Tag Archives: Baseball

A Few More Books for BUCtober and Beyond

Even thought we’ve already had an Eleventh Stack blog about our winning baseball team in this Steel City, it’s so rare that the major sports news in October should be about anything but the Pittsburgh Steelers. I felt that another post highlighting one of our other black & gold teams–the Pittsburgh Pirates–wouldn’t be overkill, but a tribute to their great season.

This post-season of the Pirates is the team’s first since moving into their new home on the North Shore, just blocks from the Allegheny branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Their level of play this season has been enough to get even the fairest weather of fans behind this team that has a heart as big as the rubber duck docked along the Allegheny River. Personally, I’m thrilled with their success this year, since my family was convinced that both my move to Pittsburgh twenty-one years ago, as well as my inter-rival-city marriage (Cleveland v. Pittsburgh) which took place the same day as the last post-season home game in the Pirates’ modern history, had something to do with this alleged curse on the Pirates. No matter how long this post-season play lasts for the Buccos and their fans, the thrills and intricacies of baseball can last beyond October with some great reads for all ages. Many of these are favorites amongst the rabid baseball fans in my own household.

It’s impossible to recommend any baseball books for Pittsburgh fans without talking about two of our baseball greats: Roberto Clemente and Honus Wagner, who both provide a great deal of literary fodder. Fellow Eleventh Stack blogger, Scott, has listed several great reads, including 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. The Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente, by Paul Robert Walker, is another great avenue for younger readers to learn about this baseball player and humanitarian. Bruce Markusen’s Roberto Clemente: The Great One is often the go-to tome of the right fielder for adult readers. It will soon be obvious to readers of any Clemente biography why Pittsburgh has a bridge named after the Hall-of-Famer, and Major League Baseball annually awards players who model Clemente’s work on and off the field.

Honus Wagner is another famed Pirate and he is honored in children’s literature through Dan Gutman’s Honus and Me, the first in an historical fiction, time travel series tied to the thrill of collecting baseball cards. In real life, Honus Wagner baseball cards are as coveted as the fictional Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. Gutman uses this rarity as the jumping off point for his children’s book series which goes on to introduce the subjects of racism and women in non-traditional female roles in subsequent titles.

Speaking of female roles, and since I’m the lone female in my household, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend some other titles which either highlight their role in baseball history or are characters in some great baseball literature. For the younger set, and a book I relished reading to my young sons to highlight the importance of women in baseball, check out Sue Macy’s A Whole New Ball Game. If you or your children aren’t aware of the role women played by continuing the tradition of baseball during World War II, when male baseball players were hard to come by due to the war, this is a great introduction to that era of baseball history.

Shirley Wong is one of my favorite female characters in kids’ historical fiction. A Chinese immigrant to Brooklyn, New York, Shirley learns English and how to acclimate to her new world thanks to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, in Betty Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. While my colleagues and I might tend to recommend the Lupicas and Christophers when it comes to sports fiction for kids, this is one of many non-traditional characters in baseball stories we can point young readers to.

The women in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (you might know this one as the movie Field of Dreams) are no shrinking violets. The main female characters in these novels really get into the heads of the baseball-obsessed men in their lives, for good or for bad. And as it turns out, maybe the men aren’t the only ones obsessed with this sport and the drama it can bring to one’s life. If you only know these titles from their movie presence, I would highly recommend that you read the poetry these authors have created in bringing baseball to life on the printed page.

Many of these titles share space on the shelves in my home library, but there are many copies available for borrowing through the library’s Next Generation Catalog. In fact, I just used the catalog to put a title on my own holds list. I’ve recently been introduced to another female in baseball lore, Effa Manley, who apparently played a pivotal role throughout the history of Negro League Baseball, in which Pittsburgh played a huge role with its own Crawfords and Homestead Grays. The biography, The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues, by Bob Luke, is the next baseball read that I can’t wait to get started on. However, it may have to wait until BUCtober is over, because for now, the Pittsburgh Pirates are holding most of my attention.

These are just a few of the multitude of baseball books available to any reader who wants to read more beyond the statistics and standings of the regular season play. The post-season will soon come to an end, and regardless of how the Buccos finish off, there can be plenty of baseball to keep any reader occupied until spring training picks up again next February.

–Maria J.

