Book Review … Seinsoth – The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger

 seinsothbookSeinsoth … The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger

By Steven K. Wagner


Sunbury Press, Mechanicsburg, PA; November 2016

Available at:  Sunbury Press, and bookstores.

Steven Wagner’s very personal telling of Bill Seinsoth’s story of triumph and tragedy will leave you wondering what might have been and wishing you had enjoyed the pleasure of crossing paths with Seinsoth – the ballplayer and the young man. You’ll also likely be convinced – as I was – that Bill Seinsoth packed a lot of life into his 22 years.  An inspiring tale, well told.

                                                            Baseball Roundtable, 2017

 Adversity – Triumph – Tragedy. That is the all-too-short life story of Bill Seinsoth, well- told in Steven K. Wagner’s book “Bill Seinsoth – The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.”

 William Robert Seinsoth was born (Los Angeles, California; April 7, 1947) to be a baseball player.  His father William Welty Seinsoth was a left-handed pitcher who spent 13 seasons in the minor leagues (and earned a brief call up to the American League St. Louis Browns). Bill Seinsoth (son) carried on the family tradition as a hard-throwing, hard-hitting left-handed pitcher and first baseman. Like so many youngsters of his era, young Bill longed to be a major leaguer. He spent most of his life scorching a path toward that goal – starring on every team at every level he ever played in.  Seinsoth, in fact, had the brass ring of major league stardom on the edge of his fingertips when he lost his life – at just 22 years of age – in a tragic automobile accident. Along the way, Bill Seinsoth overcame obstacle and injury. Steven Wagner has chosen to share Bill Seinsoth’s story with readers.  It is a story of courage, good nature and triumph in the face of adversity, of consistent excellence on the ball field and, in the end, of unexpected tragedy.

Wagner tells Seinsoth’s remarkable story not just in his own (Wagner’s) words and well-researched statistics, but also in the words of Bill Seinsoth himself, as well as those of his family, friends, coaches and teammates.  In the book, we hear from: Seinsoth’s family and friends; his high school and college coaches; professional scouts and managers; teammates that went on to the major leagues like Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Bob Boone, Ron Cey, Tom House (and more). There are even cameo appearances in Seinsoth’s life by the likes of Tommy Lasorda and O.J. Simpson. It’s a very personal tale and Wagner will leave you wondering what might have been and wishing you had enjoyed the pleasure of crossing paths with Bill Seinsoth.  You are also likely be convinced – as I was – that Bill Seinsoth packed a lot of life into his 22 years.

There is no doubt that adversity had a way of finding Bill Seinsoth.  Here are just a few examples of the trials he faced: beleaguered by parents who believed he was just too talented a player and pressured the Seinsoth family to pull him out of Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball; slashed twice (high school and college) by knife-wielding assailants; had his nose broken three times in one year (baseball and surfing); suffered a broken wrist and severe eye injury when hit by pitches in college; and, the ultimate tragedy,  lost his life at age 22 in an automobile accident while driving home following his first season in the minor leagues.

Through all of this he persevered and triumphed – California Interscholastic League (high school) Player of the Year; College World Series Most Outstanding Player award and All American recognition; Alaska Goldpanners (collegiate summer league) MVP; first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.   You’ll need to read the book to get the full details, but here are a few highlights.

“Bill was not just a great baseball player, but a complete person who faced adversity and hardship – and there was much of it – with grace, dignity and a broad smile.”

Tommy Hutton – Twelve-season major league 1B/OF, long-time baseball broadcaster and Bill Seinsoth’s cousin.  From Bill Seinsoth – the Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.

seinsothllWagner takes us through Seinsoth’s Little League years, where he was far and away the best player on the field.  In fact, his dominance was so clear that a number of parents demanded the eleven-year-old (nicknamed “No-Hit Seinsoth”) be pulled from the League). The animosity grew to such a level (the family’s mail box was blown up four times) that Seinsoth did leave Little League early, a scenario that was repeated at the Babe Ruth League level.

“I remember one occasion when the opposing team just flat out asked him not to pitch. They were terrified of batting against him.”

Chris Arnold, six-season major league infielder and Little League teammate of Bill Seinsoth. From Bill Seinsoth – The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.

We also get a look at Seinsoth’s high school career – where he was a standout at both baseball and basketball at Arcadia High.  In 1965, he led his basketball team in scoring and the baseball squad to a California Interscholastic Federation title.  That season, Seinsoth went 15-1, with a 0.72 ERA on the mound (145 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings pitched) and hit .390. In the playoffs, he logged five complete-game victories.  Seinsoth was named CIF Player of the Year – a portent of many recognitions to come.

“He was the best I ever coached. He was dominating, intimidating. He was a man playing with boys.”

 Lani Exton, Bill Seinsoth’s high school baseball coach.  From Bill Seinsoth – the Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.

seinsothadultFrom high school, it was on to college at the University of Southern California (1966-69), where he played under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux (eleven national titles and 28 conference championships, six-time College Coach of the Year and Collegiate Baseball Magazine Coach of the Century). Seinsoth had a brilliant run at USC – where he played with such future major leaguers as Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Tom House, Jim Barr and Brent Strom. At USC, Seinsoth was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the 1968 College World Series, earned All American recognition and was named the USC team captain.  Seinsoth showed the depth of his toughness in the face of adversity in 1969. Early in the season, after crushing a single and a home run in the first game of a doubleheader against Oregon State, Seinsoth took a fastball to the head (above the right eye) in his first at bat of the second game. The blow knocked him unconscious. Rushed to the hospital, he had fifteen stitches to close the wound over his right eye and suffered a blood clot behind the eye that resulted in double vision. He missed just five days (two games) on his way to a .368-14-52 season.

“He (Bill Seinsoth) knew he was good, but he never let you know that he knew he was good. He had that confidence, he was ‘The Natural.’ There wasn’t anything he didn’t do well.”

Jerry Merz, Bill Seinsoth’s freshman baseball coach at USC.  From Bill Seinsoth – The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.

While in college, Seinsoth also played for the Alaska Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League – among the premier collegiate summer baseball leagues.  His teammates included such future major leaguers as Dave Kingman, Bob Boone, Jim Nettles, Bill Lee, Brent Strom and Tom House.  How did Seinsoth do in this competitive league?  In 1967, he was the Goldpanners’ MVP.  In three seasons (149 games) with the Goldpanners, Seinsoth hit .341, with 23 home runs and 122 RBI

Baseball was a family passion.

Bill (William Robert) Seinsoth came by his baseball prowess naturally.  His father – William Welty Seinsoth – was a switch-hitting, left-handed pitcher who logged 156 victories (130 losses) and a 3.22 ERA in 13 minor league seasons. He also hit .254 with a 31 home runs during his minor league career.   His best year was 1942, when he went 24-10, with a 2.79 ERA for the Class A New Orleans Pelicans, while also hitting .248 with two home runs. In 1944, Seinsoth was briefly called up to the American League Saint Louis Browns, but did not get into a game.

After college, Seinsoth was – for the fifth time – selected in the MLB Draft.  (Between 1965 and 1969 he was drafted by the Astros, Orioles, Dodger and Senators.)  When the Dodgers made him the eighth overall (first-round) pick in 1969, Seinfoth – born to be a ballplayer and, apparently, also born to be a Dodger – signed.

“I can’t think of any shortcomings (Bill Seinsoth) had. He was a good ballplayer. He had power, he could do everything.”

Tommy Lasorda, former manager, Los Angeles Dodgers. From Bill Seinsoth – The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.

He spent his first (and only) minor league season with the Dodgers’ Bakersfield farm club, where his teammates included Ron Cey, Tom Paciorek and Steve Yeager.   In that season, Seinsoth showed his power potential, hitting.276, with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 80 games. He was on his way.

Then tragedy struck.  Driving home after his final game of the 1969 minor league season, Seinsoth was killed in a single-car accident along a dangerous stretch of Interstate 15 in the Mojave Desert.  (Note: Seinsoth’s Bakersfield teammate Ron Cey, who went on to stardom with the Dodgers, was slated to make the trip with Seinsoth, but had to cancel.)

His ball playing prowess is reflected in his statistic and awards, but Bill Seinsoth’s status as a person may be better reflected in the recognitions that came after his death: establishment of the Bill Seinsoth Memorial Baseball Scholarship Fund and the Bill Seinsoth Award (for highest batting average each season) at USC; the Bill Seinsoth Memorial Award at Arcadia High School; The Alaska Goldpanners’ Bill Seinsoth Night and Bill Seinsoth Memorial Game in 1970.

“One thing you know more than anyone is how much better the world is because your son passed this way.”

Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, in a letter to the Seinsoth family.  From Bill Seinsoth – The Rough and Tumble Life of a Dodger.


BBRT Talks to Author Steven K. Wagner

What prompted you to write Seinsoth’s story?

