Wednesday, May 21, 2008



All types of books from all kinds of publishers are out there for the getting and the reading. What follows is a survey of some of the more interesting and appealing tomes.

"Ed Barrow" by Daniel R. Levitt (University of Nebraska, $29.95, 427 pages) is an in depth bio of the man best known for being the power behind the great Yankee dynasty. But he was much more than that as Levitt shows in this well researched and highly readable effort. Sadly for Red Sox fans, it was Barrow who left the Olde Towne team and went on to work wonders with the Big Apple franchise.

"An Incomplete and Inaccurate History of Sport" by Kenny Mayne (Crown, $24.95, 234 pages) is a rollicking romp on most things you were probably not that much interested in anyway but that is part of the charm of this book containing the author's "random thoughts from childhood" and an assortment of outrageous other commentary on sports of all kind ranging from ice hockey to yachting. If you are a fan of the ESPN icon and want a good laugh go for this book.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED is "Anatomy of Baseball" edited by Lee Gutkind and Andrew Blauner (SMU, 210 pages) where 20 writers compete - -with 17 new essays and three not so new ones - - reflecting, editorializing and waxing poetic sometimes on the myriad pinpoints of light of the national pastime.

"Spoke" by Charles Alexander (SMU, $17.95, 400 pages) and "Chief Bender's' Burden" by Tom Swift (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95, 339 pages) are both worthy reads dealing as they do with underrated icons from earlier baseball times. Both books are long over-due and add insights aplenty into the lives of two talented players, the obstacles they faced, the challenges they overcame.

From Rounder Books comes "When Boston Still Had the Babe: the 1918 World Champion Red Sox" ($18.95, 213 pages, paper). It has a long title and an even longer list of contributors three associate editors and in all a total of 30 contributors. But with Bill Nowlin as editor, with a talented group of writers and editors, the book comes together bringing back the performers and the times of the glorious championship season. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for Red Sox fans and for others, too.

"Red Sox Rule" by Michal Holley (Harper, $25.95, 207) is a slim tribute to capitalize on the great BoSox accomplishments of the past few seasons. Terry Francona, Theo Epstein and the guys get the up close and personal treatment from Holley. There is a lot to like about this behind the scenes book but so much of what appears here has been covered in depth in magazines, newspapers and other books.

"Chicago Cubs" with text by Steve Johnson ( Voyageur Press, $26.95, 144),padded with photos and light on text as it goes through Cubby lore yesterday and today.

"Two In the Field" a novel by Darryl Brock (Frog, Ltd., $15.95, 393 pages is a sequel to the highly received " If I Never get Back." Here Brock focuses on the doings of reporter Sam Fowler and his back in time (1875) adventures and twists and turns and encounters with all type of characters. A GOOD READ.

Even celebrated sports authors like John Feinstein can have an off day - -and that is what "Living on the Black" (Little Brown, $26.99, 525 pages) represents. The original idea Feinstein relates was to do a book with David Cone. But that was not to be as Cone did a "thinking pitcher's book" with Roger Angell. (Feinstein related that it "got good reviews, sold about 22,000 copies in hardcover" and far less than that in paperback, 6,000. Undeterred, Feinstein wound up with Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina - one a Met and the other a Yankee. The premise was solid two thinking men who had been around the baseball blocks and should have had a lot to say. The result is less than satisfying - - too much repetition, too many hits, runs and errors. Better editing would have pared it down and turned this book into an extra base effort.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Baseball Names - and How They Got That Way! Part VII

The words and phrases are spoken and written day after day, year after year - generally without any wonderment as to how they became part of the language. All have a history, a story.

For those of you who liked Parts I -VI and wanted more, here is more.

“The Called Shot” A heavier, slower and older Babe Ruth had much more to prove in 1932. And prove he did! Batting .341, driving in 137 runs, slugging 41 homers, the Sultan of Swat pushed the New York Yankees to another pennant. The Cubs of Chicago were the opposition in the World Series.

There was bad recent history between the two teams. Joe McCarthy had been let go as Chicago manager in 1930. He wanted payback. Ruth's old buddy, Mark Koenig, now a Cub, had helped his new team win the pennant. His Chicago teammates voted Ruth's old buddy only a half World Series share. The Babe was not happy about that.