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We Got us a Ball Game

“The Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball”

- USA Today 06/27/2013

I was brought back to my early adolescent years last week. It was Sunday and I was watching our number 5 batter in the late afternoon softball game we were playing.  It’s a coed team of mixed abilities defined by enthusiasm for the game and not by age or gender.  Our oldest player is about 70 and he’s hitting around .250.  I’m 0-3 with with a winning walk-off walk; sort of like Mazeroski without the honest benefit of the hit.  The nostalgia came from Ron who had his iPhone up to his ear and eyes – like a 1968 transistor radio – listening to the Pirates play Anaheim.  We found ourselves devoting as much attention to their game as to ours.

Barring serious injuries, the Bucs look like they have the legs to keep going.  How many of us can allow ourselves the luxury of remembering what a competitive (much less a winning) baseball team is?  The Bucs are 51 and 30 as of today, with the best record in baseball, and they’re fun to watch. Don’t discount that; why watch if there’s no entertainment factor? Maybe that’s why I couldn’t abide the Yankees growing up; especially opposite the Mets and the rest of the National league.  

I love the poetic geometry of baseball, the importance of fundamentals (how many times couldn’t the Pirates turn a double-play against SF two weeks ago?) the skills and coordination required, and the history – the thousand and one stories we’ve collectively seen ourselves, watched on TV, read about or heard about from our friends, parents, siblings and neighbors.  I couldn’t be with Aldrin and Armstrong on the Moon, I didn’t make it to either of President Obama’s inaugurations, but I was there (July, 1977) when Mays, Mantle, Snider and DiMaggio walked in together from Shea Stadium’s center field fence.  I can only imagine it’s what the Earps and Doc Holiday looked like going to the OK Corral.

Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Duke Snider walking from Center Field. Shea Stadium, July 19, 1977.

Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Duke Snider walking from Center Field. Shea Stadium, July 19, 1977.

We’ve been doubly blessed this year – the Pirates as a winning club, and the release of  “42.”  I enjoyed the movie because of who Jackie Robinson was and what he meant to baseball, and also because it brought to life a long-gone era and players who were shop-talk for my brothers, but only history lessons for me.  My only gripe about the movie – How do you have a credit blurb for Ralph Branca (one of the good guys who welcomed Robinson to Brooklyn) and not even obliquely mention Bobby Thomson and the 51 pennant?

Even if you don’t like watching the game (you’re a Communist) the lore and history should be able to stand on their own as fine literature. You just need to know who / what to look for.

42

42 - “In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) signed Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking MLB’s infamous color line and forever changing history.”

blassA Pirate for Life / Steve Blass - “Exploring a pitching career that began with a complete-game victory over Hall of Famer Don Drysdale in 1964 and ended when he could no longer control his pitches, this book details the life of Pittsburgh Pirates great, Steve Blass.”

 

boysofsummer

The Boys of Summer / Roger Kahn - “This is a book about what happened to Jackie, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, and the others when their glory days were behind them. this is a book about America, about fathers and sons, prejudice and courage, triumph and disaster, told with warmth, humor, wit, candor, and love.”

 

robinson never hadit

I Never Had it Made : An Autobiography / Jackie Robinson - “I Never Had It Made recalls Robinson’s early years and influences: his time at UCLA, where he became the school’s first four-letter athlete; his army stint during World War II, when he challenged Jim Crow laws and narrowly escaped court martial; his years of frustration, on and off the field, with the Negro Leagues; and finally that fateful day when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers proposed what became known as the “Noble Experiment”

robinson a bio

Jackie Robinson: A Biography / Arnold Rampershad - “The life of Jackie Robinson is recounted in this biography by Arnold Rampersad, who was chosen by Jack’s widow, Rachel, to tell her husband’s story, and was given unprecedented access to his private papers. We are brought closer than we have ever been to the great ballplayer, a man of courage and quality who became a pivotal figure in the areas of race and civil rights.”

branca

A Moment in Time : An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace / Ralph Branca - “Ralph Branca is best known for throwing the pitch that resulted in Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” the historic home run that capped an incredible comeback and won the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951. Branca was on the losing end of what many consider to be baseball’s most thrilling moment, but that notoriety belies a profoundly successful life and career.”

moneyball

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game / Micahel Lewis - “By re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field, the 2002 Athletics, with approximately US$41 million in salary, were competitive with larger market teams such as the New York Yankees, who spent over US$125 million in payroll that same season. Because of the team’s smaller revenues, Oakland is forced to find players undervalued by the market, and their system for finding value in undervalued players has proven itself thus far.”

