Jocklit

Surveying the Boys of Summer Books

Each spring, baseball fans in every city get their hopes up and a new load of baseball books hits the shelves in every bookstore. Even with sports publishing on the wane it's enough to keep the well-read fan busy deep into fall. What follows is a small, but select, list.

Away Games: The Life and Times of a Latin Ball Player
By Marcos Bretón
and José Luis Villegas.

Simon & Schuster, 272 pp., $23.
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It's the American pastime: a wealthy U.S. corporation boosting profits by taking advantage of Latin American poverty. But in Away Gamesit really isthe American pastime that Bretón and Villegas are talking about. The book chronicles Oakland A's shortstop Miguel Tejada's journey from shoeshine boy in the Dominican Republic to the major leagues in northern California. His story is interwoven with tales of the game's Latin pioneers— men like Louis R. Castro, who broke into the majors 40 years before Jackie Robinson. Passionate and informative, the book rejoices in Tejada's sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous journey to The Show. But it also shares the heartbreak of those who've found themselves shut out of the American dream. — Joanna Cagan

Home Run: My Life in Pictures
By Hank Aaron with Dick Schaap.
Total Sports, 221 pp., $39.95.
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Remember when people were saying that the '94 strike hurt baseball so much that the book market would never be the same— that books on pro football, golf, and basketball would replace those on baseball as the staple of the sports market? Well, now the bios of Brett Favre, Tiger Woods, and Dennis Rodman are all on the $1.98 table and books like this one are stocking the shelves. Total Sports is filling the gap left when some of the major mainstream publishers pulled back on sports publishing. Home Runlooks like a coffee-table book— hundreds of color and sepia-toned photos, reproduced baseball cards, magazine covers, et al.— but it reads like it's from the golden age of sports bios, the 1960s. The latter is due mostly to the often overlooked Schaap and contributors such as Jerome Holtzman, Lonnie Wheeler, Bob Costas, and Denzel Washington (who produced the '96 Aaron documentary, Chasing the Dream) to name just a few. — Allen Barra

Those Damn Yankees: The Secret Life of America's Greatest Franchise
By Dean Chadwin
Verso. 264 pp., $25.

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Gee, Chadwin sure seems like a Yankee fan. He can recite their history and lore, no problem. He describes Derek Jeter and El Duque in downright poetic terms. He even regularly sits in the Yankee Stadium bleachers. So why does he hate the pinstriped franchise so much? Well, because, like any knowledgeable Yankee fan, he's aware that there's much to loathe about them. Except for those comfortable rooting for GM (as the saying goes), backing the Yankees is a guilty pleasure. And as Mike Royko put it, "Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax." So, an in-depth look at the litany of Bronx Bomber bummers is long overdue— for Yankee haters and lovers alike. Chadwin provides it, and he gives it good. From their free ride from the media to their problems with integration to their symbolism of empire, the Yankees are skewered over and over. Good. Let Yankee fans live the examined life for once. — Miles D. Seligman

Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters: How Statistics Can Level the Playing Field
ByMichael J. Schell.
Princeton University Press, 296 pp., $22.95.
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On the next Rikki Lake: "Why Smart Statisticians Reach Dumb Conclusions." In Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters, Schell, a biostatistician at the University of North Carolina, applies painstaking research and fastidious methodology to a fatally flawed line of inquiry. After adjusting for park factors and league factors, he proclaims with great ceremony that Tony Gwynn, who owns the highest career and single-season Fully Adjusted Batting Average (FABA), is the "greatest hitter in the history of baseball." The problem, of course, is that ranking players by batting average (especially the complicated "fully adjusted" batting average) is a little like judging American culture based on a very special episode of Home Improvement. Schell's shaky foundation leads to some real head-scratchers. In his FABA All-Star team, Kirby Puckett ranks ahead of Babe Ruth, while Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench are MIA. In the book's strangest list, however, Schell inadvertently torpedoes his own conclusion. In a brief discussion of adjusted on-base percentage, a far more telling stat, the mighty Gwynn drops to 32nd, behind legends like John Kruk, Mike Hargrove, and Ken Singleton. One can only hope that Schell is a little more careful when plotting melanoma trends. — Allen St. John

Joe Dimaggio: An American Icon
Daily News Legends Series.
Sports Publishing Inc., 248 pp., $29.95.
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This isn't so much an addition to your DiMaggio collection as a compact substitute for it. The text and pictures are from the Daily Newsarchives and range beyond theDiMaggio-centric. No matter what you know or think you know about Joe, you'll find things in here you haven't seen before, such as DiMaggio's mom raising a glass of wine on becoming an American citizen, or DiMaggio and Hall of Fame umpire Bill Clem as pallbearers at Babe Ruth's funeral. And the material isn't all DiMaggio friendly (the infamous salary holdout during World War II is covered) or sports oriented (as many good photos of Marilyn as in some of her bios). One reason this book works is that the tabloids and Joe's life seem to go together so well. What other American athlete made so many newspaper covers when his playing days were over? — A.B.

The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary
By Paul Dickson.
Harcourt Brace & Co., 579 pp., $35 hardcover, $20 paper.

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With an approach that's two parts Noah Webster and one part Lenny Webster, Dickson traces how words migrate from the outside world to the diamond (see cheese), and vice versa (see screwball), and even affect the way the game is played (see hit for the cycle). But don't get the impression that the DBDis merely a reference book. Chock-full of significant trivia (who coined the phrase good field, no hit and to whom was he referring?) and serious silliness (the new thesaurus section informs us that hen house hoist is a synonym for a fowl, um, foul ball) this is the season's best bathroom baseball book, and that, my friends, is high praise indeed. — A.S.J.

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