I grew up in Arcadia, California, and everyone knew of Bill Seinsoth. In fact, he and I were on the same Little League team, the 7-Uppers, although five years apart. So, I never knew him personally. He was a god to us Little Leaguers, and we all expected him to play for the Dodgers someday. When he died his death hit everyone in Arcadia and indeed Southern California hard. In the early 1990s, I wrote a story on him for the Los Angeles Times, and that got the ball rolling. The feedback was good and the notion to someday write a book stuck with me.

What most impressed you about Seinsoth as a ballplayer and a person?

Everyone liked Bill Seinsoth.  Through dozens of interviews, I never found one person who disliked him. He had intensity for baseball that players found contagious, and everyone respected him. One USC Trojan put it succinctly: You wanted to play well so that Bill Seinsoth thought you were good.

He was friendly, likable, charismatic, athletically gifted and, as the late owner of the Alaska Goldpanners once said, would give you the shirt off his back. He also would destroy your team with the bat if he got the chance. There was nothing not to like about Bill Seinsoth, and that he never had the chance to reach his full potential is a tragedy. That he was around to share his capabilities and his persona for 22 years is a blessing.

Other books by Steven K. Wagner: Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One Game Wonder. (Reviewed here.)

About Steven K. Wagner

Steven K. Wagner has worked as a freelance journalist since 1989. He began his career with the Monmouth Sun-Enterprise in Oregon and worked for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier and Portland Daily Journal of Commerce before joining United Press International. He has also worked for the Portland Oregonian and has freelanced extensively for the Los Angeles Times, Oklahoma City Oklahoman, Seattle Times, Baseball America and numerous other newspaper and magazines. He is also a lifelong fan of the national pastime.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Follow me there for new post notifications.


Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Book Review – The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs


autograph book cover 150 dpiThe 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs


By Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala


Peter E. Randall Publisher (2016)






Whatever your connection to the National Pastime – autograph collector, statistics addict, historian, trivia buff , casual fan or fanatic – “The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs” should capture a spot on your book shelf (or coffee table).

                                                       Baseball Roundtable

While the central focus of The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs is identifying the most desirable and sought after baseball autographs of all time, this is not a book solely for autograph collectors. It is really a book for baseball fans – offering not just an evaluation of each autograph by PSA/DNA experts, but also telling the story of each featured player through statistics, trivia, comments from contemporaries and entertaining on-field and off-field stories.   As with previous baseball books from the Zappalas (The T206 Collection: The Players & Their Stories and The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players), The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs also is well laid out, with plenty of solid graphics and photographs.  Note:  For a review of The Cracker Jack Collection, click here.

Furrther, you don’t have to be a nostalgia buff or student of baseball history to relate to the players whose signatures are featured in this volume. The one hundred players on this list range from pioneers like Hall of Famer Albert Spalding (who played his last MLB game in 1877) to contemporary stars like Albert Pujols (1B/DH for the 2016 Angels). Along the way, the book takes a look at players (and their signatures) like Grover Cleveland Alexander, Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki – and more. Authors Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala also did not limit the book’s scope to the U.S. major leagues.  You’ll also find Negro League stars like Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston; Cuban great Martin Dihigo; and Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh.  (Is that something for every fan picture starting to emerge?)

As you can tell, I liked the book – and, if you are reading this blog post, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it too.  But, to whet your appetite, let’s take a closer look at just a few examples what you can expect to find on the 200+ pages of The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs.

The Obligatory List

If you going to promise to identify the 100 greatest of anything, you better provide some kind of list.  Well, it’s right up front. In Chapter One, the authors identify the top twenty most desirable baseball autographs.  I don’t want to “give away the whole story,” so here are the top five:

The Top Five Most Desirable Baseball Autographs

                                 #1 Babe Ruth

                                  #2 Christy Mathewson

                                   #3 Josh Gibson

                                  #4 Shoeless Joe Jackson

                                  #5 Lou Gehrig

Evaluation from PSA/DNA Certification Experts

The book provides collectors an evaluation of each autograph by PSA/DNA experts, covering such areas as specific characteristics of each signature, changes over time, rarity and tips on determining authenticity.

Here are just a few tidbits from the evaluations:

  • “Out of respect for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig very rarely signed his autograph on the sweet spot of a baseball. Gehrig felt that it was Ruth’s place to be on the sweet spot … It was not until Ruth retired as a player that Gehrig’s signature began to appear more frequently on the sweet spot.”
  • Christy Mathewson’s autograph is notable because of its “scarcity, beautiful appearance, and his legendary status.” (Mostly found on documents such as checks and contracts, Mathewson’s signature on a baseball has been known to command more than $100,000.)
  • Jimmie Foxx changed his autograph over time, even altering the spelling of his first name (Jim, Jimmy, Jimmie).
  • Ted Williams’ signature is one of the most forged in baseball – and a large volume of counterfeit Williams items were seized in a late-1990s FBI sting.,

Hall of Famer Pitcher John Clarkson – As Rare As It Gets

Not only did he play in an era when autograph signing wasn’t commonplace, Clarkson spent the last several years of his life in various sanitariums and psychiatric hospitals, making his autograph almost impossible to obtain in that tragic time … As of this writing, PSA has not certified a Clarkson autograph.”

                                          The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs

The Stories a Player’s Signature Can Tell

 You will also find comments on how a player’s performance and popularity can affect their signature – adding to or subtracting from its legibility or prompting the use of ghost signers (relatives, club employees, etc.)

Mickey Mantle – Growing Into Greatness

“If you were to compare a rookie autograph of Mickey Mantle to one penned later in his career and life, you can see the evolution not only of his signature style, but also of his personality. What was once a very simplistic signature early in his career developed into one of the most recognizable and stylish autographs in the entire hobby.  Mantle went from being a small-town phenomenon to the starting center fielder of the most popular team on the planet – the New York Yankees

“If you follow changes in his autograph, you can see Mantle’s rise to stardom. As he blossomed into a superstar on the field, more people asked for his autograph. As more people requested his autograph, Mantle had time to perfect it and his confidence grew as an athlete. You can sense that the confidence in his seasoned signature. It is bold and definitive like those of fellow baseball legends like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.”

                                The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs

Ted William came in as the 20th most desirable autograph.

Ted Williams came in as the 20th most desirable autograph.

Statistics – Statistics – Statistics

We count everything in baseball, and The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs honors that tradition. Each player’s on-field performance is well documented – from Walter Johnson’s 12 strikeout titles, 417 wins and 2.17 career ERA to Albert Pujols’ 2001 rookie-season stat line of .329-37-130.  The authors give solid statistical evidence –  career accomplishments and best seasons – for why each of these player’s signatures are among the 100 greatest autographs in the game.

For the Trivia Buff

The Zappala’s also provide a look at some of the unique stats and occurrences that translate into grist for baseball trivia buffs. Here is just a sampling:

  • Stan Musial collected 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road.
  • When the Dodgers met the Twins in the 1965 World Series, the only Dodger boasting a .300 or better batting average was pitcher Don Drysdale. (That season, Drysdale hit .300 with seven home runs and 19 RBI in 130 at bats and was occasionally used as a pinch hitter).
  • Rickey Henderson stole 30 or more bases seven times – after age 35.
  • Cy Young is credited with introducing the changeup to baseball

Chuck Klein – A Home Run Title that was a Walk in the Park

“In 1929, his first full season in the majors, the 24-year-old (Chuck) Klein batted .346 and smacked an amazing 43 homers to win the National League home run crown. Interestingly, Klein’s teammates helped guarantee that home run title. On the last day of the 1929 season, the Phillies played the New York Giants in a doubleheader.  Klein and Giants superstar Mel Ott were tied for the home run lead.  In the first game, Klein homered, which put him one ahead of Ott. In the second game, Ott was walked FIVE times by Phillies pitchers, and one of those walks came with the bases loaded.

                              The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs

Note: Most of the time Klein, who went on to win the HR crown in three of the next four seasons (including the Triple Crown in 1933), signed “Chuck” Klein (with quotes around his first name).

A Look into the Lives of Featured Players

The Zappalas also give readers a look into the lives of the featured players with background as diverse as:

  • How Babe Ruth “dominated the Big Apple’s Roaring Twenties social scene as much as he did opposing pitchers.”
  • The impact on Ty Cobb of his mother’s fatal shooting of his father.
  • Rube Waddell’s zany antics, including wrestling alligators.
  • Journeyman catcher Moe Berg’s ties to the OSS and CIA.

What Peers Had to Say

The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs is also sprinkled with quotes from peers about the players whose signatures are so popular. Just a few examples:

I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron.  They were tremendous players, but they were no josh Gibson.

Monte Irvin, Hall of Famer


His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed.

Ty Cobb on Walter Johnson


Does Pete Rose hustle? Before the All Star game, he came into the clubhouse and took off his shoes and they ran another mile without him.

Hank Aaron


(Harmon) Killebrew can knock the ball out any park including Yellowstone.

