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We Got To Play Baseball' a solid hit

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Collection offers 60 stories from behind baseball's scenes

Of all the major American professional sports, perhaps none carries as much reverence and respect for its own history as baseball. It is a game built generationally, each era constructed on the foundation of the one that came before it.

It is also a game that comes to life not just through its numbers, but through its stories. That's what makes a book like 'We Got To Play Baseball' (Strategic Book Publishing, $15.95) such an engaging read.

The book, co-authored by Ocean Palmer and former major league pitcher Gregg Olson, offers 60 stories of the game from the men who were there. Olson offers plenty of his own stories, but there are also anecdotes from players and managers from across the spectrum. You've got guys who had the proverbial cup of coffee just a brief time in the majors as well as players who had lengthy careers and even a few Hall of Famers. The end result is a wealth of wonderful, fun stories from men whose respective times in the bigs ran the gamut.

A lot of these stories focus on moments that happened on the field. For instance, former Kansas City Royals third baseman and Hall of Famer George Brett relates the story of the legendary Pine Tar Game in his own words. It's a wonderful piece of baseball history related by the man who was at its center. On the other side of the coin, there's a great story from Rex Hudler (one of several from the journeyman) about being on the field for the game in which Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record.

However, the highlights of the book tend to be more about the camaraderie off the field. Pranks and hijinks tend to be at the center of a lot of these tales. These are men who play a child's game for a living; it would stand to reason that they would derive pleasure from certain childlike behaviors. One of the first stories in the book is called 'Mr. Jello.' It's the tale of an elaborate prank played on Seattle Mariners manager Rene Lachemann over the course of the 1982 season. Three of the primary culprits Larry Andersen, Joe Simpson, Tracy Ringolsby each offer their perspective on the wonderfully over-the-top prank that wound up becoming a major bonding force for the team.

Other goofy stories involve tales of legendary hotfeet (I'm frankly unsure of what the plural of 'hotfoot' is, but I took a swing) and water fights. While there are stories from a wide array of players, guys like Jim Abbott, Doug DeCinces, Goose Gossage and co-author Olson offer multiple tales.

The majority of these anecdotes span a timeframe from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s. In a way, this was sort of a Golden Era for these kinds of stories it was a time when player compensation was growing, but had not yet become the economic monolith that it is today. It was also a time before the 24/7 sports media machine had sapped the color out of the game. It was a time when baseball players were still allowed to be colorful characters as opposed to spouters of bland platitudes and clichs.

'We Got To Play Baseball' is a great book for any baseball fan especially fans with an appreciation for the game's history. While a few of the stories could be considered clunkers, for the most part there's a lot of fun to be had here; it's the kind of peek behind the curtain that you don't see enough of these days.

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