Category Archives: books

Summer Reading Book Club: The Last Boy Mickey Mantle by Jane Leavy

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I wanted to read something that would give me an idea about all things Mickey Mantle; a player I never got to see play but a figure whom I consider more to be a God of the great game or an icon of the game’s storied past. In The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, Jane Leavy pulls together every moment in great detail from seedling to star of ‘The Mick’. After completing this book I am convinced that this will be history’s comprehensive read on one of the game’s greatest legends ever.

It’s obvious from the book’s beginning that Leavy did a great deal of homework in pulling this together – and I like when writers do that. It’s a quality that really endeared Jeff Pearlman to me. Leavy takes the same approach; if the milk man would have seen Mantle playing in the front yard a few times in Oklahoma and he was still leaving, Leavy would have done her due diligence in talking to him about Mantle’s childhood.

We learn very early on that Jane Leavy was one of the American’s who put Mantle on a pedastool, idolizing him through the heat of many steaming Bronx summers. Later on in life she had the opportunity to spend a day with her hero to interview him and was shown some very human like blemishes of her Superman (Mantle actually attempts to sleep with the author in one of his drunken stupors). But she also sees the soft side of the Mick. Leavy learns the truth about his sobriety – how for all his folk story accomplishments on a baseball diamond – that his greatest triumph was perhaps the man he ended up becoming before his expiration. This will serve as a proud moment for those who loved Mantle when they read about him.

This book simply offered such exquisite documented detail on every event in Mickey Mantle’s life and career. I wanted to read about the degrees of Mantle’s alcoholism and hard partying days. Leavy tells dozens of tales of Mantle staying up all night long with his own teammates and friends of the opposition; only to report to the park the next day and homer twice. If it weren’t so accurately descriptive you would think it was a folk hero tale.

I wanted to read about that Yankee Stadium outfield drain that Mantle stepped in during the World Series that left him playing on one leg his entire career – it’s in the book down to the detail of what the doctor who cut Mantle open after the surgery.

You’ll read about Mantle’s rocky relationship with Joe Dimaggio, his close friendships with Whitey Ford and Billy Martin, that magical 1961 season with Roger Maris as well as an entire chapter on the longest legendary home run he hit against the Washington Senators in the nation’s capital.

And there’s stories about him chasing broads. Lots, and lots of broads. Right down to the bitter end, Mantle was always kept company with buxom beauties just like you’ve always heard about.

You also learn that on the inside of this superhero was a very mortal human being who was a lot like you and I. He was not able to be with his father when he died. Mantle often feared his own death at a young age and wondered whether or not he would be saved once he got to the pearly gates.

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When you read about all those summer days of the Yankees glory, you’ll be able to picture the bright July sunshine that beat down on Yankee Stadium when Mantle was the king of the earth. Nearly any Mantle tale that you’ve heard from fathers, grandfathers, or figures of your life who grew up in this era will be touched upon and give you an accurate trial of how it went down. You’ll feel as if you actually got to see the Triple Crown season of 1956 unfold.

Through reading this book I realize one take-home message: that for all the talking I do to try and tell those with an interest in baseball that Bryce Harper or Mike Trout will be the ‘Mickey Mantle of my son’s time'; I realize there will NEVER be another Mickey Mantle that walks the earth or anything close to it.

Not only was Mantle a modern marvel of science with more God given ability then most of the ballplayers who are on our television sets in today’s era, he simply existed in a time and space that wasn’t of the internet-age where information is readily available. The access we have to players today spoils us. The lack of access that fans and writers had to Mantle, coupled with the way everything in sports are sponsored and so corporate in today’s world robs us of the magical mystique in today’s world. That part of the game has been gone a long time.

Players today simply know better. They don’t openly drink cans of Natural Light in the locker room or smoke cigarettes down in the tunnels, and if they do it’s immediately a story. In Mantle’s day it was nothing for him to sleep off his hangover in the training room before the game only to get started on a new one when his work at the yard was completed for the day.

I wasn’t privileged enough to grow up in the era of ‘The Last Boy’, to experience the age of innocence that was baseball in the 50’s and 60’s. But I realize through reading this book that I would have probably been a Yankees fan, helpless against the intoxication that the man who wore number seven offered to those born in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s.

And in the end the things that should be important to every man were important to Mantle. He did good things and righted many wrongs in his life. It is almost sad and cryptic to read along and watch as he self destructs after his playing career ends. He turns his sons into drinking buddies – after largely ignoring his wife and family during his playing career. Yet one learns that through all the lovers he kept in his company, Mantle refused to ever get a divorce from his wife Merlyn because he loved her to the fullest of the ability that he knew how. At the end of the story, Mantle becomes the father he always should have been. It’s a part in the story that will tug on some heart strings because it will remind readers of their own personal lives and their own fathers perhaps.

