Briefly Noted: Summer Reading Especially for Baseball Fans

by | Jun 20, 2013 | Book Reviews

Is This a Great Game, or What?
Tim Kurkjian
St. Martin’s Press, 2007
255 pages, $24.95

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian autographed his book: “Hal, to a great Jewish Commander, and a lifelong Yankee fan.” For that alone one is compelled to recommend it, albeit its publication date was six years ago. But Tim has spent more than a quarter-century covering almost 3,000 Major League Baseball games and interviewing hundreds of players, coaches, managers and executives. As George Will, conservative pundit, has said, “Baseball is the background music in my life.” Kirkjian’s book demonstrates that “once baseball grabs you it never lets go; it is so seductive.”

One Last Strike
Tony La Russa (with Rick Hummel)
Harper Collins, 2012
420 pages, $27.99
ISBN 978-0-06-220738-8

By sheer coincidence, Tony La Russa, veteran of 33 seasons managing in Major League Baseball, inscribed my copy of his book “To Hal—Go Yankees, But if they’re out— thanks for rooting for the 2011 Cards.”

If ever there was a prelude to the Yankees 2014 season it was the world champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, which opened their season with devastating injuries and pitching struggles. This book is more than just about one season. It is the distillation of Tony La Russa’s thinking about the game, at once passionate and insightful. La Russa has three World Series wins, six league championships, and five Manager of the Year Awards.


American Jews & America’s Game Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball
Larry Ruttman, Foreword by Bud Selig
University of Nebraska Press, 2013
510 pages, $34.95
ISBN 978-0-8032-6475-5

Numerous books about Jews in sports have appeared over the years, but most baseball fans don’t know how far the Jewish presence extends beyond a few famous players such as Greenberg, Koufax, Youkilis, Braun and Kinsler. From baseball commissioner Bud Selig at the top, to labor leaders Marvin Miller and Don Fehr, owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Stuart Sternberg and to baseball officials and sportswriters, Jews have been passionate fans of the game since their immigrant days and subsequent generations are deeply woven into the fabric of baseball. In American Jews & America’s Game, Larry Ruttman has assembled an edifying and entertaining work, enriched by dozens of in-depth interviews, organized by decades. A comprehensive bibliography is included, not merely of works by such iconic writers as Roger Angell and George Will, but philosophers and novelists including Joseph Telushkin, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth.

Mickey and Willie Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age
Allen Barra
Crown Archetype, 2013
479 pages, $27.00
ISBN 978-0-307716484

Finally, just published, is Mickey and Willie, Allen Barra’s encomium to two Hall of Fame players who were contemporaries with comparable careers and very dissimilar life styles. Both men were multiple Most Valuable Player award winners and, arguably, are both among the five greatest center fielders in baseball history. Mickey Mantle, his career shortened by arthritis and his life shortened by alcohol, batted .298 over 18 years while blasting 536 home runs. Willie Mays, practically a teetotaler, played 22 years, batting .302, with 660 homers.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.