Tag Archives: baseball

A SPRING in your step

Happy First Day of Spring, everybody! We made it! (Well, actually that was yesterday, but we’re librarians not climatologists).

I don’t know about you, but when the ol’ equinox rolls around, I like to start thinking about baseball.

The teams have been doing their spring training, uh, training for the past few weeks and we are just days away from the start of a new season.

There’s no better time than now to check out some of the newer baseball related items the library has to offer.

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book Moneyball, you’ll know that there is a tension in baseball between the traditional methods of evaluating players and the newer statistical methods collectively known as “sabermetrics”. In this book, veteran ESPN writer and statistical analyst Keith Law covers a lot of the same ground and demonstrates why the old ways don’t really yield meaningful results. Despite this, baseball is filled with superstition and many of the old criteria, like favouring a player who has “the good face” still pops up now and again. He also does a good job at explaining and demystifying some of the newer stats that have become such a big part of today’s game.

Offspeed: Baseball, Pitching and the Art of Deception by Terry McDermott

Baseball is complicated, but one thing is certain: you need solid pitching to win games, or at least to not lose games. Is that the same thing? Who’s to say? Terry McDermott frames his book around 9 chapters, with each one looking at the history of a different type of pitch. Mr. McDermott, like Keith Law, recognizes that baseball relies just as much on folk wisdom as it does on modern statistics, and he does a good job here in using both kinds of knowledge in his research. And even those this book may only really appeal to die-hard baseball fans, you gotta love a non-fiction baseball book that begins with a Field of Dreams reference.

Lou by Lou Piniella

It was only a matter of time before Lou Piniella wrote a book about baseball. The guy has been involved with the game for over 50 years, first as an outfielder in the 1970’s with the New York Yankees, then later as a manager of 5 major league teams. He’s even done some time in the broadcast booth. He’ll probably be best remembered as a guy who liked to yell and scream at umpires though, and I’m pretty sure his nickname, “Sweet Lou”, was ironic. I wonder if his memoir is written in ALL CAPS? If you don’t believe me, have a look at this short video clip highlighting some of the debates in which he took part over his illustrious career. Some of those debates were with a second base, apparently.

Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles

I think we need a palette cleanser after that, and luckily Stacey May Fowles provides the perfect alternative. Of all the baseball books coming out this Spring, I am most looking forward to reading hers. Currently a columnist with The Globe and Mail, Stacey May Fowles has also written a couple of novels Infidelity and Be Good. In Baseball Life Advice, Ms. Fowles writes from the perspective of a unabashed baseball fan, and all the thrills and simple joys that come with visiting a ballpark and following a favourite team. Already a fan of her prose, I have a feeling that her baseball book will be something special. Early reviews suggest that even if you are not a baseball fan, you’d do well to pick up this memoir. If your eyes glaze over with stats talk (like mine do), and if you can only take a little bit of yelling, (sorry Lou!), then I think Ms. Fowles will speak to that part of the fan that cannot be quantified: the baseball lover’s spirit.


Spring Training


It’s not too soon to think about baseball, is it? I mean, the Toronto Blue Jays start their spring training schedule tomorrow (March 2) against the Phillies, and the regular season is only a month away. As a Blue Jays fan, I’ve had a few months now to reflect upon that remarkable run from August to October last year, which included acquiring David Price (albeit briefly), Josh Donaldson winning the MVP, and the triumphant return of Marcus Stroman (fully recovered from a knee injury sustained in spring training). We won’t mention the Pillar/Tulowitzki collision. I’m sure Tulo’s fine, now. Right?

It was the first time the Jays made the post season since their back-to-back World Series wins in 1992/93, and it seemed that everyone was talking about it.

The Jays faced the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship last fall, and the two public library systems of each city got into a bit of a good-natured “twitter war” using book spine titles to create “poems” that trash-talked the other city. You can read an article on it here.

tpl twitter war

It’s a whole new season, KC.


Although the Jays fell to the Royals in the ALCS, we will never forget those magical few weeks leading up to the post season which culminated in that wacky game five of the American League Divisional Series against the Texas Rangers. Even casual sports fans will remember that iconic image of José Bautista’s famous bat flip.