october64

October, 1964 / David Halberstam - “The 1964 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals was coated in myth from the get-go. The Yankees represented the establishment; the victorious Cards were baseball’s rebellious future. Their seven-game barnburner, played out against the Kennedy assassination, the escalating war in Vietnam, and emerging civil rights movement, marked a turning point. Halberstam looks back in this marvelous and spirited elegy to the era, and players such as Mantle, Maris, Ford, Gibson, Brock, and Flood with a clear eye in search of the truth that time has blurred into legend.”

stargell

Out of Left Field : Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates / Bob Adelman - An “unauthorized” account of the Pirates’ 1973 season, told chiefly through direct interviews with the players.  The interviews are more like transcriptions of off-the-cuff tapings.  Not only players, but wives, “baseball Annie’s”, agents and management. About 2/3 of the book is comments by the pre-”Pops” Willie Stargell, hence the book’s title. But there’s much more than that.  This is the season following the Clemente tragedy, where the team was trying to find itself without their former leader. It was the year the Pirates, despite admittedly underperforming, managed to stay in the pennant race until the end.

clemente

The Team That Changed Baseball : Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates / Bruce Markusen - Veteran writer Markusen tells the story of one of the most likable and significant teams in the history of professional sports. In addition to the fact that they fielded the first all-minority lineup in major league history, the 1971 Pirates are noteworthy for the team’s inspiring individual performances, including those of future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski, and their remarkable World Series victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.

prince

We Had ‘Em All the Way : Bob Prince and His Pittsburgh Pirates / by Jim O’Brien - Bob Prince, The Gunner, who broadcast the Pirates from the 1950′s through 1975 rooted unashamedly for the Bucs. Like other announcers, he had his pet phrases such as “We have a bug on the rug.” “You can kiss it goodbye. Home run!” “Let’s spread some chicken on the hill with Will.” And, of course, at the end of a close game in which the Pirates were victorious, “We had ‘em allll the way.” Bob was Pittsburgh’s answer to the likes of Harry Caray, Vin Scully and Mel Allen. He was colorful, controversial, and a people person.

- Richard

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How I Spent the Morning

Every so often it takes something a little out of the ordinary to recharge the Reference skills. I’ve been filling in this week answering the E-mail reference questions for Tom, who’s on vacation.  Here’s a smattering of what I’ve responded to and in some cases, had to dig for over the last two days. By the way, this service is available for all of you; just e-mail us at info@carnegielibrary.org.

“Love your E-books now that we’ve figured out how to get them, how can we do the same for your e-video content?”

So, I needed to re-familiarize myself with the video offerings in E-CLP, make the acquaintance of Overdrive Media Console, and look over the Overdrive video offerings. What my narration is leaving out is that I’m responding to the user with instructions of “go here”, “click this”, “download and install that”, “go back to this page” and another dozen directions and answers in their original question. Hopefully they were able to jump in and successfully connect all the parts.

“I’d like some information on building and financing a home from scratch.” “I need to know how to find a contractor and sub-contractors, an architect, how to get a mortgage for it, and what else I might need to know.”

My initial response was straight out of the classroom; use the catalog. After some keyword searching to find an appropriate title, I latched onto the following subject heading –  House construction — Amateurs’ manuals - to build the user a healthy selection of reading material.  That should at least cover the planning and contractor stages.  Since I don’t know where she wants to build, I referred her to the City’s Bureau of Building Inspection and the city’s General Guide to Permitting for additional information.  I also informed her that if she was building outside the city, that she’d need to contact the municipality where she wants to build.  Finally I referred her to the local banks, and even real estate agents to find out about the financing for owner built construction, assuming the books I’d referred her to earlier wouldn’t address financing in a local fashion.

“Thank you for the confirmation, I am interested in finding out if any newspaper articles or sports magazines have the line score or box scores for the game for possible recreation of that game? In the microfilms of newspapers for that day can you possibly find out the weather report for Aug.5, 1921? Or do you know of a weather report history site?”

This has been one of our favorite questions, covering several iterations over a few weeks. This originated as an inquiry (the user was referred to us by the Baseball Hall of Fame) into whether there was a recording or transcript of the August 5th, 1921 Pirates game against the Phillies (aka the Quakers in the newspaper articles.)  This game was the first baseball game to ever be broadcast over the radio, by Pittsburgh’s KDKA.  After looking through our Reference Services and PA Dept. resources, and inquiries with KDKA and the Heinz History Center the sad conclusion is that none of us had a record of the broadcast.

