I have so many writer friends who write so many books that I cannot acknowledge all of them.
We writers are odd birds, as described by Roger Rosenblatt in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. We hunker in corners and rearrange words and offer them to a world addicted to flickering electronic images. But what else is a web site good for, if not to mention just a few books by friends that I recently read and enjoyed?
Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss. By Marty Appel. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
This book is said to be “definitive,” and I would add “thoroughly enjoyable,” particularly when Marty unleashes his own memories, which by now are institutional. Marty started in 1968 as an assistant to Bob Fishel, the great Yankee publicity man, and he has grown into writer and man-about-baseball. He was not there in 1903, but Marty has surely done his homework, describing the arrival of a forlorn franchise from Baltimore, with Wee Willie Keeler playing right field on a makeshift wooden platform over a swampy area of right field in upper Manhattan. He brings us to the later years of Posada-Rivera-Jeter.
The parts I like best are the things Marty learned along the way from Yankee lifers. One of them is the mystery of who stole the ancient Mosler safe with individual drawers that once secured the valuables of Keeler, Griffith and Chesbro of the original Highlanders. The safe survived moves from Hilltop Park to the Polo Grounds and then to the first Yankee Stadium, but as the Yankees prepared to move to Shea Stadium during rebuilding in 1974-75, the safe vanished. I asked Marty to elaborate and he said the venerable clubhouse man, Pete Sheehy, just shrugged in his inscrutable Big Pete way. Marty doesn’t know that secret, but he surely knows the Yankees, particularly the Boss, whom he saw up close, with all his complexities.
The Longest Fight: In the Ring With Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African-American Champion. By William Gildea. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012.
I vaguely knew the name Joe Gans, but Gildea introduces us to the man and the era, the early 20th Century. Gans was so good and so dignified that some white boxing fans of that time actually managed to get past their blatant prejudices and detect his humanity. Gildea has done masterful research and writing, recalling a gold-rush outpost in rural Nevada, where in 1906 Gans staged an epic fight-to-the-finish with Battling Nelson. The match itself is re-created excellently, but I liked even better the way Gildea presents the details of the time – what people ate, how they traveled, how whites and blacks interacted in daily life.
Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift. By Harvey Araton. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. 2012.
My colleague and friend Harvey Araton knows a good story when he hears it – how Guidry and Berra, Yankee greats of separate generations, spend time together every spring, as special eminences in Yankee camp. Guidry dispenses his Cajun frog legs and Berra dispenses his Hill wisdom. Berra is a national institution; fans will discover the humanity of Guidry.
Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball. By R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey. New York: Blue Rider Press. 2012.
Dickey discloses his turbulent childhood and his own imperfections as he seeks spiritual and intellectual growth, until he becomes a very late bloomer with the Mets. This book contains raw stuff – abuse, addiction around him, how Dickey took chances with his life by sleeping in empty houses and trying to swim the Missouri River. Far beyond the usual sports diary.
(Caveat: Long ago I formulated a so-called policy -- a stuffy word, to be sure -- that I do not give jacket blurbs. These are not reviews, and not identified with The New York Times in any way, but rather personal georgevecsey.com tributes to friends who got good books published, and more power to them.)