Friday, October 31, 2014

Category: Book Reviews


Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

May 14th, 2010 | 4 comments »

The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran is a must read for fans who want a glimpse inside the game!  It combines elements from two of my favorite baseball books, Ball Four and Minor Players, Major Dreams, for a fascinating look at the life of a minor league veteran bullpen pitcher.  I read it cover-to-cover on my flight to and from Boston last weekend, and I literally laughed out loud on the plane at a number of places in the book. 

First, there’s the “withered old puppet of evil” the author, Dirk Hayhurst, lives with during the offseason, otherwise known as grandma!  She forces him to sleep on an air mattress, because she refusese to remove the plastic cover from the new mattress in the other bedroom for fear it will wear out.  She also routinely wakes him at the break of dawn to chase squirrels from her bird feeders and curses him out on a daily basis. 

When it comes to baseball, Hayhurst’s life is just as amusing.  I particularly liked when he bribed the guys with the radar guns in spring training to add one MPH to his pitches in return for a “log of dip and a six-pack.”  Then there’s “Coach Castrate” who is on a mission to make his life miserable all spring.  Then he goes “Star Trek geek at a convention excited” about meeting his idol, Trevor Hoffman and proceeds to embarass himself and his teammates with a lofty philosophical question Hoffman doesn’t understand. 

The philosophical question he asked of Hoffman is just the beginning of Hayhurst’s exploration into what it means to be a baseball player and whether it’s something he wants to continue to be a part of.  He starts out being disenchanted with a coach who informs the players they are gods of entertainment.  Then he’s sent to A ball only hours after making the AA club out of spring training.  He calls his agent to vent and is greeted by his self-created nickname, Shizzle, which he now finds ridiculous.

Next comes my favorite line in the whole book, as Hayhurst is confiding to his agent that he might not want to be a ballplayer anymore: “I don’t open up the f—ing wardrobe and frolic into Narnia every time the umpire says play ball.”  While I am one of those fans for whom baseball is all magic and happiness, I recognize that basebal makes me feel that way, not necessarily the guys who are grinding it out in the minor leagues every day.

I don’t want to go into too much more, because you should read the book yourself.  If you’ve ever said, why do these guys complain so much, I would give anything to play baseball for a living, then read this book.  While Minor Players, Major Dreams was a long-standing favorite of mine, I can say it’s be dethroned.  The Bullpen Gospels has everything it has and more, with a great deal more comedy.  I flew through it on my flight to and from Boston, which means I read the whole thing in about 5 hours.  It’s an easy read and will literally make you laugh out loud!

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Book Review: I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally

January 17th, 2010 | 52 comments »

Since I’ve spent most of the past 48 hours as a passenger in a car, I decided to make my long weekend into a Bouton book-a-thon.  I re-read Ball Four and then breezed through the sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally?  Next up is Foul Ball, which is of particular interest to me since I practice some historic preservation law and the book is about Bouton’s efforts to save a historic ballpark.  I digress, however…

I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally picks up right where Ball Four leaves off.  My only regret is that I read the Ball Five and Ball Six additions that were included in the latest published edition of Ball Four immediately after finishing Ball Four, which gave away some of what I read in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.  Aside from that misstep, I really enjoyed this sequel.  I think it’s particularly good for someone, like me, who wasn’t around when Ball Four was originally published because it fully details the reaction from both the baseball world and the rest of the country.

By the time I finished reading Ball Four I was eager to find out where Bouton’s career took him after the 1969 season.  If you get ahold of the latest edition of Ball Four, you’ll also get the aforementioned Ball Five and Ball Six additions, written by Bouton at the ten-year and twenty-year anniversaries of the publishing of Ball Four.  I urge you to resist the urge to read through these until after you’ve read I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, written just one year after Ball Four.  Here you’ll journey with Bouton through his attempt to continue his baseball career in 1970 amidst the anticipation of Ball Four arriving on bookstore shelves.  Besides reading his own recounting of the feedback (or backlash, as was often the case) on the book, you’ll be able to read snippets of actual reviews and both fan letters and hate mail.  I felt like I was able to relive portions of 1969 and 1970 through the eyes of Jim Bouton (eyes one former teammate of his called “ass eyes”). 

The sequel is just as witty and honest as the first book and the two should definitely be read in tandem.  With each page I’ve read by Bouton, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for him and his writing.  I’ve read reviews that suggest Bouton is his greatest fan and these books are essentially a shrine to how highly he thinks of himself.  Well, who writes a book and tells nothing but bad things about themself?  Not to mention, Bouton’s writing is full of self-depricating humor.  Bouton’s not afraid to mention his own flaws right along with exposing everyone else’s.  I would say 99% of all of the negative reaction to Ball Four centered around Bouton revealing that…gasp…baseball players are human!  They curse, break the rules, act rudely, and chase women.  The horror! 