Paul Richards, Orioles Manager


When ol’ Diz was out there pitching it was more than just another ballgame. It was a regular three-ring circus and everybody was wide awake and enjoying being alive.

Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean teammate


So there you have it, a taste of what you can expect from The 100 Greatest Baseball Autographs – again, a book that offers something for baseball autograph collectors, statistics addicts, historians, trivia buffs, casual fans and true fanatics. It’s entertaining, informative (and well-researched), easy-to-read, and beautifully laid out and illustrated. Baseball Roundtable recommends it as a worthy addition to any baseball library.

The authors:

Tom Zappala: A Boston area businessman and talk show host who is passionate about our national pastime and collects vintage baseball memorabilia.

Ellen Zappala: President of ATS Communications (a marketing and consulting company) and a former newspaper publisher, who enjoys bringing the stories of Deadball Era and Golden Age players to life.

Also contributing:

  • Joe Orlando: President of Professional Sports Authenticators and PSA/DNA Authentication Services; Editor of Sports Market Report.
  • John Molori: Columnist for Boston Baseball Magazine.
  • Steve Grad: principal authenticator for PSA/DNA Authentication Services
  • Arthur K. Miller: award-winning portrait artist specializing in historic sports figures and pop culture icons.
  • Tony Dube: President of White Point Imaging.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Book Review – Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder

PerfectPerfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One Game Wonder

by Steven K. Wagner

Breakaway Books, 2015



Can you imagine a baseball book that examines an entire big league career – pitch by pitch?  Well, you don’t have to.  Steven K. Wagner has done just that in his book Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder.

 Wagner’s book focuses on the one-game MLB career of John Paciorek (September 29, 1963 – the last day of the 1963 season).  In that contest, the 18-year-old Houston Colt .45’s outfielder was truly perfect: five trips to the plate – five times on base (three hits and two walks); four runs scored, three runs driven in; four errorless plays in the outfield.

A perfect start to what Paciorek – and many others – expected to be a long and successful major league career. Yet, as Wagner tells it, after his fifth trip to the plate in that day’s 13-4 Houston win over the Mets:  “Paciorek knew he would not bat again that day, or that season. He had no way of knowing, however, that he would never again swing at a major league pitch. He would never catch another ball, or have the opportunity to prevent a runner from scoring with a dazzling throw. Other than a few practice tosses he would receive from center fielder (Ivan) Murrell as the players warmed up for the last half inning of play, he would not touch a baseball again in the major leagues.”

 He had so much talent. It’s hard to believe he didn’t succeed in baseball. No one was a better athlete than he was.  He showed power … he was certainly a star in the making.

                                               Rusty Staub teammate of John Paciorek,

                                                22-year MLB career, six-time All Star

Paciorek also had no way of knowing that, more than 50 years later, he would still be recognized as having the greatest one-game career in MLB history (the only player with more than one MLB at bat and a 1.000 batting average).

John Paciorek’s is the finest example of a perfect one-game career, neatly packaged, the quotient of his own perfect afternoon of hitting,  fielding and base running that baseball has ever seen. Indeed, John’s perfect day is one for the ages … and a baseball story worth telling.

                           Albie Pearson, Major League outfielder (1958-66);                                            1958 AL Rookie of the Year

John Paciorek’s story is, indeed, a baseball tale worth telling and, in this case, the fact that it is being told by a true baseball fan also makes it one worth reading.

BBRT asked author Steven K. Wagner what motivated him to take on the project.

In the early 1980s, I picked up a copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia, which listed the stats for everyone who ever played major league baseball. I leafed through all 1,200 pages and quickly noticed there were many players who participated in only one game. Most went 0 for 1 or pitched an inning. Paciorek’s numbers were the best of anyone. I was intrigued and a decade later wrote a feature on him for the Los Angeles Times. I remained intrigued. Twenty years later I decided to write the book, however that was easier said than done. I wondered, how do you write a book about one game? I did some research and managed to track down the play-by-play of the game in the Library of Congress. Once I figured out how to couch the game around the play-by-play I got the project to work.

 In Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder, Wagner not only gives readers a look at how Paciorek made his way to the big league stage, but also why he was unable to stay there and where life took him after that one big game.   And, Wagner goes even further, putting it all in context with a look at other players who enjoyed one-game MLB careers; players who also played their final  big league games on September 29th 1963; and teammates, coaches, fans, relatives and even umpires who passed through or had an impact on Paciorek’s life and career.  The cast of characters includes (but, as they say, is not limited to) personalities ranging from Hall of Fame player and Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Ralph Kiner … to Little League legend Pinky Deras … … to Rusty Staub and Joe Morgan (who took the field with Paciorek in that September 29 contest) … to Aubrey “Yo Yo” Epps (considered to have the greatest one-game MLB career until Paciorek came along).

It is those stories, woven around a detailed account of Paciorek’s big game, that make this book a deserving tribute to Paciorek and his love of the game, as well as a treat for baseball fans.

For example, Wagner gives the readers a look at the final game, careers and lives of a handful of players who also made their last MLB appearances on September 29 1963.

  • Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who retired that day, after 22 years in the major leagues – with a .331 lifetime average and a mere 3,015 more games and 3,627 more hits than Paciorek.
  • Cubs’ second baseman Ken Hubbs, 1962 NL Rookie of the Year – the first rookie to win a Gold Glove. Like Paciorek and Musial, Hubbs played his final game on September 29, 1963 – dying in a plane crash on February 15, 1964, at age 22.
  • Jim Umbricht, one of the Houston Colt .45’s top relief pitchers in 1963. Umbricht, who got the victory in Paciorek’s one MLB game, succumbed to cancer (metastic melanoma) on April 8, 1964 (at age 33) and was the first Houston player to have their number retired.

Wagner’s well-researched book provides insight into Paciorek’s life before and after the big game.

  • His natural talent (in high school he was all-state in football, basketball and baseball);
  • His family heritage (Paciorek’s brothers Tom and Jim also played in the major leagues);
  • His absolute dedication to excelling at his chosen sport, and how it may have contributed to the brevity of his career;
  • The unique circumstances – surprising even to Paciorek himself – that pushed him onto the major league stage at age 18;
  • The back injury that cut short his baseball career; and
  • The satisfaction he found as a teacher and author after leaving professional baseball.

Books by John Paciorek

Plato and Socrates – Baseball’s Wisest Fans

The Principles of  Baseball And All There Is To Know About Hitting.


BBRT asked author Steven Wagner what most surprised or impressed him about about John Paciorek.

I was most surprised by John’s own lack of awe about his sterling performance. At least early on, he genuinely didn’t see what all the fuss has been about. After the book was published, I think he changed his tune a little. He now seems to regard it as a fairly significant accomplishment. I consider it a record that will never be broken. Nowadays, teams never call a player up for the final game of a season.  They usually promote them for September and give them as many at bats as they can. Someone would have to go 4 for 4 in his only big-league game, and that will simply never happen.

BBRT recommends Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Fame Wonder.  It’s more than the story of one-game – albeit an historic one. It’s the story of one man’s life and passion for the national pastime, with a host of relevant “side trips” that make the journey all the more enjoyable for the baseball fan.

Steven K. Wagner

Steven K. Wagner has worked as a freelance journalist since 1989. He began his career with the Monmouth Sun-Enterprise in Oregon and worked for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier and Portland Daily Journal of Commerce before joining United Press International. He has also worked for the Portland Oregonian and has freelanced extensively for the Los Angeles Times, Oklahoma City Oklahoman, Seattle Times, Baseball America and numerous other newspaper and magazines. He is also a baseball fan.

“I have always loved baseball … In fact, my next book, due out this summer, is about a player from the 1960s Dodgers’ organization. It is titled: “Seinsoth: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Dodger.” Baseball was less of a business then, and I loved the fact that the players got their uniforms dirty, played with injuries and even had to take jobs in the off season in order to make ends meet. Their lives were very much like the lives of ordinary citizens, except for the high-profile nature of what they did.”

Note:  BBRT shares Wagner’s fascination with players who enjoyed short – but, in some way, significant – major league careers. In fact, three years ago BBRT launched an annual award recognizing such players  – appropriately titled “The John Paciorek Award.”  For a look at that recognition, click here.


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.


Book Review – Town Ball Parks of Minnesota. All that and much, much more.

TBP1Town Ball Parks of Minnesota

by Todd Mueller


BluStone Group  (2016)




Town Ball Parks of Minnesota, on the surface, is a book about Minnesota’s most unique, historic and revered amateur ball parks – 27 of them to be exact. It is, however, much more than that. It is a book about spirit – the spirit of our national pastime; the spirit of those who pick up the ball, bat and glove for the pure joy of the game; and the spirit of the Minnesota communities that support those players.  It’s also, on another level, a book about author Todd Mueller’s love of the game – an affection that jumps out from the book’s lively prose and more than five hundred photographs.  From Baseball Roundtable’s perspective, if you have a passion for the national pastime, this book should be on your coffee table (the book shelf is too far away).

