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2011 Season-Ending Baseball Roundup

Baseball Books

2011 Season-Ending Baseball Roundup

New York vs. Boston Baseball: A Literary Rivalry
written by Ron Kaplan

Since the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox saw their seasons end early this fall --- the Yankees having been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers, and the Red Sox, well, let’s just say having fallen off the face of the earth during September --- they can basically look forward to starting fresh in 2012.

With the offseason looming, we take a look at five books that New York and Boston fans will want to consider adding to their reading lists while waiting for pitchers and catchers. These titles focus on the centennial of legendary Fenway Park, the bullpen of the Bronx Bombers during the 2010 season, the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets franchise, and the career of famed Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca.

Fenway Park: The Centennial: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball by Saul Wisnia - Sports History

For the Red Sox, the new season will be a time of celebration as they mark the centennial of legendary Fenway Park, the oldest Major League facility currently in use. And while the site of the famous Green Monster has been the subject of several books over the past few years, two new titles mark the occasion in style.

FENWAY PARK: THE CENTENNIAL: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball, by Saul Wisnia is more of a family album, full of pictures and recollections from generations of fans. The author, who has written for publications such as Sports Illustrated, Boston Magazine, The Boston Herald and The Boston Globe, has put together a succinct yet affectionate look at the cozy neighborhood and national treasure.

The book does, however, concentrate on the team’s history, rather than the ballpark itself, as it recalls their successes when they still had the services of one George Herman Ruth before falling into a lull until Ted Williams and his cohorts came along. Then it was back to the roller coaster with its ups and downs until the Sox became a fixture of contention over the past decade or so.

A DVD, narrated by Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, who has some firsthand experiences with the magic of Fenway, enhances the “multi-media” experience, although it’s pretty standard for the genre.

Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year by Glenn Stout - Sports History

Glenn Stout, a long-time Red Sox rooter, with several books about the franchise under his belt, goes deeper into the nuts and bolts (almost literally) in FENWAY 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year.

You wouldn’t think such an investigation into the art and architecture would be of interest to the general reader, but Stout, who serves as series editor for the excellent annual Best American Sports Writing, mixes all the behind-the-scenes deals and decisions behind Fenway’s construction as one of the first “modern” steel-and-brick facilities, ushering in a new and majestic era in fan enjoyment. His style is at once scholarly and gossipy as he tells tales of intra-team strife among various “factions,” designated by education, religion and culture, which would seem to be the norm for all teams of the era (as depicted in the film version of Eight Men Out). That the Red Sox overcame all this distraction to cap their first season in Fenway with a thrilling walk-off World Championship was just the icing on the cake.

The Mets: A 50th Anniversary Celebration by Andy Martino and Anthony McCarron - Sports History

New York’s National League franchise celebrates a milestone with THE METS: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, by Andy Martino and Anthony McCarron.

The authors, staff writers for the New York Daily News, have collaborated on a fun and attractive coffee table book that might have taken more advantage of its roots. While the blend of narrative and photos from the tabloid are certainly worthy of a publication of this stature on such an august occasion, one wonders if the experience could have been enhanced with carefully selected filler, “drop-boxes,” and statistics. Nevertheless, this will certainly make an excellent gift for the Mets fan on your holiday gift list.

Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees by Charley Rosen - Sports

One of these days, in the not-too-distant future, the Yankees will have to contend with life sans their future Hall of Fame closer, Mariano Rivera, who set the all-time save record this year. Perhaps his replacement will come from the batch of relievers profiled in Charley Rosen’s Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees.

Rosen analyzed each game during the 2010 season from spring training through their American League Championship Series loss to the Texas Rangers, and graded the performances of each man out of the ‘pen. He fills in the down time with snippets of history and anecdotes, but with all those pitching changes, fans might grow nostalgic for the days when a starter was expected to go more than a mere five or six innings to be deemed as turning in a quality performance.

A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace Ralph Branca with David Ritz - Sports

One old-timer who might want to weigh in on the current state of pitching affairs is Ralph Branca, one of the Brooklyn Dodgers of whom Roger Kahn wrote so evocatively in his 1972 classic, THE BOYS OF SUMMER.

For all of his accomplishments, Branca will forever be remembered as having thrown the ball that the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit for “the shot ‘heard round the world” in 1951, which is perennially listed as one of the most dramatic moments in sports.

Branca has always borne this burden with dignity as he recalls in his new memoir, A MOMENT IN TIME: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace (co-written with David Ritz). In this slim volume, Branca tries to put across the fact that “a moment” should not serve to identify a lifetime. He had a lot of great experiences on and off the field (he won 21 games in 1947 and was a three-time All-Star) and was a prime example of the adage “what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger,” as he faced --- and still faces --- questions from fans who blame him for another Dodger disappointment.