that was left behind that makes the reader wonder why the police did not investigate further. Years later, another woman who resembled Gunness turned up in San Francisco under the name Esther Carlson, and those who knew the woman in Indiana were convinced Gunness and Carlson were the same person.
As for the “traveling killers,” those who spent a part of their life in the Hoosier state before committing heinous acts elsewhere, Wenck examines such infamous names as John Dillinger, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones. Their stories are well-known, and the information in Hoosier Killers does not shed much new light on these men, but their inclusion here does not harm the overall purpose of the book.
True crime enthusiasts will find Hoosier Killers interesting, with thirty chapters devoted to unthinkable acts.
Revival: A Novel
by Stephen King
No horror author has enjoyed as much success as Stephen King in modern times. His classic novels—many of which have been adapted for Hollywood—are regarded as the benchmark for horror of the late twentieth century. It is good to see that King has not lost his touch with his latest release, Revival: A Novel.
The story starts off a bit slow, beginning in the protagonist Jamie Morton’s childhood and his first meeting with the minister Charles Jacobs. The story tells of the minister’s interest—intense interest—in electricity as a science, and a tragedy that shakes Jacobs’ faith, leading to his departure from the small town where the Morton family lives. King proceeds to follow Jamie’s story, his love for the guitar and various bands he played with, his descent into drug abuse, and his next meeting with Jacobs several years later at a state fair. After this encounter, the two separate again, only to meet again many years later. Jacobs is convinced that Jamie is a part of his destiny, and his obsession with electricity leads him to perform experiments that makes Jamie (and others who encounter Jacobs) very nervous.
By the time the reader reaches the climax, the pages can’t be turned fast enough. Jamie’s curiosity in Jacobs’ experiments feed the reader’s curiosity, and the ultimate experiment gives a nod to both Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft. Although it starts slow and takes a while to build, the bizarre payoff is well worth it. Revival is a fine addition to Stephen King’s already impressive bibliography.
Unbreakable: The 25 Most Unapproachable Records in Baseball
by James R. Baehler
Sports Publishing, 2014
Baseball is a game of numbers, and the historical importance of statistics to baseball fans is unparalleled in sports. Author James R. Baehler explores twenty-five records that he believes may never be matched in Unbreakable: The 25 Most Unapproachable Records in Baseball. Baehler focuses on those records that were achieved since 1900, citing the way the game has changed as the reason to exclude Cy Young’s 511 wins among other feats from the discussion.
Readers will find discussions of twenty players who hold twenty-four distinct records in this book, from Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson to Steve Carlton and Rickey Henderson. A small number of non-Hall of Famers are also examined, such as Eddie Gaedel (shortest player in history) and Harvey Haddix (most perfect innings pitched in a single game). The twenty-fifth record the author looks at is the futility of the Chicago Cubs, with their 106-plus years without a World Championship.
Baehler is not content to simply list these twenty-five records and write about them, though. He delves into many interesting stories that have nothing to do with the records under consideration, like Babe Ruth’s difficulty when facing pitcher Hub Pruett, and briefly ponders other off-topic questions, such as Dave Kingman’s worthiness of the Hall of Fame.
He further makes no secret of his disdain for artificial statistics achieved through chemical enhancement. When discussing Hack Wilson’s record of most runs batted in during a single season, Baehler writes, “This baseball fan gives no credence to the records of McGwire and Sosa….Hack Wilson still holds the National League record for home runs in a single season achieved without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs, the only record that matters.”
Unbreakable is a fairly quick read, relying more on traditional statistics that the advanced metrics often cited today by younger sportswriters. Baseball fans with an interest in the history of the game should find it very interesting, and will no doubt be entertained by Baehler’s anecdotes and common sense style of writing.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set
by Ian Doescher
Quirk Books, 2014
The greatest story in modern cinema, retold in the style of the greatest playwright of all-time, Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy is a treat for fans of the galactic tale and the Bard alike. Ian Doescher channels the language of Shakespeare in this retelling, a brilliant parody that reads like a serious play, almost entirely in iambic pentameter. There are exceptions to the style, such as Boba Fett (prose), Yoda (haiku), and the Ewoks (short AABA lines). Han and Leia emulate Romeo and Juliet, speaking in rhyming couplets to each other in private, while the chorus is granted rhymes and occasional sonnets.