“I love the feeling at a town ball game.  It’s a bit of Americana that is slipping away. As I came to appreciate the care given to these ball parks, my goal became to reveal these venues for the true state treasures they are – and have been for generations.”

                                      Todd Mueller, author of Town Ball Parks of Minnesota

                                        From an interview with BBRT

If you want to write about amateur baseball, Minnesota is a good place to start.  As Mueller notes in his book, Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA) officials assert that the state has more amateur (town ball) baseball teams than any other state in the country (296). That gave Mueller a large field of ball parks to work with.  He narrowed that field by contacting more than 50 MBA coaches and asking each of them to rate their top five unique town ball ballparks.  Then Mueller traveled – not just to the leading vote getters – but to every ball park that was mentioned even once. Two-thousand-four-hundred miles, 125-plus ballparks and more than 20,000 photographs later, Mueller had the material for the book.

Richter Field, Granite Fall - from Twon Ball Parks of Minnesota.

Richter Field, Granite Falls – from Twon Ball Parks of Minnesota.

Given all that “prep work,” it’s no surprise Town Ball Parks of Minnesota – like a good center fielder – covers a lot of ground.  In this review, I’ll share just a few examples of what you can expect as you make your way across that ground.

Mueller gives readers a look at ballparks ranging in seating capacity from 50 to 3,000 and in design from Minnesota’s first amateur park with artificial turf (Veterans Field, Minnetonka) to a ball park that has no fence line, but rather uses a pair of intersecting County Roads to mark its outfield boundaries (Martin Schmidt Memorial Park, Pearl Lake). Note: In Pearl Lake, if the ball hits the asphalt surface of the road in the air, it’s a home run. If it hits the gravel shoulder and bounces onto or over the asphalt, it’s a ground rule double. Outfielders have to have both feet off the asphalt when making a catch and, if the fielder’s momentum after the catch carries him onto the asphalt, the ball is live.

Mueller provides a schematic of each park (dimensions included), a history of the park, the team, the community’s involvement in town ball, and photos – lots of glorious photos – of the ball fields, play action, concession stands, uniform jerseys, players and fans.  He even rates the restroom facilities at each park (symbolized by one-to-four plungers – although one park rates only ½ plunger) and the concessions (symbolized by one-to-four hot dogs). Only two parks rated “double fours:” Minnetonka’s Veterans Field and Jordan’s Mini Met.

Mueller takes his look at the Minnesota town ball experience one step further, exploring the communities that support these teams – sights to see, places to eat (or drink) and historic events . You can read about places like the Cannon River Winery (Cannon Falls), the Leavenworth Baseball Museum (near New Ulm), King’s Bar and Grill (Miesville), Fagen Fighters World War II Museum (Granite Falls); and much, much more.  Again, with entertaining prose and plenty of photos.

There are also stories (and, of course, more photos) of some of Minnesota town ball’s most revered players and fans.  There is, for example, a section on Dana Kiecker, who pitched for the town ball Fairfax Cardinals in his teen years, made it all the way to the mound for the Boston Red Sox in the 1990 American League Championship Series, and was back in town ball with the Dundas Dukes in his thirties.  And, there’s the tale of Joe Driscoll, who started his town ball playing career in the late 1960’s (at the age of 16, for the Le Sueur Braves) and didn’t hang up his cleats until 45 years, a handful of teams, six state championships (he was the winning pitcher in four championship games), and more than 1,200 town ball games later.  And, I hate to be repetitive, much, much more.

“In New Ulm, there’s a cliché that you’re born with a pair of spikes on your feet.  When I was playing, there was an attitude in our community; we go out, we play baseball, we compete and we win. This is what we do.”

              Terry Steinbach – From Town Ball Parks of Minnesota

Steinbach was  a 14-season major leaguer, three-time AL All Star, 1989 World Series Champion – and former member of the New Ulm Kaiserhoff town ball team and MVP of the 1980 Class B MBA (town ball) Championship tournament.

Finally, like any good baseball book, Town Ball Parks of Minnesota includes some noteworthy trivia – like the story of perhaps the only baseball game delayed due to a fish on the field, a list of Mueller’s 15 favorite Minnesota town ball names (spoiler alert – Midway Snurdbirds is number one), and the fact baseball has been played in Delano for 119 consecutive years on the community’s Central Park site (now home to the Delano A’s).

John Burch Park, Cannon Falls - From Town Ball Parks of Minnesota.

John Burch Park, Cannon Falls – From Town Ball Parks of Minnesota.

The 235-page book ends with a special touch of nostalgia. Its final chapter provides readers a look Tink Larson Field in Waseca – where the 77-year-old grandstand was destroyed (arson) this April.  Mueller decided to keep the ballpark – which he terms “truly one of the gems of Minnesota baseball” – in the book in honor of its significant place in Minnesota’s baseball heritage.

Ultimately, Town Ball Parks of Minnesota is a fitting tribute to our national pastime and “the love of the game” – no matter where you are from (but especially if you’re a Minnesotan).  Baseball Roundtable recommends you add it to your baseball book collection.  I am confident it will provide you, as it has me, with many hours of enjoyment. In fact, I think I may take another look at the chapter on the strangely laid out Don Giesen Field (home of the Union Hill Bull Dogs). BBRT note: Mueller reports Union Hill’s population at 66 and that its largest, and only, employer is the Union Hill Bar.

Todd Mueller

Todd Mueller, a life-long baseball fan, was a marketing and communications executive at a top twenty Minnesota corporation for more than 23 years. This is his first book. Asked about his greatest baseball memories, he replied:

My greatest memories were the entire 1987 Twins season and watching Jack Morris refuse to come out of Game 7 in ’91. I’d like to see a fraction of that tenaciousness today. On a nonprofessional note, watching my son Andrew catch for four years at Totino-Grace high school was a great joy.

Town Ball Parks of Minnesota is available online at


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Reseach; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Book Review – Under One Roof – The Integration of Spring Training

roofUnder One Roof – The Yankees, The Cardinals

and a Doctor’s Battle to Integrate

Spring Training


By Adam Henig

 Wise Ink Creative Publishing – 2016





Under One Roof – The Yankees, The Cardinals and a Doctor’s Battle to Integrate Spring Training is more than a baseball book.  It is also a biography and a history book – with an important story to tell about perseverance, courage and the battle for civil rights in the Jim Crow south; specifically in St.  Petersburg, Florida.

It is the story of African American physician Ralph Wimbish in particular, but also of his family, and their impact on the city of Saint Petersburg, the pursuit of civil rights and Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. While Wimbish’s fight to change the treatment of black ballplayers in Spring Training provides the central hook for the book, readers also learn about the work of Ralph Wimbish and his wife Bette to help integrate public facilities from hospitals to restaurants to golf courses and beaches.  For the Wimbishes, civil rights were truly a family affair. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Ralph Wimbish organized St. Petersburg’s Ambassadors’ Club – comprised of the city’s African American leaders in business, education, law and medicine – to help finance and spur St. Petersburg’s civil right movement. Wimbish also later served as President of the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP.
  • Wimbish’s wife Bette, a teacher and later an attorney, also was an active civil rights crusader and  the first person of color to serve on the St. Petersburg City Council;
  • Wimbish’s daughter Barbara was the first African American student to attend St. Paul’s Catholic High school in St. Petersburg.
  • Wimbish’s son Ralph Jr., integrated the city’s all-white Little League.

As Henig accurately portrays, the Jim Crow South was no easy place for African Americans – particularly those who were willing to step forward in the cause of civil rights.  Henig shares the story of how the Ralph and Bette Wimbish came to live in St. Petersburg, despite finding what seemed to be the perfect house in Tampa.  In Henig’s words:

It was located in a predominantly white neighborhood, but since the previous owner was an African American, Bette felt comfortable that her neighbors would be agreeable or at least tolerant. She signed the papers.

The day before she was scheduled to move, the house was torched and burned down. The suspected arsonist was a nearby store owner and active member of the Ku Klux Klan.  He was never charged. Distraught, Bette began looking elsewhere for her family to settle. Tampa was out, so the couple decided to start looking across the bay to Ralph’s hometown of St. Petersburg.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The level of Wimbish’s commitment and the depth of his influence are perhaps illustrated by the opposition’s response – more than one cross burning in the Wimbish’s front yard, a fire bomb thrown at their home and numerous death threats. Even without the baseball ties, this book tells an important story about an important (and risky) struggle.

Still, at the center of Henig’s book are Ralph Wimbish’s efforts to ensure that black baseball players who came to St. Petersburg for spring training were allowed to live and eat in the same places as their white teammates. Here’s Cardinals’ black first baseman Bill White (who would go on to become President of the National League) describing the situation in 1961:

I can’t stay at the same hotel as the white players. These players are my friends, yet I can’t go swimming with them.  I can’t even go to the movies with them. Driving on the highways, I’ve got to be on the lookout for a Negro restaurant to eat because they won’t let me eat where the white folks eat.

