BrooklynFans Of Books: On Great Baseball Stories

Baseball is a sport that is ripe for great storytelling, and three new books produce some of the best memories of the game: Tales From The Seattle Mariners Dugout by Kirby Arnold; A Tribe Reborn by George Christian Pappas; and They Played The Game by Norman L. Macht.

Tales From The Seattle Mariners Dugout: A Collection Of The Greatest Mariners Stories Ever Told

By Kirby Arnold

Sports Publishing; hardcover, 192 pages; $19.99

This newly-revised edition of Tales from the Seattle Mariners Dugout chronicles Seattle’s rise from a hopeless and hapless franchise in the 1970s and ’80s to a proud team in the 1990s that went on to capture three division championships and earn four playoff appearances. It’s a must-read walk down memory lane for every fan of the team.

There are stories about pranks, which showed Mariners players had senses of humor, which was needed because for many years the play on the field wasn’t going to keep their spirits high.

When Larry Andersen, Richie Zisk, and Joe Simpson made sure that everywhere bewildered manager Rene Lachemann went during the 1982 season, some Jell-O was sure to follow—from his hotel bathroom sink, tub, and toilet (filled to the brim) to a postgame can of beer. Jay Buhner, one of the stars in the Seattle Mariners’ 1995 “Refuse to Lose” season, maintained the team’s proud, prank-filled history well into the ’90s with his “blurping”—vomiting on command.

The Mariners lost a combined 202 games over their first two seasons. Twelve consecutive losing campaigns later, they finally posted a winning record in 1991. Four years later, they won their first division title and then their first playoff series over the Yankees.

Edgar Martinez was one of the faces of their dominant teams in the 1990s and he will be entering the Hall of Fame this summer. He was one of the fiercest hitters in a lineup that also featured Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez.

Kirby writes of Edgar, “Benny Looper, the Mariners’ longtime director of player development, had a personal policy when it came to handling minor leaguers: Never give up on a kid after one season, no matter how badly he struggles. He may develop into a productive player capable of propelling a losing team into contention. He might become an All-Star.

“Or, in the case of Edgar Martinez, he could become a player whose tireless work ethic would transform him into one of the most-feared hitters of his era and achieve baseball’s highest honor – a place in the Hall of Fame.

“In 1983, Martinez was a 20-year-old from Puerto Rico who struggled like few who’s ever make it beyond the Class-A level in the Mariners’ organization. He batted .173 that year for the Bellinhgham Mariners, getting 18 hits in 104 at-bats, with just two extra-base hits.

“Martinez was worried. ‘Every year that I played since Little League,I was the best hitter on the team,’ he said. ‘In all the leagues I played, I was the batting champion of the team or the best player. Then I got to Bellingham, and I was shocked that I couldn’t hit. I was concerned, but deep down I knew that I could hit.’

“Martinez did hit, and it didn’t take him much longer to get started. He batted .303 the next year at Wausau, when he showed his first signs of power with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs.

“Three years later, in 1987, Martinez batted .329 at Triple-A Calgary and earned a September call-up to the Mariners. The next year, back at Calgary, he led the Pacific Coast League with a .363 average.

“‘That was the first time that I thought I could play in the big leagues,’ he said. ‘I remember thinking that what I was doing there, I could do in the big leagues. I knew I could hit.’

“By 1989, Martinez was the Mariners’ starting third baseman and on his way to becoming one of baseball’s all-time best right-handed hitters. Over 18 seasons, he won batting championships in 1992 and 1995, played in seven All-Star Games, and finished his career with 2.247 hits (including 514 doubles), 309 home runs, a .313 batting average, .418 on-base percentage, and .515 slugging percentage.

“No at-bat is remembered a fondly as the moment Martinez dug into the batter’s box in the 11th inning at the Kingdome on October 8, 1995. The Mariners trailed the New York Yankees 5-4 in the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division Series, and Martinez came to bat with Joey Cora on third base and Ken Griffey Jr. on first with nobody out.

