Category Archives: books
Characters from the Diamond: Wild Events, Crazy Antics, and Unique Tales from Early Baseball by Ronald T. Waldo (2016)
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
Characters from the Diamond
by Ronald T. Waldo
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016
Baseball, at its root, is a game, it’s meant to be enjoyed and to have fun. It’s hard to remember that as the great game of baseball has turned into a business that turns many fans away. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and be reminded about how much fun the game of baseball can be? Fun yet played at the highest level?
In Characters from the Diamond: Wild Events, Crazy Antics, and Unique Tales from Early Baseball, you will be reminded of how much fun this game can be. Focusing on the late 19th century and early 20th century, author Ronald T. Waldo does a great job of telling funny stories about those that made the game so great. From players’ high jinx on the field, to fiery managers and hot headed umpires, you will be captivated by stories that will make you laugh and show you how the pioneers of baseball had fun playing the game.
Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family by Bret Book and Kevin Cook (2016)
Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family
by Bret Book and Kevin Cook
Crown Archetype, 2016
Being the son of a major leaguer must be daunting, with athletic expectations high. Being a third-generation ballplayer, especially when no one ever followed both their father and grandfather into the professional ranks before, the pressure had to be immense. But not for Bret Boone, who was not satisfied to have a famous last name. He wanted to prove that he belonged, and not just a feel-good story for the media.
In Home Game, Boone admits that he regrets the way he approached his big league debut. He should have given more credit to his grandfather, Ray Boone, and father, Bob Boone, both who had solid careers. Ray led the league in RBI and was an All-Star; Bob showed him up by becoming one of the greatest defensive catchers in the game and making multiple All-Star Games. Bret carried on the tradition of family excellence, leading the league in RBI like his grandfather and becoming a stalwart defensive second baseman and All-Star in his own right. And he was not alone; he was joined by his brother Aaron Boone at the top level of professional baseball.
Boone honors his heritage, showing respect to his late grandfather and his father, relating a handful of stories that were passed down to him. He tells about growing up in the Phillies clubhouse, getting batting tips from Mike Schmidt, and later, when his dad was with the Angels, playing catch with Reggie Jackson. He discusses his disappointment in being drafted so low out of high school, and in not being drafted until the fifth round after a few years at USC. He recalls his time in the minor leagues and his struggle to get to Seattle, where he butted heads with Lou Piniella at first. He also tells of the hazing he endured from Jay Buhner, and the friendship that developed as he handled it in stride.
Boone mentions the allegations made by Jose Canseco, denying that he ever took steroids and stating emphatically that their supposed conversation at second base never happened. In his denial, Boone does admit to using greenies, but says of those who claim ignorance when steroids are found in their system, “It’s your job to know what’s in your body. It’s your job to stay clean and test clean.”
There is some foul language throughout—not as much as some autobiographies contain, but it is present. Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family is a good behind-the-scenes look at the game, covering three generations of All-Star baseball. Aside from the Boones, there is mention of Ted Williams, Pete Rose, Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Ken Griffey, and Barry Larkin, among others. It may be some time before we see another three-generational All-Star family, and this peek inside the family tradition of the Boones is well worth the read.
God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen
by Mitchell Nathanson
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016
One of the most polarizing players of the 1960s and 70s, Dick Allen never seemed to be happy. He had enormous talent, but he did not believe he received the respect he deserved. He faced racism, bad press, hecklers, and more during his career, and made plenty of enemies along the way. In this new biography by Mitchell Nathanson, those events are chronicled and put into historical context in the best possible way, using newspaper articles and archived interviews as the primary source for information, with newer interviews conducted to flesh things out when needed. Allen himself declined to participate in the interview process, but the quality of reporting throughout his career served to paint a portrait of the oft disgruntled star.
There is very little to criticize in this book as far as the writing goes; Nathanson deals with the material honestly and openly, not shying away from the negativity that always seemed to surround Allen. My primary criticism would be with the title, God Almighty Hisself. Not knowing the context, one might assume that Allen referred to himself in such a way. The quote from which the title is taken actually refers to the troublesome nature of dealing with the player, with a former manager quipping, “I believed God Almighty hisself would have trouble handling Richie Allen.” As such, the book should have been titled differently.
Overall, however, this biography of Dick Allen is an enjoyable read, shedding light on the surly superstar who often held out for more money, was frequently traded, and was dismissed all too soon by the voters for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani (2016)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two
introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani
Abrams ComicArts, 2016
Many fans of the greatest space opera contend that the best film of the series is Episode V, better known as The Empire Strikes Back. It is fitting, then, that the book chronicling Topps trading cards for the film exceeds the initial volume in quality. The creative driving force behind the design and writing of the cards, Gary Gerani, tells the process of meeting with LucasFilm executives to read the script and select images for the cards. The movie’s big reveal was kept secret from Topps at the time; Gerani recalls the first time he learned of Darth Vader’s familial relationship with Luke Skywalker was when he saw the film in Manhattan.