Through it all you also realize that Mantle did every bit as much to raise the Yankee ‘NY’ insignia to greatness as players like Ruth, Gehrig, and Dimaggio. Mantle was simply the next one in line to carry the torch, and he did it with a lot more flair than his past counterparts.

You come to realize why Mantle’s collectible items are still as valuable as anyone’s in the collector market present day. Leavy devotes an entire chapter to Mantle’s collectibility back in those days, his relationship with the Upper Deck company, and how his rookie card came to be the card that changed sports collecting and the hobby.

This was one of the most interesting baseball works that I’ve ever opened up, and it’s a perfect book to start reading in the summer months when you’re in the heat of baseball season. We’ll never have the chance to know what it was like growing up in the Bronx, listening to our radio while they tar the streets in hopes that Mantle would hit the next of his gargantuan blasts. But through Leavy’s work, we get to experience just a taste of it. Leavy takes us along through Mickey Mantle’s wild and unbelievable ride through life.

Book Review: The Last Natural – Bryce Harper’s Big Gamble in Sin City by Rob Miech

I was searching for a summer baseball book when the perfect storm came together.

Bryce Harper got called up to the big leagues and a few weeks later I discovered one of the best all-around reads in existence for the hardcore baseball fan. I had the chance to talk to the author of The Last Natural, Rob Miech; on The Baseball Show podcast prior to picking up my copy. It gave me an excellent glimpse that if you wanted to get an up close look at who Bryce Harper really is, this was a must-read.

And that’s what I enjoyed most about the book. But there’s so much more involved.

Miech mixes wonderful anecdotes about Bryce Harper’s last amateur season which was played at College of Southern Nevada. From the opening pages of the book, you’ll be able to smell the pine tar. That’s no joke, because Harper sought out a college conference in which he could hit with a wood bat in order to best showcase his talent for pro scouts.

The ‘gamble’ is not just a play on words either. There was a lot at stake for this book to become the magical story that it did. If Harper doesn’t go on to do what he did in his one college season, there’s no real basis for a book for Miech in the first place. A flop by Harper in the Scenic West Athletic Conference and he might not become the number one overall pick. Spoiler alert: Harper delivers, and in a big way.

I played college baseball, and as you get to know the characters surrounding Harper in the book–a group of Major League prospects–it takes me back to the days I spent in the dugout with my own teammates. The inside jokes that become a second language, the tight losses that define a season, the road trips, and the culmination of it all in one or two huge moments.

Back to the part of the book that kept me turning pages, getting to know the biggest generational talent of our lifetime. In reading this book you’ll find out exactly where Bryce Harper came from and what his family is like. You’ll learn what causes Harper to have such strong convictions and what kind of talent he aspires to be. There simply isn’t a text in existence that will allow you to feel like you get to know Bryce Harper better than this book does.

There are times in his final amateur season that the tension could be cut with a knife. It’s almost not comprehensible to a normal person that an 18-year old kid could have this much on his shoulders and still succeed. Harper not only succeeds with his own personal accolades by posting a Ruthian slash line, but through many quotes from his Southern Nevada teammates you learn exactly what kind of teammate Harper is. Willing to run through a wall for a win, the author shows us the price Harper is willing to pay to get a Junior College World Series ring.

The Last Natural steps to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and empties the bases for it’s readers. Miech is an author who understands the game’s roots, and seems to grasp that his subject does as well. Harper is a student and historian of the game of baseball, hoping to shape his game after some of the greats that our fathers grew up watching.

If you are a die-hard baseball enthusiast who wishes for nothing more than spending a lazy day in the bleachers, this is the perfect page turner to gnaw on some sunflower seeds and enjoy.

The Baseball Show: Rob Miech & The Last Natural (Bryce Harper)

On this edition of The Baseball Show, I have the special privilege of talking with Rob Miech, author of The Last Natural: Bryce Harper’s Big Gamble in Sin City and the Greatest Amateur Season Ever.

Rob and I have an outstanding talk about all things Bryce Harper, and his experiences covering Bryce during his one season at College of Southern Nevada.

Rob did not shy away from talking about how he came to the idea, Bryce Harper’s relationship with his teammates, stories about Bryce that did not make the book, and Bryce’s future in the game of baseball.