To answer the followup questions, I fell back on the tools of a scoundrel, and found a reservoir of historic box scores by searching Google.  My search came up with www.baseball-reference.com, and any box score you could possibly imagine.  I then backed it up with making sure one was available in the newspapers if she wanted.  I spent some additional time in Microfilm viewing the August 6th, 1921 Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, one of the predecessor titles to the current PG.  Besides the box score I also looked at the previous day’s weather, but it was pretty sparse. It gave the high for the day, and that it was cloudy (big surprise there).  Could I find a better answer?

Squirreled away in our closed shelving are about 50 very dark and gritty Original Monthly Record of Observations at Pittsburgh, PA of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Weather Bureau.  Each volume corresponds to a given year, running from 1875 through 1927 or so.  Each month has four pages dedicated to it; two daily recordings at 8am and 8pm, a daily log of minimum and maximum temps, precipitation and details about hail, snow, etc.  The fourth page for each month is a calculation of the mean air pressure, temperature, wind, precipitation and … “Miscellaneous Phenomena” which include high winds, solar and lunar halos, fog, haze, and smoke. Having found the 1921 journal I was able to confirm that the day was seasonably warm, mid 60s and clear in the morning, 80s and cloudy that night.  I also informed the user that she could either request photocopies of the newspaper pages through ILL at her library, or directly from us.

weather page

Obviously not all the questions have such promise. There are the requisite “Is my card expired?” and declamations of perfidy on the part of our bookdrops.  But I will leave you with one last question that I ended up referring to our colleagues at the Downtown & Business Library.

“I am trying to find out the dividend reinvestment price for XYZ Corp, from 1995 to 1999 the period until they merged with Acme Widgets, and then from there the dividend reinvestment price for XYZ Corp until they split in 2005. The help would be much appreciated.”

This called for self-education: I didn’t feel like I knew enough to know whether I should transfer it or not.  I started in the Morningstar Investment Research Center, one of our business databases.  It gave me an introductory explanation in one of the investor discussion forums.  It turns out that a dividend reinvestment price is a different way to calculate a stock’s price (per share) when dividends are automatically reinvested in the same stock.  After some more investigating I determined that there is no register of DRP the way there is for regular stock prices (along with splits and dividend payout dates) but rather it’s something that the investor needs to calculate on their own (isn’t this why Providence invented Accountants?)  However, to cover my bases I did refer the question to Downtown & Business. Our colleague Scott provided the following response to the inquiry.

Dear Mr. Q. Public:

We can provide you with stock prices for specific dates and dividends paid by XYZ Corp. during the period your question mentions, but the Dividend Reinvestment Price is something you will need to calculate yourself. Check this site for a handy calculator:
http://www.buyupside.com/calculators/dividendreinvestmentdec07.htm

There is also a fee-based service that might be of some help:
http://www.netbasis.com/start-now/

As you know, on 5/1/1999 XYZ Corp. merged into Acme.  Shareholders got 1.085 shares of Acme Class B for each share of XYZ Corp. common stock held.  In terms of stock prices, we can furnish you with year-end prices for XYZ Corp. (trading as Acme Class B) for the years 1998 – 2005:

12/31/2005
Acme sheds XYZ Corp.; shareholders of Acme Cl. B received .5 shares of XYZ Corp. Class B common and .5 shares of Acme Inc. (New) Cl. B common.

Please let us know if we can be of further assistance to you.

I couldn’t have said it any better.  This does indicate though, not everything is available on the Internet, and not everyone’s needs are best met using digital means.

- Richard

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The Barbershop Harmony of the Bucs

When you hear the names Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, or Ralph Kiner, do you think of music?  Probably not considering that they are all enshrined in baseball’s hall of fame.  Shortstop Wagner (1874-1955) played for the Pirates from 1900 to 1917 and is still considered one of the best all-around baseball players ever.  Traynor (1899-1972) was with the Pirates from 1920-1937, had an impressive lifetime batting average of .320, and was a sports broadcaster on Pittsburgh radio for decades afterward.  Kiner (1922- ) was a slugger for the Pirates from 1946-52, leading the league in home runs for seven years, and later was an announcer for the game.

But if you were at the Syria Mosque on May 8, 1950, you would have heard them sing!  Bob Hope was the headliner, but a five-man squad of Pittsburgh Pirates, current players and distinguished alumni, were added to the bill to sing, barbershop style.

According to a May 3, 1950, article in the Pittsburgh Press, the group of singing baseball players were listed as such:

Left Tenor – Ralph Kiner

Center Tenor – Wally Westlake

Dugout Baritone – Manager Billy Meyer

First Bass – Honus Wagner

Third Bass – Pie Traynor

Another fun fact related to that night is that Bob Hope was a part owner of the Cleveland Indians, but his friend Bing Crosby was a part owner of the Pirates.

