Category Archives: books

Book Review: Biz Mackey: A Giant Behind the Plate by Rich Westcott

Biz Mackey A Giant Behind the Plate

Biz Mackey: A Giant Behind the Plate
by Rich Westcott
Temple University Press, 2020

Who is the greatest catcher of all-time? The question is often asked, and arguments ensue between defenders of Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra. Occasionally, a Josh Gibson apologist will chime in. Rarely does another name creep into the conversation, but Biz Mackey might be deserving of some consideration. Author Rich Westcott does an excellent job of examining Mackey’s life and impact on the diamond in the biography, Biz Mackey: A Giant Behind the Plate. Excluded from baseball on a larger stage due to segregation, Mackey nonetheless influenced catchers and his Hall of Fame legacy contributes to the argument that he was at least among the greatest catchers to ever play the game.

Westcott provides several testimonials of Mackey’s talent from players he played with and against before launching into his background, briefly discussing his childhood leading into his love for the game and quick success. The author is known for his focus on Philadelphia sports, so it is no surprise that he devotes a good portion of the third chapter to the impact of African American baseball in the Philadelphia area; Mackey was a popular player with both the Hilldale Giants and Philadelphia Stars. Mackey also helped spread the love of baseball in Japan when he traveled to play exhibition games.

Biz Mackey: A Giant Behind the Plate also includes information about Mackey’s turns as a manager and his mentorship of fellow Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella. Sadly, Mackey died in 1965, long before he and other Negro League superstars were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His great nephew, Ray C. Mackey III, accepted the award and spoke on the legend’s behalf at the 2006 ceremony.

Who is the greatest catcher of all-time? Biz Mackey: A Giant Behind the Plate probably will not change your answer, but it is a good addition to any baseball fan’s library.

Purchase Biz Mackey: A Giant Behind the Plate by Rich Westcott.

Book Review: The Twilight Zone by Barry Keith Grant (TV Milestones Series)

The Twilight Zone Barry Keith Grant book review

The Twilight Zone (TV Milestones Series)
by Barry Keith Grant
Wayne State University Press, 2020

Television has been a fantastic medium for bringing entertainment into the homes of Americans for decades. Beyond that, television has been a teacher to many. Many programs have included some sort of “moral to the story,” though that trend seems to have shifted in this day of so-called reality TV. One of the most enduring television shows of all-time is Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Barry Keith Grant, professor emeritus of film and popular culture at Brock University in Ontario, examines The Twilight Zone on a more scholarly level than most in his latest book, a part of Wayne State University Press’ “TV Milestone Series.”

Grant recognizes the fact that many books have already been published examining the series from many angles. His aim in this volume is “primarily on the interrelated questions of authorship, genre, style and ideology in the context of The Twilight Zone.” He touches not only on the issues of having a singular perspective guiding the narrative, but also the society in which the show aired, such as fears concerning the Cold War. I found his examination of Serling’s battle with sponsors one of the most interesting aspects of Grant’s book.

The impact of Rod Serling’s original run of The Twilight Zone is undeniable. The reason for the impact is telling: “The Twilight Zone explored the fringes of the fantastic but remained fixed in the familiar, and…revealed the monstrous within the normal and explored how thin the veneer of civilization in fact is.” With all apologies to Jordan Peele, it is doubtful anyone will ever produce a program with as much influence as Serling’s original The Twilight Zone.

Purchase The Twilight Zone (TV Milestones Series) by Barry Keith Grant.

Christmas gift ideas for your theologically-minded friends

Those who know me know how much I love God. I love to study His Word, and I love to study the writings of men who have a good grasp of the truth revealed in the Bible. Here are some books that will benefit students of God’s Word.

Apologetics Press Defending the Faith Study Bible

Christmas gift ideas for the baseball historians in your life

It’s that time of year. Get your shopping done early and don’t wait until the last minute to wrap them. Here’s the first installment of TWJ’s “Christmas gift ideas” 2019.

Cincinnati Red StockingsI love baseball history more than I like modern baseball. The Houston Astros will always be a National League team to me. Hank Aaron will always be the all-time home run king. And baseball card sets should have either 660 or 792 cards, released in one series, with an update set at the end of the year. I miss subsets and despise insert sets, just like Night Owl. I’m living in the past and I know it. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Here are some ideas for baseball fans in your life that are older than forty, that long for the purity of the pre-steroid era.

