Diamond Jubilee

A collection of new books examines all aspects of baseball—with hits and whiffs
March 18, 2007

INSIDE POWER
by Gary Sheffield and David Ritz Crown, $24.00

HIDEKI MATSUI
by Shizuka Ijuin Ballantine Books, $19.95

THE PRIDE AND THEPRESSURE
by Michael Morrissey Doubleday, $23.95

OVER THE past fewyears books about the New York Yankees have been sprouting up more often thanGeorge Steinbrenner overpays for a free agent. Five members of the currentYankees team have written books while wearing pinstripes, and works about BabeRuth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle continue to come out with numbingregularity. Then there's the whole spate of books on the Yankees--Red Soxrivalry that have hit the bookstores since Boston won the World Series in2004.

A crop of newhardcovers can now be added to the lineup. The offering that will create themost fuss is the Gary Sheffield memoir, Inside Power, a fast and engaging readin which the All-Star rightfielder criticizes the Yankees for how they treatedhim during his tumultuous three-year stint in the Bronx. Sheffield, who wastraded to the Detroit Tigers in the off-season, has led a nomadic career,having hit 455 home runs while playing for seven teams, and his book gives youa good sense of why so many of those marriages ended sourly. Signed by theBrewers out of high school, Sheffield was 21 when he faced his first contractdispute in Milwaukee and learned "to treat this game the way [baseballowners] do." From that point on, he writes, he would continuously "askmyself the questions: How can I maximize my revenue? How can I increase myworth?"

While Sheffieldriffs on issues from his name being linked to the BALCO steroids scandal("I've never touched a strength-building steroid in my life") to racismin major league baseball ("It hurts my heart that few black men becomefranchise players.... White owners want white franchise players"),Sheffield saves some of his best cuts for the Yankees' organization. Hedescribes Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman as"cold-blooded" and manager Joe Torre as "an owner's manager, not aplayer's manager" and "a company man." Sheffield says the skipperdisrespected him from the first day he arrived in New York, in 2004, becauseTorre was in favor of the team acquiring Vladimir Guerrero, another free-agentoutfielder, instead. Sheffield blasts Torre's decision making, including themanager's call in Game 5 of last year's Division Series against the Tigers tobat Alex Rodriguez eighth in the order, a move that, according to Sheffield,"sent a signal to Detroit that we were reeling and unsteady." He adds,"Motivation isn't Torre's greatest skill."

One member of theYankees that Sheffield spares is Hideki Matsui, an international star whoremains something of an enigma. The laconic Japanese outfielder rarely agreedto one-on-one interviews in his native country, and since coming to the U.S. toplay with the Yankees in 2003 he has been just as elusive. His first authorizedbiography, Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run,written by celebrated Japanese fiction writer Shizuka Ijuin, fails to providemuch insight into the 32-year-old leftfielder even though the author and thesubject are friends. When Matsui was playing for the Yomuiri Giants, he grantedthe novelist a rare interview because he admired Ijuin's writing, and therelationship developed from there. Ijuin's homage to Godzilla isdisappointingly distant and too reverential to provide any illumination. Whilehe does provide rich detail on Matsui's humble upbringing in the coastal cityof Kanazawa, Ijuin mostly writes like a fan observing from afar. The authormakes several references to meeting up with Matsui for late dinners after gamesin Tokyo and New York; too bad he rarely reveals what they talked about.

New York Postbaseball writer Michael Morrissey, by contrast, is good with the small stuff inThe Pride and the Pressure: A Season Inside the New York Yankee Fishbowl.Thanks to Morrissey's impressive access to the Yankees' front office, coachingstaff and players, his book will make an interesting read for true Yankeesfans, offering colorful sketches of the clubhouse personalities, from eccentriccenterfielder Johnny Damon, who in his first season as a Yankee encouragedteammates to go "free-balling" (sans jock) during games in an act ofsolidarity, to tightly wound third baseman Alex Rodriguez, painted as a loneranger in the locker room. In the end, however, the book falls flat because theYankees' 2006 season, which came to a quiet end in Detroit in the first roundof the postseason, was a mostly forgettable affair. But, of course, for theYankees and those who write about them, there's always next year.

THE SOUL OFBASEBALL
by Joe Posnanski William Morrow, $24.95

"BASEBALL ISstill baseball," Buck O'Neil once said to a TV reporter who swore the gamewas better back when. Even as he made his legacy stumping for greaterrecognition of the bygone Negro leagues, O'Neil, who died last October at 94,lived equally in the present—as quick to extol the virtues of Roger Clemens asto reminisce about Satchel Paige. He was wont to compare the bat-on-ball soundsproduced by Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson and Bo Jackson, all of which he had heardfirsthand.

