Friday, December 17, 2010
Favorite baseball books of 2010
By Jayson Stark
Judging from the demolition parking derby currently in progress at the mall, a lot of you still have shopping to do this holiday season.
And now that I'm an official two-time author, I know exactly what you're looking for that can make every single loved one in your life happy:
Ideally, in fact, MY baseball books.
But now that I've got my mandatory self-hypified book plug out of the way (for now), this is the annual edition of this blog that presents just a few of my own personal favorite baseball books of the year. Ready to take notes? Excellent. Here we go:
"THE GAME FROM WHERE I STAND" -- by Doug Glanville
The great Doug Glanville is one of the brightest, funniest, most perceptive baseball-playing humans I've ever had the privilege to know. And as anyone who has ever read his remarkable baseball columns on this site or (in a previous life) in the New York Times has already learned, he's a GREAT writer.
But now, along comes this fabulous, eloquent book to prove that point one more time.
I don't even know quite how to describe this book, except to say that A) there has never been a baseball book like it, and B) it's my favorite baseball book of the year.
It takes you places no baseball book has ever taken you. I guarantee you that.
From the importance of driving the right car into the spring-training parking lot to the "art" of discreetly checking the scoreboard to find out whether that ground ball you'd just scorched was ruled a hit or an error.
From the unique jurisprudence system known as Kangaroo Court to my personal favorite anecdote -- of how doing an interview with ME helped this man meet the one, the only Tyra Banks (true story).
But in between the laughs and the wisdom, there are moving personal tales that remind us that human beings play these games. We find that out by the time this book is six pages old, when Doug Glanville begins to describe what it was like to try to play baseball during a season in which he knew his father was dying.
"The stories I tell are every player's story," Glanville writes, "and are testimonials to the human condition in all its glory and frailties, something not exclusive to baseball."
Not many players I've ever known could have written that sentence, let alone told these stories. If you don't read them, you're cheating yourself out of a special journey inside a baseball player's world.
And now some brief looks at other books I love -- several of whom, I'll confess, happen to have been written by longtime friends:
"THE BULLPEN GOSPELS" -- by Dirk Hayhurst
As I said when I extolled this book's praises back in March, "The Bullpen Gospels" is the long-awaited, much-needed minor-league equivalent of "Ball Four," as told through the eyes of Blue Jays pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, a guy who clearly loves to write as much as he loves to pitch. It's eloquent. It's insightful. It's poignant. It's hilarious. It's raunchy. Sometimes all in the same paragraph.
It's the story of Hayhurst's 2007 roller-coaster ride through the Padres' system, laid out for you with honest, laugh-out-loud eloquence by a man who has lived that life. A tremendous read.
"HARRY THE K" -- by Randy Miller
There isn't a day that goes by all summer when I don't miss the late, great Harry Kalas -- the voice of baseball in the town I've lived in for most of my life. So the next-best thing to having Harry stroll through the press box or belt out one more emphatic "outahere" is Randy Miller's appreciative, exhaustively reported and occasionally hard-edged biography of Philadelphia's most beloved broadcaster. Harry Kalas was far from perfect, as this book makes clear. But his big heart, quick wit and affection for the city that embraced him come shining through in this very well-done tribute.
"THE CURSE" -- by Andy Van Slyke, with Rob Rains
Ever wondered what forces in the universe would have to be unearthed for the Cubs to win the World Series? You just might find out in this novel by the always-entertaining Andy Van Slyke and his distinguished co-author, Rob Rains. I can't spoil the fun. But let's just say there might be an epic duel, late in the book, between the Cubs and some guy named Mariano Rivera.
"BASEBALL'S ULTIMATE POWER" -- by Bill Jenkinson
It isn't just chicks who dig the long ball. And nobody I've known in my life has devoted more time, energy or passion to determine the identity of the longest balls ever hit than my old friend, Bill Jenkinson. Long before the Tale of the Tape or Hit Tracker Online or FanGraphs, there was Bill Jenkinson, digging through microfilm, walking around sites where ballparks used to stand or interviewing every living eyewitness to separate tape-measure fact from folklore. In this way-too-underhyped book, he finally puts all his findings in one fascinating place. So if you've ever wondered -- or know anyone who has ever wondered -- who hit baseballs farther, Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle, or needed a definitive list of the 100 longest home runs ever hit, this is one must-have book.
"BATTING STANCE GUY" -- by Gar Ryness and Caleb Dewart
I've always wanted to compile a list of the coolest batting stances of all time. Luckily, Gar Ryness has done it for me -- and the rest of us. Except he doesn't just compile them; he BECOMES them. If you don't know the Batting Stance Guy, you don't know what you're missing. So check him out here and then go find this book.
"THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY" -- by Todd Zolecki
As I said in the cover blurb I wrote for "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," my buddy Todd Zolecki is one of the lucky ones. In the 11 years he's covered the Phillies -- and covered them as well as a baseball team can be covered -- he's seen way more good times than bad or ugly times. But he captures them all in this fun book, which rampages through the many dark days of this team's history but still remembers to hitch a ride on those 2008 parade floats. Lots of great tales and cool numbers. Then again, you'd expect nothing less from this guy.
• Shameless Book Plug Dept.: Hey, I warned you I wasn't through plugging my own books. So if you're a Philadelphian, or even just passing through, you should know I'll be signing copies of "Worth The Wait" and "The Stark Truth" on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m., at the fabulous Barnes & Noble in Willow Grove, Pa. It's the final stop on this year's edition of the annual Philadelphia Sports Book Signing Extravaganza. And this time around, we've got our greatest lineup ever. Among the honored guests: Sal Paolantonio, Ray Didinger, Mike Missanelli, Glen Macnow, Merrill Reese, Chris Wheeler, Todd Zolecki, Randy Miller, Greg Cosell, Anthony Gargano, Reuben Frank and more! So please come see us. Always a fun night of banter and book-selling, though not necessarily in that order. Go here for more info.