The fact is, Black players for years had been forced to live in the homes of Black families and often take their meals with them, while the white players enjoyed St. Petersburg’s best (and segregated) hotels and restaurants.

In early 1961, Wimbish decided the unequal treatment of Black ballplayers taking part in Spring Training in St. Petersburg had gone on long enough. No longer would he tolerate separate housing for Black players in St. Petersburg (hence the title Under One Roof).  It became a personal crusade.  As Henig notes in the book:

If Major League Baseball had not heard of Dr. Ralph Wimbish. it soon would.  He was about to turn its world upside down. 

Henig does a great job of telling and documenting the tale of Wimbush’s fight to bring all ballplayers under one roof in St. Petersburg; as well as introducing us to his allies (and opposition) and the ultimate impact of his efforts.

Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s recollection of the Cardinals’ 1961 move to the integrated Doctors’ Motel in St. Petersburg:

It was such a novelty in St. Petersburg to have an integrated hotel that the team’s residence soon became a “local tourist attraction,” as recalled by African American pitcher Bob Gibson. “People would drive by to see the white and black families swimming together.”

Ultimately, Under One Roof is a story well-worth telling (and reading) – well told. To order Under One Roof from, click here.

BBRT Note: Having lived in the pre-integration South in my youth (military family) – and witnessed first-hand such inequities as theaters that restricted black movie-goers to the balcony, restaurants that served white customers out front and black customers at tables in the kitchen, segregated restrooms and even separate water fountains – I took a special interest in Henig’s book (and would recommend it to anyone not familiar with the culture of segregation at the time).

Adam Henig is the author of Alex Haley’s Roots:  An Author’s Odyssey. His writings have appeared in the San Francisco Book Review, Tulsa Book Review, Medium, The Biographer’s Craft and Blogcritics. He’s also been featured on the podcast, New Books Network: African American Studies. Adam is an active member of the Biographers International Group (BIO).


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I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Book Review: Beyond Baseball – Rounding First … A Good Read – A Good Cause

Beyond BaseballBeyond Baseball – Rounding First

By Daniel Venn

World Beyond Publishing, 2016



A bat, a ball, a glove.  For most of us these are symbols of the national pastime. For those involved with the charitable organization Helping Kids Round First, they are symbols – and tools – of hope, motivation and empowerment.

Each year, Helping Kids Round First travels to Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and delivers hope and empowerment to hundreds of youngsters in the form of baseball equipment. For more information on Helping Kids Round First, click here.

Helping Kids Round First delivers baseball equipment, hope and empowerment across Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Daniel Venn.

Helping Kids Round First delivers baseball equipment, hope and empowerment across Nicaragua.  Photo courtesy of Daniel Venn.


Daniel Venn joined the Helping Kids Round First team on its January-February 2016 trip to Nicaragua and found himself in a nation of breathtaking scenic beauty and equally breathtaking poverty – all wrapped up with a national passion for baseball that ranks second only to religion.  Venn, a former college pitcher, took part in the delivery of baseball and softball equipment to youngsters in more than 25 communities – many of them in the very poorest regions of the country. The final tally for Helping Kids Round First in Nicaragua this year was an estimated 6,000 baseballs and softballs, 800 gloves, 1,400 bats, 700 helmets, more than 1,000 uniforms distributed – and countless hearts raised and smiles generated.

Fortunately, for readers, Venn (also an author and educator) has chronicled his experiences in the soon-to-be released book Beyond Baseball – Rounding First.

It’s a good read – and serves a good cause (part of the proceeds will be donated to Helping Kids Round First). Venn does a great job of presenting the importance of baseball to Nicaraguans, bringing the impact of all that donated equipment to life and providing some entertaining glimpses into the trials and tribulations presented by Nicaragua’s culture, politics and infrastructure. The book is available for pre-order now for $12 at and will be on Amazon/Barnes & Noble next month.

Most of all, Venn’s book presents a story of hope and empowerment.  As former major league outfielder Marvin Bernard (a native of Nicaragua who played nine seasons for the San Francisco Giants) describes it in the Foreword, “Baseball gives children hope in Nicaragua, and hope is motivating. Baseball has the potential to change the lives of young players here, and equipment donations from charities like Helping Kids Round First help make that possible.”

Venn’s book makes it clear that we are not just talking just about having a chance to make the big leagues, we are talking about the hope, motivation and empowerment that comes with the combination of knowing someone cares and being given the opportunity to participate and compete.

Let me use just a couple of stories from the book to illustrate that point.

Helping Kids Round First was scheduled to visit the island of Omatepe this year. The plan was to get the vehicles (a pickup truck and a taxi) filled with equipment to the island early in the day (via ferry crossing).  However, weather conditions, an erratic ferry schedule and a (fake) ticket scam put them on an alternative ferry that not only got them to the island in the late evening, but also delivered them to a port on the opposite side of Omatepe – far from the waiting youth baseball team. The Helping Kids Round First team managed, despite spotty cell service, to notify the local baseball coach – Effrain – of the delay and new docking location.  The coach walked more than seven miles to meet the group (and guide them to the ball field) and had waited a good portion of the day by the side of the road to welcome them. When they finally met up, Effrain was apologetic “I was going to walk all the way (about 15 miles), but I needed to take a break.  I’m sorry I didn’t make it.”

In Venn’s words, here’s what happened when they arrived at the field.

Every one of Effrain’s players was waiting when we arrived. Their parents had given up and gone home hours ago, but the youngsters’ faith had not wavered.

 As Craig gave his customary introductory speech to the players, a high pitched electrical shriek cut through the air, and the streetlight we were standing under went dark. All of the lights in the community followed immediately after, and we were left in pitch darkness.

 “Happens all the time,” Effrain told us. “The electricity here isn’t very reliable.”

 He sent his players home to get flashlights. They scampered off, each returning in minutes with a light. By the glow of their small flashlights alone, we unloaded the gear and presented it to the children. It didn’t take much light to see their smiles.

 Note: Venn added that when he touched base with Effrain after returning to the U.S., he learned the coach had used the equipment not only to outfit his team, but also to start two new leagues for kids of different ages on the island.

Helpng Kids Round First gave a boost to

Helpng Kids Round First gave a boost to the young women and girls of the Academia Mimadas Rubilena Rojac. Photo courtesy of Daniel Venn.

Venn also shares the story of a meeting he found especially rewarding – the delivery team’s visit with the young women of Academia Mimadas Rubilena (Ruby) Rojas – Nicaragua’s only softball academy. Their field was dry, uneven dirt. A piece of board dropped in place served as the pitcher’s rubber. There were no fences, bases or dugouts.  The academy had little equipment and much of what they had was homemade. For example, the “weight room” was just a pile of rocks of different sizes.  As Venn said in an interview for this review, “Still, the girls were working so hard because they simply love softball and because the sport is a path to a possible college scholarship they wouldn’t have the opportunity to pursue otherwise.”

In his book, Venn recounts his conversation with Denis Martinez, who operates the academy.

“This is a very dangerous neighborhood,” he told me. “There is a lot of crime, a lot of drugs, and a lot of abuse here. Without softball, many of these girls would be on the streets. Some were homeless, some were addicted to drugs, most were in broken homes when they came here. Some already have children of their own.” He gestured towards a small toddler running back and forth between the girls, a batting helmet bouncing up and down as she ran, a glove on each of her hands.

“Here, they can have different lives. They have food here. They have a place to sleep here. For many, this is their home, and this is their family. Scholarships are available through sports, so softball gives them an opportunity for an education and a career they could not afford otherwise. We are able to meet their basic needs here and give them the chance to do more with their lives.

“We train the girls physically here to be better athletes and better softball players. But we also focus on training them mentally. Women are not respected here, especially in this neighborhood. Abuse against women is common. We work hard to improve their self-esteem and their confidence. We want to…” Sergio, who had been translating the conversation for me, paused.

“I’m not sure how to say that word in English.” He pulled out his phone to translate the word. “Empower. They want to empower women in this neighborhood.”

“Girls can turn to softball to give them a reprieve from what they are facing away from the field. The relationships they make, the lessons they learn, and the importance of teamwork and unity they experience will carry over to help them in many facets of their life. It gives them hope, which you can’t put a price tag on.”

                               Ruby Rojas, Olympic Softball Player

                                From Beyond Baseball – Rounding First

These are just two of the heart-warming and eye-opening stories that make up Beyond Baseball – Rounding First.  The book also looks at the delivery of children’s books to a day care center, the organization’s efforts to help improve agricultural yields and incomes, efforts to leverage softball equipment into an opportunity to deliver hospital equipment to the country, and even the challenges Nicaraguans face getting to (and surviving in) the major leagues.