Books. Some of these books are old and some are new, so check your friend’s bookshelf before placing an order.

Apparel. You can’t go wrong with a good baseball cap or jersey.

Larkin
Baseball Cards. Did you know Amazon sells baseball cards?

Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of by J. David Herman (2019)

Almost Yankees book

Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and
the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of

by J. David Herman
University of Nebraska Press, 2019

Labor disputes should never happen in baseball, but they do. In 1981, the sport faced a work stoppage in the middle of the season, forcing Major League Baseball to cancel games and reconfigure the playoffs once the dispute was settled. However, the big league strike didn’t affect the Minor Leagues, and the Yankees’ talented AAA affiliate took advantage of the spotlight. Armed with a pitching staff that was, in the mind of pitching coach Sammy Ellis, “better…than half the teams in the Major Leagues,” the Columbus Clippers took the baseball world by storm by virtue of being the best team anyone could watch when the Major Leaguers walked out.

Author J. David Herman recounts the Clippers’ 1981 season and the magic that it brought local fans in Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of. The team, managed by Frank Verdi, was full of guys who would go on to enjoy varying degrees of success at the MLB level like Dave Righetti, Steve Balboni, and Pat Tabler. There were also names that are not as well-known to modern fans, such as John Pacella, Tucker Ashford, and the author’s hero, Marshall Brant.

Herman runs down the list, entertaining readers with stories from the players’ careers but focusing mostly on their 1981 adventures. He also writes about journalists Jack Torry (Citizen-Journal) and Jim Massie (Columbus Dispatch), trainer Mark “Rookie” Letendre, and the Yankees’ broadcast team of Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, Frank Messer, and Fran Healy. Interspersed in all of this are brief memories from the author’s youth, memories of him listening to games on the radio and receiving advice from his dad: “Take life where you find it.”

The Columbus Clippers headed to the International League’s postseason Governor’s Cup, but after six playoff games were called for weather, the IL declared the Clippers champions and ended the season. Herman turned his attention to the bigs, where the Yankees were battling opponents in the American League Division Series, AL Championship Series, and finally the World Series. He fast forwards in his own life to 1999, the Mariners’ first game at Safeco Field in Seattle. To 2007 and the passing of his mother as the Giants play the World Series. To 2013 and a visit with his dad in a nursing home, where he “recalls the feeling of the ballpark and of spending time there with his son,” singing the Columbus Clippers fight song. To 2017 and a more important game to the author than any the Clippers played in 1981—a game featuring his eight-year old son.

Baseball is magic, and Herman masterfully brings that magic to the page. If you want to revisit the innocence of falling in love with the game, read behind-the-scenes stories, learn about the guys that may have been household names in other organizations, pick up a copy and read Almost Yankees.

Purchase Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of by J. David Herman.

Random Awesomeness (part 2019.8)

Random Awesomeness

What I’m Reading Right Now: Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of by J. David Herman.
 


Purchase Reckless & Me by Kiefer Sutherland!
(Yes, that Kiefer Sutherland, a.k.a. Jack Bauer,
a.k.a. President Tom Kirkman, a.k.a. David Powers.)
 

The Return of Random Awesomeness (part 2019.1)

It has been nearly three years since my last “Random Awesomeness” post. Partly because I don’t blog as much as I used to, and partly because I don’t spend as much time on the internet as I used to. But there is still a lot of cool stuff to be found around the web, and things that I want to share with you that don’t naturally fit into my own blogposts. Each “Random Awesomeness” entry will feature seven or more links to some pretty rad stuff, so (obviously) I recommend checking them out. I usually include a music video of some sort and a link where you can buy the music (or something related to the video). New in 2019 is “What I’m Reading Right Now.” No spoilers, just a link to where you can buy the book I’m reading.

I don’t know how often I will publish a new list “Random Awesomeness”…maybe weekly? I’m really not sure. Be awesome, and you’ll probably end up on the list. Since this is the first post in almost three years, I decided to change up the top-of-post image as well, so without further ado

Random Awesomeness

What I’m Reading Right Now: Steelheart: The Reckoners, Book One by Brandon Sanderson.

