The collection is an antecedent to Lawrence Ritter’s
“Glory of their Times,” and if you enjoy that classic you’ll want to check out this book as well. It is not as artfully edited as “Glory” and the stories are generally not as coercing, but there are more of them and many of baseball’s greatest games are written asked to name their favorite day. I especially enjoyed tales from Connie Mack, Walter Johnson
and Leo Durocher. In general, the better the storyteller, the better the story.
The book was first published in 1945. I read from a 1996 edition and I would have appreciated a more modern editing. It appears the 1996 book is no different than the one published five decades earlier other than the inclusion of an introduction by Jerome Holtzman, longtime Chicago Tribune columnist and now historian for Major League Baseball. Certainly Holtzman or another historian would have been capable of updating the text, which includes a summary of each player (incomplete in several cases even though the player has been retired for decades) and up-to-date references about the time in which he was speaking. For example, a player makes reference to “last season” and you have to remember which season he is talking about, not only to follow the story but also to know what hasn’t happen yet.
I read this book straight through. It also would be useful to cherry pick from the most compelling stories and from the players you are most interested to learn about. Most tales include a box score from the game being discussed and those are interesting to check out.
‘Dollar Sign on the Muscle’
inside look at the world of baseball scouting is one of my new favorite baseball books. I read every page with interest.
Scouting is a topic that attracts me because I am fascinated with the game behind the game. Meaning, I want to learn the stuff you don’t get to know simply by watching the game on the field. Cover to cover, this book is about inside baseball, told through the eyes of men who devoted their lives to the game. They may not always be right — in fact, baseball scouting includes heavy doses of failure — but they know they have a well-reasoned opinion.
I always thought it would make a great book to follow around one scout for one season to see what he does with his time, what games he watches, what observations he makes. To Kerrane’s
credit, he provides varying viewpoints on the profession — from the lifers who remember the days before the amateur draft to the young guys who don’t worry about whether a prospect has “the good face.” These different perspectives offer a great deal to the book.
The author followed a cadre of Philadelphia Phillies scouts during the early 1980s. He covered a full season, everything from draft preparation and execution to fall baseball in Latin America to minor league scouting.
First published in 1984, the edition I read from was updated in 1998 with a new after word from the author. The original book stands as a must-read for baseball book readers. If you haven’t read “Dollar Sign” yet, I recommend picking up the latest edition. It’s worth it to find out what happens to the players and scouts 15 years later.
‘The Catcher was a Spy’
This page-turning biography from Nicholas Dawidoff
is worth your time as well. The book is about the mysterious life of Moe Berg, a reserve catcher and dugout savant for various major league teams in the 1920s and ’30s. Berg later becomes a spy who does valuable field work for the United States during World War II.
Berg’s life (and Dawidoff’s presentation of that life) is intriguing even before one gets to the point in the book where Berg begins to serve his country. A voracious reader of newspapers and books, a scholar, linguist and world traveler, his teammates often wondered why Berg was even in professional baseball. There were two reasons — he loved the game and more importantly he loved a life that allowed him to get paid to travel.
Dawidoff proves in this book that he is a skilled reporter and a better storyteller. He presents Berg’s life in layers and the story unfolds in a way that makes you understand why the author so exhaustively pursued Berg as a subject. The reader is made to want to know more about this elusive American.
So, that’s some of what I did on my winter vacation. To be forthright, though, I haven’t yet finished the Moe Berg
book. I have about 100 pages to go. So I guess I did allow myself to get a bit distracted. Perhaps I need to work on my focus.