by Michael Baumann
Sports Publishing, 2014
Every city that fields professional sports teams takes pride in the greatest players on those teams. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, are fortunate enough to have professional teams in multiple sports. Michael Baumann makes it his task to identify the “most amazing athletes to play in the city of Brotherly Love” in Philadelphia Phenoms. Whether wearing the uniform of the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, or Flyers, there is no shortage of athletic prowess in Philadelphia.
There are some very obvious selections: Mike Schmidt, Julius Erving, Reggie White, and Wilt Chamberlain are all present. Older stars that may be overlooked by younger fans, such as Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, and Chuck Bednarik are also discussed. The most interesting chapter, however, focuses on the Phillies’ current second baseman, Chase Utley.
Baumann makes a compelling argument for including Utley rather than his contemporaries Jimmy Rollins or Ryan Howard. According to Baumann, Utley is among the ten best athletes in Philadelphia history, one of the ten best second basemen ever in all of baseball, and the second-best Philadelphia position player behind Schmidt. Part of the author’s argument stems from the fact that Utley does everything well, but does not particularly stand out in any one area. However, from 2005-2009, Utley has the second-best WAR in the National League (five points behind Albert Pujols), and is a full 12.3 points ahead of third-place David Wright. Baumann writes that “it’s utterly bizarre for a player like Utley, someone who played for good teams in a big media market, got his jersey dirty, played hard, and posted spectacular seasons to be underrated, but here we are.” It will be interesting to see how Hall of Fame voters deal with Chase Utley’s career when it comes time to decide whether he belongs in Cooperstown.
Philadelphia Phenoms is, first and foremost, a book for fans of the teams and players in that city. However, general sports fans will also find some interesting anecdotes and conversation starters in Baumann’s writing.
More than Beards, Bellies and Biceps: The Story of the 1993 Phillies (And the Phillie Phanatic Too) by Bob Gordon and Tom Burgoyne (2013)
More than Beards, Bellies and Biceps: The Story of the 1993 Phillies
(And the Phillie Phanatic Too)
by Bob Gordon and Tom Burgoyne
Sports Publishing, 2013
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
The 1993 Phillies were one of many good teams to fall short of winning a title but they were truly one of a kind. They didn’t have any superstars, just a bunch of guys who played the game hard, with heart and left it all on the field. In More than Beards, Bellies and Biceps, authors Bob Gordon and Tom Burgoyne take a behind the scenes look at the 1993 Phillies, a team that lost the World Series that year in heartbreaking fashion. Readers also get a unique behind the scenes look at the Phillie Phanatic, the most popular mascot in the game.
The Phanatic has been pulling pranks and making fans laugh—or making them angry—since April 25, 1978, and you get to hear all about what went into making the Phanatic successful from the men who brought life to the green suit. As you read through the stories of the 1993 Phillies, stories about the Phanatic keep popping up when you least expect it, just like real life! The players had just as much fun as the Phanatic, from John Kruk, Darren Daulton and Curt Schilling to Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, you will learn about the players’ approach to the game and that season and how it led to their success. Even if you are not a Phillies fan, More than Beards, Bellies and Biceps is a great read—not just for baseball fans, but for anyone who likes to laugh and can relate to people who have been written off by others but are able to rise to success.
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.
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.