Summer Reading, Book #-1

11 07 2011

After announcing my excitement over my summer reading list, I thought I would start the summer by reading something not on the list.  It was, however, recommended by my baseball -loving boyfriend.  Well, actually, it was bought by me as a gift for him.  He loved it and insisted I read all 556 pages of Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend by James S. Hirsch–the authorized biography.

Do you like baseball?  If not, you might want to stop here, admire the cover, admire Willie Mays for his lifelong achievements but I am warning you, this book is not for you.  After 556 pages, the conclusion I made is this: Willie Mays lives for baseball.  Without the detailed descriptions Hirsch provides of his catches, his at bats, his glorious throws, this book would not be about Mays.  And the way Hirsch describes the plays makes you feel like you’ve seen Willie Mays play even if (like me) you weren’t born at the time.  I loved it and I wish I had a player like Mays to watch today.  Off the field, I loved hearing about Mays’s interactions with children.  He loved them and went out of his way to cheer them up, mentor them or even just drive them to the ballgame.

Some reviews of this book criticize the rosy-tinted portrait of Mays since it is an authorized biography.  But Hirsch includes not-so-nice incidents from Mays’s life that Mays does not comment on.  There is no outright criticism of the subject of this biography, but neither is their any skirting of the issues.  Controversies about whether Mays should have spoken out more about civil rights are addressed, especially as they relate to Mays’s relationship with Jackie Robinson, and the reader is left to draw her own conclusions.  It worked for me.

Bottom line: For true baseball fans looking to experience or re-live Mays’s glory days–plus learn a little about his life and attitude off the field.  For me, a perfect way to kick off the summer (and get a little behind on my self-imposed reading!).

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As They See’Em: Starting Off Baseball Season Right

11 04 2010

If you pay any attention to sports at all, you know baseball season just started.  There have already been some incredible games, some of which reflect quite poorly on my favorite team (Go Cubs!).  To kick off baseball season, I thought I would read a non-fiction, behind-the-scenes, tell-all book about umpires because what’s baseball without umpires?  Bruce Weber, author of As They See’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of the Umpires, agrees with me.

I mean look at that man: that screams baseball.  And controversy.  And blind.  And “Kill the ump!” right?  Not that I’ve ever screamed that, but the umps interviewed for this book talked about the insults lobbed at them, constantly.  You would think that this book would make you want to be an umpire but really, being an umpire is not an easy job.  Even the author, who went to ump school as a journalistic pursuit but had visions of becoming an umpire, soon realized that he was not cut out to be an ump.  Few people are–which is good, because jobs in the major leagues are scarce.  Reading this book, I was struck by how much being an umpire resembles dealing with children.  You have to show your authority to the players and managers and keep the game running.  I realize that it now sounds as if I’m comparing the players and managers to children, which, technically, I guess I am.  This is probably because I work with children and teenagers, a group where you can be comrades most of the time, but must be able to show authority when necessary.  Sounds like an ump!

Now, I’ve managed not to discuss the game of baseball too much in this review.  Many books about people in cool professions, like swordfishing or sailing, manage to talk about these professions without too much jargon.  If you’re talking about umpires, though, it just isn’t going to happen.  Umpires have to know all the little pesky baseball details that baseball lovers find intriguing–and those details are in the book, often complete with examples of plays that have occurred throughout the history of baseball.  Don’t care about the rules of baseball?  This book is not for you.

The only part of this book that I struggled with was the chapter about the mass resignation of umpires from the major leagues in 1999.  Now, I understand this is an integral part of umpiring history and it has shaped the games we watch today.  But, man, I am not a business person.  I get how unions work but I don’t really want to talk about the intricate details.  That’s not the baseball I was looking for!

Last but now least, I know this is my mostly teen book blog and this is decidedly not a teen book, right?  Oh but it is! There is be YA baseball fiction out there, some of which I’ve read.  But I have to say, most of it doesn’t come with the same thrills as real major league baseball happening now, told from any perspective.  As They See’Em delivers these thrills, and a lot of information for anyone who has dreamed about being an umpire.  After all, who else gets paid to watch baseball? (Answer: commentators, camera operators, journalists)

Bottom line: Baseball fans should not miss out on this book.  Non-baseball fans would probably prefer to leave this book on the shelf.