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      Baseball Books Reviewed

      Baseball Book Reviews
      As "The Literary Baseball Magazine,"  Spitball has undertaken as part of its basic mission the task of reviewing as many deserving baseball books as possible, with empathy, appreciation, and authority. On this website and in the magazine itself we attempt to serve as the baseball book reviewer of record. Publishers and Authors NB: to have your baseball book considered for review on this website and in Spitball Magazine, to have your book listed on the "Current Baseball Books" page of this website, and to have the book automatically considered for the CASEY Award, please send a review copy to:
      Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine
      5560 Fox Road
      Cincinnati, OH 45239

      Recently Reviewed Baseball Books


      Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson, by Doug Wilson
      Reviewed by Scott Ferkovich (August 4, 2014)
      Brooks Robinson was one of the finest third basemen in baseball history. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, he is arguably the most popular athlete ever to wear the uniform of the Baltimore Orioles, his only team in 23 years in the major leagues. He played in 18 All-Star Games, was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1964, and won 16 Gold Gloves. He starred on some of the most dominant teams of the last fifty years, including two World Series winners. His fielding heroics in the 1970 Fall Classic made him a one-man highlight film, and he has set the standard for excellence at the hot corner.  Read More

      Stars & Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76 by Dan Epstein
      Reviewed by Mark Schraf (July 23, 2014)
      It’s just plain disturbing when your childhood memories start to appear in history books.
      But it’s also very interesting to compare what you remember to what actually occurred, to be shown the often surprisingly huge difference between your individual perception and true reality after it’s been filtered through the prism of historical reference. And, assuming the subject is worthy, that journey back in time will only be worth the time, money, and shelf space invested if that the prism – i.e., the author – is an entertaining combination of a great tour guide and your favorite professor in college: knowledgeable, well-versed, an expert on the subject, and a good storyteller to boot.  Read More

      1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Basefall Forever, by Bill Madden
      Reviewed by Scott Ferkovich (July 14, 2014) 
      1947 is remembered as the year when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. From a historical standpoint, however, Major League Baseball’s integration is often portrayed as if it began, and ended, with Robinson, as if his rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers opened the floodgates for black players, and from that moment on all other teams willingly rushed to fill the void on their own rosters. But that was hardly the case. As of spring training, 1954, a full seven years A.R. (After Robinson) half of the sixteen major league clubs still did not feature a black athlete on their rosters.  Read More


      The Closer, Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey 
      Reviewed by Tom Eckel (June 7, 2014)
      Everything about this book exudes calm and class.
      In the mail order retail business sellers work very hard on the customers’ “box opening experience”. Little, Brown has certainly made a statement with this book. Beneath the dust jacket you discover a dark blue, ribbed cover with a facsimile of Rivera’s autograph slanted in the lower right corner. Inside the front cover the first few (and last few) pages are a dark blue with white pinstripes and River’s “42”, in white, elegantly positioned.
      Inside, the words and pacing reveal an uncommon man. Sincere and humble and controlled.  Read More

       Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (June 6, 2014) 
      We humans are, in general, a fairly myopic bunch. We assume that the way things are right now is pretty much the way they’ve always been.  Just ask a teenager if they’ve ever heard of an 8-track cassette. Or a reel-to-reel tape player. Heck, there’s absolutely no way they’d have any idea what a vinyl record was if it weren’t for hip-hop DJ scratching.
      Just two years ago, there was a raging argument as to exactly who was truly most valuable in the American League – was it the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, or Anaheim’s rookie sensation Mike Trout, the darling of the sabermetric crowd. It seems impossible to fathom that a Triple Crown season – just the 16th time it’s been accomplished in the game’s long history – might not be the best season in a given year, although it’s far from a guarantee that the TC = MVP. Just ask Ted Williams or Lou Gehrig or Chuck Klein or Rogers Hornsby.  Read More