In this engagingand spirit-lifting book, O'Neil—a former Negro leagues batting champ andrevered Kansas City Monarchs manager—travels through America in the last yearof his life, while Joe Posnanski (a Kansas City Star columnist) tags along.O'Neil spreads the gospel of baseball as well as his own life-affirming mojo.Much like Mitch Albom's Morrie, O'Neil possesses a relentless, infectiousoptimism. He makes folks feel good. He pretends to remember old ballplayers'tall tales. ("In our beautiful memory," he says at one point, "weall hit .300.") He hugs people a lot. Even when O'Neil gets ambushed on-airby a talk-radio host who argues coarsely that "Jackie Robinson was asellout," O'Neil protests, eloquently and firmly. Then, in the tensesilence after the show ends, he says to his tormentor, "You are my kind ofbrother."

Posnanski'swriting strikes a lovely overall tone, avoiding a descent into mawkishness.While the dark side of the Negro leagues inevitably emerges—players being shutout of restaurants and absorbing ugly epithets—O'Neil's positive nature alwaysendures. During the daylong, bone-rattling bus rides that his peers abhorred,he would just reflect and "watch the trees," he says, thinking, We'llget there. We always get there. Coming from an indefatigably sunny 94-year-old,it seems an instruction for how to live.

When the Cubs Were Kings

Crazy '08
by Cait Murphy Smithsonian Books, $24.95

BACK IN 1908 a majority of baseball games wereofficiated by just one umpire, which gave rise to on-field mischief. The umpstood behind the pitcher and would have to turn his back to the plate when aball was hit. Savvy catchers would then trip up the batter on his way tofirst.

Such picaresque details are what make Cait Murphy'sCrazy '08 such a fun and revealing journey through the early days of baseball.The book's central argument, that 1908 is "the best season in baseballhistory," is perhaps a stretch—other years had tight pennant races too andfuture Hall of Famers facing off—but fortunately Murphy doesn't spend too muchtime arguing her case. The claim is really just a MacGuffin that allows her toexplore the game back then.

Along the way come eager detours into such topics asthe high suicide rate of ballplayers in that era and the rash of stadium firesthat set off baseball's first building boom. Murphy, a FORTUNE assistantmanaging editor, even calls "timeouts" to present minichapters on suchnonbaseball topics as Chicago's red-light district and serial killer BelleGunness, who lured doomed suitors to her farm via personal ads.

Best, though, is the season's most dramatic episode:Merkle's Boner, upon which turned the Cubs-Giants pennant race. In a lateSeptember game against the Cubs, with two out in the ninth, Giants rookie FredMerkle failed to run to second on an apparent game-winning hit; as fans rushedthe field, the Cubs tagged second for a run-nullifying force-out. The game wasthen called for darkness and had to be replayed weeks later to decide thepennant. The victor is known to every Chicago fan because 1908 is the year inwhich the Cubs last won the World Series.

Number Crunchers

THE SPORTS ENCYCLOPEDIA: BASEBALL 2007
Edited by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen and Michael L. Neft St. Martin's,$23.95

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2007
Edited by Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman Plume, $19.95

TO THE LIST of institutions rendered obsolete by theInternet (the classified ad, the phone book), add baseball encyclopedias.Anvilsized statistical compendiums were once the holy texts of a numbers-drivensport, but historical data is now easily found online, and to be worth theirweight stat bibles must give readers more than stats, as two new tomes clearlydemonstrate.

The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball 2007 picks up wherethe last edition left off, condensing the game's history into 859 agate-typedpages of standings, lineups and stats. It's useful info, but despite its heft,Baseball 2007 feels thin and outdated. The summaries of each season are trite,and it's a chore to follow a player's career path. (Finding Ty Cobb'syear-by-year stats requires the perusal of Tigers' and Athletics' lineups from1905 to '28.)

Far more fun is a tour of Baseball Prospectus 2007, bythe researchers and writers at baseballprospectus.com (who also contribute toSI's coverage). The Prospectus doesn't repackage history. It offers a peek intothe future, using complicated statistical modeling to predict how players willdo this year. (Fantasy owners should note that last year the Prospectusaccurately predicted NL MVP Ryan Howard's breakout and the decline of Red Soxcatcher Jason Varitek.)

The book brims with obscure stats but offers plentyfor right-brain fans too. Essays on each team's '06 season and '07 prospectsare witty, and the player blurbs prove that the authors watch the games, notjust box scores. There are also savvy studies of, among other things, thebusiness of baseball (it's booming) and the effect of last year's amphetamineban (there wasn't one). The result is a rich snapshot of where the game—and itsreference books—are today, and where they're going.

PHOTOTOM DIPACE (TOP)BLAST OFF Sheffield takes his rips at Yankees management, and particularly slams Torre. PHOTOERICK W. RASCO (SHEFFIELD) PHOTOERICK W. RASCO ('08 COVERS) PHOTOMEL LEVINE (MATSUI) PHOTOMEL LEVINE (PRIDE COVERS) PHOTOCOURTESY OF BUCK O'NEIL (TOP)ETERNALOPTIMIST A former Negro leagues star, O'Neil bats 1.000 as a literarycompanion. PHOTOMEL LEVINE PHOTOMEL LEVINE (TOP) PHOTOERICK W. RASCO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)