The reader is sure to encounter some surprises, as R2-D2 is revealed to have a witty command of the English language, though he reserves that for asides, speaking in beeps when other characters can hear. Doescher lifts themes and rewords famous lines and even soliloquies, such as Darth Vader’s appropriation of Hamlet in portions of The Jedi Doth Return. Doescher also provides insight into the mind of the Wampa in The Empire Striketh Back and the Rancor in The Jedi Doth Return, allowing them to speak (or sing, in the case of the Rancor) to the audience.
Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy is a fantastic and entertaining way to relive the story of Luke, Han, Leia and the rest of the Rebellion in their battles against the Empire. Highly recommended for Star Wars fans.
William Shakespeare’s Foorsooth, The Phantom Menace. is scheduled for an April 2015 release.
Field of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and Supernatural
edited by Rick Wilber
Night Shade Books, 2014
Baseball is an important part of America’s imagination. Some of the most popular baseball tales weave fact with fiction, presenting historical figures in a fictitious settings, and vice versa. Field of Fantasies, an anthology edited by Rick Wilber, presents twenty-three supernatural baseball stories culled from the past seven decades and includes a handful that appear for the first time in print.
A number of literary heavyweights are included in this collection, from Jack Kerouac to W.P. Kinsella to Ray Bradbury. The modern-day master of horror himself, Stephen King, co-wrote a story with Stewart O’Nan called “A Face in the Crowd” that was previously only available digitally. Bradbury’s “Ahab At The Helm” marries Moby Dick with the classic poem “Casey At The Bat” in a brilliant mash-up. Casey also appears in Robert Coover’s “McDuff on the Mound,” a re-telling of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem from the pitcher’s perspective.
Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling also wrote a story entitled “The Mighty Casey,” but it has nothing to do with the Mudville legend. The story originally aired on the program in 1960, and was re-written for Serling’s Stories From The Twilight Zone anthology prior to its inclusion here.
Most baseball fans are familiar with W.P. Kinsella as the inspiration for the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. The short story here, “How I Got My Nickname,” follows the exploits of a teenager who plays for the New York Giants during the pennant stretch of 1951, and his debates with teammates and opponents about whether The Great Gatsby is an allegory.
The editor, Rick Wilber, is a journalism professor at the University of South Florida, and his father Del Wilber played for the Cardinals, Phillies, and Red Sox in the 1940s and 1950s. This book is a great tribute to the game and provides some comfort to those who just can’t wait for the season to begin in April.
by Derek Jeter with photographs by Christopher Anderson
Gallery/Jeter Publishing, 2014
The iconic Yankees shortstop who suited up for his last Major League Baseball game several months ago has released a book giving an overview of his career through photographs and personal memories of his experiences. Derek Jeter‘s words are kept brief, letting the photographs tell the majority of the story, divided into categories rather than chronologies. From Spring Training to Opening Day, his 3000th hit to frequent All-Star appearances, #2 takes baseball fans on a journey through his prolific career.
Jeter was always a class-act on the field, and his humility shines throughout this book. Never taking anything for granted, he speaks highly of his teammates, especially the others in the “Core 4” (Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera).
The photography of Christopher Anderson featured in Jeter Unfiltered is breathtaking. In addition to his contributions, numerous action photos from news agencies grace the pages, taking fans back to the excitement Jeter often created on the baseball diamond.
New York Yankee fans and Derek Jeter fans alike, along with fans of baseball history, will love Jeter Unfiltered.
