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Published: Sunday, 3/20/2011

New books about baseball are in play

BY JON THURBER
LOS ANGELES TIMES

Ah, the sounds of spring. The crack of the bat, the smack of the ball hitting the catcher's mitt, the ka-ching of cash registers totaling up sales of books on baseball out this season.

Just as ESPN seems to lean toward the American League East for broadcasts, book publishers also are looking in that direction, especially to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and -- surprisingly -- Tampa Bay Rays.

Citizens of Red Sox Nation may find the team's unlikeliest hero in Tim Wakefield's Knuckler: My Life With Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Those who see a trip to Fenway Park as a religious experience might try Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

The Rays come under scrutiny in Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First (ESPN Books). In this unlikely baseball tale, two former Goldman Sachs colleagues leverage their brokerage skills to transform a flailing franchise.

Of course, there have to be several on the Bronx Bombers, notably The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Robert Weintraub's The House That Ruth Built: A New Stadium, the First Yankees Championship, and the Redemption of 1923 (Little Brown). Nearly 12 years after his death, Joe DiMaggio continues to be fodder for baseball books: His 56-game hitting streak gets a detailed look in Kostya Kennedy's 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports (Sports Illustrated).

Even books about the Dodgers this year have a mostly New York flavor. Jimmy Breslin profiles the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who broke baseball's color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson in Branch Rickey (Viking). Another Dodgers great of that era comes to bat for a biographical treatment in Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella (Simon & Schuster). And the new Dodgers manager and former Yankee is the subject of Donnie Baseball: The Definitive Biography of Don Mattingly (Triumph).

Moving west, Shawn Green, the former Dodger, Blue Jay, Diamondback, and Met, gives readers a memoir of his time in the game that has a decidedly Zen-like title, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph (Simon & Schuster). For Angels fans, The Official History of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Insight Editions) marks the team's big 5-0 as a franchise.

What about fans not aligned with either coast? The best bet may be George Vecsey's Stan Musial: An American Life (ESPN), which tells the story of the great St. Louis Cardinals slugger and Hall of Famer. Another good bet is Dan Barry's book on the longest game ever played -- between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox -- called Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball's Longest Game (Harper).

Or else there's Nobody's Perfect (Atlantic Monthly): Umpire Jim Joyce and pitcher Armando Galarraga describe last season's perfect game that wasn't when Joyce missed the call at first base and its influence on their lives.



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