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Primate Studies
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Saturday, May 29, 2004

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,   very bad.
 
  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   were right.
 
  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.


  Indian Summer
  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   some readers.
 

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.
 
  Another Primate.

Sean McNally Posted: May 29, 2004 at 03:10 PM | 5 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Neil Posted: May 31, 2004 at 06:59 AM (#652140)
I'd be curious to know what other more famous books (or even movies) you'd put a Milo on.
   2. Neil Posted: May 31, 2004 at 07:01 AM (#652141)
Aii - I forget to mention - nice job in the reviews! I look forward to reading Pearlman's book, and now am going to pick up The Summer that Saved Baseball.

Thanks for the reviews!
   3. Toolsy McClutch Posted: May 31, 2004 at 01:25 PM (#652157)
It might be a neat idea if we had a general 'Books' section where Primates could comment on the merits of certain tomes. I could use some recommendations for other older stuff.
   4. Sean McNally Posted: June 01, 2004 at 07:20 PM (#653444)
Thanks for the kind words guys.

I have some other books that are in the "To Be Reviewed" queue, so be on the look out for more in the "Boys of Summer Reading" series.

Also, to Pfizer's point, if anyone is interested in setting up a type of "book swap" where folks can trade their old books for someone else's, please send me an email.
   5. shoomee Posted: June 04, 2004 at 07:39 AM (#658465)
Someone (Terry Pluto's "Curse of Rocky Colavito") makes the case that the Cleveland team was known as the Naps after playing managers Nap Lajoie. When he was traded after the 1914 season, they settled on Indians because the Boston NL team had changed their name from Rustlers (owner in 1913 was named Russell) to Braves (new owner was affiliated with NYC Tammany Hall wing of Democratic party, who believed in the benefits of honest grat) and won a world series with new nickname. Team nicknames were rather informal back then. Some people held out for Napless Naps. Louis Sockalexis was a good player briefly and no one was specifically thinking of him. It's been a long time since anyone changed nicknames, well franchise shifts in 50s,60,70s. Phillies were known as Blue Jays in 1940s and Braves were sometimes called Bees.

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