Tag Archives: sports

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 – “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.”



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.”


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: 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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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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On This Day in Olympic History…

August 3, 1936 – The day that Jesse Owens won his first gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. This first medal, of the eventual four gold medals that he would win, was for the 100 meter sprint. With this achievement, Jesse Owens began the unraveling of Hitler’s “Aryan racial superiority” theory.

But this triumph (one that wasn’t equaled until Carl Lewis won his gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics) wasn’t Owens’ greatest. That would be the day in 1935 that he broke 3 world records and tied a fourth in ONE DAY at a Big Ten meet where he was representing Ohio University. This is the day that sportscasters have selected as one of the best athletic achievements of all time.

This is just one of the numerous fascinating things I learned about Jesse Owens when researching materials for this blog post. Did you know that his real name is James Cleveland and he went by JC until a teacher in his new school in Ohio misunderstood his southern accent and wrote his name down as “Jesse”? How about the fact that Hitler sent him a commemorative photograph after the 1936 Olympics, but Owens never received recognition from Presidents Roosevelt or Truman? Or that he married his high school sweetheart and they stayed together for the rest of his life?

To learn more about this great figure in African-American and sports history, try one of these:

Jesse Owens: An American Life by William J. Baker – After his stunning victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens seemed to be living the American rags to riches dream. But once he was banned from amateur sports for declining to be involved in a post-Olympic event, the lucrative sponsorships and deals dried up in the face of prejudice. Owens used all of his wits and talents to earn money, but spent more than he earned, eventually running afoul of the IRS. His social and political beliefs did not always coincide with those around him, but his big personality made him popular in many circles. Owens led an extraordinary life.

Heroes without a Country: America’s Betrayal of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens by Donald McRae – These two friends had lives that followed similar unfortunate paths. Both received recognition in the mid-1930s for their outstanding athletic achievements. But due to the rampant racism in America at the time, neither was able to parlay that into financial success. Periods of poverty and working menial jobs punctuated their lives. Owens was able to keep it together but had to watch his friend, Louis, struggle with addiction and mental illness. This book tells their story honestly.

Blackthink: My Life as a Black Man and a White Man by Jesse Owens – Owens story in his own words. He writes about his triumphs at the Olympic Games in Nazi Germany and his struggles when he returned to the United States. But this is also his views on racism and effecting change for racial equality. His life and beliefs in his own words.

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap – What happens when sports and world politics collide? The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. This tell-all book goes behind the scenes to uncover the real story of the games, the participants, and those pulling the strings. More happened at these Olympics than you could ever imagine!

Hope you enjoy all the Olympic moments this year’s games have to offer.
-Melissa M.

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Sports, Sex, and Crunching Numbers

In this information age, you might feel deluged with factoids, survey results, statistics, and countless other tidbits that you don’t know what to do with.  But in the following two books, four authors (and teams of assistants) have done massive amounts of research, a great deal of data mining, and a bunch of number crunching.  So you just get the fun part of reading their findings, speculations, and conclusions about two of the most fascinating subjects imaginable: sports and sex.

Moskowitz, Tobias J. and L. Jon Wertheim

Scorecasting: the Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won

After reading this book, I think football teams waste too much money on first-round draft picks, I don’t think icing the kicker is so clever, and I have newfound respect for Bill Belichick’s strategy of often going for it on 4th down.  Rest assured, it also covers other sports: baseball, basketball, golf, etc.  My rational side loved seeing the mathematical undoing of the shibboleths of sports radio hosts and players and coaches at press conferences.  Finally, I can’t help mentioning the annoying cover blurb where the self-aggrandizing co-author of Freakonomics praises this book because it resembles Freakonomics.

Ogas, Ogi and Sai Gaddam

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire

The subtitle is a little misleading because it’s not really an “experiment.”  Ogas and Gaddam tried to avoid the pitfall of most sexual behavior studies whose subjects typically are young, white, well-off, college students.  Instead, they mined immense amounts of data from Internet users’ searches, preferences, habits, interests, purchases, etc.  (Don’t worry, it was anonymous.)  They combined this with an impressive review of previous research as demonstrated by the enormous bibliography.  As with many other studies, the results both accentuated differences in men and women yet at the same time recognized the enormous spectrum of desire and sexual behavior for all people, whatever their gender, age, or orientation.  I would have liked to see more emphasis on cultural differences, though, because while the Internet is indeed worldwide, its user base still skews toward well-off, college educated people.