– Tim

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No More Pretending

I came out of the closet last week.  At least in Pittsburgh fashion.  I’m not a Steeler’s fan, I don’t bleed Black & Gold and I wouldn’t put a mini Polamalu jersey on my Labradoodle or Yorkie – if I had one or the other, or any other pet for that matter.  I’ve lived this lie for the 21 years my wife and I have lived here.  I fake my Sundays between August and January and it has to stop. My wife grew up with Big 10 Football and went to a Big 10 school for undergrad, she’s an honest fan.  So’s my daughter who was born here and has only known the Steelers, that’s her choice.  I won’t pretend anymore though.  Rest assured, it’s not about the Steelers or some other team; it’s about Baseball.

Photo of Met's pitcher Tom Seaver

Poetry in Motion

I grew up on Long Island, about 45 minutes from midtown on the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) and 15 minutes from Shea Stadium by the same train.  When I was born, there wasn’t National League baseball in NY – it had gone west a year earlier.  (The three most evil people in the world? – Hitler, Stalin, Walter Alston.)  My parents were both from Brooklyn and the Dodger strain ran deep.  I grew up with the Mets and by extension their National League opponents.  If there were must see games back then, it was the Giants and/or Dodgers for sentimental love/hate reasons (and always to see Willie Mays,) the Cubs because it was Chicago – the second city, and the Bucs because man for man they were usually the most talented team that came to town.  The Yankees?  They were the humorless also-rans from the Bronx.  If Pittsburgh looks north with disdain to Cleveland, so too do the Children of Kings (County) look up the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and the Bruckner to the borough that serves as a gateway to Upstate.

Why now? That’s easy.  DID YOU watch any of the World Series?  It was poetry; it was Agatha Christie without a solution until it happened.  It was unadulterated fun to not see the usual suspects; no Yankees or Red Sox, no Atlanta or Philly.  It was mostly well-played, well executed baseball until Texas’ pitching collapsed in Game 7.  More than that, it was just fun to watch or even listen too.  It reminded me – some 20 years and 2 kids later – why we chose Pittsburgh over other cities.  The tie-breaker between here and some other places (including Baltimore) became “Does it have major league baseball?”  Pittsburgh won because it had National League vs. Baltimore’s American League with its flawed Designated Hitter accommodation.  It may have been something subliminal too; who did the Miracle Mets soundly thrash in 1969?  The same Orioles the Bucs whupped in both 1971 and 1979.

Just remember: Pitchers and Catchers report in 104 days (not counting today.)  In the meantime . . .  to tide you over until then.

The best game ever : Pirates vs. Yankees : October 13, 1960 / Jim Reisler - How can you not include the game in the Series with the most dramatic conclusion in baseball.

“Whoever was up at the time was the team you thought was going to win.”

Ball Four : the final pitch / Jim BoutonThe first and best baseball tell-all.  It makes the game and the players real. Their sins? – nothing like steroids and shaved bats.

“The word on Tim McCarver of the Cards was that Sandy Koufax struck him out on letter-high fastballs. Which is great advice if you can throw letter-high fastballs like Koufax could.”

Men at work : the craft of baseball / George F. Will - Will gets the experts of the day to expound on how mastering the fundamentals takes more than just physical prowess.  Among the interviewees, Tony La Russa of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

Can’t anybody here play this game? / Jimmy Breslin - Breslin, an irascible writer if there ever was one, recounts the first miserable season  of the awful, incomparable and unabashedly loved 1962 NY Mets.

 “So the Mets started with the worst pitching, backed by the most deplorable infield and outfield, ever         assembled on a single diamond.”

Willie’s time : a memoir / by Charles EinsteinMy personal favorite. A well written overview of the grandest period in baseball with Mays as the constant, against 25 years of contemporary American history and current events.

“Branca, taking the mound, threw a called strike past Thompson.  Sitting there without premonition,       I watched Thompson swing at the next pitch, and out it tracked toward the left-field stands.

The Last icon: Tom Seaver and his times / Stephen Travers (Ebook only) – Overall a good, fast read.  What I truly enjoyed here were the recounting of games, especially during the 1969 and 1973 seasons that I distinctly remember listening to, watching, or attending. Travers gets a little lost in the book, elevating Tom Terrific a little too high, even for my tastes, and bringing in extraneous or marginal baseball issues instead of staying on topic.

