This is the time of year that the usual assortment of baseball books as tie in to the new season surface. Generally, the quality is mixed. The 2014 sports season is a departure. Generally, the quality is excellent. So let’s take a look.
Leading off the list is “A Nice Little Place on the North Side” by George F. Will (Crown, $25.00, 223 pages). It is so refreshing almost joyful to have this terrific tome by an ultimate fan of the Chicago Cubs and one of the best writers anywhere. This trim love letter to Wrigley Field is so appealing when stacked up against the slew of hastily put together (some in need of much editing) “picture books” on the subjects from publishers looking to capitalize on the 100th anniversary of the ball park on the North Side.
George Will was born in Champaign, Illinois in May 1941, a day his Cubbies lost to the Giants for their third straight defeat. Never at a loss for words or puns throughout the book, Will comments: “Had I been paying attention then, this book may never have been written.”
It’s a good thing he did pay attention and became one of the best of the long suffering fans of the denizens of the “friendly confines.” A Nice Little Place on the North Side is a wondrous, carefully crafted work.
Another book that fits the bill for the top of your sports bookshelf is “They Called Me God,” by Doug Harvey and Peter Golenbock (Gallery Books, $27.00, 274 pages). This combo of Hall of Fame umpire and Hall of Fame to be sports author is tough to beat. Part gossip, part baseball history, part story time, all winning prose, “They Called Me God” put you behind the plate through the eyes of an umpire who was there for 4,673 games. We are there for Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit, Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit homer, Pete Rose’s debut and hundreds of other “inside” baseball moments. The book’s sub-title brags: “The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived.” That might be too over-the-top but to call “They Called Me God” one of the best baseball memoirs ever is not.
Dan Epstein’s “Stars and Strikes” (Thomas Dunne Books, $28.99, 400 pages) is an irreverent, swinging, tome with an attitude that bemuses and amuses. Carefully researched, written with all kinds of style, featuring the Big Red machine, the bird Mark Fidrych mighty Mike Schmidt, the “Junkman” (not Eddie Lopat but Randy Jones, owners Steinbrenner, George, Veeck, Bill, Turner, Ted and Finley, Charles, the work is a roller coaster ride of baseball and America in the Bicentennial summer of ’76 as the book’s sub-title proclaims.
Engrossing, insightful, entertaining, vast in its scope and depth, Mark Ribowsky’s (The Last Cowboy, Liveright|Norton is almost 700 pages, $28.99) devoted to one of the true icons of American sports Tom Landry. A player, a coach, a legend, Tom Landry always seemed bigger than life — and he was. He comes to life on page after page and in great detail in this book that belongs on the sports bookshelf of every fan.
“The Million Dollar Arm” by J.B. Bernstein (Simon and Schuster, $16.00, 233 pages, paper) is a whirlwind narrative From Mumbai to the major leagues, from cricket to baseball. This is a true story of a men with golden arms and the American dream.
“Collision Low Crossers” by Nicholas Davidoff (Little Brown, $29.00) is as its sub-title announces a Year inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football. The author, granted full access to all things New York Jets, takes full advantage of that blessing. The result is a funny, insightful and no holds barred look at day-to-day life in the sports that is now truly America’s Game.
For golf enthusiasts there are “Every Shot Counts” by Mark Broadie (Gotham, $35.00, 255 pages), “Own Your Own Game” by Dave Stockton ($25.00, 127 pages). The Broadie book makes maximum use of the revolutionary strokes gained approach to help every golfer improve performance and strategy. The slim Stockton tome makes a point of maximizing one’s mind to play winning golf.
Harvey Frommer, a noted oral historian and sports journalist, author of 41 sports books, including the classics “New York City Baseball 1947-1957,” “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” “Remembering Yankee Stadium,” and “Remembering Fenway Park,” is currently working on a book on the first Super Bowl — anyone with contacts, stories, suggestions please contact.