You’re Out – And You’re Ugly, Too!

by Ken Griffey, Durwood Merrill, Jim Dent

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Synopsis: After decades of abuse and spittle, Major League umpire Durwood Merrill strikes back with some pretty incisive, funny, and no-holds-barred anecdotes. When his book stays in the game, it’s a real hoot, light and folksy; how can you not laugh with a guy who can admit that “Folks around the American League say I’ve sent a few pitchers to the Hall of Fame before their time because my strike zone tends to swell like George Steinbrenner’s ego”? It’s his own ego, though, that has him swinging for the seats and coming up short; he’s not much of a memoirist. Thankfully, like a good umpire, he keeps his personal interference to a minimum and mostly sticks to business, offering some tough prescriptions for what ails the game, and some solid dissection of the intricacies of his craft. His thoughts on Pete Rose might lead you to believe that Charlie Hustle is the book’s title character.
Joe’s Remarks: When I first bought this book, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. I had heard a few negative things about it, and kind of had a prejudice against it. Boy, was that wrong! I found this to be a very funny, lighthearted read (for the most part). There’s some really wonderful insights into what it takes to become a big league umpire – never quite realized all they went through in “Umpire boot camp” (my term). It’s not all fun and games, there’s a few stories about how an umpire friend of his was attacked and crippled on the streets of Dallas, and the latter part talks a lot about his charity works.
A great book – funny, light, and to be honest, something that surprised me in a very good way. What was personally annoying was that after I read this (during the last month of the 99 season), I wanted to watch Durwood, and then he up and retires during the playoffs. Damn. Really wanted to see him after reading his book. Oh well. Check it out, a good light read.

Seasons in Hell

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Synopsis: Assigned to cover the Texas Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in early 1973, gonzo sportswriter Mike Shropshire looked forward to the perks and padded expense account that went along with the job. He never dreamed he’d have to earn every penny–following arguably the worst team in baseball history. Full of wild games and wilder nights, and the exploits of some of the most extreme characters ever to play the game, this book is Shropshire’s irreverent, behind-the-scenes look at the hell a truly pitiful team can raise between games and innings.

Joe’s Remarks: I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this one either. I bought it because of the tagline on the front about it being funny. I admit to not knowing a whole lot about the very early years of the Rangers (I didn’t move here until 1992, and didn’t really follow ’em until 1995), and the thought about reading a book all about them didn’t thrill me.

However, I quickly found out that this was a hysterically funny book. Mike Shrophsire has a very funny wit, and isn’t afraid to let it fly when talking about the Rangers of this era. His recollection of events is awesome, and makes for very funny reading. If you’re a fan of the Rangers, or even if you’re not, GET THIS! It’s a very great read, although I don’t recommend it for very small kids, as there’s more than just one or two cuss words in there. Still, for adults, it’s well worth it.

As of now, it appears to be out of print (unfortunately) – but the link I provide by clicking on the cover will allow you to order it. If you can find it on a bookstore shelf, get it now while you still can.

UPDATE Sep 9 2016: It’s back in print.  You can get for $1.99 via Kindle (and other formats).  Linkage:

Zim: A Baseball Life

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Synopsis: For more than half a century, Don Zimmer, baseball’s beloved gerbil, has been the Zelig of the national pastime, the character in the corner of so many interesting pictures. He may have been only–as he likes to remind us throughout Zim: A Baseball Life–a .235 hitter, but he was a .235 hitter who played with Jackie Robinson on the only Brooklyn team to win a World Series. A year later, he was there, on the bench, when Don Larsen threw his perfect game. More than just an original Met, Zim was the first player ever photographed in a Mets uniform. As the Red Sox third-base coach in 1975, it was Zim who waved Carlton Fisk home in the bottom of the 12th to end the greatest World Series game ever played. Three years later, it was Zim, now the Sox manager, who watched in despair as Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent sealed one of the greatest late-season collapses in the annals of the game when Dent’s pennant-winning homer settled into the net atop the Green Monster. Of course, it was Zim who led the Cubs, of all teams, to a rare postseason appearance, and, approaching 70 at the turn of the millennium, it was Zim who added four championship rings to his collection as Joe Torre’s bench coach in the Bronx.
Bridging the gap between the game’s early years of integration and the advent of the $200-million-plus contract, Zim hasn’t just witnessed the history of the second half of 20th-century baseball, he’s embodied it, and he remembers it with a genial charm and disarming honesty that turns Zim into one of the more spirited and beguiling baseball memoirs to step up in some time. “I’ve had a hell of a life,” he admits with an amazed cheerfulness that’s evident on every page. –Jeff Silverman
Joe’s Remarks: I never was a big Don Zimmer fan until I saw the event that led to the caption of this book. I watched the game where he got hit in the head with a ball, and then came back out in a pith helmet. From that moment on, I was a Zimmer fan (as I am a Torre fan, even if I’m not a “Yankee” fan). Anyway, this book is a good read – Of course, I skipped to the chapter on his year or so as a Texas Rangers manager, which was my primary interest in reading the book. However, it’s a lot more than that. If you get a chance, pick it up. It’s good stuff.

Minor Players, Major Dreams

by Brett H. Mandel

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Synopsis: Former high school ballplayer Brett Mandel yearned to experience a year in the minor leagues, so he convinced the Ogden (Utah) Raptors, about to embark on their maiden season, to let him chronicle that season from the perspective of a uniformed player. They agreed. The resulting saga describes the long bus rides, the bad food, the frustrations, and hopes that are all a part of baseball dreaming with affectionate good humor. The book’s true life, though, steps up in the poignancy with which Mandel draws his teammates, young men destined for the most part to fall short of their great desire. As a player, Mandel went 0 for 5 on the year, proving that the pen, long deemed mightier than the sword, can be mightier than the bat, as well.
Joe’s Remarks: What a wonderful book! I picked this one up, and it stayed in my stack of books to read for about 6 months. That was a mistake – I should have read it first. This is a great book if you’re a fan of baseball, particularly if you’re a fan of minor league baseball. This tells the story of Brett’s year with the Ogden Raptors in 1994 from the start to the end of the season. Brett’s writing style is very easy to read. I tend to do most of my reading before going to bed at night, which usually means I can take several sessions to actually finish a book, as I did with this one. Most books suffer from when you pick them up again, it’s not that easy to jump right in where you left off. This one does not have that. For me, it lent itself great to reading it in chunks. Brett was on the Raptors for a whole year, and this book is his recollection of the travels, details, and behind the scenes things most people will never hear about. Check this out – this book has nothing to do with the Texas Rangers, but it’s a great GREAT baseball book!
As an added bonus, I met the author during the summer of 2000 when Lynn & I went to Baltimore to see the Rangers play there. Brett and some friends were coming back from Cooperstown for the HOF induction ceremony, and were in Baltimore to see the Orioles play. He himself told me about the book, and we had a few moments talking about the Phillies, as we’re both from there. I wish I would have already read the book at this point, but Brett was a great guy to meet in person, too!