“Facing Yankees right-hander Jack McDowell, Martinez stroked a line drive into the left-field corner, scoring both Cora and Griffey to beat the Yankees 6-5 and send the Mariners into the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians.

“‘The Double’ is considered one of the best moments in Seattle sports history.

“‘I’ve seen the replay of that so many times, that is the picture of it that’s in my mind now,’ Martinez said. ‘I remember going to the plate thinking of it as just another at-bat. A very important at-bat, though.’

“Get this: Martinez says it wasn’t the biggest performance of his career.

“That occurred the previous night, when the Yankees jumped tto a 5-0 lead over the Mariners and seemed on their way to clinching the series. Then, in one of the great individual performances in postseason history, Martinez took over.

“He hit a three-run homer in the third inning to cut the Yankees’ lead to 5-3, then belted a grand slam off John Wetteland in the eighth inning to put the Mariners ahead 10-6 in a game they won 11-8.

“‘I see that game as the biggest in my career, because we had to come from so far behind in such a critical game,’ Martinez said.

“He was the first player in postseason history to drive home seven runs in a game and finished with a .521 average in the series.”

A Tribe Reborn: How the Cleveland Indians of the ’90s Went from Cellar Dwellers to Playoff Contenders

George Christian Pappas; foreword by Hank Peters

Sports Publishing; paperback, 256 pages; $14.99

For almost fifty years, the Cleveland Indians were a joke. They had won the 1948 World Series with one of the greatest teams of all time, but had not been to the playoffs since 1954 (losing to the New York Giants in the World Series). Even the “Major League” movies poked fun at their inadequacy.

A Tribe Reborn tells the story of a failing franchise, from “The Mistake by the Lake” to “The Curse of Rocky Colavito,” and how a laughingstock team that was on the verge of relocating changed its ways to become a dominant franchise.

With the building of the state-of-the-art Jacobs Field, which the Indians sold out a record 455 consecutive games, from 1995 to 2001, to changes in how their scouting, front office, and locker room were run, the team that nobody cared about became front-page news across the country.

They were one of the most dominant teams of the 1990s, as they were in the playoffs six times and won two American League pennants. They might be the greatest team to never win the World Series.

With interviews from players including Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, Manager Mike Hargrove, General Manager John Hart, and many more, A Tribe Reborn is a fantastic look inside how a losing franchise changed its ways to become a perennial powerhouse.

The first year this Indians team made the playoffs was in 1995 when they won 100 games in the regular season before beating Boston and Seattle in the American League playoffs and losing to another consistent winner in that decade, the Atlanta Braves, in the World Series.

Pappas writes of 1995, “The last day of the regular season fell on October 1, with the Kansas City Royals visiting the Jake. The Indians soundly defeated their division opponents, 17-7, advancing their lead in the Central to a major-league record 30 games. The win was the Tribe’s 100 of the season, bringing their record to 100-44. Later, Hargrove remarked, ‘Imagine what we could have won in 162 games.’ Should Hargrove’s club have played eighteen more games in the regular season consistent with their winning percentage (.649), the Indians may have finished with another twelve victories, at 112-50, surpassing the 1954 Tribe’s franchise mark of 111 wins, but falling fall short of the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners’ major-league record of 116. Hargrove thinks it could have been possible. His team fared 10-3 in shutouts and 29-11 in blowouts. The players came through in high-leverage situations, going 28-14 in one-run games. Hargrove pointed out that  the Indians were undefeated in extra-inning games, which accounted for another thirteen victories.

“So much of that success stemmed from the club’s high-octane offense. The Indians led Major League Baseball in every hitting category, compiling 207 home runs, 840 runs scored, and a .291 team batting average. The lineup created runs at a rate that was 15 percent higher than the league- and park-adjusted average.

“Hargrove says that the performance was a testament to Charlie Manuel’s work as a hitting coach.

“‘Charlie’s biggest attribute as a hitting coach was that he could make people believe in what he was saying. He would give you that down-home, aw-shucks stuff, but if you knew Charlie real well, you knew how smart he was. He could disarm players with his country humor. And it wasn’t a facade, that’s really how Charlie was, but he was sly like a fox.’

