Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thorn history, Campy bio look promising in 2011

January is that calm before the storm in baseball literature. It seems like 90 percent of baseball books come out in March and April, as everyone targets Opening Day. The assumption there must be that no one wants to read about baseball during the offseason. I should actually think some of us are even hungrier for a good book in the dead of winter.

Fortunately, I've already got half a dozen new titles lined up. One of the most promising is Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, John Thorn's myth-busting rewrite of the sport's early years. One of the game's preeminent historians, Thorn weighed in with the foreword on Monica Nucciarone's Alexander Cartwright biography two years ago. Nucciarone raised several questions regarding Cartwright's claim to the title "Father of Baseball," which he inherited after Abner Doubleday's involvement was discredited by historians. Thorn takes things a step further in his new release, researching the game's roots and early evolution, crediting men whose roles have been forgotten and/or overlooked. Cartwright's heirs may not enjoy it, but for students of the game's early years this will be a hit.

On the heels of a huge year for biographies, the first one I have received for 2011 is Neil Lanctot's Campy, about Roy Campanella. Despite playing just 10 major league seasons, Campanella won three MVP awards (all in a span of five years). That's tied for best in history among players who didn't use steroids. He may have won more had his career not been cut short by the car accident that left him paralyzed in 1958.

I also received a package from the University of Nebraska Press, containing their four upcoming baseball releases. Aaron Pribble's Pitching in the Promised Land, about his season playing in Israel, looks like it could be entertaining. It's definitely a little different. Under Pallor, Under Shadow, by Bill Felber, follows the 1920 American League race. I guess this is the prequel to last year's 1921. Having grown up in Seattle, I'm intrigued by Dan Raley's Pitchers of Beer, about the old Seattle Rainiers. The fourth title is called Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball by Lawrence Baldassaro. I'm hoping he worked in a chapter or two on Steve Balboni, but I guess I'll find out when I get to it.

I'm still looking to get my mitts on a few others. From the blurbs The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri sounds a little like Moneyball without the massively inflated ego. The two will almost certainly be compared, so I guess I need to re-read the Billy Beane lovefest. Ugh. The first novel to pop onto my radar this year is called The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. It garnered a huge ($650,000) advance following a rights auction that allegedly involved eight publishers. Very unusual for fiction targeted at guys. We have to wait until September to see what all the fuss is about.

Anything else I should be excited about? I keep scouting Amazon for upcoming releases. Looks like there are a few biographies (Stan Musial, Juan Marichal) and memoirs (Bill White) on the horizon. None of them are jumping out at me, but it's early yet.

1 comment:

  1. hi James. You make a great point when stating that "some of us are even hungrier for a good book in the dead of winter." My sentiments exactly. Do you think this is true of most readers? I'm looking forward to your review of "Campy," and "The Art of Fielding" sure sounds intriguing based on that whopping advance. If it's fiction targeted at guys, chances are I'll be buying it.