Book Review: The Long Season

 

The Long Season is considered by many to be a baseball classic, the first “tell all” book written by a baseball insider during his active career. Reviewers also claim this book is one of the best American diaries ever written.
 
The Long Season is written by pitcher Jim Brosnan about his 1959 season with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. Brosnan debuted in 1954 for the Chicago Cubs and returned to the majors in 1956. He pitched for nine seasons through 1963. He was a member of the 1961 pennant-winning Reds, of which he wrote a second book titled Pennant Race. Brosnan’s career record is 55-47, with 67 saves and an ERA of 3.54.
 
Brosnan uses a diary approach to write about his 1959 season. The narrative is organized by significant days and places, from his pre-season contract negotiations (January 26 at his home in Morton Grove, IL), to Spring Training (he arrives in St. Petersburg February 19), enduring early losing streaks with the Cardinals (he’s at his St. Louis apartment on June 8 when he finds out he’s been traded), and through the remainder of the season with Cincinnati (the closing entry is September 27 from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh).
 
The Long Season is often compared to pitcher Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. Brosnan wrote it 10 years before Bouton, and in retrospect after several decades this book seems much less controversial than Ball Four. However, at the time it stirred up resentment among some of Brosnan’s former teammates. In particular, Gino Cimoli threatened to punch Brosnan the next time they met. Solly Hemus, Brosnan’s Cardinals manager, had many choice words expressed in the press. Brosnan’s humor is subtle; I often found myself chuckling, as compared to laughing out loud at Bouton’s writing. 
 
I really enjoyed The Long Season. It should be an easy, entertaining read for SABR members. The book will also have a special appeal to those fans that were old enough to be following baseball in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
                       
Here’s the key statistics:
 
Book:   The Long Season
Author: Jim Brosnan
Author Credentials: Also wrote Pennant Race and numerous sports biographies.
Published: 1960, HarperCollins (hardcover), Ivan R. Dee (paperback)
ISBN 1-56663-418-0
Length: 276 pages
Price: Retail list – $16.95; Online: new from $11.00 + ship; used from $3.00 + ship.

 

Book Review: The Boys Who Were Left Behind

 

            The Boys Who Were Left Behind is the story of the 1944 “Streetcar Series”, the only all-St. Louis World Series. The book focuses primarily on the Browns and Cardinals players and managers, with emphasis on their war-years experiences. Of special interest is the story of Browns manager Luke Sewell, his recruitment to be the field boss, and how he assembled and motivated his wartime group of cast-offs and misfits.
 
After introducing the key players, along with managers Sewell and Southworth, and brief histories of the franchises’ activities in the late 1930s and early 1940s, The Boys Who Were Left Behind covers each of the six games of the ’44 Series. You’ll see the Series swing from the Browns’ stunning victories in games one and three, to the Cardinals’ extra-innings victory in game two and the Redbirds’ eventual overmatching of the Brownies to win the last three games (and the Series, four games to two).   
 
A key perspective of the book is the uncertainty of life during World War II. Players (and management) did not know if or when they might be drafted, and several struggled to juggle a defense-related job with playing baseball. The book is also loaded with baseball legend and trivia. One interesting twist of history is that the “Streetcar Series” almost never happened! The Browns were set to be sold to a Los Angeles group prior to the 1942 season, with the announcement to be made on Monday December 8, 1941!! After the attack on Pearl Harbor, those plans were obviously postponed.
 
SABR members with interests in wartime baseball history, baseball history in general, or in St. Louis baseball should enjoy this quick read.
                       
 
Here’s the key statistics:
 
Book:   The Boys Who Were Left Behind; The 1944 World Series between the Hapless St. Louis Browns and the Legendary St. Louis Cardinals.
Authors: John Heidenry and Brett Topel
Author Credentials: Heidenry is founding editor of St. Louis Magazine; Topel is a freelance sports journalist. 
Published: 2006, University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 0-8032-2428-1
Length: 152 pages
Price: Retail list – $29.95; Online: new from $18.95 + ship; used from $15.99 + ship.

 

Book Review: Taking on the Yankees

Taking on the Yankees examines the rise of the Yankee franchise in the early 20th Century, and how the club has maintained its dominance of major league baseball through the decades. This book would be classified as a story on “the business of baseball”, and it focuses much more on the activities and strategies of owners and management than the game on the field.
 
Taking on the Yankees is not just about the Bronx Bombers, although the author is obviously a die-hard New Yorker. Rather, the book also examines how key National League franchises have approached competing with the Yankees. The book focuses on the Giants of the 1900-1920’s, the Cardinals of the 1920-1940s, and the Dodgers of the 1940-1960s, and the management strategies those teams employed (or failed to employ) to rise atop the baseball world. The Yankees’ activities run throughout the book in chronological order, aside their key NL antagonists.   
 
Although the key players are mentioned, the owners and general managers are the “stars” of this book. John McGraw and the Stoneham family for the Giants, Branch Rickey and Sam Breadon for the Cardinals, Rickey again and the O’Malley family for the Dodgers, are all featured on the National League side. For the Yankees, Colonel Ruppert and George Steinbrenner figure prominently.
 
