Paul Dickson, who is quickly becoming one of the premier sports biographers in the business, selected his top five baseball books in an article today in the Wall Street Journal (April 22-23, 2017, p. c10). The article is entitled “Five Best: A Personal Choice.”
Dickson, who most recently penned a biography on Leo Durocher, also wrote a classic biography on Bill Veeck. I read and posted blogs on both of these books, and you can read them here.
Durocher: (3/19/2017) http://www.15minutebusinessbooks.com/blog/2017/03/19/dicksons-newest-characterizes-leo-the-lip/
These are Dickson’s top five selections in the WSJ article:
- Ball Four by Jim Bouton (1970)
- Only the Ball Was White by Robert Peterson (1970)
- Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck (1962)
- The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams (1970)
- Moneyball by Michael Lewis (2003)
I have no problems with any of these selections. However, if I were making a list, I would have at the very top, the amazing work by George F. Will, entitled Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (Macmillan, 1990). That book has convinced many skeptics and critics who think that professional athletes just play that they actually work. No, this book proves they work. And, they work harder and longer at their craft than the vast majority of employees in most professions, including examining multitudes of complex variables in making decisions. Baseball players, in this book, are not the “boys of summer.” They are truly men at work. To me, for baseball fans who read books, it is an essential selection.
I have waited quite some time for another book by Paul Dickson. In a previous blog, I discussed the virtues of his book about Bill Veeck, one of the great showmen in baseball history. You can read my blog about that book by clicking here.
I am happy to wait. Not rushing to get a book to press helps ensure that it will be more comprehensive, accurate, and of higher overall quality. To that end, it appears that Dickson has succeeded with his newest, Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017).
In a review written by Edward Kosner in the Wall Street Journal (March 18-19, p. C9), entitled “The Devil at Short,” he heaps high praise upon the book by stating, “All of this contributed to the legend that Mr. Dickson has so adroitly researched, annotated, and debunked. The authenticated Durocher turns out to be even more fascinating – and impressive, in a way – than the mythical one.”
Durocher was one of the last player-managers we had in baseball. He was a shortstop by position. As a teenager, I remember that he became the manager of the Houston Astros, which was very funny to me, because he absolutely hated playing in the Astrodome when he managed other teams. And, here he was managing IN the Astrodome!
He was certainly a crafty manager. One of the great sportscasters of all time was Lindsey Nelson. In his book, Hello, Everybody: I’m Lindsey Nelson (William Morrow, 1985), I remember that he said if he had ONE game he had to win, he would pick Durocher to manage it. He believed that he might steal it, or finesse it, but he would win it. That is quite a statement to make, showing confidence in a manager who never won a World Series game!
As the WSJ review points out, “Leo the Lip was a brawler, a womanizer, a prankster, a compulsive gambler – and a Hall of Famer.”
If you like historical baseball, and enjoy biographies about some colorful people, I am sure this book is for you.
Before I resumed going to church, every Sunday morning we would watch “This Week” on ABC, hosted by David Brinkley, with Sam Donaldson and George F. Will. Will, while a conservative and unexcited Republican, was always quick and to the point, and very knowledgeable about current affairs. A Chicago Cubs fan, while in working in Washington D.C., he was a part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. He left ABC in 2013 to join Fox News. He usually wears a bow tie, but I couldn’t bring myself to publish one of those pictures.
He wrote one of the most influential books that I have read in my life, entitled Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (New York: Macmillan, 1990). That book should be read by anyone who thinks baseball is just a game, and that players and managers are overpaid. The book demonstrated that this is game is not played by the “boys of summer,” but rather by men, applying intensive decision-making, examining complex variables, and exhibiting extraordinary skill in their jobs.
So, I anxiously awaited his next book about Chicago’s famed baseball yard. It is called A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred (New York: Crown Books, 2014). We can’t present it at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas because although it reached the best-seller lists, it is not a business book.
You can read a review of this book from the Wall Street Journal by clicking here. Joseph Epstien concludes that review with this:
George Will has achieved a fine balance in “A Nice Little Place on the North Side” between his heartfelt allegiance to the Chicago Cubs and his recognition of their status among sports fans as a national joke. As fodder for humor the Cubs have been inexhaustible. The morning after the Cubs lost the 1984 National League Championship Series to the Padres, owing in good part to Leon Durham, the team’s first baseman, allowing a dribbling grounder to go through his legs, I was shopping in my neighborhood grocery store. The owner asked if I had heard about Leon Durham’s attempted suicide. “Really?” I asked, genuinely shocked. “He stepped out in front of a bus,” the man said, “but it went through his legs.” Lots of laughs, those Cubs, and, as George Will neatly puts it, “a lifelong tutorial in deferred gratification.”
From Amazon.com, where it is # 1 on the sports best-selling list and # 224 in overall books, you can read this summary:
Winding beautifully like Wrigley’s iconic ivy, Will’s meditation on “The Friendly Confines” examines both the unforgettable stories that forged the field’s legend and the larger-than-life characters—from Wrigley and Ruth to Veeck, Durocher, and Banks—who brought it glory, heartbreak, and scandal. Drawing upon his trademark knowledge and inimitable sense of humor, Will also explores his childhood connections to the team, the Cubs’ future, and what keeps long-suffering fans rooting for the home team after so many years of futility. In the end, A Nice Little Place on the North Side is more than just the history of a ballpark. It is the story of Chicago, of baseball, and of America itself.
Who hasn’t seen outfielders diving after a ball into the famous ivy on the outfield wall? Or the story about Steve Bartman, who on October 14, 2003, allegedly interfered with Cubs outfielder Moises Alou catching a foul ball, extending an inning and opening the gates for an 8-run watershed for the Florida Marlins in a playoff game? Or, hearing about first baseman Ernie Banks, who excitedly would proclaim, “let’s play two.” Or, all the controversies and barriers to renovating the park for a more modern and comfortable appearance?
Forget politics. Forget what you think about George Will’s philosophy, opinions, and dress. Immerse yourself in this book. You will be a better fan. You will also find something else to reference about an American icon. The stories here are abundant. Wrigley field is certainly not one of the wonders of the world, but its loyal fans who are accustomed to losing and tight quarters to watch baseball games, are a unique part of American culture.