The Bat Flip


But here we are at the beginning of a new season, where anything can happen. Let’s take a look at a couple of baseball related items to get in the proper mindset.

Ken Burns’ Baseball

ken burns

I know this documentary is over 20 years old now, but it is still my favourite piece of pop culture dealing with baseball. Broken into 9 parts (for 9 innings, get it?), it tells the story of baseball from its earliest incarnations right up to the mid 1990s. There is also a lovely companion book to the series, which also tells America’s story for most of the 20th century. I’ve probably watched this documentary five times already, and I’d watch it again in a second. My favourite inning, by the way, is the fifth inning, “Shadow Ball”, which deals primarily with the pre-integration “Negro Leagues” and gives players like  Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige their due. This volume also talks about the early careers of future superstars Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. If you only have time for one “inning”, I recommend the fifth. Ken Burns did a sequel a few years ago, called “The Tenth Inning“, which covers the mid 90s and the 2000’s, but so much of it deals with the steroid era, it’s kind of depressing.


Full Count by Jeff Blair

full count

Sometimes it’s good to take a look back before looking to the future. Jeff Blair, host of the Sports talk show, “The Jeff Blair Show” took a stab at the first four decades of Blue Jays baseball. At just over 250 pages, it covers a lot of ground but does not go into a lot of depth on “behind the scenes” stories. Still, it is a very readable way to get up to speed on the history of “Canada’s Team”, (sorry, Expos fans!), and for a fan it’s fun to relive some of the great moments. I was just about to turn three years old when the Jays played their first game in 1977, so I obviously don’t remember it, but my Mom had the game on at home and my Dad was calling from work every 15 minutes or so for updates. That was back in the day when the Jays played at Exhibition Stadium and it snowed during the first game. Welcome to Canada!

Change Up: How To Make the Great Game of Baseball Even Better by Buck Martinez

buck martinez

This book won’t even be published for another couple of weeks, but I can’t wait to read it. Buck Martinez was a former Major League catcher, who spent some of his career with the Jays. In fact, I used to have a book written by him called “From Worst to First, the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays” or something like that. That was the year the Jays won their first division title, but went on to lose to the Kansas City Royals. What’s up with these Royals? On July 9th, in a game against Seattle, Buck Martinez was blocking home plate and was on the receiving end of a terrible collision and ended up with a broken leg and a dislocated ankle. Still, he was able to complete one of the craziest double plays I’ve ever seen. You can read more about that play here. After he retired from playing, he made his way to the broadcast booth, and even managed the Blue Jays for a brief time in 2001-02 before eventually becoming the Jays’ play-by-play commentator in 2010. I’m sure his latest book will be full of interesting insights from a guy who has been around baseball his whole life.


Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Trust, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by R.A. Dickey


For a slight change of pace, you may enjoy R.A. Dickey’s memoir. He is currently part of the Jays’ starting rotation, and his journey to becoming Major League Baseball’s only active knuckleball pitcher is quite remarkable. He was originally offered a $810,000 signing bonus from the Texas Rangers as their first round draft pick in 1996, but when it was discovered that he was missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm (a defect from birth), they reduced their offer to $75,000. He struggled in the early part of his career to remain at the major league level after making his debut in 2001. It wasn’t until 2005 that things started to go his way, when he decided to perfect his knuckleball pitch as a way to stand out from the crowd and extend his career. In 2012, he was selected as an All Star for the very first time, and was the first knuckleballer to ever win the Cy Young award that year. The following year, he signed with the Jays. It’s a very well written memoir, full of humour and optimism, despite his many challenges.

Opening Day isn’t all that far away, and once the season starts: ANYTHING can happen.





Books of Summer

It’s July, but Winnipeg is still in the grip of hockey fever following the announcement that a new NHL team called the Jets will be playing here — a testament to the power these supposedly trivial pursuits can wield. Even those of us who don’t play them can be drawn in by their emotion on the field or on the page.

The original logo for the WHA JetsIf you’d like to brush up on your hockey history, The Rebel League by Ed Willes (a former sportswriter for the Winnipeg Sun) is an anecdotal chronicle of the World Hockey Association where the Jets started out. It’s all here: Bobby Hull’s million-dollar contract, colourful hockey franchises, lawsuits, and innovations which would have a widespread effect on pro hockey, like the 18-year-old draft and the talent hunt for European players .