      Johnny Evers: A Baseball Life by Dennis Snelling.
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (May 28, 2014) 
      The typical contemporary baseball fan looks at Johnny Evers’ lifetime batting average of .270 and concludes that Evers’ Hall of Fame credentials are fraudulent, that he rode into Cooperstown on the coat tails of some catchy baseball verse by Franklin P. Adams with the refrain “Tinker to Evers to Chance.” The poem did achieve a bit of fame and is still anthologized regularly, but Evers was not dependent on it for his own celebrity. Nor was his reputation made by the infamous Merkle incident, although the unorthodox brilliance of the play did boost Evers’ standing in the public eye. No, Johnny Evers in his day was simply considered a great baseball player, the heart and soul of the great Chicago Cubs teams of the period, who was entirely deserving of baseball’s highest accolades. In Dennis Snelling’s new biography of “The Crab,” this basic truth about the career of Johnny Evers comes through plainly and convincingly (even though Snelling doesn’t even bother trying to bolster the case for Evers as a Hall of Famer); and no one who reads Johnny Evers: A Baseball Life (McFarland) will ever hold the subject in low esteem again.  Read More

      Reviewed by: Bob Mayberry, May 27, 2014
      Did you know that Art “Superman” Pennington played ten of his 15 professional seasons for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro American League, and the remainder in Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba? Did you know he batted over .300 on 9 occasions? Or that he hit a home run off Dizzy Dean and struck out against Satchel Paige? And, in 1959, in the minors leagues, he beat 1959 AL batting champ Harvey Kuenn by 9 points for the batting title.  Read More

      The Fight of Their Lives by John Rosengren
      Reviewed by: Tom Eckel (April 6, 1014)
      “I wish he could have been my catcher.” That’s how Juan Marichal ended his eulogy at John Roseboro’s funeral, and John Rosengren ended the book.
      In 1965, TV cameras broadcasting a Giants-Dodgers game recorded perhaps the most violent moment in modern baseball history when Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal clubbed Dodgers’ catcher Johnny Roseboro in the head with a baseball bat, igniting a huge brawl.  Read More

      Going the Distance by Michael Joyce
      Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (December 2, 2013)
      If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody’s around to hear or record it, does it make a sound?
      Of course, the answer is there’s no way to know for sure. However, if a baseball book is published, but not too many people know about it, does that mean it isn’t very good? This question we do have a sure answer for, and the journey of Michael Joyce’s challenging novel, Going the Distance - both into print and into consideration for this year’s Casey Awards – is as remarkable as his brilliant style.  Read More

      Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (November 10, 2013)
      Quick! Take a glance at your baseball bookshelf, and see how many DiMaggio books you own. You have Kostya Kennedy’s 56, the 2011 Casey winner, don’t you, as well as Richard Ben Cramer’s 2000 Casey nominee, the brilliant Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life? How ‘bout Joe and Marilyn by Roger Kahn, or David Halberstam’s The Teammates, or even the more elusive Joe DiMaggio: A Bio-Bibliography by Jack B. Moore, Casey nominees all? 
      Of course, there are dozens more books of varying quality and utility written about at least one member of baseball’s most famous family, so perhaps the greatest challenge that veteran writer Tom Clavin was able to conquer was to convince Harper Collins to publish yet another addition to the DiMaggio canon. Read More

      Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (November 10, 2013)
      One of the reasons Mike Shannon and the late Jim Harrison decided way back in 1980 to launch their quixotic endeavor named SPITBALL: The Literary Baseball Magazine was due in large part to the uninformed snobbery of many literary editors and critics, so many of whom couldn’t accept baseball as a proper vehicle for serious literary writing.
      One can almost hear Marianne Moore, Bernard Malamud, Robert Coover, John Updike, Donald Hall, Mark Harris, and thousands other marvelous poets, novelists, short story authors, and essayists of the day, in one voice, respond with the time-honored, universal descriptor major leaguers have used for a bad call or poor performance since they first started keeping score:
       “That’s horse%&*t!”  Read More

      Reviewed by Mark Schraf (October 16, 2013)
      “I am not an artist,” he was known to say, “I am a cartoonist.”
      Never were both absolute truth and absolute untruth uttered more succinctly, but when these are the words famed sports cartoonist Willard Mullin used to describe his own work and profession, it’s probably not prudent to disagree. Perhaps the best way to reconcile the conundrum was perfectly addressed in Fantagraphics Books’ latest baseball effort, Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball: Drawings 1934-1972, written by Hal Bock and Michael Powers, a sumptuous, comprehensive homage to a man aptly named by his peers as “Sports Cartoonist of the Century”.  Read More