On October l in Chicago during batting practice Ruth shouted:
"Hey, you damn bum Cubs, you won't be seeing Yankee Stadium again. This is going to be all over Sunday." The Babe was referring to the fact that the Yanks had won the first two games in New York.

The game got underway before 49, 986. Lemons from the stands and curses from the Cubs were heaped upon the Yankees. Chicago fans showered Ruth with fruits and vegetables and other projectiles when he was on defense in the outfield. The Babe smiled, doffed his cap, felt the fire.
When he came to bat in the fifth inning, Ruth had already slugged a three run homer into the bleachers in right centerfield. He had more in store. Right-hander Charlie Root got a strike on Ruth, who as accounts go, raised up one big finger and yelled "strike one!"

Another fast ball strike. Ruth, as the story continues, raised two fingers and bellowed "strike two!"

Then as the story has been handed down, the 38-year-old Yankee legend stepped out of the batter's box and pointed. Some said he pointed at Root; others said the pointed at the Chicago bench, others said at the centerfield bleachers.

"To tell the truth," Joe McCarthy said, "I didn't see him point anywhere at all. But maybe I turned my head for a moment."

"The Babe pointed out to right field," said George Pipgras who pitched and won that game, "and that's where he hit the ball."

The count was 2-2 when Babe swung from his heels. Johnny Moore, the Chicago centerfielder started back, then stopped. The ball disappeared into the right field bleachers, 436 feet from home plate, the l5th and last World Series home run for Babe Ruth, the longest home run ever hit to that point in time in Wrigley Field.

"As I hit the ball," Ruth would say later, "every muscle in my system, every sense I had, told me that I had never hit a better one, that as long as I lived nothing would ever feel as good as this one."

Chicago fans cheered and applauded the Babe as he rounded the bases yelling out a different curse for each Cub infielder.

When the "Sultan of Swat" reached third base, he paused. Then he bowed toward the Chicago dugout. Then he came across home plate.

Through the years the debate has continued. Did he or did he not call the home run?

Babe Ruth explained: "I didn't exactly point to any spot like the flagpole. I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give the thing a ride...outta the park...anywhere. "Every time I went to the bat the Cubs on the bench would yell ' Oogly googly.'It's all part of the game, but this particular inning when I went to bat there was a whole chorus of Oogly goalies. The first pitch was a pretty good strike, and I didn't kick. But the second was outside and turned around to beef about it. As I said, Gabby Hartnett said 'Oogly googly.'That kinda burned me and I said 'All right, you bums, I'm gonna knock this one a mile.' I guess I pointed, too."

CALLED STRIKE A strike that a batter does not swing at but which is announced as a strike by the umpire.

can of corn An lazy fly ball.

Candy” In 1939, William Arthur Cummings was elected to the Hall of Fame, for his alleged invention of the curve ball more than his talent. His nickname came from fans – as a sign of affection.

"Cannon" Jimmy Wynn, for his power at bat.

“CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?" In 1960 Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees to a first-place finish, on the strength of a .630 percentage compiled by winning 97 games and losing 57. By 1962 he was the manager of the New York Mets, a team that finished tenth in a ten-team league. They finished 60 games out of first place, losing more games ( 120) than any other team in the 20th century. Richie Ashburn, who batted .306 for the Mets that season and then retired, remembers those days: "It was the only time I went to a ball park in the major leagues and nobody expected you to win."

A bumbling collection of castoffs, not-quite-ready for prime-time major league ball players, paycheck collectors, and callow youth, the Mets underwhelmed the opposition. They had Jay Hook, who could talk for hours about why a curve ball curved (he had a Masters degree in engineering) but couldn't throw one consistently. They had "Choo-Choo" Coleman, an excellent low-ball catcher, but the team had very few low-ball pitchers. They had "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry, a Mickey Mantle look-a-like in the batter's box—and that's where the resemblance ended. Stengel had been spoiled with the likes of Mantle, Maris, Ford, Berra, etc. Day after day he would watch the Mets and be amazed at how they could find newer and more original ways to beat themselves. In desperation—some declare it was on the day he witnessed pitcher A1 Jackson go 15 innings yielding but three hits, only to lose the game on two errors committed by Marvelous Marv—Casey bellowed out his plaintive query, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

“Cap” Adrian Constantine Anson, a shortening of his managerial title. He was also known as "Big Swede"for his size and Nordic extraction.