What are some of your billions of thoughts about books and studies that try to apply scientific rigor to human behavior and recreation?

— Tim


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Have You Caught the Fever?

Football fever that is.  “What?” you say, “Football in June?  The Steelers haven’t even gone back to Latrobe yet!”  Not that kind of football.  Not the American kind where the players’ feet actually rarely touch the ball at all.  I’m talking about what is referred to as football in just about every other country in the world, the sport of soccer.

Soccer BallThis week for the first time ever, I saw one of the local news stations discussing soccer on the 11 o’clock news.  If I hadn’t already known about the major global event taking place right now, I might have been flabbergasted.  But because I have at least one good friend who is a huge soccer fan, I knew they were talking about the World Cup.

Much like the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years and its location is different each time.  They try to move the event around to a variety of countries, again much like the Olympics.  There is one team representing each participating country and every player on that team must be a citizen of the country he represents, although he may play for a different country’s club team during his regular season.

If you’d like to learn more about soccer and also the World Cup, I recommend checking out the following…

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer – Yes, believe it or not, soccer is a big enough sport around the world for it to have global economic and political ramifications.

The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner – Everything you always wanted to know, even if you didn’t know to ask.

The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer by David Goldblatt – This was recommended to me as an excellent overview of the history of soccer.

A History of the World Cup: 1930-2006 by Clemente Angelo Lisi – A comprehensive overview of the tournament from its beginning to the most recent world champion, Italy.

Love and Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans, and Freaks by Jamie Trecker – What’s it really like to be at the World Cup?  Are soccer fans really that crazy?  This book tells all.

The Official Rules of Soccer by the United States Soccer Federation – Just in case you want to know exactly what the rules are…

So join the rest of the world who are glued to their TV sets over the next month and cheer on the real football team of your choice.

Gli Azzurri!


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Shattering Anniversary

As one of Pittsburgh’s seventeen professional basketball fans I sometimes feel the urge to write about the NBA. November 5, 1946 is the anniversary of the NBA’s first shattered backboard, and the culprit was none other than Chuck Connors. Connors played The Rifleman on television, and acted in many other roles, but before he took up acting his passions were baseball and basketball. He was a good enough baseball player to reach the majors for brief stints, and he played a full season as the center of the Boston Celtics.

When most sports fans think of shattering backboards the vision of Darryl ‘Chocolate Thunder’ Dawkins comes to mind. As a teenager in the 1980’s Dawkins seemed larger than life, and watching highlights of his most awesome dunks still fills me with awe.

Both Connors and Dawkins receive excellent coverage in our suite of biography databases. You can also read about Dawkins in his autobiography:

Chocolate Thunder : the uncensored life and times of the NBA’s original showman / by Darryl Dawkins and Charley Rosen.

Scott Pyle


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Happy Birthday, Brad!

September 2 should be a cherished day in the eyes of every card-carrying Pittsburgh Steelers fan; it’s the great Terry Bradshaw’s birthday. The Bayou Bomber was born Septmber 2, 1948, in Shreveport, LA. There is little need for me to recount the man’s wonderful college and professional football accomplishments in this space. This has been done ad nauseam elsewhere. What I would like to remind folks about is that Terry Bradshaw has enjoyed a pretty amazing career in entertainment.

Anyone care to guess how many times he’s appeared on the Tonight Show? Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven appearances hob-nobbing with Johnny Carson or Jay Leno. He recently received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He’s the first (and only) NFL player to manage that. Take a quick trip over to IMDB to check his list of movie and television roles.

Back yet? In addition to his roles in more well-known feature films like Cannonball Run, he also starred in a mercifully brief television action show called The Stockers. I Still remember watching the pilot episode as a 10-year old kid and experiencing what truly bad TV was for the first time. Bradshaw and co-star Mel Tillis played a racing duo bungling their way to the Daytona 500. I looked over at my older brother and probably said something like, “Do you think there will be another episode of Stockers?” Neither of us knew for sure, but my brother did reassure me that he didn’t think Terry was in danger of missing the next Steelers’ training camp due to any conflicts with his acting career.