If you’ve ever doubted that sports can have a profound impact on society, I Had a Hammer proves otherwise. Much more than just a collection of baseball memories, this is Hank Aaron’s first-hand account of the prejudice he and his contemporaries who followed Jackie Robinson into major league baseball faced – including death threats when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.

Nick Hornby’s memoir Fever Pitch is the definitive portrayal of the otherwise normal guy with a full-blown sports obsession, in this case the English soccer team Arsenal. You’ll remember that the word “fan” is short for fanatic as Hornby asks himself “the only true question there is: Which comes first, Football or Life?”

Team dynamics play a huge role in sports. In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais follows one season in the lives of a high school girls’ basketball team, from tryouts to the state championship. Her in-depth portraits of the players provide insight into how important athletic skill and competition can be for young women.

Non-fiction is not the only choice for sports fans, either. Baseball may have the edge on literary fiction with titles such as Shoeless Joe and The Natural, but Paul Quarrington’s King Leary has a claim to the title of Great Canadian Hockey Novel.

And genre fiction with a sports backdrop is always popular. It Had to Be You and other books in the best-selling Chicago Stars series by Suzan Elizabeth Phillips follow the romantic entanglements of professional football players. Harlan Coben’s engaging Myron Bolitar mystery series (starting with Deal Breaker) features a former basketball player, now star sports agent. In fact, there’s a mystery series for every sport from boxing to horse racing to golf.

Sports books are a sure thing for readers. If you don’t see a title that interests you here, check with the rabid book fans at your local library!


Discovering the Thrill of the Grass

The crack of the bat, the smell of hotdogs, the shout of a vendor, the thrill of the grass…

With the Major League Baseball season underway once again, there’s no better time to get reacquainted with some of the Library’s best baseball-related material.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

Ken Burns is one of the most prominent documentary film-makers in America. He once said that America will be remembered for three things: the Civil War, jazz, and baseball. He has done extensive miniseries on each of these topics, but I believe his baseball miniseries is by far the best of the lot. He cleverly breaks the film into nine episodes, and calls them innings. Each episode covers approximately a ten-year span. The documentary covers the origins of baseball in the 1840s right up to the mid-1990s. While the main focus is on the history of baseball, the real story is how the United States changed and grew from the perspective of its national pastime. After a brief prologue, each episode begins with the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” just as you would hear at the beginning of a ball game in America. The episode covering the 1960s uses Jimi Hendrix’s version. Highly recommended, even for those who are not huge baseball fans.

In the fall of 2010, Ken Burns made an update to the series called  “The Tenth Inning.”

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

The book begins with this beautiful quotation from Robert Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” This sets the tone for the rest of this wonderful fantasy novel about a farmer from Iowa who hears a voice while he is out in his corn field. “If you build it, he will come.” He blindly follows the voice and mows down his corn field, replacing it with a baseball diamond. This act releases the spirits of long dead baseball players, primarily those who were banned from baseball forever after being indicted in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. While the diamond gives these haunted spirits a place to play the game again, the voice soon has the farmer off on another quest to make contact with the reclusive author J.D. Salinger. The Philadelphia Enquirer said it is “not so much about baseball as it’s about dreams, magic, life, and what is quintessentially American” — which is a little ironic, since W.P. Kinsella is a Canadian author. This book was made into the film “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner in 1989.

Jackrabbits in the Outfield by John Hindle

Baseball season in Winnipeg won’t get under way until May 12. In the meantime, local fans may want to take a look at this book by the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ former general manager. John Hindle worked with the Goldeyes from the very beginning in 1994 until the 2001 season. His honest account of the early days of the Northern League is a must read for any local baseball fan. Hindle discusses many “behind the scenes” aspects of running a ball team, from dealing with diva players to promotions that didn’t go according to plan.

Winnipeg Public Library has enjoyed a fun relationship with the Winnipeg Goldeyes over the years. We’ve participated in “Library Night” at the ballpark and Goldeyes players have come out to library branches to read and sign autographs. I hope that we can continue to introduce young readers to the “thrill of the grass.”

– Trevor