Column: If it’s spring, authors are making their best pitches for baseball books
Baseball’s annual rite of literary passage each spring is never shy of more rewrites.
To get a clear read on why book publishers put on their straw hat and usher back Major League Baseball with dozens of new titles, note that all sorts of revisionist history, personality-driven essays or bios that exhume new previously untold info resonate best with those who’ve endured a long, cold winter. Same with anything that takes good-natured digs to keep America’s Pastime as part of the pop culture conversation.
— “Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees,” by Bob Klapisch and Paul Solotaroff (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 256 pages, released March 26).
A couple crafty reporters with Rolling Stone credentials cultivate a lot of off-the-record info as sourced quotes to clarify how GM Brian Cashman really is smarter than he looks and Hal Steinbrenner far less antagonistic than his father. Amazon already has it as the No. 1 bestseller in the category of “Sociology of Sports.” This is what “The Best Team Money Can Buy,” a fluff piece on the Dodgers and its new ownership in 2015, should have aspired to be.
— “They Bled Blue: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers — Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen,” by Jason Turbow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 384 pages, to be released June 4).
Turbow admits “it might not benefit my credibility as the author of this book to admit that I am a lifelong Giants partisan, but it’s true.” Which explains why the first line from the first chapter reads: “Tommy Lasorda was always a shill.”
Eventually, you figure out Turbow admired how these Dodgers flourished during abnormal circumstances as management was ready to trade off most of their star-studded roster from those ‘70s teams a year (or three) too early amidst interpersonal conflicts.
Lots of memories squeezed out of Steve Garvey, Jerry Reuss, Ron Cey and Rick Monday, but nothing new from Lasorda or Fernando Valenzuela.
— “Baseball Card Vandals: Over 200 Decent Jokes on Worthless Cards!” by Beau and Bryan Abbott (Chronicle Books, $18.95, 224 pages, released March 5)
Two Culver City-based guys calling themselves “artistically-inclined weirdos” have created a following at www.BaseballCardVandals.com, so a book spinoff is kind of natural. They didn’t throw away their old common cards as kids, but instead experimented on them through the fumes of the fumes of Sharpies, Wite-Out and glue sticks with name and word play. It belongs shelved in the humor section of book stores, snickering across the aisle at the stodgy baseball hardbounds.
— “Baseball Epic: Famous and Forgotten Lives of the Dead Ball Era,” by Jason Novak (Coffee House Press, $16.95, 240 pages, to be released Tuesday).
Tales of a bygone time are brought to a modern swipe-right storytelling process by an illustrator who matches up Twitter-sized folklore with his own cave drawings. We’re left with a Schadenfreude spit-take of history that includes names like Ping Bodie, a Yankees teammate of Babe Ruth, who “once won a spaghetti-eating contest against an ostrich” and “was also kicked out of a movie theater for disruptive laughter during a drama.” Draw your own conclusions.
— “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches,” by Tyler Kepner (Doubleday, $28.95, 320 pages, to be released Tuesday).
Fastball, curveball. Changeup, cutter. Splitter, sinker, slider and screwball. Knuckleball. Spitball? All but the last remain legal tender as Kepner, the pitch-perfect New York Times writer, goes deep with those who made a living perfecting them. A must read for broadcasters who lazily resort to just saying “fastball” or “off-speed” because they have no clue.
— “Reclaiming 42: Public Memory and the Reframing of Jackie Robinson’s Radical Legacy,” by David Naze (University of Nebraska Press, $45, 234 pages, to be released June 1).
The author’s intent is to make sure Robinson’s life isn’t marginalized by an MLB “simplistic narrative. He also wants to specifically examine how Robinson’s life has “been constructed by a mainstream, white and male perspective.” Not to complicate this, but Naze admits he’s viewing this all “through the lens of a rhetorical scholar who comes from an admittedly privileged, white, male perspective.”
— “Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, The Life of Ernie Banks,” by Ron Rapoport (Hachette Books, $28, 464 pages, released March 26)
Rapoport’s years of rapport with Banks manifests itself in the completion of a previously unfinished project, now much richer than the original intent because of updated perspective. In his acknowledgements, Rapoport, a former L.A. Times and L.A. Daily News columnist, writes that those who helped him finish this knew Banks as a “joyful, melancholy, humble, complicated, companionable, lonely man … (who) remained imprisoned in an image of one simplistic dimension.” It’s an odd coincidence that another Banks bio with a similar title is also out now, by Doug Wilson. Rapoport has a much better launch angle.
— “108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns and the Darndest Characters From My Time in the Game,” by Ron Darling (St. Martin’s Press, 272 pages, $29.99, to be released Tuesday).
The current TBS analyst says the way today’s game goes, he can “envision a scenario where we’ll see a manager with absolutely no playing experience. … Hey, in this era of driverless cars, Google might even come up with a model for a manger-less team!” It’s a darling premise you read here first.
— “The Game of Eating Smart: Nourishing Recipes for Peak Performance Inspired by MLB Superstars,” by Julie Loria with chef Allen Campbell (Rodale Books, $25.99, 240 pages, released March 26)
Clayton Kershaw’s recipe for success: Blue cinnamon smoothies with unsweetened almond milk, breakfast bowls with white quinoa and hemp hearts and a salmon nori roll held together with creamy avocado.
Why Mike Trout isn’t big on fish is the real foodie mystery. He also claims aloe-fortified coconut water “helps to maintain the proper balance of alkalinity in your body.”
More books like this and the MLB will have to impose a celery cap.
Tune it in
— As much as it sparked discussion about the exploitation of amateur athletics, CBS’ decision to admit it has dedicated a camera and extra equipment to focus on Duke star freshman Zion Williamson during the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament shouldn’t be lambasted. It is hardly out of the ordinary for any network to do such a thing when covering a major sports championship. We also challenge anyone to show how it has been an obviously over-utilized tool during these last two weeks of coverage. The flip side would be if Williamson blew out another shoe or reinjured himself, and CBS’ array of cameras somehow missed it because it happened away from a play. For the upcoming Final Four, watch the “Magic Johnson Cam” come into play.
— Is Tony Romo worth eight figures a year to stay in CBS’ NFL top broadcast game booth? Absolutely. And CBS should get first crack at paying it. The Sporting News reports the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback will ask for that in a contract extension in 2020. He makes $4 million a year currently, which is about half of what Troy Aikman reportedly gets from Fox in the same position.
Tune it out
— After a couple years of experimentation leading to consumer angst over exclusivity and technical glitches, Major League Baseball and Facebook will drastically reduce their 2019 rights deal to have only six national live streams — one a month — and they are subject to be blacked out in local markets. There were 26 live MLB Facebook streams last year, mostly midweek day games, and all but one was exclusive to the platform. That circumvented several Dodgers’ SportsNet LA and Angels’ Fox Sports West shows with often glitch-filled episodes and strange broadcast teams. The 2019 schedule has yet to be announced. The agreement was first reported by MorningConsult.com.
— The next insightful comment from one-time USC head coach Henry Bibby (last coached there in 2005), on the KCBS-Channel 2 NCAA postgame set with Jim Hill, will be his first.
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