Monday, June 22, 2015

The face looks familiar (Alex Rodriguez's home run)

I tuned into the Yankee game on Friday just as Alex Rodriguez was coming to bat, looking for his 3,000th hit. Timing is everything: ARod launched a home run for the milestone. It was the third time a player hit a home run for the magic number, including former teammate Derek Jeter.

The difference is that the fellow who caught Jeter’s home run gave it back with no reservations. He was rewarded with some Yankee merch and tickets for the rest of the season. Sounds nice, but he had to bear the burden of the taxes on the “gift.”

As the cameras focused on the fan who caught Rodriguez’s shot, I thought. “Gee that guy looks familiar.” The next day I learned I was right: it was professional ball-hawk Zack Hample, whom I interviewed for NJ Jewish News in 2007.


Fan_who_caught_Alex_Rodriguez_s_3,000th_hit_not_planning_to_return_to_New_York_Yankees_player_-_2015-06-22_10.55.02So Hample is in the spotlight right now, making the rounds on sports and news shows, discussing his decision to keep the ball. Some people are okay with that, while others have been critical about his “aggressive” methods in securing the memento. (I guess Eddie Fastook was unable to convince Hample to give it up.)

Hample has made a semi-career out of being in the right place at the right time. He’s written several baseball books, including How to Snag Major League Baseballs: More Than 100 Tested Tips That Really Work; The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches; and Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks.

I normally put up a post every Friday about the top-10 baseball best-sellers. Had a hunch, and sure enough, his Watching title is in the top 20 for baseball books.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Zack.

The face looks familiar (Alex Rodriguez's home run)

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bookshelf Conversation: Rob Fitts

Books have been written about the use of baseball as an imperialist tool by the United States. We send people to foreign countries; they bring baseball with them, and pretty soon the residents of those foreign have embraced the game to a degree even more enthusiastic than back in the good ole U.S.A.

Case in point: Japan. Many fine books have been written about how the game took root in the Land of the Rising Sun, how fans there are so much more enthusiastic than America fans, with organized cheering and other customs.

Rob Fitts, a former archeologist who holds a PhD in anthropology from Brown, developed an affinity for the Japanese game to the point that he now has three books on the subject under his belt. His first, Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, published in 2008 (that’s the author with his subject in the photo below), was followed by Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan which won SABR’s 2013 Seymour Medal for Best Baseball Book of 2012, as well as other critical recognition. In this video, he speaks about Moe Berg’s involvement in that tour. year, Fitts has published Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer, a fascinating look at the man who opened the door for his fellow countrymen to see if their skills could offer them a career over here (albeit it took almost 30 years for the next Japanese player — Hideo Nomo — to sign with a Major League team).

Fitts will be appearing at several events with Murakami in the U.S. in the near future, including the SABR National Convention in Chicago (June 28), the Royal Rooters Club at Fenway Park in Boston (June 29), Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan (June 30), and the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse (July 1). For more details, click here.

“Show notes”: In the conversation, we discuss the book Sayonara Home Run!: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card, by John Gall and Gary Engel. I included that title in a 2006 feature on baseball titles for

The Bookshelf Conversation: Rob Fitts

Friday, May 22, 2015

Baseball best-sellers, May 22, 2015

Posting a bit earlier than usual today because Rachel has her second graduation ceremony today. Where did the time go?

NEW STUFF: I have been posting these things long enough now that a few have commented that the introductory section isn’t necessary anymore. But I’m leaving it in because, to paraphrase Joe DiMaggio when asked why he played so hard all the time, there may be people who’ve never read the best-seller entries before. So…

Caveat 1: Print editions only (at least for now); because I’m old school.

Caveat 2: Since the rankings are updated every hour, these lists might not longer be 100 percent accurate by the time you read them. But it’ll be close enough for government work.

Caveat 3: Sometimes they’ll try to pull one over on you and include a book within a category that doesn’t belong. I’m using my discretion to eliminate such titles from my list. For example, for some reason a recent listing included Tarnished Heels: How Unethical Actions and Deliberate Deceit at the University of North Carolina Ended the “The Carolina Way”, which, far as I can tell, is not at all about baseball, at least not in the main. For the sake of brevity, I will be omitting the subtitles, which have become ridiculously long in in some cases in recent years, also at my discretion.

  1.,204,203,200_.jpgPedro, by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman

  2. Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, by Charles Leerhsen

  3. Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak, by Travis Sawchik

  4. The Journey Home: My Life in Pinstripes, by Posada with Gary Brozek

  5. Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius, by Bill Pennington

  6. The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers, by Jon Pessah

  7. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis

  8. The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance, by H.A. Dorfman

  9. The Science of Hitting, by Ted Williams

  10. The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes, by Gary Cieradkowski

A book about the Pirates?Refreshing. Have this one on my ever-growing pile of things to read.

