New titles step up to the plate


Tuesday, July 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


A fresh roster of baseball books has joined the lineup for summer reading, with a good many classic reprints among the new issues.



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Red Smith on Baseball, edited by Ira Berkow (Ivan R. Dee, $24.95)

Red Smith was such a superb stylist (one of only a handful of sportswriters to win a Pulitzer Prize) that the 167 columns gathered here offer more wisdom about the summer game than shelves of books by other commentators. Mr. Smith's erudition, wit and insight on topics too numerous to list (a few: Jackie Robinson, Bobby Thomson's unbelievable home run, sports clichés, Casey Stengel, the Mets, Billy Martin, et al.) prove once again that his famous line, "Baseball is dull only to those with dull minds," never applied to him. Here is a wonderful collection enhanced by an excellent foreword from Ira Berkow, Mr. Smith's biographer.



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Piazza, stories and photos from The New York Daily News (Sports Publishing, $24.95)

No surprise here: The editors of this handsome tribute to Mike Piazza ignore his years with the Dodgers and his brief stint with the Marlins, concentrating exclusively on his two years with the Mets. The articles and columns by Mike Lupica, Bill Madden, Ralph Vacchiano and Rafael Hermoso, gathered from the New York Daily News, describe Mr. Piazza's impact on his new team and the rabid (you are allowed to read that two ways) Mets fans. Here is the first of many books on the man Lisa Olson says is "handsome and humble and richer than Bali" - and the second-best catcher in baseball.



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They Earned Their Stripes, edited by Alan Whitt (Sports Publishing, $29.95)

Who chose Bill Freehan over Mickey Cochrane, or Kirk Gibson ahead of Harry Heilman? Except for those two ridiculous mistakes, the all-time Detroit Tigers team of Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer and George Kell would rank with even the imperial Yankees. All of these Tigers greats, plus many, many more (Goose Goslin, Wahoo Sam Crawford, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Schoolboy Rowe, Norm Cash, etc.) are profiled in these articles taken from The Detroit News. They include the likes of H.G. Salsinger's famous tribute to the one and only Cobb from 1924; Joe Falls' description of Greenberg's enviable grace under pressure; and the same writer's picture of "Superman at third," George Kell. The superb illustrations alone are worth the price.



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The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball 2000, edited by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen and Michael L. Neft (St. Martin's Griffin, $19.99 paperback)

If you don't need the sometimes numbing completeness of the Baseball Encyclopedia or Total Baseball, then the Nefts' large paperback volume is ideal. With all the standard records, statistics, summaries, a player register and tons more, brought up to date through 1999, this 20th edition of an old favorite is hard to beat, especially at this price.



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The Hot Stove League, By Lee Allen (Total/Sports Illustrated, $12.95 paperback)

Lee Allen's Hot Stove League has always commanded strong prices among collectors of baseball books, because the Hall of Fame historian presented such a wide variety of obscure facts, informed opinions and fascinating asides for this collection of essays first published 45 years ago. At last available in paperback, it should be on the shelf of every fan.



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Low and Inside, by H. Allen Smith and Ira L. Smith (Breakaway Books, $13 paperback)

Fans will find just enough nuggets in this anthology of oddities, originally published in 1949, to merit a place on the second shelf. Humorist H. Allen converts historian Ira L.'s facts into sprightly prose that sometimes wears thin, but the nostalgic glimpses of baseball's past usually make up for the outdated style.



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The Anaheim Angels, by Ross Newhan (Hyperion, $14.95 paperback)

Ross Newhan has revised and updated his history of the Anaheim Angels (which used to be the Los Angeles Angels and the California Angels), bringing the story of this almost cursed franchise up to the present. Mr. Newhan deftly describes the "parade of agony" that includes career-ending injuries (Minnie Rojas, Tom Egan, Ken McBride), early deaths (Dick Wantz, Chico Ruiz, Mike Miley), and even suicide (Donnie Moore), as well as the ill-advised trades and signings that have kept the Angels out of the World Series for 40 years. And, yes, he has a lot to say about Nolan Ryan.