Initially, Gernai and Topps were told they could not use Yoda in their set, as he was a “mysterious creative element” that George Lucas and Irvin Kershner wanted to keep him a surprise for the public. Lucas eventually relented, and Yoda is prominently displayed on several cards in the series. Gerani wrote the copy for many of the cards, making up dialogue that fit with several of the characters’ personalities.
In addition to the reproductions of all three series of cards, front and back, the book also features images of sell sheets, packaging, stickers, and the 30-card set of giant photocards. Also, as in the first volume, actual promotional trading cards are also including with the hard copy purchase. In addition to that, Topps has included a code for a free pack of digital trading cards on their Star Wars Card Trader app.
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life by Ron Darling with Daniel Paisner (2016)
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life
by Ron Darling with Daniel Paisner
St. Martin’s Press, 2016
Imagine yourself as the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series, and your team wins…what an absolute thrill that must be, right? Ron Darling experienced it in 1986, the Mets and Red Sox tied up 3-3 in the Series, and at the end of the night as he celebrated the victory with his teammates, one thought cast a shadow over the pandemonium: “Wishing like crazy I could forget how it started.”
Darling had long dreamed of this day, though in his childhood fantasies he was on the mound for Boston, not New York. His outing did not turn out the way he had pictured it; in less than four innings, he gave up six hits and three earned runs. He was pulled for Sid Fernandez, who gave way to winning pitcher Roger McDowell and closer Jesse Orosco. The team won, but Darling didn’t. Most players don’t write books about their biggest disappointments, but Darling did.
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life recounts Darling’s preparation for the game, his pre-game ritual which had to be repeated on Monday because of the Sunday night weather cancellation, a vague death threat, notes about the batters he faced in those three and two-thirds innings, and the opposing pitcher Bruce Hurst. Darling touches very briefly on the recklessness of the team off the field, including the night in Houston he was arrested for punching an off-duty police officer outside a bar. But those are passing references; the focus of this book is on Game 7.
While the team won, Darling writes, “I’ve had thirty years to deal with the disappointment of my Game 7 performance.” Despite the victory, he believed he let the team and the city down because he could not shut down the Red Sox bats in the first few innings. He also reflects on the wasted talent of the team, believing that they should have done more, particularly Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Considering their talent, they should have been all-time greats, and Darling writes that “the further away I am from my playing days, the more I resent how they squandered their gifts.”
The 1986 team was a special collection of players, one that will always be remembered both for their dominance and their arrogance. Darling’s recounting of the final game of the World Series is a good reminder that it didn’t always go their way, but in the end, they were able to pull off the championship.
There are certain resource materials that every writer must possess in his arsenal, including a dependable dictionary and thesaurus. Words are the building blocks of language, and a dictionary and thesaurus will assist in putting one’s thoughts together in an understandable manner. Whether one is using those words appropriately, however, is another matter. In his massive Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition, linguist Bryan Garner addresses the proper way to put words together.
In addition to more than 6,000 entries on grammar, syntax, punctuation, style, and more, Garner addresses the battle between prescriptive linguists and descriptive linguists. Prescribers are known to suggest how language should be used, while describers simply observe and report on how it is used. Garner falls more into the prescriptive camp, though he concedes there are some battles lost long ago that should not be resurrected. Garner does report on how language is used, utilizing modern tools such as Google’s ngrams to make this one of the most reliable linguistic guides ever, but he does not shy away from denouncing improper usage when needed.
As a resource, Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition is a valuable tool. Not as indispensable as a standard dictionary or thesaurus, but it is a fantastic tool that can be used to give one’s writing more accuracy.
The most recent update to OxfordDictionaries.com sees a host of new words added from the worlds of politics, popular culture, and social media. You can see ten highlights from the update below. In each case, clicking on the word will take you through to the word’s new dictionary entry, where you can see full definitions, example sentences, and more.
autocorreck verb (of software) cause (text) to contain mistakes by means of an autocorrect or autocomplete function: “I wrote a great text to her, but ‘love’ was autocorrecked to ‘move’.”
[Blend of autocorrect and wreck]
parrotocracy noun a hypothetical society governed by people selected according to their ability to repeat slogans and soundbites mechanically, or to repeat or steal the policies and ideas of others: “Heaven help us if we end up with a parrotocracy.”
[from parrot and -cracy]
reply-gall noun the perceived impudence of an individual who sends an email response to everyone addressed in the original message: “His reply-gall became infamous after he sent an 1800-word response to a company-wide announcement.”
[from reply + gall after reply-all]
Instayam noun a Thanksgiving photograph shared on social media: “Before we ate, we had to send an Instayam.”
[blend of Instagram and yam]
Leo verb to achieve something after years of trying: “I feel like I’ve Leoed this morning; I finally passed my driving test.”
[from the name of Leonardo DiCaprio, with allusion to his winning the 2016 Academy Award for Best Actor after six unsuccessful nominations.]
fanishment noun the state of being blocked by a celebrity on social media: “Steve’s fanishment was inevitable after he tweeted at the star footballer 1000 times in a single day.”
