February 22, 2014

Doug Harvey -- Hall of Fame 2010

Acquired: TTM
Sent: 2/3/14
Received: 2/21/14
Turnaround: 18 days
Submittal: $15 cash, ROMLB, SASE
My Request: Sweet spot, blue pen, HOF & "god" inscriptions
Commentary: With the addition of this baseball, I have now completed the 2010 Hall of Fame induction class -- Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog and now former umpire Doug Harvey. In my LOR, I requested the double inscriptions along with his autograph. Got all three. I'm happy about that because I have always thought that "god" was one of the best nicknames in the game. For context, Doug Harvey is the only living umpire in Cooperstown. The induction of an ump is rare, but he was that good -- hence the nickname. 

February 21, 2014

Book Review -- The Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is a poor man’s Ball Four. The books share many attributes, yet the key difference is that Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is a much better memoir than Sparky Lyle’s Bronx Zoo.

Obligatory comparisons between Bronx Zoo and Ball Four are essentially unavoidable because of the abundant similarities: Both authors adopted a season-long diary format. Both authors were former New York Yankees relief pitchers. Both authors clung to less-than-ideal roles on their respective pitching staffs. In both cases, the books proved inflammatory and reached the New York Times best-seller list.

The best moments of The Bronx Zoo occur when Sparky Lyle neglects to pull his punches. In fact, in what seems like a calculated move, Lyle fires a huge shot over the bow on page one: “No one can blow his own horn like Jim Palmer can”. Later, in regards to Reggie Jackson:

Reggie has always said, “If Reggie Jackson doesn’t hit, the Yankees don’t win.” Well, no kidding. When he’s in the f---ing number four spot and he’s striking out all the time, that’s the truth...

In fact, my inspiration to read The Bronx Zoo came not from Ball Four, but instead from 2010’s Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball. In the latter, I took an almost strange delight in reading Bill Madden’s account of the dysfunctional, late 1970s Yankees. The next book I turned to was Bronx Zoo. At the end of it, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.

Overall, Bronx Zoo is an overrated memoir about Sparky Lyle losing his closer role over the course of the season. If the book succeeds, it’s because the subject matter -- Reggie, Billy and George -- is so rich. Looking back, it turns out that Lyle was the superior pitcher and Bouton was the superior author.

Favorite Line
Ted Williams was a coach there, and it was he who changed my life. He watched me pitch one afternoon, and afterward he asked me what I thought was the best pitch in baseball. I told him I didn’t know. “The slider. You know why?” I said no. He said, “Because it was the only pitch I couldn’t hit consistently even when I knew it was coming.” I was in awe of Williams.

February 2, 2014

Book Review -- Summer of '49

The sports media’s fawning over the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox has never been much of a pet peeve of mine. For whatever reason, all the uneven adulation heaped upon those two franchises does not bother me the way it bothers so many other people.

As even-tempered as I am about the subject matter, I nevertheless found it difficult to enjoy David Halberstam’s Summer of ‘49.

My first problem is the premise. Halberstam was not a baseball man, yet his opinionated book was published in 1989, forty years after the events it describes took place. Given the revisionist nature of old ballplayers and old managers, I question the stories and stats that the author presents as fact.

My second problem with the book is the author’s questionable analysis. A perfect example is Halberstam’s take the Red Sox’s shortstop controversy. Regarding Boston’s two options at short -- Johnny Pesky and Junior Stephens -- Halberstam writes that:

"At this most critical position, Boston was deficient. Junior Stephens played adequate shortstop, although in no sense was he one...Pesky had played shortstop before the trade, but McCarthy had moved him to third because he had better hands and was quicker."

As the great baseball writer Bill James has pointed out, “This is an amazing interpretation of the transaction. Nobody in the history of baseball was ever moved off of shortstop because he had good hands and quick feet.”

Yet another problem with the book -- the third and final issue that I will note -- is that Summer in ‘49 feels more like hero-worship than journalism. Rather than de-mistify Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, the author seems to actively contribute to building up the mystique.

Summer of ‘49 sometimes appears on lists of the top ten baseball books of all time, however, I didn’t care much for it. I formed my own opinion independent of others, and it’s felt very reaffirming to read other writers later discredit the book, too. In lieu of Summer in ‘49, James refers his readers to Robert Creamer’s Baseball in ‘41 instead.

Favorite Line:
Williams would never, no matter what the situation, go for a pitch that was even a shade outside the strike zone. DiMaggio was different: He believed that, as a power hitter on the team, he sometimes had an obligation to swing at imperfect pitches. On certain occasions a walk was not enough; it was a victory for the pitcher.

February 1, 2014

Tony La Russa -- Hall of Fame 2014

Acquired: TTM via Foundation
Sent: 1/10/14
Received: 1/31/14
Turnaround: 21 days
Submittal: $50 check, ROMLB, LOR, return envelope. I was instructed not to include postage on my return envelope.
My request: Blue pen, sweet spot, HOF inscription
Charity: ARF -- Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation
Commentary: I obtained this successful outcome through Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF. Shortly after Tony La Russa had been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee, I contacted Kathleen at ARF through its website. A formal process had not been put in place yet for submissions, so I e-mailed an inquiry. Kathleen quoted a price of $50 which includes an autograph and the HOF inscription. On one hand, this is the second highest I have ever paid for a Hall of Fame autograph through the mail. On the other hand, the price is reasonable and even understandable in light of La Russa's recent induction and the subsequent media exposure. Overall, the ball looks great, especially with the double inscriptions.