Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nick's Picks, 100 Notable Books of 2012 - 61, 60...

#61:  One Last Strike, by Tony La Russa.  William Morrow and Company.  $27.99.

Little hint?  If you're an author and you want to appear on the now World Famous Nick's Picks ™ - well, if you somehow manage to secure a boat ride across San Francisco Bay (with me) on your way to a Postseason Baseball Game starring your World Champion San Francisco Giants - it's a gimme, you get on the list.

You can read about that here, or you can read Tony's book - One Last Strike (and he insisted that I call him Tony when he visited the store for a signing, and I'm not about to go against the wishes of a big league manager who's got three World Series' rings on his fingers.)

One Last Strike is mainly about the World Series of 2011 - with dashes of La Russa's illustrious baseball career thrown in for seasoning.

Their lead-up and their eventual victory in the Series (after withstanding more than one Last Strike) was one of the more remarkable in recent memory - of course, this was all before the San Francisco Giants magisterial trip to the Series this year.

But you can't count a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence (the Giants.  This year.) as diminishing the achievement of the St. Louis Cardinals last year.  I'm, you know, just pointing that out, is all.

Tony's accounts of the year are impressive, engaging, thorough - and it's funny reading about a vegetarian animal-rights-activist winning over the decidedly meat-and-potatoes population of Missouri.  One Last Strike is a wild ride, well told.

#60:  Bill Veeck:  Baseball's Greatest Maverick, by Paul Dickson.  Walker & Company.  $28.

Great men associated with baseball often have biographies written about them - rarely does a great biography happen to be about a baseball man.  Paul Dickson helps to mitigate this with his marvelous book, Bill Veeck:  Baseball's Greatest Maverick.

It's easy to only remember Mr. Veeck as a showboating owner pulling colorful stunts - like putting a midget in a game with the number 1/8 on his back; being the first owner to shoot off fireworks when one of his players hit a home run; or hiring a clown to be his first base coach - much to the delight of the crowds, not so much to the delight of the Baseball-Powers-That-Be.

What can be forgotten is that Mr. Veeck won pennants and the World Series.  More importantly, he had conspired to integrate the Major Leagues years before Jackie Robinson would break that barrier.  His plans were foiled when the team (the Philadelphia Phillies) he was planning to buy - with the intent of filling its roster with players from the Negro Leagues - was taken over by Major League Baseball to prevent its sale to him.

The guy who orchestrated this?  Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis?  Kind of a jerk, really.  And ironic that the buffoon he arranged to purchase the Phils - Billy Cox - ended up betting on his own team and was banned by baseball.  Ironic because Mr. Landis made his name decades earlier by coming down with an iron fist on those players involved in the Black Sox betting scandal.  Jerk.

Anyway.  Great book.  Great character.  Just go buy it and read a stellar biography that dissects its subject - and America - through baseball's prism.