Batter up: Baseball Greats in Our Books

Opening Day(s) is here, springing anew with the lore and legend of baseball.  As James Earl Jones’ Terrence Mann says in the movie, Field of Dreams, “It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.” Baseball and the people who play it — from the mighty to the mites — have kept us rapt for the generations. Here’s a look at a couple of the game’s most memorable characters (one you probably know and one you might not) from two Algonquin power hitters:

Ty Cobb is a famously — infamously — complex legend. The “Georgia Peach” had a reckless daring and still holds the career record for both stealing home and the most errors. The late, great sportswriter Al Stump explores the man and the career in Cobb: A Biography. He was easy to watch play the game but not so easy to get along with. (Remember in Field of Dreams, none of the ghost players want to play with Cobb because they never liked him when he was alive.) Based on Stump’s wrenching interviews with a cancer-stricken, bitter Cobb while ghostwriting the Hall of Famer’s sanitized 1961 autobiography, this new account of Cobb’s life reveals the man himself: brilliant, dark, and utterly riveting.

“The most powerful baseball biography I have read.”–Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer


Photo by SportsArtifacts

And while Cobb’s life has found its way onto the big screen more (the 1994 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones is based on Stump’s book), Bill Terry doesn’t hold quite the same place in pop culture, and that’s likely because he wouldn’t play “the game.” Terry is the great but forgotten first baseman of the New York Giants. In When the Giants Were Giants, author Peter Williams follows Terry’s rise out of poverty and obscurity to become a key player and later manager of the Giants, leading the team to three pennants and a world championship during the Golden Age of New York baseball. It’s the end of an era, before television, before player strikes — and the beginning of a new one, shaped by Terry’s frankness, sharp competency, and unwillingness to cooperate with “a star system created by and for reporters.” Williams’s multifaceted portrait is the start of a legacy long denied the once-Giant.

“This is excellent baseball history: judicious use of game accounts mixed with appropriate dollops of period ambiance and authorial interpretation.” —Booklist






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