Phew. What a laboring offseason it has been. Personally, I’ve devoured nine baseball books, binge-watched The Americans and allowed myself to be sucked down YouTube wormholes of Yankees highlights more times than I can count. After all that work, here we stand on...
* checks calendar *
Oh boy. We’re still about three long, cold months from Opening Day. Sure, there’s the shorter countdown to pitchers and catchers, and the eventual spring training schedule, but March 28th is the big date circled on our calendars, and we’re still far away from there.
So, as I’ve done here before, I’d like to help relieve the heavy offseason burden and offer you all some Yankees-related material to help winter seem a little more pleasant. After all, we can always use some more baseball in our lives. I’ve read plenty of great stuff so far this offseason, and here’s what I recommend in the latest installment of the Offseason Survival Guide.
Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy
Let’s start with what took the biggest chunk out of the offseason so far. “Big Fella” is packed with everything you could ever want to know about the Babe, and as Leavy has already shown in past biographies of Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax, she can really paint a picture. The main concern heading into this book was how Leavy would keep things fresh when it comes to a character whose life has been told a thousand times over, but she found a way. The scope of Ruth through the eyes of the press and other celebrities around him at the time was fascinating to read, and it provided a good sense of just how a big of a circus followed him around during his historic career.
There’s plenty of new information about Ruth’s painful upbringing, tragic family life and how he, with the help of his “agent,” helped revolutionize what it means to be not just an athlete, but a celebrity. It’s a must-read.
The Pine Tar Game by Filip Bondy
I consider this one another must-read, especially because for me personally, I never grasped just how intense the rivalry was between the Royals and Yanks at the time of George Brett’s iconic meltdown in the Bronx. That’s probably because my lifetime has consisted of seeing a sea of empty seats in Kansas City, save for two quick seasons of World Series contention. However, as Bondy illustrates in his book, the Royals and Yankees used to flat-out hate each other.
Facing each other three-straight years in the ALCS will always cause animosity and competition, and Bondy does a great job taking the reader through those chaotic times in Yankee land. It was a time when the turbulent Yanks led by George Steinbrenner only seemed to unite in their hatred for the Royals. Of course, the Pine Tar Game was later in this rivalry, and there were no World Series implications attached to it, just a flat-out bizarre experience that included court cases, indirect threats and the replay of one inning. It was entertaining, to say the least.
Summer of 49 by David Halberstam
This book isn’t new by any means (it was published before I was even born), but I stumbled upon it in Barnes & Noble one day and am very glad I did. Many fans think to the summer of 1978 as the most climactic non-playoff clash in this bitter rivalry (and for good reason), but 1949 makes its case for that title. From Joe DiMaggio’s magical return from a nagging heel injury to Boston’s furious comeback in the American League standings, Halberstam provides insight from countless members of the 1949 Yanks and Red Sox (aside from DiMaggio, who was probably unpleasant when asked to participate) during one of the greatest years of baseball’s greatest rivalry.
Another interesting aspect to the book is learning about the epic final series of the regular season to decide the division, and seeing how parts of today’s style of baseball found their way into the 1949 version of the sport (like Casey Stengel’s use of reliever Joe Page, which proved to be crucial for the Bombers). If you haven’t read it already, you absolutely should.
There’s some other non-Yankee books I’ve read so far this winter, and I made a list of them here. To be honest, I’d recommend all of them.
- The Only Rule is it Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
- Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss
- Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik
- Smart Baseball by Keith Law
- The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse by Rich Cohen