This work is going to be a phenomenal read for anyone who is a fan of the game of baseball, and a chance to get a deeper look at the last natural of our generation. You can follow the author Rob Miech on Twitter (@robmiech) or order this book at Amazon.com.

A special thanks to Rob for spending time with us tonight in one of the most enjoyable baseball chats I’ve ever been a part of.

Book Review: Are We Winning? by Will Leitch


You want to read the bleacher bum’s bible? This is it.

I loved this book for many reasons. It’s heart-warming. It’s about fathers and sons and the great American ballgame. It makes me feel like the way I live my life–usually with moods altering on how a certain box score reads. There’s mention of beer, sadness, and everything in between.

Will Leitch was one of my favorite guys to read when he wrote on Deadspin. Now his book Are We Winning? is going to go down as one of my all-time favorites.

When I picked it up at Barnes and Noble and started paging through the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down. The day I found it, I crushed about half of it and then went home and watched the Reds play the Cubs at Wrigley Field–the setting of the book’s main story.

It’s the perfect book for a warm summer day. Read a segment or two before the ballgame you’re getting ready to watch begins. You’ll feel more excited to watch it, win or lose.

Leitch speaks the truth about this game we love in so many different ways. He allows you to think deeper about the game. He makes you realize that the insignificant moments in which we let pass us by aren’t so insignificant because of the memories that we tie to guys like Kit Pellow (broke up a Tom Glavine no-hitter at Shea Stadium when Leitch was present).

Leitch makes me regretful in a sense, that I haven’t recorded every ballgame and the results along with the attendees that went with me so I can hang onto the memories forever. That’s part of the reason I created a blog like this. But Leitch has got it all, recorded in his score books. Leitch eloquently tells memories he has had following the game of baseball and ties them in very well with memories of his family, and namely his father. This is another aspect in which it’s easy to become envious of the author. He has lived a life full of not only neat baseball experiences, but a life that is rich in sharing a common bond with his dad.

Leitch and I have quite a bit in common as far as being fans go. He gives you a look into his life following baseball with mentions of figures of our fan past like Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, and many of the ‘legendary’ Cardinals of the 80’s. It’s safe to say one of the greatest nights of his life was the night the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, and he was there to witness it. He did it right.

The author loves Rick Ankiel the way that we here love Jay Bruce. He talks statistics, booze, tales from different stadiums around the United States, and experiences with different writers surrounding the game of baseball from bloggers to beat writers.

If you read this book, we promise it will enrich your fandom of the game of baseball. It will make you proud that you invest so much into following baseball and being a fan. It will make you realize that it’s okay to be the way that we are, or at least some of us. It might make you pick up the phone and call your dad just to say hello. Or that friend you haven’t talked to in a while. It’s real writing by a real guy who doesn’t mind showing you who he really is. And the kind of guy he is happens to be fine by us.

An excerpt from Are We Winning? A Prayer for Steve Bartman Will Leitch has always been one of our favorite writers. The fact that he’s written a book about baseball guarunteees a few things: 1) it’s going to be a good read–especially for baseball fans, and 2) you’ll get a couple of awesome, detail-rich anecdotes like this one. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed. [Deadspin]

Book Review: Straw- Finding My Way

I rarely splurge on books anymore. It’s probably something I don’t spend enough on. When I heard that Darryl Strawberry was coming out with his version of a tell all book, I knew I had to get it and that it would be an easy page turner for me no matter what it had in it. Afterall, I owe a lot to Darryl for me falling in love with the sport as an 8 year old kid. He was my first favorite player. I’d spend the night at any home with cable if the Mets or Dodgers were playing just to see him hit. I’d comb box scores every morning looking for ‘Strawberry’ and I’d cut out the good ones and pin them to a bulletin board in my room next to the magazine I had with the Straw on the cover.

Straw: Finding My Way is not just a book about baseball. It’s a book about life with some baseball included. I’d encourage anyone who has ever struggled with any degree of addiction in their life to read this book. No one was a bigger addict then Strawberry himself, and he admits that a lot in the book. This is not a book that will only be interesting to baseball fans, but should also be interesting to people from all walks of life because of this very reason.

When I read through the book, I kept thinking about what someone had once said about the late country singer Johnny Cash. Strawberry, like cash is not a bad man who struggled to be good. He is a good man who has struggled to face many of life’s challenges.

Strawberry chronicles a life that had him growing up in South Central Los Angeles, in the one of the stucco homes with a little back and front yard. Strawberry gives a lot of mention to the absence of his father in his life being the cause of not only his own but his brother’s problems as well.