“Swoboda rolled, displayed the glove to the umpire who made the out call, and in one motion came up throwing home to try to nab Frank Robinson.”

Summer of ’49 / David HalberstamBaseball has finally returned to some post-war, post integration normalcy, and “the” rivalry is about to emerge, personified by the respective excellence of Joe Dimaggio for the Yankees and Ted WIlliams of the Red Sox in one of the greatest pennant races of any era.

“The crowd of 35,000 rose as one to give the star outfielder of the hated Yankees a standing ovation.”

Baseball [videorecording] / a film by Ken Burns - A fantastic 10 DVD set that reintroduces you to everything about baseball, from the beginning.  The original release concluded in the mid 90s when we still (naively) thought Bonds, Sosa and McGwire had cleanly reinvigorated the game.  Since then, additional content brings the viewer through the 2009 season (Yankees beating Phillies in 6.)

“It is played everywhere .  .  . by small boys and old men.”
- Richard

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Knuckler Delivers Striking Story

Knuckleball pitchers hold a special place in my heart.  The inherent quirkiness of their signature pitch seems to always rub off on the pitchers themselves.  They’re often characters in the most interesting sense of the term.  Anyone who can challenge Major League Baseball caliber hitters with a pitch that averages 60 MPH (the average MLB fastball clocks in at 91 MPH) has to be a little bit crazy.

I’ve written before about one of my favorite baseball books, Ball Four by knuckleball pitcher Jim Bouton.  Great book.  Really, the best MLB book, IMHO.  Now you can add Knuckler to the short list of excellent books that cover this most elusive of pitches.  Although not nearly the quirky character that Bouton was when he played, Tim Wakefield and co-author Tony Massorotti (a Boston Herald columnist) do a great job communicating the zany vicissitudes of surviving in the major leagues on what amounts to a gimmick pitch.  Wakefield’s uniqueness as a knuckleballer comes with the fact that he has no other real “out” pitch.  Many other knuckleballers in history possessed at least a decent secondary pitches, but with Tim it’s the flutter-ball or nothing!

Beyond the mechanics of baseball and pitching, Knuckler also explores the many good works Mr. Wakefield has done in the Boston and Melbourne, Florida areas where he makes his home.  A lot of professional athletes make a show of giving back, but Tim Wakefield makes a life of it.  So yes, read Knuckler if you’re even a little curious about this amazing pitch and how it works, but also read it for what you will learn about how one man can do so much with a second chance.  It’s these sorts of stories that make me a baseball fan, and I am confident they’ll have the same effect on you.

–Scott

P.S. If you like Ball Four and Knuckler, you may also want to check out the book about Tim Wakefield’s mentor, Phil Niekro, entitled Knuckle Balls.

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Ball Four Means Baseball

As the nation’s oldest major professional sports league, Major League Baseball (MLB) carries the weight of a long history. The many “good” aspects of its history (things like playing the National Anthem before games, doffing one’s cap after a curtain call) earn the title of tradition, while some of the “bad” aspects of its history (gambling, drug use) rarely get mentioned in polite company.  MLB’s history shines with colorful characters who embody both the good and the bad aspects, and some of these ex-players and managers have written entertaining accounts of their sojourns through America’s Pastime.

Among these many books, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four distinguishes itself as my favorite. Although it’s gone through many editions and revisions, the book’s essence remains constant. You can find the latest edition under the modified title of Ball Four: The Final Pitch. A dominant pitcher as a young man in the 1960s, Bouton ran into arm trouble, and ran afoul of an MLB establishment that frowned upon free spirits. To salvage his career he learned how to throw the knuckleball, that most befuddling of pitches that, when executed properly, can make even the most fearsome batters seem silly.

Plenty of great baseball books show the game from a perspective akin to a fastball hurled straight down the middle. They don’t take chances. They don’t name names. I prefer baseball books that read like Ball Four, the ones that dip and dance like a well-thrown knuckler. I like to peak into the dirty corners of this great game and check out what’s hiding there. As we ramp up for the 2011 MLB season, you might find yourself desiring a baseball book that comes from left field, something else in the vein of what Jim Bouton gave us all those years ago. Here’s a short list of titles to check out once you’ve read Ball Four:

If you can judge the cultural impact of a professional sport by the literature it generates, then MLB hits a grand slam. Over one hundred years of tradition resonates like the crack of a bat striking a 95 MPH fastball on a warm spring day. The anecdotes and information in these books will stay with you, and conjure sensations as vivid as the smell of a freshly cut infield.