And, there is a personal side to Venn’s story. He not only shares the satisfaction he found in his work in Nicaragua, he talks about finding baseball in its most pure form there (played solely for the love of the game), and even shares a tale of another kind of  love, a lost relationship. (Every song about love or heart break brought her to my mind. It got so bad that songs that didn’t remind me of her reminded me of her, simply because they didn’t remind me of her.)

“Baseball was everywhere I looked. Fathers and sons played catch in front of their homes. Pickup games far short of full teams played in pastures next to cows. Kids hit rocks they picked up off the street with sticks. In many ways, northern Nicaragua was hell. But for baseball at its purest, it was heaven.”

                              Daniel Venn

                             From Beyond Baseball – Rounding First

So, what did Venn take away from his experience?

He told BBRT, “The biggest takeaway for me was simply the amount of good any one of us can do if we decide to.  Helping Kids Round First was started by one man with a suitcase of baseball gear – just looking to help a few kids find more opportunity. Now, the non-profit is shipping ocean containers full of baseball and softball equipment, entire hospitals, helping catalyze legitimate social change and empower women, and helping put food on the table for over a hundred farming families. It all started with one person just trying to help a few kids. It has evolved into such an impactful organization – any one of us could do that, whether internationally or right here at home.”

Oh, and by the way, Venn intends to stay involved with Helping Kids Round First.

BBRT recommends both the book – an entertaining and inspiring read – and the cause.  Just as one person can make a difference, so can one contribution. Again, to preorder Beyond Baseball – Rounding First, click here.


Daniel Venn – Ballplayer, Teacher, Humanitarian, Author

Daniel Venn was born and raised in Cannon Falls, Minnesota – but his baseball life has taken him far beyond his home town and home state.  As a pitcher/outfielder in high school, he earned All-Conference and Academic All-Star honors. In college (Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN), Venn majored in Social Studies Secondary Education and was a three-year letter winner (pitcher) on the Golden Gusties baseball team.  While in college, Venn spent the summer of 2012 playing baseball in Central America with Beyond Study Abroad. The team of college ballplayers barnstormed across Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama playing anyone who would show up – from top talent like Costa Rica’s 18U national team and the pro prospects at Dennis Martinez’s baseball academy in Nicaragua to cobbled together teams made up of the fathers of youngsters who attended clinics put on by the college players. In 2014, Venn published his first book – Beyond Baseball – about his experiences playing baseball (from exhilaration to embarrassment) in Central America.  The following year, Venn’s summer trip to visit a foreign exchange student in Ecuador turned into a year teaching English in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and Peru.  After his graduation from Gustavus Adolphus in 2015, Venn completed a stint with the Peace Corps in Western Samoa before heading to Nicaragua with Helping Kids Round First.

Note: Venn’s first book is available at (paperback – $7.00) or at $0.99 for the Kindle.


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I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

The Last Best League – Coming of Age in the Cape Cod League

Last BestThe Last Best League – One Summer, One Season, One Dream

Tenth Anniversary Edition

Da Capo Press, 2014



“On the Cape, we meandered one evening down Route 28 to the Village of Chatham, and watched the Chatham A’s play the Falmouth Commodores in a Cape Cod League baseball game.  The soft June air carried wisps of fog over the dark brown dirt and lush grass. The field glowed under the lights, seemed alive.  The players, smooth, graceful, beautiful, drew my eye. I felt old longings rise. I recognized the players in an instant.  They weren’t dispassionate, nearly robotic, major leaguers. Nor were they hard-edged minor leaguers fighting for survival.  These were kids, full of life – some of them laughing, some scared, some swaggering with the absolute sureness of invincibility. And they were phenomenally talented.”

            Author Jim Collins, describing the events that inspired The Last Best League”


A decade ago, Jim Collins gave life to the story of the 2002 Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod Baseball League – considered by many (most) to be the premier amateur baseball league in the county.  His book … The Last Best League – One Summer, One Season, One Dream … has been re-released (10th Anniversary Edition) with a follow-up on what happened to its principal characters over the ensuing decade. (Forty-seven of the young men who played in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the 2002 season eventually made it to the major leagues.)

The Last Best League is, in many ways, a coming-of-age story.  In this case, the stories of some of the nation’s most talented collegiate baseball players coming of age in a league in which many of the them, for the first time, no longer boast the fastest bat, liveliest arm or quickest feet on the field – where the bar has been raised and the competition intensified.  And, while their skill sets may vary, they do (as the subtitle suggests) nearly all share one dream – earning a trip to the big leagues. They also have all chosen (actually been chosen) to pursue that dream in the Cape Cod Baseball League – the last and best amateur league on the road to determining if they possess the talent and determination to bring their major league dreams to reality.

The Last Best League is driven by Collins’ ability to deliver the human side of the Cape Code League story.  Yes, he explores the vaunted history of the Cape Cod Baseball League – which promotional materials indicate has produced one of every six major leaguers and which boasts among its alumni such MLB players as Frank Thomas, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Bagwell, Robin Ventura, Tommy Davis, John Franco, Mo Vaughn, Craig Biggio and, more currently, Josh Donaldson, Jacob Ellsbury, Mark Tiexeira and Buster Posey. (For a complete list of former Cape Cod League players who made the major leagues click here.) Collins also provides insight into the science and statistics of the game, into the cold objectivity of what it takes to “measure up.”   He also gives us the prerequisite pennant race and game action – the big plays and big games that shape a season and determine a champion.  However, he balances all of this with a very personal look the people behind the Cape Cod League experience – the players who make up the league rosters, the volunteers who keep the league running, the host families who take the players in for the summer and the employers who provide them jobs on the Cape (the NCAA does not allow the players to be paid for their baseball activities.)

The players, of course, are at the heart of the book and Collins looks into their lives with both passion and compassion.  He lets us in on what it feels like enjoy the euphoria of a confidence-building hot streak, to feel the angst of an unbreakable slump, or to deal with the anguish of a dream-ending injury or a season-ending family tragedy.  Collins introduces us to players who come into the league supremely talented and supremely confident, as well as those who face an uphill battle with grit and determination (one of whom has made the phrase “Against All Odds” his personal mantra) or who try to hide personal doubt behind an attitude that seems to say “I don’t care.”  We are treated to very personal stories of success that exceeds expectations and devastating failure that catches players by surprise.   And, all of this takes place against the back drop and beauty of a New England summer.

Going back to that Chatham/Falmouth game that started Collins on The Last Best League journey, he tells readers in the Preface what to expect on the book’s pages, “I saw a human story at every position. I wondered what it must feel like to be a twenty-year-old all-star on Cape Cod. To spend ten weeks around the sun and sand and blue water, standing out among the finest college players in the country. Or to be in that same bucolic landscape, but struggling, doubting yourself for the first time and suddenly questioning whether you had what it took to make it.”  Collins took it upon himself to find out and, fortunately, he decided to share what he learned.

Ultimately, The Last Best League tells a tale (in this case tales) worth telling and – for those who hold a place for the national pastime in their hearts – one worth reading.  And, Jim Collins is the right person to tell the story. As a native New Englander, former college baseball player (Dartmouth) and former editor of Yankee Magazine, he understands what makes playing on “The Cape” special – it’s that understanding that also makes The Last Best League a special piece of baseball prose.

I’ll close this review with one quote from Collins’ book that made a particular impression on me as life-long fan of the national pastime.

It ended too early. But that’s true no matter who you talk to – whether it ends in high school or after a Hall of Fame career. It’s a kid’s game and none of us wants to grow old.

Colt Morton, former major-leaguer (19 games in two seasons with the Padres) and Cape Cod Baseball League alum, describing his professional baseball career.”



I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Book Review – 1954 by Bill Madden – A fun, and thought-provoking, read


1954 – The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Baseball Forever


By Bill Madden


Da Capo Press 2014




Baseball is often referred to as America’s most literary sport, and there is no doubt that Bill Madden has contributed to that reputation.  In 2010, Madden was recognized with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award – the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America – and enshrined in the writers’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Fortunately, for fans of baseball and its literature, Madden did not choose to rest on his laurels. Instead, he continues to add to his reputation, which gets another boost from latest book: 1954 – The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Baseball Forever.

Within the back drop of the 1954 pennant races and World Series, Madden gives readers a look at how attitudes toward race – in baseball and across American society – were changing. Consider what was going in baseball in 1954:

  • Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League (Indians, 1947), led the AL in home runs and RBI while helping Cleveland achieve an 111-43 record – breaking a five-season Yankee stranglehold, not just on the AL pennant, but also on the World Series championship.
  • Willie Mays returned from military service to top the NL with a .345 average and capture the MVP Award, while leading the Giants to the NL title.
  • Hank Aaron who, in 1953, had led the Class A Sally League in batting average, RBI, runs and hits, made the jump from Class to the majors, as well as the move from second base to the outfield – where he would join Billy Bruton, the 1953 NL stolen base leader (and first black player to make the major leagues without previous Negro League experience).
  • The Cubs began the season with the first all-black, shortstop-second base, double play combo – Ernie Banks and Gene Baker, who had both seen action when the team integrated in  late in 1953.
  • On July 17, 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers broke baseball’s unspoken, but implied, racial quota by starting a line up with more blacks than whites.
  • The World Series, for the first time ever, saw black players on both teams’ rosters.