Strawberry was a member of possibly the greatest varsity high school baseball team of all time, the late 70’s Crenshaw Cougars. Strawberry tells the story of him going from a cocky and brash high school player to the #1 pick in the draft, expected to save the New York Mets franchise almost single-handed. From there Strawberry was thrown into a life of hard partying and fast women as a young man, a kid basically. Strawberry was introduced to this lifestyle by the ‘wild hairs’ (as he referred to them) that he called teammates. The Mets were unlike any team that is in the game today. Times were different then. Cigar and Cigarette smoking was common for every player in the dugouts, clubhouse, team bus, and even airline flights. Life was a constant routine of going to the ballpark by day and tearing up the town’s clubs and bars by night.

The book is written in very simple tense. Strawberry will never be mistaken for Shakespeare and he a lot of times writes as if he were sitting next to you with a beer in hand telling you a story. One thing I found to be a disappointment was that the 1986 World Series was summed up by Strawberry in basically a paragraph. He did not go into detail about the battles and the whole legendary 1986 season and team is basically talked about in less then a chapter of this book. I suppose it is good in some ways as if you’ve read The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman (my favorite book of all-time) a lot of things seem to overlap and you can tell Strawberry has read that book and taken some very things that Pearlman has said and made them his own anecdote.

For all the chapters in this book that are really interesting; it is the final three chapters that are the most important. Strawberry sends a message that is priceless if you can harness it. Strawberry is an amazing human being. He is amazing because of his imperfections. In a movie or story it is the hero or character you know that has a tragic downfall coming that you end up loving and pulling for the most. It is amazing because in his story, Strawberry seemingly fails again, and again, and again, and even more. When you think he’s finally turned the corner, you read that he slipped again back into his demons and addictions. While being a specimen of superstar caliber, he is a man who is not immune to the temptations that we regular people face every day of our lives. And that’s what makes you relate to ‘Straw’.

Strawberry gets sick. He gets high. He goes to bed with women at his treatment facilities. He doesn’t pay his bills. He is a cornicopia of all things humanly imperfect. And it is amazing to have read his story and know that he has truly come full circle within the years I have been on this earth. I have seen it happen now. I remember as a kid and then as an adolescent and even as a young man shaking my head every time I heard that Darryl Strawberry had slipped again. He was my first favorite player. My initial connection to the sport I loved. In my head, I would always hope that he’d ended up alright but I didn’t see it happening. In the end, Strawberry has pulled through.

All in the same, he admits that he doesn’t know if tomorrow will be a day of clean living.

You’re not living in yesterday or tomorrow. Today is all you’ve got, and how you live today is all that matters.

That is the quote that stuck with me through this inspiring story. Strawberry reminds us that the Devil is very real; and that he is around every corner. He’s not just preying on us when we are at our weakest, but that he is coming at us often when we’re at our strongest.

I may have read this story because I loved baseball, but this is a story that could change the way someone lives their life. There are a lot of lessons to be learned if you take Strawberry’s words to heart. He is a man who has walked on both sides of this life, not ignoring either extreme. As I read on towards the end of the book, I became increasingly amazed that this man is alive to tell his story. I have to figure the only reason is because of God, and because Darryl’s number wasn’t called for a reason yet.

Strawberry’s purpose on earth wasn’t to hit all those home runs at Shea Stadium or to be at Yankees Old Timers days. It was to tell his story and inspire lives young and old. He’s done it.

This new Clemens book is going to be a good one. “Clemens isn’t weird or quirky, but he spent most of his career creating his own narrative, which makes him very mysterious. I mean, we all knew he’s a guy from Texas—not so. He’s from Butler Township, Ohio. We all knew he’s always been a great athlete—not so. He was a fat, soft-tossing nobody through much of his childhood. His father left when he was 2, his step father died of a heart attack before his eyes when he was 9, his brother/hero battled drug addiction and his sister in law was murdered by drug dealers. He’s had, in many ways, a very sad, tragic life. But also a fascinating one.” [Hugging Harold Reynolds]

Even more excerpts from the Torre/Verducci book

This Joe Torre book co-authored by Tom Verducci is looking more and more like a book that I should check out next time I go loitering at Barnes & Noble. Excerpts continue to creep out as we have tracked down a few of the more interesting takes to sneak preview The Yankee Years for our readers.

Bronx Banter Blog:
-One of my favorite moments in the Verducci/Torre book is about Roger Clemens as he prepared to face the Mets in Game 2 of the 2000 World Serious. Verducci writes that Clemens’ usual pregame preparation included taking a whirlpool bath at the hottest temperature possible. “He’d come out looking like a lobster,” Yankee trainer Steve Donahue told Verducci. Donahue would then rub hot liniment all over Clemens’ body. “Then Donahue would rub the hottest possible liniment on his testicles,” Verducci writes.

