By Tom Hoffarth
See ya, 2020. Wouldn’t want to be ya.
Our annual process of trying to review 30 newly published baseball-related books during the 30 days of April was forever altered by last season. We launched early, stayed later, and ended up with more than 60 reviews from March through the odd-looking playoffs, just to keep focused on something other than tragedy and frustration. We were never numb to the mounting death toll that was occurring, and often, burying ourselves in a book about baseball, while the MLB was sluggishly trying to pull off a season, seemed unreasonable. We didn’t need the distraction.
That 2020 baseball review list remains up, and, looking back, it holds up as one of the most impressive collection of titles that we’ve come across in the almost 15 years of doing this. We expect many will have a long shelf life and honors will continue to merit the content covered, the riveting research and the poetic prose that accompanied much of it.
The 2021 season is a tough one to ramp back up. We have other priorities, more commitments and a passion for other things. But we keep trying to chip away, to honor the authors that dedicated their time and effort and talents into these projects, some of which don’t often get on the radar of those who could enjoy it most.
As the reviews this spring continue to pile up on our website fartheroffthewall.com, newest ones at the top, we update the project here as well for easier reference:
*The prelude (Feb. 26): From the 2021 Bill James Handbook, we sought context. He wrote: “It seemed to me that a lot my fellow sportswriters were just absurdly negative about the season. … I felt that a lot of writers were rooting for baseball’s effort to stage a baseball season to fail. In the end, every game except two was played—two of the revised, 60-game effort. Good for the commissioner, and good for the players, for making it work despite the nattering nabobs of negativism. And I enjoyed the show.”
*Day 1 (March 2): “Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke: The First Openly Gay MLB Player and Inventor of the High Five,” by Andrew Maraniss
*Day 2 (March 5): “The Ultimate Los Angeles Dodgers Trivia Book: A Collection of Amazing Trivia Questions and Fun Facts for Die-Hard Dodgers Fans!” by Ray Walker
*Day 3 (March 7): “The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell: Speed, Grace and the Negros Leagues,” by Lonnie Wheeler
*Day 4 (March 9): “Walter Alston: The Rise of a Manager from the Minors to the Baseball Hall of Fame,” by Alan H. Levy
*Day 5 (March 15): “The Best Team Over There: The Untold Story of Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Great War,” by Jim Leeke
*Day 6 (March 19): “The Pioneers of Japanese American Baseball,” by Rob Fitts (plus: “Making Japan’s National Game,” by Blair Williams)
*Day 7 (March 23): “Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball,” by Dan Taylor
*Day 8 (March 29): “Clubbie: A Minor League Baseball Memoir,” by Greg Larson
*Day 9 (April 1): “A Season With Mom: Love, Loss and the Ultimate Baseball Adventure,” by Katie Russell Newland
*Day 10 (April 3): “Turn Your Season Around: How God Transforms Your Life,” by Darryl Strawberry
*Day 11 (April 6): “The Spaceman Chronicles: The Life of the Earthling Named Bill Lee,” by Scott Russell
*Day 12 (April 7): “The Only Way is the Steady Way: Essays on Baseball, Ichiro and How We Watch the Game,” by Andrew Forbes
*Day 13 (April 9): “So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of The New York Mets — The Best Worst Team in Sports,” by Devin Gordon (also: “Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life,” by Bill Madden)
*Day 14 (April 13): “Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood,” by Dave Parker with Dave Jordan
*Day 15 (April 15): “42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,” edited by Michael G. Long, and “Jackie: Perspectives on 42,” edited by Bill Nowlin and Glen Sparks with Len Levin and Carl Reichers
*Day 16 (April 16): “The Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players,” by Cam Perron with Nick Chiles (forward by Hank Aaron)
*Day 17 (April 19): “Two Sides of Glory: The 1986 Boston Red Sox in Their Own Words,” by Erik Sherman
*Day 18 (April 21): “The Best Little Baseball Town in the World: The Crowley Millers and Minor League Baseball in the 1950s,” by Gaylon White
*Day 19 (April 22): “The Short Life of Hughie McLoon: A True Story of Baseball, Magic and Murder,” by Allen Abel
*Day 20 (April 27): “The Great Bambino: Babe Ruth’s Life in Pictures,” by Sam Chase (plus: “The Captain and Me: On and Off the Field with Thurman Munson,” by Ron Bloomberg and “Tony Lazzeri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer,” by Lawrence Baldassaro)
*Day 21 (April 30): “Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball,” by Luke Epplin (plus: “Beyond Baseball’s Color Barrier: The Story of African Americans in Major League Baseball Past, Present and Future” by Rocco Constantino)
*Day 22 (May 4): “Baseball’s Who’s Who of What Ifs: Players Derailed En Route to Cooperstown,” by Bill Deane
*Day 23 (May 8): “Double Plays and Double Crosses: The Black Sox and Baseball in 1920,” by Don Zminda
*Day 24 (May 12): “1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK,” by David Krell
*Day 25 (May 14): “Comeback Pitchers: The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke & Jack Quinn” by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg, and “One Line Drive: A Life-Threatening Injury and a Faith-Fueled Comeback” by Daniel Ponce de Leon with Tom Zenner
*Day 26 (May 21): “Forty Years A Giant: The Life of Horace Stoneham,” by Steven Treder and “The Giants and their City: Major League Baseball in San Francisco: 1976-1992,” by Lincoln A. Mitchell
*Day 27 (May 26): “#NeverGiveUp: A Memoir of Baseball
& Traumatic Brain Injury,” by Ruppert Jones with Ryan Dempsey
*Day 28 (June 13): “Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal
and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing,” by Andrew Martino
*Day 29 (June 15): “Escape from Castro’s Cuba,” by Tim Wendel; “Big League Life” by Chip Scarinzi; “This Never Happened: The Mystery Behind the Death of Christy Mathewson,” by J.B. Manheim
*Day 30 (June 21): “Moon Baseball Road Trips: The Complete Guide to All the Ballparks, With Beer, Bites and Sights Nearby,” by Timothy Malcolm; “100 Miles of Baseball: Fifth Games, One Summer,” by Dale Jacobs and Heidi LM Jacobs
ALSO: June 23: A wrap up of more books to track down, now or later.