Not on either list? 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die. As of this post, the ranking is 235,774, up nicely from last week’s 776,220. Maybe that fifth-grade classmate I re-met on Facebook actually did buy the book. Still, we can do better. If you have read it, thanks, hope you enjoyed it, and please consider writing a review for the Amazon page. There haven’t been any in awhile. Doesn’t have to be long (or even complimentary, if you didn’t like it), but anything would be appreciated. And thanks to those who have.


Baseball best-sellers, May 22, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Author appearance: Jeff Katz (but wait, there are more)

Normally, I post things like this beforehand…

We attended our daughter’s graduation from NYU, held at Yankee Stadium (that’s her on the first base side. Not, not that one; that one, the cute one). Now normally, when a ballgame is over, the fans all skedaddle as quickly as possible. Yesterday, however, was wall-to-wall people, milling outside, trying to meet up with their kids. Actually, milling is probably not the correct word, since it connotes actual movement. And technically, being outside the Stadium, there were no walls, but you get my meaning.

We went out for a late lunch and since I don’t get to Manhattan that much and Jeff Katz, author of Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball,was the featured guest at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, I decided to stick around. (I recently had him on for a Bookshelf Conversation.)

The event was well-attended. Katz, currently the mayor of Cooperstown, grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, so many of his old cronies showed up for another entertaining session hosted by Clubhouse proprietor, Jay Goldberg.


But in addition, there were a few baseball writers in attendance including Lee Lowenfish and Ed Lucas and his son and memoir collaborator Chris, and myself (apologies if I omitted anyone I’ve never met before). Also on hand, former Major League pitcher Bob Tufts, who appeared in 11 games as a rookie for the San Francisco Giants in 1981 and is now an adjunct professor at NYU where he teaches business development; and Perry Barber, a leading advocate for female umpires in professional baseball.

As it happens, I’ll be in “the city” for the next Bergino event featuring Steve Steinberg, co-author with Lyle Spatz of The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership that Transformed the New York Yankees. Maybe I’ll see you there.


Author appearance: Jeff Katz (but wait, there are more)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I don't mean to be critical...

But I’ve often felt that a fair number of these “literary” book reviews were semi-incestuous. That is, the authors travel in a lot of the same circles, went to the same schools, know the same people. It frequently struck me as a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”  quid pro quo kind of thing. That’s how I felt when The Art of Fielding was the darling of the day. I don’t know what this says about me, but I often feel the fault lies within me, that I’m not “getting it” when I don’t agree with the fawning that goes on.

That’s why when In see something like this piece by the New York Times‘ public editor in the Sunday Week in Review section, I’m mollified, if just for a little while.

I don't mean to be critical...

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Bookshelf Conversation: Jeff Katz

When I saw Richard Sandomir’s article in The New York Times last year about about Jeff Katz , the Mayor of Cooperstown who writes about baseball, I thought: there but for the grace of God….

My wife, a veterinarian, had a chance to get a job in Cooperstown way back when our daughter was two. While she had her interview, I sat outside with our daughter and just enjoyed being in the surroundings. I’ve always loved the quiet little town nestled in the mountains of upstate New York, but then I had only ever visited in good weather.

As you probably know, my wife didn’t accept the job so I can only wonder if that could have been me: the Jewish mayor of Cooperstown who’s last name begins “Ka…” and who writes about baseball. What a life.

Katz published The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s in 2007, before he was in office. This year he’s published the well-received Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball.,204,203,200_.jpgI had the opportunity to speak with His Honor before his upcoming visit to the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan on Wednesday, May 20. Since I’ll already be in Manhattan for my daughter’s graduation  told you it was way back when), I’ve already made my reservation. I suggest you to the same, since space it limited and the Mayor, who grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island will no doubt have a lot of old friends stopping by.

Late entry: The New York Times included another mention of Katz and the book in the May 17 “On Baseball”  column

The Bookshelf Conversation: Jeff Katz

Monday, May 11, 2015

Japanese baseball then and then

Two pieces from Kris Kosaka in The Japan Times on the “national game there and here.

First he tells us about Robert Fitts’ new biography on Masanori Murakami, the first baseball player from Japan to play for a Major League team in the U.S. when he appeared for the San Francisco Giants in 1965. we have a piece on Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa, which Kosaka considers “the definitive text on Japanese culture seen through the lens of sport.”

Japanese baseball then and then