SABR members with an interest in baseball history and baseball business should enjoy this book. At the time it was published, it was overshadowed by Moneyball, which came out the same year. If you enjoyed Moneyball, you should enjoy Taking on the Yankees as a historical baseball business primer to Billy Beane and his Athletics.
                       
 
 
Here’s the key statistics:
 
Book:   Taking on the Yankees, Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball
Author: Henry D. Fetter
Author Credentials: Fetter is a lawyer who has written legal and baseball articles 
Published: 2003, W. W. Norton       
                             ISBN 0-393-05719-4
Length: 460 pages
Price: Retail list – $25.95; Online: new from $12.00 + ship; used from $3.00 + ship.

Book Review: In the Best Interests of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig

In the Best Interests of Baseball is fundamentally a review and critique of the governance of major league baseball, past and present. About one-half of the book covers baseball’s leadership from the mid-1800’s to 1992, when Bud Selig was appointed acting commissioner. The second half of the book covers Selig’s fourteen years as “acting”, and then permanent commissioner of baseball.
 
As context for Selig’s activities as commissioner, Zimbalist reviews the organization of “monopoly leagues” (such as MLB, NFL, and other American sports leagues) in comparison to more “open” structures such as European soccer federations. He then presents a history of baseball governance beginning in the 1800’s and up through 1920. Significant attention is then spent on Judge Landis’ appointment as the first “true” commissioner, followed by more brief assessments of Landis’ successors. Zimbalist’s tagging of all commissioners between Landis and Selig as the “Undistinguished Middle” gives a preview of his thoughts on baseball’s leadership between 1944 (Landis’ death) and 1992.
 
Zimbalist gradually turns his focus to Bud Selig, covering his years as a Milwaukee Braves fan, as Brewers’ owner, then as acting commissioner, and finally coming up to the present date in reviewing Selig’s years as the formal commissioner. Overall, the treatment of Selig seems balanced, presenting positives and negatives of his “reign”. Selig gets kudos for getting the owners to work together, for using better governance procedures, and for drastically improving the marketing of MLB. The commissioner is criticized for holding cities “hostage” to stadium-funding demands via the threat of franchise moves. Selig gets a pass on the steroids issue.    
 
This book is in the “business of baseball” genre. While presenting some economic data, it does not stress statistics. Overall, it’s a quick, easy read. One bit of advice – read the notes at the end of the book. They add a lot to the story. SABR members should enjoy this book.
 
Here are the key statistics:
 
Book:  In the Best Interests of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig
Author: Andrew Zimbalist                
Author Credentials: Zimbalist is a sports economist, author and economics professor at Smith College. His previous books include Baseball and Billions and May the Best Team Win.  
Published: 2006, Wiley; ISBN 0-471-73533-7                      Length: 218 pages
Price: Retail list – $24.95; Online: new from $14.50 + ship.

Book Review: Foul Ball (plus Part II)

 

Foul Ball is the story of how Jim Bouton and his partners attempted to bring a minor-league baseball team to play in a historic old ballpark in Pittsfield, Mass. Bouton (for reasons that you’ll learn if you read the book) originally self-published Foul Ball in 2003. In Fall Ball (plus Part II), he adds another 150 pages to the story to chronicle his team’s further adventures during 2004.
 
On the heels of a failed referendum to build a new, publicly financed minor league stadium in Pittsfield, Bouton and friends hatch the idea to renovate a historic local ballpark. Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park had been home to baseball for over 100 years. In fact, during Part II it’s discovered that early baseball was being played on the grounds in 1791! However, as one can imagine, the old ball yard is in a state of decay requiring major upgrades in order to attract professional baseball.
 
Enter Bouton (of Ball Four fame), his investment banker neighbor Chip, their wives, and assorted allies. The Bouton team proposes to renovate Wahconah Park and bring in an independent minor league team – all with private investment dollars. All that’s needed is for the city to give them a lease on the publicly owned Wahconah. The odyssey to obtain this lease is the main theme of the story.
 
In pursuit of the lease and team, Bouton and his crew run into opposition from every direction. They have to fend off the powerful supporters of the recently defeated “new stadium initiative”, as well as other business and political factions that seem not to want them to succeed. The opposition even appears to lead back to alleged environmental pollution infractions, and includes the local carpenters’ union. After failing to get the lease in 2001, Bouton and his partners are invited back in 2004 by a new city administration to try again to make it happen.
 
This book is more about politics and civics than it is about baseball. Nonetheless, SABR members that enjoyed Ball Four and a good laugh will enjoy this book.
 
Here’s the key statistics:
 
Book: Foul Ball (plus Part II) My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark
Author: Jim Bouton               
Author Credentials: A twenty-game winner and All-Star pitcher, Bouton is best known as the author of Ball Four (published in 1970). He is also a motivational speaker, and gave the keynote address at the 2006 SABR national convention. 
Published: 2005, Lyons Press; ISBN 1-59228-867-7                        Length: 499 pages

Price: Retail list – $17.95; Online: new from $15.95 + ship; used from $6.95 + ship.

