Bios of Campanella, Clemente highlight baseball books of spring
As baseball fans count down the final restless days of spring training, gearing-up for fantasy drafts and hoping that none of their favorite players get hurt, let's turn to the new crop of baseball books that will soon hit the shelves.
Here are some titles worth checking out:
Roy Campanella won three National League MVPs as the catcher of the Brooklyn Dodgers but his greatness is often overshadowed by teammate Jackie Robinson and catching contemporary Yogi Berra. His story, however, is fascinating, and a significant biography is long overdue. Neil Lanctot, who wrote an award-winning history of the Negro Leagues, is up the task.
Campanella, whose father was Italian, played nine years in the Negro Leagues and in Mexico and was considered briefly for the majors in an ill-conceived tryout by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1942. Campanella was a better, far more seasoned player than Robinson by the time the latter signed with Brooklyn in 1945 but Lanctot explains, "Robinson's feistiness, [then-Dodgers GM Branch] Rickey likely believed, would be of great value to the fight [to integrate] than Campy's more placid nature."
Lanctot presents Campy's story with the meticulous research of a historian and the considered prose of a novelist. This book is a keeper.
The saga of Roberto Clemente is well known to baseball fans yet it has been given new life in this stunning graphic novel by Santiago, a Puerto Rican cartoonist who lives in Chicago. Clemente's tale off the field is that of a tragic hero, ideally suited to be told in words and pictures. Beyond that, his physical beauty and grace on the field is captured by Santiago's deceptively simple artwork. Santiago's panels have a sharp, cinematic feel and the compositions and framing give the readers a better sense of how dynamic and explosive the game is than any baseball movie.
The wonder of this book is that is will appeal to kids and adults alike. Even non baseball fans will fall under its spell. The national pastime has been virtually untouched by the graphic novel genre but if Santiago's effort is any indication, the marriage of subject and form is nothing short of a grand slam. Santiago has set the bar high, though, and we'll be all the richer if anyone can approach the artistry and emotional resonance of this memorable book.
The comparisons to Michael Lewis'
Keri writes in an approachable, even-handed manner, occasionally showing his trademark humor but never in a flippant way. He's able to synthesize the analytics of the game with good, old-fashioned storytelling. The sections of the book on the Rays' original owner, Vince Naimoli, and current manager Joe Maddon, are especially strong.
Keri's book is rooted in the realities of the industry. "The idea behind the extra 2% -- finding ways to gain that little essential edge on the competition -- will always exist, in baseball as in business," writes Keri. "It just won't always belong to the Tampa Bay Rays."
Thorn, recently named the official historian of Major League Baseball, has spent a career immersed in baseball history, debunking myths and half-truths along the way. In his latest book, he plays to his strengths, painting a picture of the game's Paleolithic age that is crisp and entertaining. Thorn takes on the myths of the games origins -- no, Abner Doubleday did not invent the game in Cooperstown, and nope, it was not invented as a city game. Baseball, according to Thorn, can be traced back to the 18th century and originated in the country. It later became viable as a professional sport because of, not in spite of, gambling.
Thorn set out to write a book, using fresh research, to expose the truth about the old game. "However," he writes "as time wore on I found myself more engaged by the lies, and the reasons for their creation, and have sought her not to simply contradict them but to fathom them."
In today's age of scandal and celebrity, fans might be tempted to look at the past as a time of innocence. But Thorn cautions us that "the liars and schemers in this not so innocent age of the game proved to be fare more compelling characters than the straight arrows."
Tomes about the Yankees and Red Sox are a cottage industry onto themselves. For the New Yorkers, SI Senior Editor Kostya Kennedy's incisive account of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak (
As for the Red Sox, Dan Barry's well-crafted account of a marathon minor league game in Pawtucket,