      Reviewed by: Jack Greiner (May 28, 2013)
      It may be an overstatement to say that Smoky Joe Wood was the Forrest Gump of Major League Baseball, but not much of one. He played with Babe Ruth. He was on the Indians when Ray Chapman was killed by the pitch thrown by Carl Mays. His teammate Bill Wambsganss turned an unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series. 
      Gerald Wood’s biography – “Smoky Joe Wood The Biography of a Baseball Legend” – traces the history of Wood’s major league career, along with his pre-major league days as well as his life after the show as the coach of the Yale Bulldogs. It’s a comprehensive history of the man and his time. Read More

      Swinging '73: Baseball's Wildest Season
      Reviewed by: By Andrew O'Toole (May 3, 2013)
      When I was offered the opportunity to review a book on the 1973 baseball season my first reaction was, “Should be lots of Tug McGraw; I’m in.” 
      In Mathew Silverman’s Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season, the reader gets McGraw and much more. On the surface the hardly memorable ’73 campaign is an unlikely subject for a full length book. Silverman, however, makes his material work for him. The beauty of a seemingly mundane season lies in its ordinariness and in Swinging ’73 we are introduced to a cast of irrepressible personalities, notable events, and memorable episodes. Read More

      The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych
      Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (April 23, 2013)
      58 games. That’s it. That’s the sum total of major league appearances for Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych, who won 19 games in his Rookie of the Year campaign of 1976, but just 10 more over the next four injury-plagued seasons. It’s an oft-seen arc, especially for baseball pitchers, where arms can be as fragile as celebrity itself, but in a day and age when instant fame and fortune is commonplace, what is so special about the career and life of yet another ROY winner who didn’t plan out (remember John Castino? Doug Metzger? Carl Morton? Joe Charboneau? Harry Byrd?) that warrants a full-length biography? Read More

      Heart of a Tiger: Growing Up with My Grandfather, Ty Cobb
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (March 26, 2013)
      Ty Cobb, the defiant monomaniacal competitor and brilliant batsman, is one of the most famous players in baseball history. He has been written about more extensively than any other player excepting perhaps Babe Ruth, his quasi-contemporary and main challenger; and much of this writing, especially Charles Alexander’s monumental biography published in 1984 by Oxford University Press, has been devoted to debunking myths about the subject. Most recently, researchers have called into question the accuracy of the sensationalized portrait painted by Al Stump of the elder Cobb as a half-crazed out-of-control wild man. Nevertheless, the primary public image of Cobb as pretty much a mean bastard has remained intact, which makes the latest book about the former Detroit Tigers great, a memoir by his grandson Herschel, a most welcome addition to the Ty Cobb canon. Read More

      Long Shot
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (March 18, 2013)
      Every Hall of Fame player or Hall of Fame-worthy player deserves not only an autobiography and a definitive biography but an apologia as well, assuming he wants and needs one. Future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza probably needed the latter, and a good one at that, and he gets it here in Long Shot with the help of collaborator Lonnie Wheeler. What does Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history with 427 home runs and a .308 lifetime batting average, have to feel defensive about? Well, plenty as it turns out... Read More

      The Rotation: A Season with the Phillies and One of the Greatest Pitching Staffs Ever Assembled
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (March 9, 2012)
      No one should be surprised that baseball today reflects many of the main characteristics of our culture, but the idea bears repeating nonetheless. This connection exists even in the province of baseball literature and baseball books, and a perfect example of it can be found in The Rotation: A Season with the Phillies and One of the Greatest Pitching Staffs Ever Assembled by Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki; a book about a hyped-up situation that had to be started and worked on even as the situation came into being. The Rotation is hardly the first baseball book to attempt to capitalize on the latest hot topic, but it did run a greater risk than normal in... Read More


      Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella
      Reviewed by: Charlie Vascellaro (September 26, 2011)
      Neil Lanctot's recent biography Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, would seem to refer to the great catcher's life before and after an automobile accident left him a paraplegic, ending his baseball playing career in 1958, 10 years after he became one of the breakthrough group of African American major leaguers with the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, the book's title may also convey two additional double entendres: one concerning his dual ethnicity as an African-American and Italian-American, and another perhaps his two baseball careers as a veteran of both the Negro and Major professional leagues. In any event, themes of duality are consistently revisited throughout this well-balanced assessment of Campanella's complex life. Read More


      Hutch: Baseball's Fred Hutchinson and a Legacy of Courage
      Reviewed by: Mark W. Schraf (August 5, 2011)
      The book’s illustrations – of course, the main vehicle used to move a graphic novel’s narrative forward - are a joy from first page to last, both in the quality and skill of the mostly representational artwork, but also in the playfulness and originality of the panel choices. Seamlessly melding art with the written word, Shannon employs a chronological structure, beginning with the dark events surrounding the 1919 World Series between the victorious Cincinnati Reds and the infamous Black Sox, to introduce Hutchinson's story. Read More


      "21": The Story of Roberto Clemente
      Reviewed by: Mark W. Schraf (June 18, 2011)
      Captivating, revealing, and dramatic, "21" accomplished through art, creative use of informed imagination, and pure passion, far more than I thought possible from a graphic novel. I believe I now have a more complete picture of Roberto Clemente, but not of his statistics, or even his style of play, or of his place in baseball history. I have a truer sense of his heart. Read More


      Bottom Of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game
      Reviewed by: Mark W. Schraf (June 17, 2011)
      We are SPITBALL: The Literary Baseball Magazine, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we are passionate about fine writing, especially about baseball. And while literature can be defined as broadly as one might wish, there is nothing that gets us as pumped up as finding an exquisitely written baseball book, regardless of the subject. Bottom of the 33rd is one of those special books, and Dan Barry is one of those special authors. Read More


      Pujols: More Than the Game
      Reviewed by: William J. McGill (May 15, 2011)
      Anyone who has seen Albert Pujols hit a home run--and there have been ample opportunities since in his ten + years in the major leagues he has hit over 400 of them--should have noted two things: the grace and power of his swing and his gesture as he crosses home plate, looking and pointing skyward. Those two things define who he is: a gifted athlete who works hard to make the best use of his gift and a man who believes in giving thanks to God for bestowing it on him. As he has said: "Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior." Read More


      The Ringer
      Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (April 10, 2011)
      And remarkably, thankfully, nary a cliché is to be found, and that goes a long way in making The Ringer an exciting, intellectually challenging, and altogether worthwhile effort. Read More


      The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (March 12, 2011)
      Of all the numerous unique aspects that the game of baseball has going for it, none is more important or more fascinating that the ball itself. Our familiarity with this most commonplace of all sports objects belies just how little we average fans know about it. The antidote to this pervasive ignorance is to be found in the first book to take as its entire subject the baseball itself, Zack Hample’s The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches. Read More


      The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad
      Reviewed by: William J. McGill (November 15, 2010)
      Given the fulsome nature of the sub-title it hardly seems necessary to say what this book is about, but in the event there is any question let me quote two sentences from the front flap of the dust jacket: ”Is the face of American baseball throughout the world that of goodwill ambassador or ugly American? Has baseball crafted its own image or instead been at the mercy of broader forces shaping our society and the world?" Read More


      Pie Traynor: A Baseball Biography
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (October 17, 2010)
      Pie Traynor: A Baseball Biography immeasurably increases both our knowledge of and respect for the greatest third baseman to ever wear a Pirates' uniform. Read More


      The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
      Reviewed by: William J. McGill (September 30, 2010)
      There is much to admire and enjoy about this fulsome biography of Henry Aaron, not the first book about him, but certainly the most ambitious and thorough. Read More