Purchase Star Wars music by John Williams.

Inspirational Hits from MLB’s Best: Dugout Devotions by Del Duduit (2019)

Dugout Devotions

Inspirational Hits from MLB’s Best: Dugout Devotions
Del Duduit
148 pages
Iron Stream Books, 2019

Baseball’s regular season is right around the corner, and no other sport seems to lend itself to spiritual applications than America’s pastime. In this collection of thirty devotionals, Del Duduit and others collect stories from the diamond and relate them to one’s faith journey. The devotions are encouraging, and many of them would work well as illustrations in sermons.

Like any book, there are positive and negative aspects in Dugout Devotions. There is a proper emphasis on the importance of relying on the Word rather than just feelings (2 Timothy 3:16-17). However, there is the contradictory mention of a player who thought the Lord “tapped…him on the shoulder.” In another place, a devotional makes reference to the reader “really feel(ing) God calling you to go on (a mission) trip,” and another talks of a player “receiv(ing) a divine call” about human trafficking.

Many of the entries end with a section called “Step Up To The Plate,” offering suggestions how one might apply the lessons from the devotion. Bible study, prayer, and attendance to worship services are often among the recommendations.

While there are several devotions that discuss a player’s decision to give his life to Christ, there is no mention of how that is done. When one reads the book of Acts and the epistles, the conversion process is on display: one becomes a Christian by hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17), believing it (Romans 10:9-10), repenting of sin (Acts 3:19), confessing one’s belief (Acts 8:37), and being immersed for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). With so much confusion in the religious world, it would be prudent to include such information in any religious book. One cannot decide for himself how he comes to God; only God can tell us how to do that, and He does tell us in His Word.

For readers who are grounded in the truth, these devotions can be encouraging. One must always be careful, though, regardless of the writer, to consistently verify what man writes with what God has revealed. There are a lot of people with good intentions that will end up on the wrong team in eternity because they trusted in man without turning to God’s Word (Matthew 7:13-23).

The writers of the devotions are Del Duduit, Michelle Medlock Adams, Ryan Farr, Beckie Lindsey, Scott McCausey, Clint Rutledge, and Cyle Young. The major leaguer players, coaches, and executives featured are Brian Dozier, Albert Pujols, Ben Zobrist, Clayton Kershaw, Francisco Lindor, Aaron Judge, Andrew McCutchen, Andy Pettitte, Michael Lorenzen, Tony Graffanino, R.A. Dickey, Mike Sarbaugh, Adam Wainwright, Cody Allen, Jim Morris, Mike Matheny, Blaine Boyer, Mike Rikard, Tim Martin, Matt Carpenter, and Adam Frazier.

Click here to purchase Dugout Devotions by Del Duduit.

Off-season reading material

Baseball greats get book deals, right? With the Hall of Fame class now set for 2019, I thought I would take a look at books that focus on those players’ careers. I was surprised to find that only on of the six has an autobiography already in print, and only one other has an announced release date for later this year.
Edgar

I’m not sure there would be much demand for a Lee Smith tell-all, or even a Harold Baines bio (although I would be interested in that one). Mike Mussina‘s humble disposition will probably prevent an autobiography from him. I heard an interesting story, and I don’t remember if it was on MLB Network’s coverage or elsewhere. Mussina tanked a grade in school so he wouldn’t be valedictorian. He didn’t want the spotlight.

There are a handful of Roy Halladay books geared toward younger readers:

Time will tell if a fuller examination of Halladay’s life will be offered, or if biographies of Smith, Baines, or Mussina will pop up.

Christmas gift ideas for bookworms

Darth Vader reads to Luke Skywalker

I’m glad I can read. So many books published over the years have made an impact on me, both as a child and as an adult, it would be impossible to list them all. I recommend starting a library, however small, of books that you love and add to it at least once a year (more if possible). If you have small children, start a library for them with Dr. Suess and Curious George and Little Golden Books. If you have grade school kids, grab some Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books. For high schoolers…well, good luck. I’m blessed with children who love to read, but I know others really struggle getting teens to sit down with a book.

Take a look at the list below. Some of these suggestions are for younger readers, while others are intended for more mature minds. What is missing from your library? What books would you add to the list?

Books

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