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.
Willie & Me
by Dan Gutman
Most baseball fans are familiar with “the shot heard ’round the world.” Bobby Thomson launched a Ralph Branca pitch for a home run in 1951 to win the pennant for the New York Giants, while rookie Willie Mays watched from the on-deck circle. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Thomson walked, and Mays came to bat? Dan Gutman explores that possibility in his latest “Baseball Card Adventure” book, featuring time-traveling fourteen-year old Joe Stoshack.
Those familiar with Gutman’s previous “Baseball Card Adventure” books know that Stosh always has the best intentions when he travels to the past, looking to right some wrong or prevent some tragedy. He has visited Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray Chapman, Roberto Clemente, and Jackie Robinson, among other legendary characters in the story of baseball’s history. Willie & Me is the twelfth and (unfortunately) finally installment in the series, and for the first time a living player is the titular character. However, Mays does not play a major role in this book himself, unlike former “Baseball Card Adventures.” He is featured very briefly, but because of Stosh’s interference with the game in 1951, history changes when Stosh returns home. Distraught by the changes, he decides he must change history again, returning to 1951 a second time.
The series is written for a younger audience, primarily boys aged 8-12, but adult baseball fans who enjoy time travel fantasy will get a kick out of these books as well. Gutman does an excellent job in describing the era to which his young character travels, and is faithful (for the most part) to baseball history in his stories. I am sad to see this series end, but have truly enjoyed traveling through time with Joe Stoshack on his adventures.
If you didn’t say Willie Mays, you have a problem.
Far and away the greatest, the Say Hey Kid scores 376.79, an astounding 88.25 points greater than Ken Griffey (#2, 288.54). Despite his fall from grace in Cincinnati, The Kid’s time in Seattle carried him through his subpar (for him) years in a Reds uniform. Coming in hot on The Kid’s heels is Detroit legend and all-around nice guy Ty Cobb (#3, 287.74). When awards and All-Star appearances are removed from the equation, Mays still comes out on top, but Cobb and Griffey flip-flop in rankings.
Perhaps it was overexposure from Topps over the past decade or so, but I have always felt Mickey Mantle was overrated. After his numbers are entered into the spreadsheet, though, he does rank #4 among center fielders (286.61), very close to Cobb’s score. I do wish I could have seen Mantle play in person. The few videos I have watched are impressive.
Following Mantle is his Yankee predecessor, Joe DiMaggio (#5, 269.14) and early twentieth century Red Sox/Indians star Tris Speaker. A contract dispute led to Speaker’s departure from Boston, and continued even after joining the Indians. He was forced to enlist the help of AL President Ban Johnson to collect money he believed was owed to him. Times haven’t changed all the much, have they?
Rounding out the top ten are Andruw Jones (#7, 227.79), Carlos Beltran (#8, 213.26), Duke Snider (#9, 211.38), and Dale Murphy (#10, 209.29). Hack Wilson, the National League’s own Babe Ruth, is way down on the list (#32, 155.98). In 1930, he set the National League record with 56 home runs, a record that stood for almost seven decades. That same season he drove in 191 runs; even in the steroid-fueled era, that record has never been seriously challenged. Wilson’s career was a short twelve seasons, though, purportedly cut short by excessive drinking and subsequent fighting.
Two Hall of Fame managers, three Hall of Fame players, and one of Houston’s first star players make up the retired #24’s in the majors.
Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinals
Herzog, whose full name is Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog, led the Cards to the World Series title in 1982 and NL Pennants in 1985 and 1987. He finished with a .530 winning percentage for the Cardinals from 1980 to 1990. He was named NL Manager of the Year in 1985, edging out Pete Rose by one point, and finished 3rd for the award in 1987 behind Montreal’s Buck Rodgers and the Giants’ Roger Craig.
Jimmy Wynn, Houston Colt .45’s/Astros
Rickey Henderson, Oakland A’s
Tony Perez, Cincinnati Reds
Walter Alston, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers
Willie Mays, New York/San Francisco Giants