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Three Men on Third, by H. Allen Smith and Ira L. Smith (Breakaway Books, $13 paperback)

More semihilarious curiosities from the Smiths, though their prediction that metal bats would never be used in baseball clanks hollow (their vignette of Dallas owner Dick Burnett's gag of bringing out 34 umpires to boo the crowd is mostly correct). Odds and ends, with all that implies.



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Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof (Owl, $15 paperback)

Eliot Asinof's classic study of the 1919 Black Sox scandal was published in 1963, but it reads as if it were written yesterday. Meticulously researched, brilliantly written and richly textured, Mr. Asinof's portrayal of the players', owners' and gamblers' greed, deceit and betrayal, now available in paperback, should never be out of print.



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Baseball's Most Wanted, by Floyd Conner (Brassey's, $12.95 paperback)

And yet another grab-bag of effluvia, this one containing brief bits found elsewhere, in most cases, and thus for quick hits and not concentrated perusal.



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Josh Gibson, by William Brashler (Ivan R. Dee, $14.95 paperback)

The inadequacies of a recent biography of Josh Gibson simply enhanced the stature of William Brashler's outstanding study of the great Negro League star, and it remains a cornerstone for any baseball collection.



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The Louisville Slugger Complete Book of Pitching, by Doug Myers and Mark Gola (Contemporary Books, $17.95 paperback)

More technical than historical, this well-illustrated guide to the art (and science) of pitching covers the expected topics of building strength, developing the proper mental approach, throwing at different speeds and so on, in a clear, straightforward way that should appeal to all aspiring hurlers and their coaches.



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The Sporting News Selects 50 Greatest Sluggers, by Tony DeMarco (The Sporting News,$29.95)

Here's the perfect book for the fan who can't or won't read: scores of full-page illustrations, most of them thrice-familiar, with very few words to enlighten or inform anyone interested in the subject. Just for fun, since no one will take this effort seriously, Babe Ruth is No. 1, followed in order by Mark McGwire, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, and so on. Another nonbook.



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The Ballpark Book, by Ron Smith (The Sporting News, $39.95)

Many years ago, The Sporting News published a booklet of cartoons by Gene Mack that depicted the history of major league ballparks in sketches of who did what where. Times change, though, and most of those parks are long gone, while those that remain have been altered (Wrigley has lights, Yankee Stadium has been completely rebuilt, etc.). Ron Smith's survey of today's ballparks is illustrated with beautiful color photographs, plus contemporary versions of Mr. Mack's drawings, that capture both the history and ambience of the fields we know so well. Historical views of the parks gone but not forgotten, together with the author's sprightly text, add depth and flavor to this outstanding large volume.



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The National Game, by John P. Rossi (Ivan R. Dee, $25)

John P. Rossi's examination of baseball and American culture promises somewhat more than it delivers, for the author basically offers a chronological survey of developments in the sport and connects them to events in the nation. Interpretations of both areas are minimal, to say the least, leaving both audiences unsatisfied. But the book does have value as a clear summary and compact history.



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Sosa, by Sammy Sosa, with Marcus Breton (Warner Books, $22.95)

Don't remind Rangers fans of the worst trade in the team's history: giving away Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez for an apathetic Harold Baines. What happened next has become the stuff of legend, as Mr. Sosa has become one of the two most popular players in the world. His autobiography, which is interspersed with comments from executives (Larry Heines), friends (Omar Minaya) and family (Mireya Sosa), explains how Mr. Sosa felt during his journey from the Rangers to the White Sox to the Cubs, as well as the strong emotions he experienced during the magic summer of 1998. Not the last word, of course, because Mr. Sosa's career is far from over, and another, more extensive book is sure to come.



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Baseball: 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game, by Joseph Wallace (Dorling Kindersly, $30)

Attractive illustrations and an appealing text guide fans through the author's choices of 100 classic moments in baseball history, which include the usual (Willie Mays' catch in the 1954 World Series, Hank Aaron's 715th home run, the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa race in 1998) and the unusual (Harvey Haddix's 12-inning perfect game in 1959, Jimmy Piersall running the bases backward after hitting a home run, Rennie Stennett's seven hits in a nine-inning game in 1975). This well-produced volume reads better than it sounds.