      The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven: How a Ragtag Group of Fans Took the Fall for Major League Baseball
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (August 14, 2010)
      It’s a cliché but true nonetheless that the typical fan turns to sports for entertainment and a pleasurable escape from the headaches of "real" life. Fans don’t like it when the curtain is pulled aside and they are forced to admit the fact that the sports world is infected with some of the same problems afflicting the larger society: greed, corruption, dishonesty, drug use, etc. Read More


      The Man With Two Arms
      Reviewed by: Mark Schraf (August 2, 2010)
      He captures the inner dialog of a father who wants desperately to give his only son the very best possible chance to succeed in the game he so passionately loves. The game descriptions and conversation are both spot on. Characterization is strong, with no cardboard characters to be found. Read More


      Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards
      Reviewed by: Joshua Fleer (July 1, 2010)
      In Cardboard Gods, Wilker moves us beyond baseball cards as monetary investment to place us inside his Transcendentalist-esque realization of their ability to transcend time and make tangible a golden age of childhood. He takes us to a simpler time when older brothers were idolized and happiness could be found in a nickel pack of cards. Read More


      Wiffle Ball: The Ultimate Guide by Michael Hermann
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (May 12, 2010)
      Of all the major team sports baseball is the one which has engendered the most variations upon a theme in terms of playing the game. Far from requiring nine to a side, kids, by themselves or in the smallest of groups, have found innumerable ways to replicate the baseball playing experience, often using something other than a baseball to do so. Corks, rocks, bottle caps, golf balls, tennis balls, rubber balls, and even rubber balls sawed in half (among others) have all served as substitutes for actual baseballs, but the king of all baseball substitutes is a specially-made plastic ball, known as the Wiffle ball. Read More


      Reviewed by: Susanne Wells (Apr. 26, 2010)
      If you're a kid in a small town in the Dominican Republic and you want to play baseball but have no equipment, you use whatever might be available.  You make a ball out of old socks, a bat out of a stick, and a glove out of a milk carton. Read More


      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (Apr. 2, 2010)
      Dave Jamieson has produced an elegant history of baseball cards that for the average collector or former collector is informative, fascinating, nostalgic, and … depressing as hell. Read More


      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (March 25, 2010)
      Fortunately, for all baseball literature fans and especially for the millions of us Mays aficionados, James S. Hirsch has proven himself to be up to the task, and brilliantly so. Read More


      High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time by Tim Wendell 
      Reviewed by: Alex Holzman (Feb. 22, 2010) 
      Any book that sets out to name the top ten fastball pitchers of all time is sure to provoke controversy, and Tim Wendel accomplishes just that in his somewhat quirky, somewhat biased, freewheeling, and always entertaining book, High Heat. Read More


      Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary
      Reviewed by: William J. McGill (Feb. 4, 2010)
      Heretofore there have been only a couple of books about Roger Maris; including Maury Allen's Roger Maris: A Man for All Seasons, published in the wake of Maris' untimely death at the age of 51 in December of 1985, and Maris at the Bat, a collaborative account with Jim Ogle of his sixty-one home run season in 1961. Thus, it is high time that a more definitive biography, such as Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero, should be attempted. Read More


      Rum Point: A Baseball Novel by Rick Wilber
      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (Jan. 25, 2010)
      The baseball mystery novel is a tricky proposition, a combination of delicious tastes difficult to mix successfully. For readers who are more fans of mystery than of baseball, too much who-done-it is an impossibility. On the other hand, when the baseball is subordinate to the mystery, fans of fiction about baseball first and foremost may finish such a book feeling a little dissatisfied. The latest baseball mystery to deal with this literary conumdrum is Rick Wilber's Rum Point: A Baseball Novel. Read More

      Reviewed by: Mike Shannon (Jan. 1, 2010) 
      Given the title, it's not surprising that Achorn's book is a seasonal account of Radbourn's best season on the hill (actually there was no mound back then for pitchers to throw from, an example of the type of detail about the way the game was played in Radbourn's era that Achorn expertly delineates for the reader), which is also the best season any pitcher ever had (from a strictly won-loss record point of view)! But it is also a start-to-finish biography and one which, though seemingly condensed compared to the space given the one year of 1884, is perhaps as complete a biography of the man as we are ever likely to get. Read More



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