The Best Joke Book (Period)
by William Donohue
Adams Media, 2014
Joke books often fall into one of two categories: far too obscene or far too corny. The Best Joke Book (Period) by William Donohue certainly falls on the corny side, which might be expected by the subtitle, “Hundreds of the Funniest, Silliest, Most Ridiculous Jokes Ever.” The jokes are divided into nine categories, ranging from families to holidays to animals to sports, and include Q&A-style jokes, short anecdotes, and comedian quotes.
These are the types of jokes that dads tell, and that teenagers roll their eyes at. Several groans were heard around the office this week as I sampled the Christmas funnies out loud.
I don’t put a religious emphasis on Christmas. So many elements of what is accepted as the “Christmas story” are misinterpreted, taken out of context, and flat-out wrong. I have tried to teach my children the truth of what the Bible says as opposed to what the world at large believes.
However, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of the cutest holiday novels-turned-movies of my generation. Written by Barbara Robinson in 1971, it follows the exploits of the Herdman children, the rottenest kids in town who bully the other kids into letting them be the “stars” of the church’s Christmas pageant.
I would highly recommend reading the book first. We read it a few nights ago, and it took a little over an hour with each of us taking turns reading a chapter out loud. Tonight, I fired up the trusty old YouTube and found the movie. If you don’t have time to read the book, or just prefer to watch instead, here you go…
Purchase The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson before next Christmas and start a tradition of reading it with your family.
Are there stories or movies that your family enjoys together each year?
#Treatyourself: 365 Ways To Be Happy Every Day
by Gail Russell
Adams Media, 2014
The Bible says, “Do unto others and you would have them do unto you.” While Gail Adams does not want you to forget doing unto others, she believes that you should treat yourself; don’t wait for others to do unto you. She has come up with 365 ways to make yourself happy, from fairly innocent tasks to a few more risque suggestions.
This is definitely a book designed more for women. As a man, I found myself rolling my eyes at several of the suggestions, but I can certainly see how a female might think these are grand ideas and want to implement them. Many are common sense ideas, such as visiting the zoo, having a board game party, or decorating for the holidays, while others are a little bizarre (to my male mind), such as buying a star or taking a pole dancing class. Readers can take these seeds of ideas and find something that is more up their alley, though, even if they don’t want to take a tour of a factory.
Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents
by Jeff Herman
New World Library, 2014
The process of writing may end when you type “the end,” but if you want to share that work with the world there is much more to the process. Industry insider Jeff Herman provides authors with information to help them get a foot in the door, tips to get representation from agents and to get their hard work in the hands of publishers.
The first section deals with advice for writers, including query letters, book proposals,and the proper usage of social media. Then comes the listings, beginning with the publishers. Included are the “Big 5” conglomerates, independent presses, university presses, and Canadian publishers. The largest section of the book—over 300 pages—is dedicated to literary agents, while independent editors are examined and listed in the final section.
Aspiring authors have been using Herman’s Guide since 1990, and likely will for years to come. It is one of the best tools a writer has at his disposal once he is ready to begin contacting those in the business.
Star Wars Art: Posters
Few pop culture institutions have inspired as much creativity as George Lucas’ Star Wars. The universe is so expansive with diverse lifeforms, artists could spend years creating new paintings to depict them all. Star Wars Art: Posters features a collection of artwork from the very beginning through today. Concept artwork, promotional pieces, paintings for novelizations are some of the many highlights found within the pages of this 10.5 x 12.5 book.
If you are fanatical about Star Wars artwork, you will certainly recognize some of the artists’ names, such as Tom Jung, Roger Kastel, and Drew Struzan. Even if you are not familiar with those wielding their paintbrushes, you will be familiar with their stunning work, presented for the most part without logos. There are also several modern pieces featured, including Mondo and Acme posters by Tyler Stout, Steve Thomas, Mark Daniels and Mark Steele.
Star Wars Art: Posters is truly a fantastic book, covering the cinematic universe from A New Hope through Revenge of the Sith, television programs such as The Battle for Endor and Clone Wars, and video games like Knights of the Old Republic and The Force Unleashed.
If you need a last-minute Christmas gift for a Star Wars fan, you can’t go wrong here.