“Captain Hook" Manager Sparky Anderson never hesitated to use his Cincinnati bullpen

“Carnesville Plowboy'' Spud Chandler was raised on a farm in Carnesville, Georgia, hence the nickname. Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler was better known during his collegiate days at the University of Georgia as a football player who also played baseball. Chandler's had a career mark of 109-43 with the Yankees from 1937-47. He was a part of seven World Series teams.

"CASEY AT THE BAT" The title of the Ernest Thayer poem, written in 1888, about the legendary hero of the Mudville baseball team. The final stanzas are especially famous:
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip; his teeth are clenched with hate;

He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out!
"CAT-a-lyst" name given to Mickey Rivers by Howard Cosell for his ability to trigger Yankee team offense.

(to be continued)

Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 39 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) will be published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball.".

Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in excess of one million and appears on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Barnstorming Around America with the 1927 New York Yankees

When Colonel Ruppert's “Rough Riders,” as some called them, were not going head to head against their American League competition, they were playing exhibition games in Buffalo, Omaha, Rochester, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis . . . .

Everyone in the little cities and small towns wanted to catch a glimpse of the Babe and Lou and the others. Wherever the Yankees went, there were always packed ball parks and playing fields. The team was a magnet, a syncopated jazz band playing a baseball song with the Babe leading, striking up the band with his home run baton, his bat. Whole towns came out early and they stayed late studying the moves of "the Colossus of baseball," how he walked, how he ran, how he swung a bat, how he caught and threw a baseball, how he joked and wrestled with kids in the fields of play, how many different kinds of home runs he hit. Demand for the Yankees came from all over. Murderers Row even played exhibition games in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, National League cities.

In Omaha, Nebraska, the King of Clouts, Ruth, and his protégé the “Prince of Pounders” Gehrig seemed genuinely happy to make the acquaintance of one “Lady Amco” who was known as the “Babe Ruth of chickens.” She was a world champ at laying eggs. The morning the Babe and the Buster met her she produced on cue, laying an egg for the 171st straight day.

In Indianapolis, the Sultan of Swat failed to homer or even swat the ball out of the infield in his first three times at bats. Each time the smattering of boos and heckling became louder, all good natured, of course. According to reports, Ruth in his fourth at bat tagged the ball, and it leaped over the fence in right field into the street bouncing into box cars in a nearby freight yard. That was the story.

And its punch line: “I guess I did show those people something, make fun of me, will they,” the Big Bam boomed going into the dugout.

In a dilapidated park in Ft. Wayne, Indiana before 35,000 against the Lincoln Lifes, a semi-pro team, the scene was all too familiar. Hundreds of kids screamed, ached to ogle, to get an autograph or just to be close to George Herman Ruth, their idol.

The Bambino, to save his legs, played first base, as was his custom many times during those exhibition games. Gehrig played right field. Going into the tenth inning, the score was tied, 3-3. Mike Gazella was on first base when Ruth stepped into the batter’s box. Always the showman, signaling to the crowd that they might as well start going home, the Big Bam poked the ball over the right field fence giving the Yankees a 5-3 win. Hundreds of boys who had been relatively controlled and contained mobbed their idol as he crossed home plate. It took quite a while before Ruth and the Yankees could clear out of the park

Wherever the exhibition games were staged, overflow crowds sat in the outfield watching the action. Attendance records were broken. Mobs cheered. They roared and howled and jumped to their feet marveling at the power and magic of the mighty Yankees and especially George Herman Ruth.

"God, we liked that big son of a bitch. He was a constant source of joy, Waite Hoyt said. "I've seen them kids, men, women, worshippers all, hoping to get his name on a torn, dirty piece of paper, or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they said, 'Hi-ya, Babe.' He never let them down; not once. He was the greatest crowd pleaser of them all."

In a game played at Sing-Sing, New York against the prison team, Ruth slugged a batting practice home run over the right field wall and then another over the centerfield wall. "I'd love to be riding out of here on those balls," one of the prisoners joked.

During the game the Sultan of Swat turned to the crowd of cons in the stands and bellowed in that big booming baritone voice of his:
"What time is it?"
Many of the cons shouted back the answer.
"What difference does it make?” the showman Ruth yelled. “You guys ain't going anyplace, any time soon."