My first reaction after reading both books was that what he wrote was probably more shocking in 1970 than it is now in 2010.  Maybe, but baseball fans still put baseball players on pedastals and worship them as heroes.  It’s why they get so emotional over topics like Pete Rose gambling on baseball and all the current players rumored (and some, proven) to have taken performance-enhancing drugs.  I’m guilty of it too, I think it’s almost impossible to be a fan and not have a reaction about these things.  After reading I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, however, I have a different outlook.  Bouton spends some time talking about the negative reaction people had to how Mickey Mantle was portrayed in Ball Four.  He goes on to talk about his own hereos in baseball and the lesser side of each one that he eventually uncovered.  Does he no longer have good memories of what those players meant to him?  No.  He’s able to separate the player he admired on the field from say the player he’s disappointed in for not signing autographs.  Probably my favorite quote from I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally speaks to this topic: “So I think it’s possible that you can view people as hereos and at the same time that they are people too, imperfect, narrow sometimes, even not very good at what they do.”  I think I’m going to strive to have this outlook from now on.

Since I declared Ball Four a must-read, I’ll have to say that I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally is a must-read as well.  Read them one after the other and save Ball Five and Ball Six for afterwards.  You won’t be disappointed and maybe you’ll come away with some new perspective for the game just like I did.

For love of the game,

Kristi

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Book Review: Ball Four

January 16th, 2010 | 14 comments »

Years ago, I saw a quote by a former ballplayer named Jim Bouton: “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around the whole time.”  I didn’t know it then, but it’s the final line of his famous book, or expose depending in how you view it, Ball Four.  I knew back then that I liked Jim Bouton, because I felt the same way.  I’ve spent most of my life playing softball and watching baseball.  I clung to fastpitch softball until my body, and my ego, could no longer stand the toll.  When it comes to baseball, I have become more passionate with each passing year.  I coach fastpitch softball nearly year-round.  Two teams at once last spring/summer.  I had to write three legal journal articles in law school, one each for courses in Sports Law, Taxation and Historic Preservation.  This should demonstrate that I can make baseball relate to the study of absolutely anything.  I’ve blogged about the Braves for four years.  I’ve studied collective bargaining and revenue sharing for four years.  I’ve guest lectured on these topics for one year.  And in the past year, I’ve been honored to be involved with L.E.A.D., an inner-city baseball league in Atlanta. 

I often wonder why I’ve developed such a love for games that involve throwing and hitting a little round ball with stitches.  All I can say is that baseball and softball have been an integral part of my life, and a constant in my life no matter where I’ve gone.  I played softball from age 5 until 26.  No matter where I moved, Statesboro, Georgia to Columbia, South Carolina to Irvine, California to Gainesville, Florida back to Atlanta, Georgia, there was always a softball team to play on and a baseball team to root for.  I’ve cheered for the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox, the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Anaheim Angels (who regrettably became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during my time as a resident of Orange County, California), the Florida Gators, and the Gwinnett Braves.  From attending local baseball games to joining a softball team, I could always count on baseball and softball to make me feel comfortable in new surroundings. 

It’s for these reasons that I think I identified with Jim Bouton while reading Ball Four.  From the first pages it becomes apparent how much he loves playing the game.  Bouton played before free agency, so he certainly wasn’t playing for the money.  I’ve tried to heed the advice of another favorite former player of mine, Rob Dibble, that For Love of the Game was just a movie, but I just can’t seem to let go of the idea that those guys who are lucky enough to be out on the field playing the game I love have to love it as much as I do.  After reading Ball Four, I’m convinced that Bouton did love playing the game.  And not for fame or notoriety.  It’s obvious as you read his day-by-day recounting of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros that he loved to play the game.

Ball Four reads like a diary.  Bouton kept notes throughout the season and the book unfolds day-by-day from Spring Training through the season’s end.  While Ball Four is best known for the stories he tells about the other players, I enjoyed it for different reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the stories about the players and the clubhouse antics.  Bouton is incredibly witty and I found myself laughing out loud at numerous places in the book.  But being someone who never played in the Majors, I enjoyed feeling like I was with him every day of the season, experiencing what he was experiencing.  I could feel his desire to get in the game, his frustration when he was misunderstood, his struggle to master the knuckleball, and his excitement when he had success.

Ball Four is like going back in time and having the opportunity to sit in the bullben with Bouton all season long.  I wasn’t even alive in the season of 1969 when all of this was playing out on the field, but I feel like I relived the entire season right alongside him.  If you’ve ever wondered what really goes through a ballplayer’s mind, this book will fascinate you.  It’ll make you laugh too.  And if you’re someone like me who enjoys learning about collective bargaining and free agency, this book will provide amazing insight into what it was like to be a ballplayer during the time period all of that was being born.  I couldn’t have asked for better research as I write my own book.

Overall, I give this book an A+ and label it a “must read” for baseball fans.  I’ve read dozens of books  on baseball and only one other, Feeding the Monster, has captured my attention the way this book did.  If you haven’t read it, grab a copy today! 

More posts to come on various topics in the book…

For love of the game,

Kristi

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