Madden deals with these and other historically and socially significant on-the-field achievements and advancements, and also gives readers a look at the intolerance and indignities black players faced in the early 1950s. He recounts the roadblocks many highly talented black players faced in even getting to the majors (keep in mind, as Spring Training opened in 1954, only eight of the major leagues sixteen teams had integrated).  And, things were not much easier once a player made the leap to the majors (and found on-field success).  Black players found themselves having to stay in separate hotels or negotiating the right to stay in the team’s chosen hotel only if the they agreed to stay out of such areas as the lobby, dining room or swimming pool. Madden, through observation and interviews, provides unique insight in how different players – Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Aaron, Don Newcombe and others – handled these (and even more glaring) slights, inequities and prejudices.  (I found Madden’s reporting of the fiercely negative reaction to the the first Sports Illustrated cover to feature an athlete of color – April 11, 1955, with Leo Durocher, Durocher’s wife, actress Laraine Day and Willie Mays – particularly telling.)

While 1954 provides an important (and, I am sure for many, eye-opening) social commentary on the times, it also includes plenty of baseball action, told in the words of the participants, news coverage of the day and Madden’s own captivating prose.  There are accounts of key games, great plays and clutch hits that carry the reader through the 1954 season and World Series.

Overall, 1954 gives the reader the “feel” of the season and the times.  You can feel the anger and frustration of black players striving not just for recognition, but basic respect and fairness, as well as the tension of on-field rivalries and tough pennant races.  As you read, you also get a feel for the churn and change taking place in the game (on the field, in the club house and in the executive offices).  Ultimately, 1954 provides insight into how baseball in the 1950s – despite its flaws and shortcomings – was actually out in front of the curve when it came to the acceptance of black Americans.

And, there are “back stories” as well.

  • How – had the Red Sox been less reluctant to integrate or the Giants willing to part with just $100 a month more – baseball might have seen Willie Mays sharing the outfield with Ted Williams or Hank Aaron.
  • The fact that, with just one game left in the season, the NL batting race saw three players separated by .0004: Don Mueller at .3426, Duke Snider at .3425 and Willie Mays at .3422.
  • The tough, grind-it-out attitude of the players in the 1950s, illustrated particularly well in an injured Al Rosen‘s 3-hit, 2-homer, five-RBI performance in the 1954 All Star Game.
  • The negative reaction of players, managers and coaches to a 1954 rule change that required players to bring their gloves into the dugout when their team came to bat. (It had been baseball custom until then for fielders to leave their gloves on the field when they came in to bat, and just pick them up when back on defense.)
  • Mickey Mantle’s own assessment of the “Who was New York’s best center fielder  – “Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle) or the Duke (Snider)?” question.
  • Minnie Minoso’s thoughts on why he led the AL in hit-by-pitches ten times from 1951-1960.

1954 is a solid addition to Madden’s work and to the overall library of baseball literature. It provides readers not only with a look at one of baseball’s most exciting seasons, but also insight into the racial tensions being felt not just across the national past time, but across the nation.  It works on many levels, as a sports book, history book and social commentary.  It  is a fun, but also thought-provoking, summer read for baseball fans.


Other books by Bill Madden:

Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball

Pride of October: What It Was to Be Young and a Yankee

Zim, A Baseball Life (with Don Zimmer)

Damned Yankees: Choas, Confusion, and Craziness in the Steinbrenner Era (with Moss Klien)


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Book Review: Down To The Last Pitch – Good to the last page

down_to_last_pitchDown To The Last Pitch – How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time

By Tim Wendel




The 1991 World Series, matching the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves, will go down as one of the most exciting ever played.  The 1991 Fall Classic went the full seven games, ending in a 1-0, ten-inning win for the Twins.  Three games went extra innings, four came down to the final at bat and five were decided by a single run.  The Series was filled with tension and turning points (close plays at the plate, critical double plays, controversial umpires’ calls, base-running blunders, game-saving catches, timely strikeouts). ESPN, in celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the World Series, named the 1991 matchup the “greatest World Series ever.”

The 1991 Series had more going for it than dramatic games and avid home crowds (all the games were won by the home team).  It was, in fact, an historic event even before the first pitch was thrown. Never in major league history had a team gone from last place to pennant winner (punching a ticket to the Fall Classic) in a single year.  In 1991, both World Series’ participants had accomplished that feat.

If ever a World Series deserved its own book, it was the 1991 match up.  Fortunately, for baseball fans, Tim Wendel (award-winning author, one of USA Today Baseball Weekly’s founding editors, exhibit advisor to the Baseball Hall of Fame and, as evidenced by his prose, a knowledgeable and passionate baseball fan) has given us that book in the form of the recently released Down To The Last Pitch – How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time.

Down To The Last Pitch lives up to the events it describes.  Wendel couples his journalistic skills with an understanding and appreciation of the national pastime to take readers deep into the 1991 World Series – not just into the ballpark, but right into the dugout and onto the field. Down To The Last Pitch provides an inside look at what was going on behind the scenes and in the minds of the players, managers and coaches as – game by game – the tension ratcheted up.  Wendel presents this historic Series in a combination of his own words and observations and those of its participants. For baseball fans, it’s a story worth telling, reading and remembering.

As Atlanta third baseman and 1991 National League MVP Terry Pendleton said of the Series, “Every pitch, every strike, every ball, every inning – everything mattered in every game.”

Just how much it all mattered comes through in Wendel’s account of Minnesota catcher Brian Harper’s thoughts during a break in the action after the Twins had intentionally walked David Justice to load the bases with one out and the score tied at 0-0 in the top of the eighth inning of Game Seven. Wendel lets Harper describe the pressure in his own words:  “That’s when I envisioned a come-backer to Jack (Morris), he throws it to me at home plate, then I airmail one past (Kent) Hrbek into right field. We lose the Series and I’m the goat of all time. I would be the next Bill Buckner.  I literally thought this after we walked David Justice. So, I then I’m thinking, ‘Okay, get that thought out of your head. Lord, please help me relax here and let me do my job.’”

Harper was apparently successful in pushing that negative vision from is mind.  And, it’s a good thing, because his nightmare (just slightly modified) began to play out right before his eyes. The Braves’ next hitter, Sid Bream, hit a grounder to Hrbek at first base, who fired to Harper for the force out at the plate, leaving Harper to make that inning-ending (or game-losing) home-to-first double play throw- which, as we all know, he did successfully.

Wendel’s game-by-game description of the Series provides plenty of these very human insights into the action, adding color and depth to his accounting.  He includes the often told story of how Twins’ starter Jack Morris (who threw a ten-inning, complete game shutout in Game Seven) had to lobby manager Tom Kelly to stay in the game after the ninth inning. He ends the tale with Kelly’s submission and comment, “Oh hell. It’s only a game.”   Down To The Last Pitch adds a little context to Morris’ grit and determination, having already noted that Morris (described as having “the air of an ornery, aging gunslinger”) was disgruntled after being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of Game Four (tied 1-1 at the time and eventually won 3-2 by the Braves). Morris later told Sports Illustrated, “TK screwed up by taking me out.  We would have won it.”  Nobody was taking the ball from Morris’ hand in the deciding game.

Down To The Last Pitch also uses the flow of the game as a natural bridge to observations on, not just the players involved, but baseball itself.  The reader gains insight into such player-related topics as John Smoltz’ 1991 turnaround (a 2-11 won-lost record in the first half and a 12-2 record in the second half), how reliever Rick Aguilera ended up as the first pitcher used as a pinch hitter in the World Series since 1965, and events that shaped the baseball lives of many of the players who took the field for the Series (like Mike Lemke’s childhood pickup games on the grounds of the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center or the impact of the lights from the Twins’ original Metropolitan Stadium shining into the bedroom window of a young Kent Hrbek).

Wendel also uses game action to lead into more general commentary on baseball. The crack of the bat on Twins’ number-nine hitter Greg Gagne’s Game One home run, for example, takes Wendel back a previous conversation with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (who hit 586 MLB home runs). Robinson described the sound of a home run as “Like you’re out in the woods and you step on a branch. A dry branch. It’s that snap that goes just so.”  That’s the sound Wendel reports hearing, even above the crowd, on Gagne’s home run.  That distinctive snap spurred him to share Robinson’s thoughts not only on the “sound” of a home run, but also on its excitement. In Robinson’s words, “Nothing else offers the kind of excitement a home run does. Not even a perfect game. Because a home run is instant – it’s so surprising.”