 

Book Review: A Well-Paid Slave

 

            A Well-Paid Slave is the story of outfielder Curt Flood and his court challenge of baseball’s reserve clause and anti-trust exemption.
 
The book contains several interesting story lines. Foremost, the book is the story of Flood’s life, from his upbringing in Oakland, California, through his struggles in minor league baseball in the segregated South of the 1950’s, his successes in the Major Leagues as a star center fielder for the 1960’s era Cardinals, his decision to challenge Major League Baseball’s reserve clause by refusing to report to the Phillies when traded after the 1969 season, to his court case and difficult life after baseball. Flood is portrayed on the one hand as a champion of individual freedoms, and on the other hand as an alcoholic who took advantage of others in personal and business relationships.
 
Other story lines contained in the book include:
 
  • The history of baseball-related law, including two prior Supreme Court cases and other rulings that establish baseball’s “presumed anti-trust exemption”.
  • The history of labor relations in baseball, including Marvin Miller’s rise to become the head of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.
  • The breaking of the color line in MLB, and black baseball players’ impact on the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • The office of the commissioner of baseball, with emphasis on Judge Landis and the book’s antagonist, Bowie Kuhn.
 
This book will be of interest to SABR members, especially those who enjoy reading about baseball law & labor relations, baseball desegregation, and baseball in the 1950s-1970s.
 
 
Here are the key statistics:
 
Book: A Well-Paid Slave; Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports
Author: Brad Snyder             
Author Credentials: Snyder is a lawyer and writer. His previous baseball book, Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball won the SABR Peterson Award.
Published: 2006, Viking        ISBN 0-670-03794-X             Length: 352 pages
Price: Retail list – $25.95; Online: new and used from $15.49 + ship.

 

Membership

There are no membership requirements for SABR, other than enjoying baseball.

Our membership in the Rogers Hornsby Chapter of SABR is as diverse as the attendance at any baseball game.  While we do have writers, historians, curators and university professors in our chapter, we also have engineers, accountants, and craftsmen and workers from all walks of life.  What we share in common is being baseball fans and enjoying watching, reading, and talking about the national pastime.

If you’d like to learn more about the Society for American Baseball Research, please visit the membership link at the SABR national website.

About the Chapter

The Rogers Hornsby chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research serves members in Central and South Texas. We were officially recognized as a SABR chapter in early 2006 (our members having previously been part of the Houston chapter). 

Our membership is active in baseball research, including recently published books, articles, and active blogs. We meet monthly for dinner to talk baseball. We also hold an annual Summer Meeting (usually at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, home of the Rangers’ AAA affiliate, the Round Rock Express).

The big event for our chapter is our annual Winter Meeting, held at Texas State University in San Marcos. The Winter Meeting features presentations and panel discussions by baseball insiders, as well as research presentations by our members.

In addition to this web site, the Rogers Hornsby chapter also operates its own email group list and Facebook page to facilitate discussion among chapter members.

Chapter Info

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) is a member-driven, nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster the research, preservation and dissemination of the history and record of baseball. SABR members number over 7,000 world-wide. While SABR does include historians, statisticians, journalists, and professional baseball players, most “SABR-ites” are baseball fans that enjoy watching and discussing the National Pastime.

The Rogers Hornsby chapter of SABR serves Central and South Texas. Our members live in Austin, Belton, San Antonio, San Marcos, the Rio Grande Valley, and all points in between.

For more information about the chapter, please see:

Rogers Hornsby(1)

Photo courtesy of Dean Hendrickson

Book Review: The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game is a book that should appeal to many SABR members. Although the theme of the book is baseball statistics, the stories are really about the history, people, and organizations behind the numbers. There is actually very little mathematics in the book, so if you’re turned off by polynomials you should not let that deter you from reading this well-told story.

Schwarz tells the tale of baseball statistics, beginning with “Father” Henry Chadwick in the 1850s, through Bill James in the 1970s and ‘80s, and coming current with the likes of Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Paul DePodesta in the 21st century. The histories of many of the statistics-oriented sports organizations are also told – the Elias Sports Bureau, STATS, Inc., Project Scoresheet, Retrosheet, MLB.com, and baseballprospectus.com, among others.

Of course, SABR is prominently featured in several of the chapters.

A theme that runs throughout the book is the battle for recognition faced by the statistics proponents. On one level, there’s the battle for acceptance of statistical analyses by “traditional” baseball men. But also, on another level, there’s the battle between those that “control” the official statistics and those that are challenging the meaning, and often-times the accuracy, of those statistics.

I found the book to be an easy, enjoyable read. This book would be especially useful for new SABR members to familiarize themselves with the statistical landscape of the sport.

Here’s the key statistics:

  • Book: The Numbers Game – Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics
  • Author: Alan Schwarz
  • Author Credentials: Baseball America writer, ESPN.com columnist, contributor to New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other national publications.
  • Published: 2004, St. Martin’s Press, ISBN 0-312-3222-4
  • Length: 254 pages; Foreword by Peter Gammons
  • Price: Retail list – $24.95; Online: new from $12.99 + ship; used from $4.25 + ship.