Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two Book Reviews

When I’m not rolling the APBA baseball dice, or working, or dealing with ex-girlfriends and their issues, or watching sports, or contemplating why I turned out the way I did, I’m reading.

I tend to read a lot, too. I read mostly legal fiction, police procedurals, courtroom thrillers. Which is weird, since I cover that in real life as a reporter.

But occasionally, I stray and hit the sports books.

And I’ve found two baseball books recently published that are worth perusing. And I’ll say something that I’ve never said before: One of them is a John Grisham book and it’s not that bad.

So, with that lollygagging preface, here are two book reviews for sports fans.

CALICO JOE, John Grisham
I never have liked Grisham’s writing. It’s too passive and his plot lines are a single string. As I read his stuff, I feel like I’m reading his set up for a larger story. It’s called “backloading” in the news business. He dumps stream of consciousness into the story to set up the payoff. But in most cases, the payoff never comes. Read “The Partner” or “The Broker” to really get an idea of what I’m saying.

Grisham does that single plot line again in Calico Joe, but maybe it’s because I’m a baseball fan that I don’t mind as much. The story is easy: New York Mets pitcher Warren Tracey beans rookie sensation Joe Castle of the Chicago Cubs in 1973. Much of the book is told in the point of view, Paul Tracey, who is Tracey’s son, and it sets up the fact that Warren Tracey is not a good person.

Again, the plot line is simple. The payoff is if Warren Tracey will seek forgiveness for ending Castle’s career with a single pitch.

Castle is called “Calico Joe,” because he hails from Calico Rock, Arkansas, which is a real place. And maybe that’s why I gave Grisham a more lenient pass that I normally do. I lived near Calico Rock as a kid when I first moved to Arkansas. Grisham sprinkles Arkansas towns throughout the book and it made it easier to place scenes and action while reading. Grisham doesn’t do that on his own.

APBA fans will enjoy the book because it incorporates real players and managers into Castle’s brief baseball life. When I do replays of seasons, I become immersed into the teams and the players. The players become alive even though they are only represented on number-filled cards, and I remember their characteristics. Reading about them in a book makes them more three-dimensional.

The book is worth a shot. It’s a quick read, about as long as normal National League baseball game.

I won’t go into as much detail, simply because I’ve not finished the book. However, with only 120 pages read of the 600-plus page book, I can say that this is an amazing display of research. Appel, the former public relations director for the N.Y. Yankees, has complied a complete history of the Yankees. 

If research were an exercise, Appel would look like one of those sculpted body builders. There are nuggets scattered through the book that any fan would love. In the early 1900s, the Yankees didn’t have the interlocking “N” and “Y” logo. Instead, the letters only adorned their jerseys. In bunting situations, coaches would touch the “Y” for “yes” and “N” for “no.” Appel also wrote about how Ty Cobb ran into the New York stands to fight a fan and was subsequently suspended. His Tiger teammates protested his suspension; that action was credited for later leading to the player’s union.

You don’t have to be a Yankees’ fan to enjoy this book.

So, APBA fans, if the wrist is tired from rolling the game dice, take a break and read a baseball book. These two books won’t disappoint you.

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