Down to the Last Pitch also includes commentary on factors affecting the Series’ outcome that may have escaped the average fan.  Wendel delves, for example, into the unavailability of speedsters Otis Nixon (drug-related suspension) and Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons’ football training camp) – two Braves’ players with potentially game-changing speed. Few remember that Nixon, out for the Series, hit .297 with 72 stolen bases in 124 games in 1991.

Ultimately, Down To The Last Pitch is a great read not just for Twins and Braves fans – although it is a must for followers of those teams – but for any fans who want to get closer to the game.  I was lucky enough to attend the Twins’ home games in the 1991 Series and, after reading Down To The Last Pitch, I feel “closer” to the action than ever.

And, there is even more.  Once you’ve completed Wendel’s account of the seven exciting contests that made up the 1991 World Series, there is – like an extra inning game – even more baseball to come.  The book includes two Appendices: One covering what happened after the Series to many of the principals involved (and other notables from the 1991 season); and a second outlining a dozen great World Series moments.

In short, Down To The Last Pitch has something for baseball fans down to the last page.

Other baseball books by Tim Wendel you may enjoy: Summer of 68: The Season that Changed Baseball and America Forever (reviewed here); High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time; Far From Home: Latino Baseball Players in America; The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America’s Favorite Sport.

BBRT tweets  baseball @DavidBBRT

A “Cracker Jack” of a Book for Baseball Fans

Cracker JackThe Cracker Jack® Collection …

                            Baseball’s Prized Players



By Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala

2013, Peter E. Randall Publisher



                                                      Take me out to the ball game.

                                                    Take me out with the crowd.

                                                    Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack

                                                   I don’t care if I never get back.

If you are a baseball fan, those words – and the melody that accompanies them – are no doubt close to your heart. Cracker Jack® and our national pastime have a close and long-standing relationship. The recently released coffee table book The Cracker Jack Collection … Baseball’s Prized Players illustrates just how deep and enduring that relationship was and continues to be. If you’ve ever enjoyed joining in a seventh-inning rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame, Baseball Roundtable is confident you’ll enjoy The Cracker Jack Collection. The book commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the first Cracker Jack baseball card set – in 1914 and 1915, the treasured prize in each box of Cracker Jack was a baseball card. It tells the tale of Cracker Jack’s rise to confectionery prominence and its century of ties to baseball, as well as the presenting the statistics and stories of the players honored on the Cracker Jack cards (144 cards in 1914, 176 in 1915). Those players are Baseball Hall of Famers, Hall of Fame “should-have-beens” and journeymen who took the field in the game’s rough-and-tumble early years.

CJ JacksonThe Cracker Jack baseball cards are among the most valued and valuable in the card-collecting community, and The Cracker Jack Collection is a must-have for the collectors of vintage sports cards. The book, however, has a much broader appeal. Baseball fans, nostalgia buffs, and those interested the life and times of the early 20th century will all find something to like in this book. Co-authors Tom and Ellen Zappala clearly brought a passion for the  history and heritage of  the national pastime to their work, and they supplemented their efforts with contributions from Joe Orlando (president of Professional Sports Authenticator and PSA/DNA), John Molori (Boston Baseball Magazine columnist) and Jim Davis (charter member of the Cracker Jack Collectors Association).

First and foremost, the focus of The Cracker Jack Collection is the players selected for the Cracker Jack card sets. The Zappalas bring these players – and the era they played and lived in – to life, not only by documenting their on-field achievements, but with entertaining and informative glimpses into their off-field lives. They not only inform the reader that Ty Cobb batted under .320 only once in his career, but shine a light on his business acumen, which led to his investments in companies like Coca Cola and General Motors. Walter Johnson’s profile includes his remarkable 110 complete-game shutouts, and his unsuccessful run for Congress. Eddie Plank’s 26-6, 2.22 record in 1912 is featured, as his post-baseball service giving guided tours of the battlefield at Gettysburg.  BBRT note: The Plank profile also includes his winning assignment as the starting pitcher in the April 12, 1909 first-ever game at Philadelphia’s new Shibe Park; which saw Plank win 8-1, but also saw his catcher Doc Powers collide with the stadium’s cement wall and suffer ultimately fatal internal injuries.)

The Cracker Jack Collection brings these players – and the era they played and lived in – to life, not only by documenting their on-field achievements, but with entertaining and informative glimpses into their off-field lives. 

Throughout The Cracker Jack Collection, readers will find the career statistics and life stories of well-known “prized” players like Cobb, Johnson, Plank, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie, Rube Marquard and Mordecia Brown, as well as front office greats like Charlie Comiskey, Clark Griffith, Connie Mack and Branch Rickey.

While I enjoyed the profiles of the collection’s best-known stars, I found myself drawn to some of the lesser-known players honored in the Crack Jack Collection.

For example, long before baseball statistical guru Bill James, there was “Seattle Bill” James, who ran up a 26-7, 1.90 record for the 1914 “Miracle Braves” of Boston (and won two games without giving up a run in the World Series that year). A star in the making, James developed shoulder problems in the off season – and finished his MLB career with just 37 wins.

Also honored is first baseman Jake Daubert. Daubert led the NL in batting in 1913 and 1914 and, as the Zappalas tell us, was a sparkling fielder, hit over .300 in 10 of his fifteen major league seasons, was Baseball Magazine’s All Star first baseman in 1911 and every year from 1913 to 1919, and captured the Chalmers Award (MVP) in 1913. The authors chose Daubert for their Cracker Jack Collection All Star Team and rightly note that “It is hard to fathom why Jack Daubert has been bypassed by the Hall of Fame.”

There was John “Dots” Miller, considered by many one of the best utility players of the dead ball era. In The Cracker Jack Collection, you’ll not only find his MLB statistics, but the story behind his nickname. Early in his career, Miller was all-time great shortstop Honus Wagner’s double play partner and (due partly to their shared German heritage) close friend. One day a reporter came up to Wagner and asked who the new kid at second base was. With his German accent, Wagner replied “Dot’s Miller” – and a nickname was born.

As I read through The Cracker Jack Collection, I also was entertained and caught up in the biographical sketches of players like Rebel Oakes (a speedy, slap-hitting outfielder); Dick Hoblitzell (a steady-hitting first baseman and Babe Ruth’s Boston roommate from 1914-18); Armando Marsans (one of the first successful players out of Cuba, who ran a Cuban cigar factory in the off season); and Al Wentworth Demaree (who enjoyed an eight-year career as an MLB pitcher and went on to become one of the best known sports cartoonists ever – syndicated in 200+ newspapers and published in the Sporting News for three decades).

I could go on, but the point here is that the stories you’ll find in The Cracker Jack Collection’s player profiles are a good match to the Cracker Jack slogan “The more you eat – the more you’ll want.” In this case, the more you read, the more you’ll want – and the more you’ll find yourself wanting to share these tales with baseball-loving friends. As Boston Herald Editor-in-Chief Joe Sciacca said of The Cracker Jack Collection, “If you’re looking for fresh yarns to tell during the next rain delayed game, you’ve come to the right place.”

While the players dominate the book, it also chronicles the history of the now iconic Cracker Jack – all the way back to 1871 and German immigrant Frederick William Rueckheim. As the story goes, the breakthrough came with the development of a way to prevent the caramel-coated popcorn and peanut confection from sticking together. The Cracker Jack Collection takes us through the development of product, its name and logo, its marketing and the history of Cracker Jack’s prize offerings – the largest of which was a Winnebago Recreational Vehicle (in 1981, one fortunate snacker found a message in his box of Cracker Jack telling him how to claim his Winnebago prize). BBRT note: Cracker Jack prizes – now legislatively limited in scope – have, over time, been made of paper, wood, cast metal, tin, terra cotta, Bakelite, chenille, rubber, felt, straw, cellophane, fiber, papier-mâché, cloth, string, wire, candy, aluminum, celluloid, ceramic, rattan, glass and plastic.

CJDialThe first Cracker Jack baseball-related prize was a 1907 post card featuring a pair of bears playing baseball. Over the years, Cracker Jack has offered (among others) such items as a Cracker Jack Movies pull-tab toy that changed from a batter to an umpire; A Big League Baseball At Home spin-dial game; baseball player buttons; plastic baseball stand-up figures (two whole teams of blue and gray); plastic miniature baseball caps, bats and gloves; and additional baseball cards.

Whether it’s the player profiles, the history of Cracker Jack or the story of the 1914 and 1915 card sets themselves, the book is well-researched and well-written. Further, it is also beautifully designed and illustrated. The quality of the images of the cards, past Cracker Jack packaging, prizes and advertising, and vintage baseball equipment, all live up to the quality of the prose. The Cracker Jack Collection now rests proudly on BBRT’s coffee table – and Tom and Ellen Zappala’s 2010 book, The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, is at the top of my Christmas list.


The Cracker Jack Collection can be ordered online at