—Scott

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Benny Benack and the Bucs

After seventeen straight losing seasons for our Pittsburgh Pirates, Benny Benack (1921-1986), we need you now. Decades ago, trumpeter Benny Benack’s Iron City Six used to play “Beat ‘Em, Bucs” at Pittsburgh Pirates games at Forbes Field. The raucous Dixieland song helped lead the Buccos to a world championship in 1960.

Okay, it wasn’t that simple. According to an obituary for Benack:

When the team began losing games in bunches that August, the players began scanning the stands for a scapegoat. Mr. Benack and his Iron City Six aggregation were then banned from playing “Beat ‘em Bucs” at Forbes Field.1

Even Pirate superstar Roberto Clemente said Benack’s trumpet was a jinx. (Actually, his quote was insensitively printed: “Ees jeenx.”2) But when the slump ended, the Iron City Six were back in the team’s good graces.

Though beloved Benny Benack Sr. passed away years ago, one of the places his legacy lives on is in our Pittsburgh Music Information File.  We have a handful of newspaper clippings about him showing that his career went far beyond music for baseball. And not only are his sons Benny Jr. and Flip Benack musicians, but now Benny Benack III has a music career. They are all listed on our Pittsburgh Jazz Musicians page. We wish the whole Benack family continued success, and, for the Pirates, we wish them a miracle.

Finally, if you own a spare copy of the 45 RPM record of “Beat ‘em, Bucs” or any other recordings of Pittsburgh sports songs, consider donating them to the Music Department. These songs are one of the most colorful parts of our local music history.

– Tim

1 “Ben E. Benack, ‘Beat ‘em Bucs’ bandleader,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 24, 1986): 10.

2 Ibid.

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Serendipity for a Friday Afternoon

elysian

 One of the things a librarian might tell you, if you managed to ply her with a preferred libation or two while off duty, is that serendipity is one of her favorite forms of searching.  Similarly, for customers, one of the favorite ways of searching is browsing our extensive shelves.  Hardly a day goes by when a person or three doesn’t say to me, “Just get me to the section, I’ll take it from there.”  When you browse in the stacks, you sometimes find the most unlikely things.  Ask any librarian, most of whom have piles of books at home unearthed while looking for something for someone else, and, yes, some of those books are overdue because, well, librarians are regular folk, too.

Regular folk who have to pay fines like everyone else, I hasten to add.

While doing some background research recently, I noticed that today, June 19th, is the anniversary of what is reputed to be the first ever game of modern baseball, played in 1846 in Hoboken, NJ, on the lyrically named Elysian Fields (pictured above).  Hoboken is a popular northern New Jersey city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, a small but delightful place where I spent a fair amount of time in my younger years.  I was born nearby in Bayonne, which is another small city that took a lot of good-natured ribbing from Jackie Gleason on the TV show The Honeymooners, a 1950′s sitcom that, remarkably, is still airing over 50 years later on WGN, Chicago. 

Hoboken itself has a storied history.  Quite a few punk rock, neo-punk, emo, and independent bands have emerged from the Hoboken scene over the years, a scene that is still thriving today.  Many of those bands got their start in Maxwell’s on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag, and still a very active music venue. 

When it comes to music, serendipitously enough, the Dutch musicologist, Anthony van Hoboken, a descendent of one of the families the city may have been named after (there are at least two other possible origins of the name: the Flemish town of Hoboken and a phrase from the Lenni Lanape Unami language), is most famous for his catalogue of the works of Joseph Haydn.

When you shake the Inter-nets, lots of info on Hoboken falls out, including some interesting tidbits from Wikipedia.  Though I’m not sure about the veracity of this little niblet, it’s said that the Hoboken Public Library CD collection of works by favorite son, Frank Sinatra, is so large, they’ve given him his own classification (Classical, Jazz, Rock, Sinatra etc.) and if it isn’t true it should be.  Famous folks hailing from Hoboken are about as varied a bunch as you can get: Bill Frisell, the band Yo La Tengo, Alfred Kinsey, G. Gordon Liddy, Eli Manning, Anna Quindlen, Dorethea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, John Sayles, Willem de Kooning, Daniel Pinkwater, and Arti Lange, to mention the more famous.

Hoboken was supposedly the site of the first brewery in the United States, but I’ve found some conflicting information on that (and even more conflicting information on that).  The zipper, thank you, Lord, was invented there.  One of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the first mystery story to be based on a real crime and something of a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was set there.  Like Manhattan, Hoboken was first seen by Europeans when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that took his name and, again like Manhattan, it was purchased from the local Native American tribe for a pittance by Peter Stuyvesant.