[blend of fan and banishment]
Obamacar noun (humorous) a hypothetical scheme under which current President of the United States Barack Obama would provide free cars for every citizen in America: “Republican commentators cracked wise about the so-called Obamacar.”
[from Obama + car, after Obamacare]
otter café noun a café or similar establishment where people pay to interact with otters housed on the premises: “Locals are already excited by the prospect of the area’s first otter café.”
LOYO abbreviation laughing on your own (used online in reply to a joke that others have not found amusing): “A better joke next time, please. LOYO.”
social fleedia noun a situation in which one or more social media users choose to close their accounts: “Commentators are seeing a huge rise in millennials encouraging social fleedia.”
“Social media continues to be a vital and constantly evolving catalyst for linguistic innovation,” says Richard Snary, a lexicographer at Oxford Dictionaries. “We’re recognizing this with words which specifically reference these sites, such as Instayam, fanishment, and social fleedia, but Twitter also accounts for much of our corpus data for Obamacar, LOYO, and the verb to Leo. In two of these examples, we’re seeing how the creation and sharing of memes relating to a specific public figure can quickly gain traction and help a coinage enter the language – and our language monitoring programme is uniquely placed to observe and record these changes.”
[JT sez: I think they have gone too far this time. When will the idiocy stop?]
Legends of Giants Baseball by Mike Shannon, illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard (2016)
Legends of Giants Baseball
by Mike Shannon
illustrated by Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard
Black Squirrel Books (an imprint of the Kent State University Press), 2016
Name the top five Giants players—New York or San Francisco—in baseball history. Most can easily rattle off a handful of names: Christy Mathewson, Mel Ott, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and of course Willie Mays. And while these Hall of Famers are profiled in Mike Shannon’s new book, Legends of Giants Baseball, the author is not content to stop there. Forty players are presented, ten each from 1883-1925, 1926-1950, 1951-1975, and 1976-2015. Baseball fans can dig deep with Tim Keefe, Sal Maglie, Jim Davenport, and even recent players such as Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.
Of course, Barry Bonds is included as well, but Shannon does not gloss over the slugger’s sins. He writes, “It is truly a shame that his is not a simple story of baseball greatness but a cautionary tale of jealousy, arrogance, unbridled ambition, and dishonesty.” All can certainly agree that the numbers are astounding, but the path to his final career totals was fraught with controversy.
As with Shannon’s Cincinnati Reds Legends from last year, Legends of Giants Baseball is infinitely enhanced by the artistic talents of Chris Felix, Scott Hannig, and Donnie Pollard. My favorite portraits are Hannig’s depictions of Ott and Jack Clark, each done in a different style.
The names on any list of legends will change depending on the writer and the time the list was created, but the artwork on Legends of Giants Baseball makes this a must-have not only for Giants fans, but for all baseball fans.
Nearly everyone recognizes how important the Woodstock festival is in the fabric of American rock music; few, however, understand the significance of the actual town Woodstock. Of course, the festival was not held in the town, but the creative output from the town is undeniable when viewed through the lens of history. The subtitle of Barney Hoskyns’ latest book, Small Town Talk, lists the major players that decided to “get it together in the county”: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. But there were others, such as Paul Butterfield and Todd Rundgren.
Hoskyns collects memories and anecdotes from the atmosphere of the 1960s, based on numerous first-hand interviews, telling tales of the legends of folk rock. So much of the art that was imagined there was pure and honest, and has impacted and continues to impact the world for generations since. Fans of the sixties music scene, especially the brilliance of Dylan, will enjoy this history of the time.
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man
by William Shatner with David Fisher
Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
The entertainment industry lost an icon in 2015 when Leonard Nimoy passed away, but his impact and work will be forever remembered. His close friend and co-star on many Star Trek projects, William Shatner, delivers a touching memoir in Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man. Shatner shares several stories that will bring a smile to the reader’s face, whether he is a “Trekkie” or not.
While the majority of the book deals with the time Nimoy and Shatner spent together on Star Trek, as well as an examination of the Spock character, the actor was so much more. He was a fighter for the benefits of his fellow actors, standing up to Filmation when they attempted to create a Star Trek cartoon without George Takei and Nichelle Nichols. Filmation relented, because, as Shatner writes, “They company had no choice; without Leonard or me, there was no Star Trek.” Shatner also recalls Nimoy’s time as director of a couple of the Star Trek films and Three Men and a Baby. Mention is made of the Golden Throats recordings, and the emergence of Star Trek conventions is given a fair amount of ink. Shatner also touches on Nimoy’s alcoholism and the negative effects that it had on his life.
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man is a story of true friendship, ups and downs, good and bad. There is nothing scintillating or derogatory, nor does it seem to be a cash-grab designed to capitalize on the late actor’s relatively recent passing. It is an honest, heartfelt remembrance of a man that touched the lives of many through his work in film and television.