“He’d start snorting like a bull,” the trainer said. “That’s when he was ready to pitch.”

NY Times Bats Blog:
-Though he accuses Kevin Brown of “pitching stupid” by taking the ball in Game 7 of the 2004 A.L.C.S. despite an ailing back, Torre expresses more pity than anger at the troubled right-hander. “There were a lot of demons in this guy,” Torre says, and he mentions that after Brown allowed six runs in the first inning of this 2005 game, he stormed into the visitors clubhouse at Tropicana Field, curled up on the floor in a corner of a storage area and told Torre, “I’m going to go home.” Torre told Brown that if he did that -– if he quit on his teammates — he would never be welcomed back.

Brown got up, fired his cellphone across the locker room, put his jersey back on and threw four more innings. The authors do not mention it, but Brown won his next four starts, the final four victories of his career.

-Torre has a telling comment about George Steinbrenner’s mental state when recalling a meeting in Tampa, Fla., in September 2007. Steinbrenner’s health had clearly deteriorated, and Torre drew a comparison to “The Godfather”:“It’s not quite the same (as) when Don Corleone was shot and was recovering and was sitting in the garden. At least he was talking to his son in a very lucid way, explaining what was going to happen. I don’t think George had those capabilities.”

-The Yankees should have talked to Tim Raines before signing Carl Pavano. Raines, the former Yankee who was coaching with the White Sox when Pavano signed, had played with Pavano in Montreal. During Pavano’s first Yankees season, Raines told Borzello: “He didn’t want to pitch except for the one year he was pitching for a contract. I’m telling you, he’s not going to pitch for you.”

-To demonstrate a key difference between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, there is an anecdote about Rodriguez visiting Jeter’s house and flipping on the TV. Rodriguez asked Jeter where he could find the baseball package, and was stunned that Jeter did not subscribe.


Now the Yankees are mulling over their options as far as if their confidentiality clauses have been broken. I have to say, Torre revealing George Steinbrenner to be nothing more then a muttering, stuttering old vegtable right now was pretty shocking to me. I’d say that this pretty much concludes Torre’s exiting act; and would not expect him to ever be invited back to Old Timers day at New Yankee Stadium.

Excerpt creeps out from the Torre book about his last day as a Yankee. On Oct. 18, 2007, 10 days after the Yankees lost the Division Series to the Cleveland Indians, 10 days of public waiting for George Steinbrenner to follow through on his Game 3 warning that Torre would not be back in the wake of defeat, the question Torre proposed was now the domain of the seven other people in the room. Steinbrenner sat slumped in his chair with dark glasses covering most of his face. Occasionally he would take them off, put them back on, take them off, put them back on … He contributed virtually nothing to the meeting except for occasionally repeating the last sentence of what someone in the room had just said. [Sports Illustrated]

Anyone Else Excited for 'Vindicated'?

I have to say, Juiced was one of my favorite books of all-time, and as far as baseball books go; it was second only to The Bad Guys Won, finishing slightly ahead of The Roberto Clemente Story. Canseco’s first book was a true classic because it was entertaining, and it breached a lot of bridges in Canseco’s personal life. These bridges were ties within baseball that he made throughout his career. In the end, it was a bloodbath, with many names named, and many being true users of steroids as time would tell.

Fans of that book will have a new reason to look forward to Opening Day 2008: Vindicated the sequel to Canseco’s first book, will be released. More names are expected to be named including Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez.

I loved Canseco’s first book so much I even read his ex-wife Jessica’s book, Juicy. It was equally good shit in general, despite being written by a woman. The new book will get plenty of run on this site for sure, and I’ll probably rip through it in about 4 days.

Read God Save the Fan

I want you to get to your nearest book store, Hoggers; and purchase God Save the Fan by Will Leitch.

I wrote a more detailed post about this on my NFL site, but as We Are the Postmen put it: “We really never would have gotten into this whole blogging thing had it not been for E stumbling upon Deadspin back in January of ‘05. A win for Leitch is a win for the sports blogosphere as a whole.”

For every sports blogger out there, no matter how insignifcant their voice on the large scale internet may be; Leitch is our leader. If this little plug on my small baseball site gets one person in the world to know about the book that didn’t before, than I’ve done by unknown favor to a good guy who views sports similarly to me, and a fella that’s been my inspiration for starting this site and really changed my life.

Check it out!