Boys of Summer Reading: Summer Grab Bag
Sean McNally reviews selections from his baseball bookshelf, including Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won.
The summer is slow time. Time for family vacations. Time for lazy Saturday
afternoons, curled up with a ballgame on in the background and sometimes, a
good baseball book in the foreground.
If you are like me, your first stop when you walk into your local Barnes &
Noble or Borders is the sports section, and specifically the baseball section.
Baseball tends to lend itself to prose, more so than any other sport it seems.
Over the next few weeks and months, the Baseball Think Factory staff hope to
take you through some of the titles out there and offer some guidance in this
increasingly crowded area of the bookstore.
The Bad Guys Won!
Author: Jeff Pearlman
Most of us will remember Pearlman as the Sports Illustrated writer who penned
the piece John Rocker wishes we’d all just forget. The magazine writing
style suits Pearlman well, who seemed to craft each chapter as a magazine cover
story. This makes this in my mind a perfectly crafted book for summer reading.
A chapter here, a chapter there and bang, you are done.
The book covers one of the most intriguing teams of the last half-century, the
1986 New York Mets, a team that the books subhead calls: “the rowdiest
team ever to put on a New York uniform—and maybe the best.”
In reading any book, it is important to consider the author’s biases,
or potential biases. Pearlman tells us in the forward and on the book’s
promotional Web site (http://www.thebadguyswon.com) that he grew up a Mets fan,
idolizing the members of that 1986 club. Pearlman also reveals that he left
Sports Illustrated in 1993, disillusioned with baseball. These biases help explain
some of the reverence with which he writes about the team and its members.
That isn’t to say Pearlman goes easy on the team. In the book, some of
the players (namely Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden) come out looking very,
A lot of folks in sabermetric circles will look at Gooden’s record after
his first two years, point to high pitch counts and say that was a big strike
against him. The book suggests that Gooden’s well-known bouts with drugs
started sometime during the 1986 season, and were the reason that Doc was notably
absent from the post-World Series victory parade and rally.
Darryl, by the book’s account was a decent enough guy – when he
wanted to be, which wasn’t all that often. I never was a huge Strawberry
fan, even when he was with the other New York team, and I guess my instincts
All in all, for me, this book passes both my tests. It was a brisk, enjoyable
read, but more importantly, I learned some things about team I thought I knew
about. Among them, despite claims to the contrary, Kevin Mitchell likes cats;
even the clubhouse manager for the Mets thought Game Six was lost because he
changed into a Boston jacket and was ready to charge out onto the field and
that the fact the team didn’t win more was as much a testament to bad
management (trading Kevin Mitchell, among other moves) as was to wasted talent
(see: Gooden, Dwight and Strawberry, Darryl).
On the whole, The Bad Guys Won! gets a Primate, not a Milo and would be a fine
addition to any collection.
Author: Brian McDonald
McDonald is probably best known as the author of My Father’s Gun, a historical
memoir of three generations of New York City police officers, but in this tome,
he takes a crack at baseball and the tragic tale of Louis Francis Sockalexis.
The book is a stark contrast from the easy reading The Bad Guys Won! in that
it reads like a history book. Which isn’t to say it isn’t engaging,
it’s just, well, heavy.
The story, perhaps unfamiliar to some, is of one Louis Sockalexis – an
Adonis-like Penobscot Indian from Maine, who first patrolled the outfield of
Holy Cross College, then for the Cleveland franchise of the National League.
For part of one season, Sock played like he was the toolsiest of five-tool ballplayers.
His throws, his speed and even his prodigious home runs (even in the deadball
1890s) were the stuff of legend and myth. He hit .338 and legged out eight triples
in his 66 games for Cleveland in 1897.
However, Sock, much like Gooden and Strawberry, frittered away his talent in
Cleveland’s many saloons. In 1898, he slumped badly and was out of the
majors for good by the next year.
McDonald does a good job putting Native American-government relations in perspective,
which helps the narrative, but doesn’t do much to lighten the read.
Not knowing Sockalexis’ story before I read it, I did learn quite a bit
(for instance, McDonald makes the case that the Indians moniker now tied to
the Cleveland franchise is a result of Sockalexis’ short time at League
Park) but as I said before, I certainly wouldn’t call it an easy read.
For history buffs, and especially for those Primates who frequent the Hall of
Merit, I would recommend this title, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling
it a must-read. It gets a Milo, but just barely… it could be Primate for
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown
Authors: Mickey McDermott with Howard Eisenberg
Ever had that book you liked to read, but never could find the time to finish?
Well for me, this was it – except, I finished it.
A Funny Thing is a very light, very funny (except for the last chapter,
in which McDermott does some soul bearing to the reader) look at one of the
games great characters – one Maurice McDermott.
The quote on the top of the book probably says more about McDermott than anything
in the book: “The two greatest athletes I ever saw play baseball were
Ted Williams and Mickey McDermott.” ~ Warren Spahn.
In his own words, McDermott was an all-world talent. He was a left-handed power
pitcher, who also hit for power, and on top of all that… he was the funniest,
wittiest, drinkingest guy in the room. And those last three – particularly
that last one did in his career.
It was a career that took him from the heights of success – capped off
by an 18-win season for Boston in 1953 as a 24-year-old in which his ERA (3.01)
matched his batting average (.301) – to washing out before his 30th birthday.
Mickey writes pretty candidly about his drinking, which in his mind, and perhaps
in fact, was one of many things that kept him from achieving baseball immortality.
McDermott died last August – he reportedly told his wife he was dying
a publicity stunt for his book.
The book is a solid read, though the first-person style can take some getting
used to, and I’d recommend it without reservation.
As a sidelight, I suspect Mickey would fit right in on the ’86 Mets. It
gets a Primate.
The Summer that Saved Baseball
Authors: Brad Null and David Kaval
An oldie (published in 2001), but a quickie. This is a great road trip book,
mostly because it’s about a road trip. More specifically, a road trip
most of us wish we had taken. Thirty ballparks in 38 days.
Null and Kaval scam, borrow and scrounge their way from San Francisco to Kansas
City, by way of the other 28 major league cities and Cooperstown.
Its not a high-stress book, nor is it going to look great and impressive on
your shelf or coffee table – but is a, for lack of a better word, cute
book. One could easily blow off an afternoon of yard work reading this by the
pool or on the way to the ballpark.
Posted: May 29, 2004 at 02:10 PM | 5 comment(s)
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