A serendipitous search of the library catalog for Hoboken produces some interesting results.  There is last year’s cookbook cum memoir bestseller, the delightfully titled “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.”  Novelist Christian Bauman’s “In Hoboken” is about musicians, rock and roll, and the simultaneous charm and despair that is Hoboken.  In fact, there are 7 novels set in Hoboken in the catalog.  Hoboken’s Union Station is featured in “Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design.”  There are dozens of music CDs either recorded in or referring to Hoboken in our collections.  “Gritty Cities: A Second Look at Allentown, Bethlehem, Bridgeport, Hoboken, Lancaster, Norwich, Paterson, Reading, Trenton, Waterbury, Wilmington” captures the ambiance of an earlier, less auspicious time (pre-1978), something we Pittsburghers can readily relate to.

As the mills were to Western Pennsylvania, the waterfront was to Hoboken and so it would be accurate to say that not only was one of the greatest movies of all time, “On The Waterfront,” filmed there, it was lived there.

Finally, here’s one for the final Jeopardy category of “Musicals” and you don’t even have to be from Hoboken to answer it:

“The Little Sisters of Hoboken.”

And the question is ….

- Don

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First Reads: Finding Shangri-la

It is common wisdom that we are all greatly affected by the things of our childhood. Our families, parents and siblings, our friends, our environment, where we lived, what we saw and felt and did, all played a role.

And what we read.

As a young boy, the first books I read were biographies, frequently of roger marissports heroes, such as Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Roger Maris. These books were simple extensions of what I enjoyed everyday, in “real life”; for a time, baseball was everything.

Later, I found out there were books you could read on your own that told stories. After “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped” and “Ivanhoe,” I discovered that there were modern books that could be read for pure enjoyment and a mania for the Hardy Boys began. It became such a jones that my father took me once a month by bus to the “big city” (Elizabeth, NJ) to visit a used bookstore, where hardcover copies could be bought for anywhere from a nickel to a quarter, depending on condition. This was before the famed pictorial Hardy Boys covers, so they were all a shabby grey/tan and brown, without dust jackets.

hardy boys two

Reading something more contemporary was just the ticket. Though hardly resembling anyone I knew in real life, it was easier to imagine myself as the plucky Joe or handsome Frank of the Hardy clan than the beleaguered David Balfour of 19th century British fiction, even if the Brothers Hardy never seemed to have to ride the bus or walk to school or frequent used bookshops to make those nickels go further.

Yes, it was slim pickins’ in teen fiction back in the days before the dinosaurs. Still, we didn’t know what we were missing because, frankly, it hadn’t arrived yet.

Time came when this love for adventure novels, as well as a rapacious appetite for comics and Mad Magazine, morphed into something else altogether. For me, that something was literature. And, fortuitously enough, I can actually place the moment. Let me explain.

To this day, I have less than a handful of pictures of myself before the age of 20. One of the pictures I do have, however, is of me in the high school cafeteria, reading a copy of “Lost Horizon.” That particular moment is indicative of a bigger moment of discovery.

lost horizon“Lost Horizon” had swept me away. It was exotic, strange, mysterious, and something else; it was a quest, a quest for meaning. When I look back on this little masterpiece, I find many of the elements of things that would become very important in my life;  an interest in Eastern culture, in a life of the mind, in things mystic and lyrical and “other.” What probably could have been simply labeled a bit of escapist fiction for a teen not much comfortable in his own skin – and, really, it is the rare teen who is – became an introduction to the world of literature not simply as entertainment but as avocation.

When we look to the great books, we are, in fact, often looking for ourselves. We measure who we are or who we want to be or who we have become against those characters we find living and breathing within those pages. When I was ten years old, did I have Joe’s moxie or Frank’s savoir faire or David Balfour’s courage? In my early teens, could I share Hugh Conway’s desire for something beyond the veil? Later, would I know Nick Carraway’s shame, Leo Bloom’s compassion, or Henry Haller’s despair?

Might I even transcend time itself, like a certain sensitive anonymous narrator, in one of the greatest novels ever written?

The answer to all these questions is yes, I did all these things and more.

My avocation became a vocation; I became a librarian and have been now for over 30 years. I literally found myself in books and have been lucky enough to be able to share that richness with others each and every day.

And it all started, more or less, right here:

mepic2

- Don

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