“The Indians ranked second in the majors in isolated power (ISO, .188), trailing the Colorado Rockies by one-one-thousandth of a point, despite the Rockies playing in the thin air at Denver’s homer-happy Coors Field. But to Manuel’s credit, their strikeout rate (13.5 percent) was the second lowest in all of baseball. This might come as a surprise, given the Indians’ identity as a ‘masher club.'”

“‘Thome and Ramirez bought into [Manuel’s hitting philosophies] from an early age, and once everybody saw how good they were, they did too,’ Hargrove said. He added, ‘One time, I had Ramirez and Thome hitting [in the] eight and nine [spots]. That’s partly because of how young they were. But we had Paul Sorrento hitting eighth or ninth with 25 home runs. The only non home-run hitters were Kenny [Lofton] and Omar [Vizquel].’ And where Lofton and Vizquel lacked in power, they made up with prowess in the field and on the base paths. They accounted for a combined 83 stolen bases atop the lineup, and each won the Gold Glove Award as the top fielder in his respective position.”

The Indians of the ’90s might not have a championship, but they are still remembered for their hard play, amazing talent, rabid fan base, and the rebirth of one of the game’s great franchises.

They Played The Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers

By Norman L.  Macht

Nebraska; hardcover, eBook, $29.95

Noted baseball historian Norman L. Macht brings together a wide‑ranging collection of baseball voices from the Deadball Era in the 1910s through the 1970s, including nine Hall of Famers, in the new book They Played The Game.

They take the reader onto the field, into the dugouts and clubhouses, and inside the minds of both players and managers. These engaging, wide-ranging oral histories bring surprising revelations, both highlights and lowlights, about their careers, as they revisit their personal mental scrapbooks of the days when they played the game.

Not all of baseball’s best stories are told by its biggest stars, especially when the stories are about those stars. Many of the storytellers you’ll meet in They Played the Game are unknown to today’s fans: the Red Sox’s Charlie Wagner talks about what it was like to be Ted Williams’s roommate in Williams’s rookie year; the Dodgers’ John Roseboro recounts his strategy when catching for Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax; former Yankee Mark Koenig recalls batting ahead of Babe Ruth in the lineup, and sometimes staying out too late with him; John Francis Daley talks about batting against Walter Johnson; Carmen Hill describes pitching against Babe Ruth in the 1927 World Series.

One of the storytellers is Harry Gumbert, a right-handed pitcher who had a fifteen-year career (1935-50) with the New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Here, he writes about pitching with the Giants against the Yankees in the 1937 World Series:

“In the first game of the 1937 World Series, I came in cold off the bench to pitch to Tony Lazzeri with two men on and one out. I wasn’t supposed to pitch, but here’s what happened. Carl Hubbell wasn’t having too good a day, although he was leading, 1-0, going into the last of the sixth. The Yankees started hitting him, and Lazzeri came up. Hub had trouble with Tony. So [manager] Bill Terry wanted Dick Coffman to come in and pitch to Lazzeri. But he didn’t go out to the mound. He waved to catcher Gus Mancuso to bring in Coffman. As Coffman started to come in from the bullpen, Gus turns to the umpire and says, ‘Gumbert’ by mistake. So Gumbert gets announced as the new pitcher. Terry jumped up and hit his head on the concrete top of the dugout, and it knocked him to the ground. He wobbled out and started arguing that it was Coffman. I’m still sitting on the bench. Well, he won the argument, and Coffman takes his warmup pitches. The announcer corrected his announcement. Art Fletcher, the Yankees third base coach, hasn’t made a move until then. He comes over to the umpire and says that according to the rules, Gombert must pitch to one man. The umpire says, ‘You’re right. Bring him out here.’ So out I go, cold off the bench. I threw Lazzeri two curve balls, and he hit a nice soft ground ball to Burgess Whitehead at second, a perfect double play ball, and Whitey lets it roll between his legs. [Coffman then replaced Gombert.] They wound up scoring seven runs.”

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