While you’re contemplating the unlikely, the Orioles acquiring Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Carlos Gomez or Justin Upton over the next 11 days, it’s time for some relaxation.
I spent the All-Star break and a few extra days at the beach, and spent some time reading good baseball books. This year is one of the better in recent years for good ones, and if you have any vacation time coming up, here are five you should take a look at.
1) The Grind by Barry Svrluga (Blue Rider Press).
Svrluga was one of the original beat writers, along with my friend and colleague Mark Zuckerman, when the Washington Nationals came to town.
Svrluga’s charming book follows different members of the Nationals organization, on field and off, through parts of their season.
You don’t have to be a Nats fan to identify with Chelsey Desmond, the wife of shortstop Ian Desmond. She keeps the house together when her husband is playing, and adjusts their small children’s sleep patterns so that they can see their father as much as possible during the season.
Another excellent chapter is on traveling secretary Rob McDonald, who wants players to board chartered planes and trains before the staff does.
2) Billy Martin, Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Orioles fans will enjoy the chapter on Buck Showalter’s relationship with Martin. The Yankees manager mentored Showalter and one year had young Buck as a coach during spring training.
Showalter tipped Martin off to an opposing pitcher who had a jittery pickoff move, and that tip allowed the Yankees to win a game.
Martin invited Showalter to join the other coaches for an evening out. Fortunately for Showalter, another coach advised him to stop off and eat a sandwich before “dinner.”
The party drank for some time, and Showalter never remembered if they actually ordered dinner. As the designated driver, it was his duty to keep sober, and he did, and thanks to the club sandwich, he didn’t die of hunger.
3) The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight (Simon and Schuster)
Knight, a longtime writer for ESPN The Magazine, chronicles the Los Angeles Dodgers’ high profile acquisitions and lucrative contracts.
The best parts of the book detail the explosive relationship Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig had with his teammates and how he was pursued by a drug cartel.
Orioles fans, who as Buck Showalter would say, don’t live in that world, can only compare and contrast the world of the Dodgers with that of their own team.
Don Mattingly, whose play as a minor leaguer convinced Showalter he would never play for the Yankees, is the manager of the Dodgers, and his struggles with this eccentric bunch are examined, too.
4) Pedro by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Silverman, the talented Boston Herald writer who covers the Red Sox, did a great job putting Martinez’s words on paper.
On Sunday, Martinez becomes the second Domincan pitcher to enter the Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal was the first). In a TBS conference call earlier this month, Martinez predicted that the ceremony in Cooperstown wouldn’t resemble your ordinary ones.
Martinez is hoping for thousands of fans from the Dominican Republic to make the journey and for them to make a lot of noise.
Fans will remember Martinez being asked to stay in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS by Grady Little. The Red Sox lost the game, and Little was quickly fired.
A few days later, Little was interviewed for the Orioles managerial job, the one that went to Lee Mazzilli. The Orioles media was instructed not to ask Little about Game 7.
Martinez will tell you everything you wanted to know here.
5) Split Season 1981 by Jeff Katz (St. Martins Press)
How many mayors write books about baseball? If you’re the mayor of Cooperstown and a baseball maven, you do.
Katz details the strange 1981 season, where nearly two months was lost to a strike.
To rekindle interest, commissioner Bowie Kuhn divided the season in two halves. The first half winner of a division played the second half winner.
Unfortunately for Orioles fans, in 1981, they finished 59-46 with the second best overall record, but finished second in the first half of the season and fourth in the second half.
As a result, the Yankees played the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round and not the Orioles.
Katz describes George Steinbrenner’s bizarre behavior in the 1981 World Series, when he claimed to be attacked by Dodgers fans in a Los Angeles hotel elevator. The best part of the 1981 season for Orioles fans? On the day second half play began, Cal Ripken made his major league debut—as a pinch runner.
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