A quick check of The Encyclopedia of television : series, plots, and specials  (vol. 2) reveals that The Stockers did indeed end with the pilot episode on 4/24/81. This did give Terry time to wrap up his Football career in the ensuing seasons covering 1981 – 1983, and then appear on an episode of one of my favorite 1980’s TV shows, Hardcastle & McCormick in 1985. Obviously Terry has done a lot more distinguished work since those early days. He’s had a long and successful career as an NFL analyst, and done great work in recent films like Failure to Launch and Robots.  

Still, those early days of his entertainment career were just dumb fun, and knowing a little about Terry’s ability to laugh at his own foibles, I think he’d agree. Happy Birthday, Brad!


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Big Day in Film, Comics, Sports, Poetry, Cooking, Music, Graphic Novels, Literature etc.

So, where, oh, where, do all these ideas for blog posts come from anyway, you might ask?

Well, when you work for an institution that nominally acts as a portal of all human knowledge, how hard can it really be? I thought I might talk about what I’m reading currently, a volume of poetry and travel writings by the Japanese master poet, Basho, or the graphic novel V for Vendetta by the modern master of the (comic) universe, Alan Moore, or an obscure volume of gothic short stories by the Welsh master of the macabre, Arthur Machen. But since I haven’t finished any of those (grist for future posts!), I thought I’d take a look-see if there has been anything notable about today, August 25th, historically speaking. And indeed there is. So without any further muss, fuss or babble, here’s a list of things we can celebrate today via materials in the library’s rich treasure trove of goods:

  • Birthday of American short story impresario, Bret Harte
  • 95th birthday anniversary of Pogo creator and satirist, Walt Kelly

So, if you are suffering from blogger’s dilemma (aka what will I post about today), how exactly do you find all this stuff out? In the spirit of disclosure (although running directly counter to one of the Wizard of Oz’s most remembered lines, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!“), you simply go to or call your local library and ask for the annual Chase’s Calendar of Events, an encyclopedia size tome listing all of the above (and much, much more) for every single day of the year.


PS If you want that obscure volume by Arthur Machen, interlibrary loan is the way to go.

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Playing games

A recent conversation with a friend about games we played as kids got me thinking about games in general, and the kind of all-consuming passion that we tend to develop for our favorites.  The idea of children sitting blankly in front of a TV playing video games for hours is almost a cliche, but that same kind of obsessive playing can take place with games that are the total antithesis of video games.  Remember how competitive jump rope was in elementary school?  In my elementary school, at least, the girls who were best at double dutch or Chinese jump rope were definitely at the top of the unspoken playground hierarchy, and the rest of us practiced for hours to be as good as they were.  I remember games of tag being similarly competitive, and we all played SPUD or freeze tag (or whatever variation was popular that week) at every chance we had. 


Once we got to high school and began playing “real” sports (although in New York City public schools, anyway, double dutch is now an official varsity sport!), we left games like jump rope and tag behind for the most part and moved on to sports like football, basketball, soccer, or baseball (or track, or tennis, or swim team…). Certainly all of those sports have their share of devoted players and fans at the high school, college, and professional levels, and amateur leagues exist for those of us who didn’t quite make it to The Show.  But even less physical games like poker, ScrabbleDonkey Kong, or pinball have legions of fervent– and very, very serious– players.

Of all the games that we become obsessed with, chess has to be the game that best exemplifies this.  Players like Bobby Fischer serve to illustrate the stereotype of the eccentric genius chess player, and if you walk by nearly any park on a nice day and you will find tables filled with chess players, deeply engrossed in the game.  Because strategy is such an important part of the game, books about the game are crucial.  If you wander down to the “GV” section of the stacks here at the library, you’ll find that chess books occupy several shelves.

Washington Square Park Chess Players by David Shankbone.jpg

My own current gaming obsession is Boggle– I picked up the game at a yard sale recently, and find myself playing daily, often for most of the evening.  It’s strangely addictive.  Are there any games I’ve forgotten?  Childhood or current obsessions?  Let me know in the comments!



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