Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Pitch That Killed - The discussion continues

Carl Mays - sympathetic figure or bad guy?

Well, I think the Carl Mays part is an interesting question. Did he try to make him look bad? I'd argue no - I think that Carl Mays was a jerk. Sure, part of it was the Boston media which still crucifies players and managers today, but because this book was so well researched and contained so many quotes and anecdotes, I came to the conclusion that Mays was just an asshole. However, once he hit Chapman with the pitch, he became sympathetic. Maybe it was because he kept his mouth shut. Maybe because anytime anyone wanted to talk to him it was about the pitch. He didn't seem to say things to make him seem like as much of a jerk, just a bit defensive, which given the situation is understandable. Maybe he seemed worse in comparison to Chapman as there was not a negative thing said about him. Yes, he seemed like a great guy, but because he died young, I would expect more to be hidden about him than Mays.

I don't remember a single bad thing said about Chapman. Maybe it's because as members of society we view speaking of the dead in any negative light as bad taste. Still, it's hard to believe he was perfect. Mays was not perfect, but I think that's a more reasonable portrait of most people. It's not that Mays is a bad guy, it's just against the "angel" that is Chapman, anyone would look like a jerk.

I think Mike portrayed Mays as he was perceived by the players in AL. He had virtually no friends even on the Yankees. He was known as a head-hunter even before Chapman.(he had 54 hit batters up til then). While he did express sympathy to Chapman's widow, he showed up for work and never missed a start.That didn't say much to me about his character. He did nothing to explain his pitch except when the Yankees told him to cooperate with the D.A.Those are facts that Mike objectively set forth.Mike does emphasize that Mays was a very fine pitcher in his era.

Mr. Haverkamp:
I agree that Sowell was pretty hard on Mays, but if he was reading accounts from Baseball Magazine in the 20's and 30's I have no doubt to its authenticity.

I think Sowell probably overdid playing up Mays as a bad guy. I don't think he threw at Chapman intentionally. Mays hit batter to walk ratio isn't out of line for top pitchers of that era. And he was a top pitcher. Because of that, I do find him to be a sympathetic figure. Much like Fred Merkle or Jack Chesbro, I feel like an error he made on one play overshadowed the rest of his career.

What did you think of the depiction of the 1920 pennant race and the role of the beaning in the context of the Indians season?

As for the best part and the pennant race, what I like best is the fact that I didn't know when Mays hit Chapman with the pitch. Every time the Yankees and Cleveland played, I'd get a knot in my stomach just because I was worried about Chapman and I didn't want him to go. I felt tension and impending doom even though the title told me as the reader what would eventually happen.

I found the pennant race to be thrilling especially because of the depression and hurt felt by Tris Speaker and the team's catcher.

I liked how Sowell used the pennant race between the Yankees and Indians as the greater conflict leading up to the Mays/Chapman incident. It made for a much more interesting read.

What did you enjoy the most about the story? Least? Did Sowell make you want to learn more about anything?

Off the top of my head, things that make me a bit more curious were the history of nicknames of the various major league teams. I kind of want to read more about the White Sox season of 1920 (since this was more about the Yankees and Indians and the White Sox definitely had some issues hanging over their heads.)

I was inspired by the book to create a modern day legal suspense novel called A Pitch For Justice that takes Mike's book one step further.What would happen today if a fatal bean ball were thrown? Would there be a homicide prosecution.

Mr. Haverkamp:
On page 12, I felt I had discovered a factual error in Lowell's research (he claimed that Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis had graduated from St Marys College in OAKLAND, instead of Moraga, CA; I live 20 miles away) and I had that in the back of my mind while I continued through the book.....if he was to make an error like that, then how many other factual errors did he make? About 3/4 through the book during the recap of the 1920 pennant race, I decided to confirm what I thought was true (wikipedia)....and found that St Marys moved from Oakland to Moraga in 1928....and Sowell's research was accurate. So I deemed myself the idiot, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire book. Great stuff about Joe Sewell, I did not know much about his background at all. This book definitely deserved the Casey Award in 1989.

Definitely a good read. I enjoyed that there was a story told. I didn't like that Mays was treated so poorly and Chapman so highly. As Jason said, I don't think there was a negative thing said about Chapman which I believe to be as much of a function of creating a good guy/bad guy scenario than Chapman being some morally superior human being. Nothing struck me as something I wanted to check out later which to me is a sign of good non-fiction so that's a minus. Still enjoyable.

So along those lines, what did you think of the book as entertainment? Can you see a non-baseball fan enjoying it? What did you think of Sowell's style? How does this compare to other baseball books you've read? Other books you've read?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Pitch that Killed - the discussion begins

Let's start with the story itself. Carl Mays - sympathetic figure or bad guy? Do you think Mike Sowell provided a balanced account or tried to make Mays look worse than he was?

What did you think of the depiction of the 1920 pennant race and the role of the beaning in the context of the Indians season?

What did you enjoy the most about the story? Least? Did Sowell make you want to learn more about anything?

We'll start with that for now. I'll refrain from commenting until others have commented and put them all together into one nice post.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Baseball Book Club: Pitch That Killed. You ready?

I've been offline for a bit lately so I wanted to check in and see if everyone who is/was reading Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed is ready to begin discussing. I believe there were at least three people other than myself reading. Where do you stand?

Also, given the size of the book, we will postpone discussion of David Maraniss' Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero until the end of April so everyone has time to read it.