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Bums, by Peter Golenbock (Contemporary Books, $16.95 paperback)

Here is a new paperback issue of Peter Golenbock's oral history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his best book and an essential work on the boys of summer. This, thanks to the unusually revealing comments by Don Newcombe, Rachel Robinson, Carl Erskine, Clem Labine and the rest of the lovable Bums. And don't miss the all-too-brief section on writer Dick Young, the second-most-powerful man in Brooklyn.



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Baseball Days, by Garret Mathews (Contemporary Books, $16.95 paperback)

It's impossible not to enjoy Garret Matthews' anthology of baseball recollections by Charles Schulz, Dick Vitale, Mike Ditka and Eli Wallach, among others, as well as the memories of Roger Craig, Don Larsen and Brooks Robinson, to mention just a few of the former players included. But why not a much more extensive book that would allow all to comment even more extensively, and would include additional voices? Let's hope for a second volume.



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All Century Team, edited By Mark Vancil and Peter Hirdt (Rare Air Media, $50)

Flashy photographs, a few statistics and virtually no text make this tribute to baseball's all-century team a major disappointment. Check the remainder tables, because this nonbook will soon be available at a fraction of its published price - and probably is not worth even that.



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Batter Up!, by Benjamin Eli Smith (Chronicle Books, $14.95)

For those of you scoring at home, or even at the park, here's a handy volume that contains instructions on this ancient and honorable art, nice large sheets and a pregame table (date, time, how you got there, what you had to eat, loudest fan, etc.), all designed to enhance anyone's enjoyment of the game.



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Dynasty, by Peter Golenbock (Contemporary Books, $16.95 paperback)

Peter Golenbock's oral history of the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1964 might seem to be a twin to his highly praised examination of the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, a close reading of the two reveals significant differences between the two teams that allowed the Bombers to win 14 pennants in that period and dominate baseball as no other team has before or is likely to again. See what Hank Bauer has to say about pride.



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America's Game, by Tim Kurkjian (Crown, $29.95)

Collections of documents can be deadly dull, but former Dallas Morning News and current ESPN baseball expert Tim Kurkjian has gathered some of baseball's most important artifacts (facsimiles of the original handwritten lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the transfer of Babe Ruth from the hapless Red Sox to the Yankees, the scouting report on unknown teenager Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson's defense of integration, and much, much more) for this delightful "interactive" book. This means pop-ups, clever inserts, and terrific scouting "extras." Probably aimed at youngsters, it is certain to delight fans of all ages.



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The Barry Halper Collection of Baseball Memorabilia, by Sotheby's (Harry N. Abrams, $35)

Just in case you didn't have the $239,000 that Billy Crystal spent for Mickey Mantle's glove or $332,500 for a signed Ty Cobb jersey, you can still enjoy Sotheby's Barry Halper sale with this sumptuous three-volume catalog of that memorable collecting event. With more than 1,500 full-color illustrations of mouth-watering memorabilia that might not ever be seen again, this beautifully printed, slipcased set is a must for anyone interested in the summer game, past or present.



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The Goose Is Loose, by Richard "Goose" Gossage, with Russ Pate (Ballantine Books, $25)

"[Bobby] Valentine that season proved to be the absolute worst handler of a pitching staff I'd ever been around." . . . "[Ruben] Sierra ranks as the worst defensive outfielder I ever saw." . . . "Nolan [Ryan] could have provided more leadership for the Rangers, but he wasn't a consummate team player. He focused on himself more than the club." Does Rich Gossage cook his goose with these and scores of other hot sports opinions? No - he has instead written a highly opinionated, no-holds-barred autobiography that both chronicles his amazing career and describes the game behind the scenes. If you think he's critical of some Rangers teammates, just wait until you see what he has to say about Billy Martin in this sometimes outrageous but always fascinating book.

Baseball fanatic Lee Milazzo is a regular contributor to The Dallas Morning News Sunday Books pages.