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One of the most influential authors in the history of sports writing has died.

Jim Bouton, author of the seminal baseball book “Ball Four,” passed away last week at the age of 80. He was a tireless evangelist for the game that he loved … even during the decades in which his book meant that the game didn’t love him back.

“Ball Four” hit bookstores in 1970, a book that explored the world of major league baseball from the inside in a manner utterly unlike anything the public had ever seen. Bouton’s voice was brutally honest and hilariously funny, exposing readers to the true inner workings of the game for the first time.

What separated “Ball Four” from the sports-related books that preceded it was that honesty. Bouton pulled back the curtain of mythology that had long surrounded the game and its players. This book was not saccharine feel-good pap or legend-building. There was none of the hagiography or cronyism that marked baseball writing to that point. It showed fans the truth, warts and all.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 02 July 2019 22:56

A baseball fiction starting nine

Baseball is the most literary of sports.

There are any number of possible reasons – the pastoral origins of the game, the gentle pace, the devotion to history, the lauded figures of the past – but it’s tough to argue that of all our shared athletic endeavors, baseball is the one that has inspired the most ink to be spilled.

Fictional exploration of the game has been going on for decades, with some of the most gifted writers of numerous generations choosing to introduce baseball into their pages. Some use it as a tertiary or tangential element, while others use it as a story’s centralizing, guiding force.

And so, in honor of the upcoming All-Star Game and the full-on onset of summer, here’s a list of a few works of baseball fiction. Some are well-known works, while others are more marginal. It’s far from an exhaustive list – there’s far more great stuff out there – but here’s a lineup’s worth to get you started.

Published in Sports

No American sport is as enamored of its own history quite like baseball. Even as today’s players take the field, the shadows of those who came before are omnipresent. Baseball is as much about what was as it is about what is.

But there are some moments that transcend even the game’s historical affection. These are the times that make the leap from history to legend, the instances and accomplishments that are the foundation of baseball’s long and intricate mythology.

Kevin Cook’s “Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink” (Henry Holt and Co., $28) is a thorough exploration of one such instance, a single game in 1979 that wound up as one of the greatest offensive explosions in the history of Major League Baseball. That game – a May 17 contest that saw the Chicago Cubs play host to the Philadelphia Phillies – ultimately went 10 innings, with a final score of Phillies 23, Cubs 22; it was the highest scoring game of the modern era.

(It was second only in MLB history to a 1922 game that, funnily enough, featured these same teams; the Cubs triumphed in that one, with a score of 26-23.)

Through a combination of personal interviews and meticulous research, Cook gives an inning-by-inning rendering of the game (known to many as simply “The Game”), breaking down every on-field moment while also delving into some off-the-field exploration into the lives of some of the major players. An historic and iconic MLB moment, the picture painted of a generational contest.

Published in Sports

Of all our major sports, baseball is the one with the longest history. All that history means that on a singular level, there’s room for a lot of interesting things to happen. It’s like the adage about infinite monkeys and infinite typewriters eventually producing “Hamlet” – do something long enough and you’ll eventually get some singular results.

Joe Cox’s latest book “The Immaculate Inning: Unassisted Triple Plays, 40/40 Seasons, and the Stories Behind Baseball’s Rarest Feats” (Lyons Press, $27.95) recounts some of those singular moments. Some are just one game (or even one play) while others consist of longer stretches and even full seasons, but they all share at least one commonality: you don’t see them every day.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 12:38

‘Smart Baseball’ lives up to its title

Keith Law book offers depth of sabermetric insight

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 12:06

The life and times of the Old Perfesser

“Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character”

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 08 February 2017 13:54

‘The Amazing Baseball Adventure’ a hit

Book looks at 101 wonders of America’s ballparks

Published in Sports

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