I have two baseball books to review as well as my February book wrapup. I'll try to get those up in the near future.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Return of book reviews: January's reading (admittedly late)

Back when I gave up writing this blog, I wrote that of all the topics about which I write here, the one I would miss the most would be book reviews. But as I wrote upon my return, I've become even more out of hand with my reading with every passing year. Last year I read 102 books, 26,000 pages, and I vowed that this year I was going to read fewer books, read more books of my own (as opposed to library books), read more baseball books, and read longer books. The thought being that all this might help me become a less manic reader (and if you don't understand how where a book comes from make a difference, try working at a library on a slow day and see how many books you end up requesting to be delivered to you from other libraries).

I thought reading fewer books would be a requirement for me to return to reviewing books. 102 books in 365 days? That's a lot of book reviews to try and get in. Fewer books. Longer books. Fewer library books. Much easier to review. So how did I do in January (and I know it's almost March, I'm catching up)?

I read ten books; eight of them library books, two books over 400 pages in length, and one baseball book.

So I'm not doing all that well with my goals.

Yet I still want to give a little more of a book review than just the Goodreads 5-star system. But I also don't want to write paragraphs of reviews for everything I read. So I've decided to go with a sort of "digest" form of book reviews. I'm going to write about what I read and make note of what I feel merits notation. So here we go:

I wrote about Popular Crime and Connie Mack already. Nothing to add there. Those were the two long books and Mack was one of my personal books and the only baseball book. The other book of my own that I read was The Girl in Hyacinth Blue. This book reminded me a lot of the movie The Red Violin, in that it traced the history of an object, in this case a painting by Vermeer, through its owners. As a fan of Dutch culture and of Vermeer (because of the amount of art forgery involved with him less than appreciation of his work), I enjoyed the book a lot. But I'll take music over art any day, especially when it includes a great soundtrack like The Red Violin does.

Two other novels were read in January, one good and one mediocre. The good one was Pigeon English which did not have that much to do with pigeons which would have made it a five star book I'm sure. It's about a boy from Ghana who moves to England and gets caught up in a gang war. Very sad ending and the main character is almost unbelievable in his kindness/naivete. The middling book was Stephen Dixon's Meyer. Dixon's title character is trying to write a book but finds he cannot write. Since the book is in first person, you have in essence Dixon writing a book about how he cannot write a book which is sort of interesting in a metafiction kind of way.

I also read two collections of short stories. The style of writing of the one, Vicky Swanky is a Beauty, was compared to that of the above mentioned Stephen Dixon. This was just horrible, though. The stories were incredibly short, and I found them to be pretty pointless. McSweeney's published the book which usually bodes well but not in this case. You can check out four of the stories on McSweeney's site. The good news is that the stories were so short, I was done with the book very quickly.

The other collection was an old one (originally published in 1905) by G.H. Chesterton called The Club of Queer Trades. Chesterton creates an anti-Sherlock Holmes detective hero who prefers to solve cases by sociological rather than deductive means. The stories were entertaining but came across as very dated. They don't hold up near as well as those by Doyle.

On the non-fiction side, The Little Book of Talent was a brief collection of ways to improve your skills in things. Most came across to me as mere platitudes and I did not find much benefit from the book. How to Sharpen Pencils is an odd book in that it seems to be an instructional on sharpening pencils but it's a very funny book. It's cataloged as humor in the library system but it makes you think about what can be turned into an art form. I despise pencils but after reading this, I wished I didn't.

The last book of January was the most disappointing in terms of failing to meet expectations. The magician Penn Jillette is very vocal about his atheism and he has a lot of intelligent things to say about religion and religious beliefs. I had hoped and expected that Every Day is an Atheist Holiday would demonstrate some of that. Not really. It was mostly a pointless and aimless memoir that had very little entertainment value and very little to do with religion (or atheism). This from a huge Penn Jillette fan. Without a doubt the first thing he has done that has disappointed me.

Look at that! Ten reviews in one post....sort of. I'll do February's books sometime in early March.

Book I'd recommend reading the most from this month: How to Sharpen Pencils.
Post written while listening to Episode 150 of Other People.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

RIP Delilah

I was saddened by the news that my favorite wolf at the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania passed away recently. Delilah was ten years old and had been born and raised at the Sanctuary.

Delilah, like Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, was heterochromic. That was part of the reason I liked her. I think the other part was that I felt a little sad for her. She was the Omega wolf, meaning that she was at the bottom of the pack hierarchy. Perhaps part of my liking her was a sort of rooting for the underwolf thing. I don't know. I just liked her. And unlike say an underdog in sports that can rise up and topple those above them, you don't see that with Omega wolves. Her mother passed away last year and apparently that made life all the more difficult for her. I'll miss her.

The Wolf Sanctuary is a really neat place and I coordinated a library program with them a couple of years ago which is when I first encountered Delilah and I kept pictures of the wolves in my office at the library. If you live near the area, I strongly suggest you go visit. And if you ever come see me, we'll go up to the Sanctuary and you can see what a cool place it is. OK?

In the meantime, the Sanctuary is always in need of support. If you would be so kind as to make a donation, that would be awesome of you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Baseball Book Club The Movie

For those of you who might have been holding off on reading The Pitch That killed because you thought, "Oh, it can't be that good. No one has made a movie out of it", well, you no longer have that as an excuse.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Plugging Baseball Book Club

If you aren't reading this month's book, Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed, I strongly recommend finding a copy and joining us. Without question, this is the most enjoyable book that we've done and one of the better baseball books I've read.

The Casey Award winner for 1989, this book examines the 1920 season, focusing primarily on Ray Chapman's death via pitched ball. Sowell tells the story of Chapman and Carl Mays, the submariner pitcher that threw the ill-fated pitch but also examines the exciting 1920 pennant race, Babe Ruth changing the face of baseball, and so much more. I've really been enjoying it and hope that there will be at least a few of us willing to discuss it.