Monthly Archives: February 2008

Snake Jazz by Dave Baldwin

Snake Jazz by Dave Baldwin

Former big league pitcher Dave Baldwin shares highlights from his years in baseball in his autobiography, Snake Jazz.

I’ve found that autobiographies are one of the tougher reviews to write – because often times the work is a compilation of so many different flavors and tastes that compose a person’s life – it’s tough to fairly separate and critique each of them without unduly being critical of the whole product. Imagine combining the ingredients that went into your 50 favorite meals and then reviewing the result. Lots of individual winners, that unfortunately don’t make for a collective grand slam. Sometimes the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.

Baldwin mixes his life story from how he became introduced to baseball through his high school, college, and minor league years – all the way through to his career with the Senators, Brewers and White Sox. Along the way he shares his own insights and stories from his career – which are the real nuggets that I find get buried along the way.

A real highlight of the book is Baldwin’s piece on “Batter Psychology 101,” in which he faces Babe Ruth and walks you through the sequence of pitches he would throw, complete with a pitch-by-pitch assessment and explanation. This is one part of the book that truly stands out, since it explains one of the fundamental pieces of the game of baseball. The battle between pitcher and hitter is carried out dozens of times each and every game – and the depth of knowledge that goes into each battle can be so detailed and thorough that it has a place on a law library shelf. I suspect most casual fans don’t understand the nature of what goes through both the pitcher’s and hitter’s mind during each at-bat – but Baldwin does a remarkable job of summing it up in the space of three pages. It’s three pages I wish I could give out to the casual fan as something to read prior to coming to the game.

Baldwin also played in one of the more interesting times in baseball when it came to the integration of the game. Baldwin made his first appearance in the big leagues in 1966 and pitched until 1974 between the majors and triple-A. Jackie Robinson’s debut was a full 20 years in the review mirror – and while baseball was publicly patting itself on the back for its steps towards integration – the reality was quite different as Baldwin points out. However, I don’t think he spent quite enough time nor depth on this — which is a critical transition point in the integration of baseball. It’s times like these that I want to read about in an autobiography, more so than a summer with an American Legion team.

Baldwin also sprinkles in some great emotional pieces — as he keenly observes, “broken bats, broken ankles, broken marriages – baseball will break something; you can bet on it.” Insights like these find their way into the book and are joyous finds.

Likewise – Baldwin makes a bold statement (at least to me) that “baseball won’t continue forever – human or natural calamities will bring it to an end.” Certainly not encouraging words — but engaging ones that Baldwin could develop into a wonderful article or journal piece that I bet would merit a fair amount of attention.

Realizing that baseball was not going to be a lifelong profession, Baldwin did what we criticize players for not doing – he went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in genetics and an M.S. in systems engineering en route to a career as a genetics researcher and engineer. There are some serious life lessons to be learned – especially since Baldwin played in the time before free agency and big-dollar contracts. Hearing that story in a more thorough manner would be a welcome addition – especially when combined with his knack for insight and some good stories.

Baldwin has some interesting points to bring to the table – many of which I think would see much better light outside the context of Snake Jazz. He writes some very insightful pieces that I think you’ll appreciate reading – and I hope he finds ways to continue sharing his insights in other venues which I think will ultimately better serve both author and reader. 

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The Soul of Baseball – by Joe Posnanski

Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball

I’m fortunate in that I get the opportunity to read lots of baseball books and discuss them with you and countless people. It’s certainly something that shouldn’t have much of a downside.

But like everything – there is a downside – and that is that occasionally I finally get around to reading a book, only to discover that I wish I had read it much earlier.

Such is the case with Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America. Let me the be the first to say that I came to this party way too late – and I have no excuse for why. However – as they say – better late than never.

It’s no secret that I have an admiration for Buck O’Neil and what he has contributed to the baseball world. From his playing days to his involvement with Ken Burns’ Baseball series, and onto his work with the Hall of Fame – Buck O’Neil has a lengthy list of contributions to the game, which makes him a fitting topic for a year-long look inside the life of this man.

To say that Buck O’Neil is one of a kind is both an understatement and a disservice. He’s almost one of those people who operates on another plane of consciousness and awareness, yet blends in with such seamlessness that it catches you off guard.  In my few encounters with Buck – his sheer humanity was like the coolest glass water you’d ever had to drink on a hot summer day. Yet it wasn’t sappy – or theatrical. It was as genuine as a cool breeze  of fresh air off the water.

As the basis for the book, Posnanski spent the 2005 season traveling with O’Neil around the country as he spread the word of Negro League baseball, love for one another and what has to be described as a calling to a higher state of living – though not through a gimmick or product, but through forgiveness, laughter and genuine interaction with one another.

Posnanski captures O’Neil and turns a year’s worth of stories into a feel-good 276 pages that you should have no trouble getting through. It’s certainly not heady material — this one will tug at the heart strings more than anything. The stories are familiar – yet the experience of being part of Buck O’Neil’s America should be unique. It’s easy to imagine you’re one of the people crossing paths with Buck — as you read it, consider how you’d interact with him.

The Soul of America is definitely a good read — and while I’m not sure it’s something that  should find a permanent home on your bookshelf, it’s worth reading and adding to your knowledge base of the baseball world.

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The McFarland Baseball Quotations Dictionary – by David H. Nathan

The McFarland Baseball Quotations Dictionary

For a time in my life I use to put some snappy quote on my e-mail signature line…it made me feel like I had some pearl to share with my recipient that merited an automatic insertion. A lot of folks I know do similar things — put quotes up at their desk, around the house, or even in the bathroom mirror as something to see and focus on as they get ready for the day.

Whether it be wise, funny, insightful or challenging, quotes have integrated themselves into our daily vernacular.

Baseball is no different — between millions of game stories and years worth of interviews, baseball has yielded some words worth remembering, which are so remembered in The McFarland Baseball Quotations Dictionary.

This is one of those books that would make a welcome addition to your bookshelf. Just be careful how you read it — I made the mistake of trying to sit down and go page after page. A book like this isn’t conducive to that style of reading. This is one of those books that best served sitting in a place where you can pick it up and put it down at will and as the moment suits you. There is no plot, no denoumont…just a few thousand quips, quibbles and quotes from the past 100 years of baseball.

Be aware — this latest edition is a reprint of the 2000 edition — so if  you have that copy, only a desure to replace it should warrant a purchase

For those who are purchasing this for the first time – the most recent quotes are from 1999-2000, so if you’re looking for some more recent pearls, you might be disappointed.

But other than that I’ve had a good time perusing these pages — and I think you will too. For me however, besides just reading quotes, the bigger issue is why does baseball have such fertile soil to produce so many oratory fruits? For that answer, we’ll have to go somewhere else.

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