Sunday, December 24, 2006

Last-Minute Gifts

Luckily, it's not the case this year, but most years, Christmas Eve is a prime shopping day for me. Here are a few ideas for last minute gifts for the baseball fans in everyone's family:

Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age with the New York Yankees, by Matthew McGough -- This one's great because it's a decent fit for people at all levels of baseball fandom, from the baseball novice to the lifer, and for kids as well as adults. Matt's a bit young to have written a memoir, but this one's unflinchingly honest, and it gives you a good look at life behind the scenes in the Show--and a small peek of the high school I attended, to boot.

The Numbers Game, by Alan Schwarz -- Lots of people, when they hear about my baseball writing, ask, "Well, how did you get into that?" Alan Schwarz's history of baseball fans' obsession with the numbers gives perhaps the best answer to that question ever committed to paper. Schwarz's narrative is a great introduction to the concepts that I and so many others spend so much time and effort obsessing about; it's also a great read.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis -- Perhaps the most controversial baseball book since Ball Four, Lewis's book shook the foundations of the game and launched a thousand mainstream sportswriter articles--many of them horrifically misinformed. The book's about Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, and his team's efforts to stay competitive despite having only a fraction of the financial resources of the Yankees or Red Sox (among many others). No, this is not the definitive tome on how to run a baseball team that some have made it out to be, but the level of detail Lewis brings to describing the operation of the A's front office is just spellbinding.

Baseball Between the Numbers, by the Baseball Prospectus Team -- I'm not part of the team on this book, so I feel comfortable recommending it. BBTN, as we call it, is a single-volume collection of many of the key concepts of baseball analysis, presented in a straightforward fashion. It's a must-have for the hardcore baseball fan.

Stepping Up: the Story of Baseball All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights, by Alex Belth -- Great bio of an overlooked player, and probably one of the more courageous stands taken by any person involved with the game. Every time a Gil Meche or Juan Pierre gets big money in free agency, they should send a thank-you card to Marvin Miller, and order a bouquet to be delivered to Curt Flood's gravesite, and honor two of the men who made it possible.

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, by David Maraniss -- the book that--along with a question on BP's intenal mailing list--motivated this list. I haven't even finished it yet, but I feel compelled to recommend it. Roberto Clemente is one of the Hall of Famers that so many fans don't "get"--his numbers were good, but not amazing, and it's not like he was the first Latino, or even the first black Latino, to play in the major leagues. This book does a lot to explain why there are people out there agitating that his number 21 should be retired throughout baseball, like Jackie Robinson's number was.



When Darryl Strawberry tells you you should embrace a teammate who isn't fitting in, remember that he's not only a veteran of multiple world champions, but also a guy who's spent time in jail. You can't take that sort of advice lightly.

Meanwhile, this is the time of year that the Yankees play Not-So-Secret Santa to the rest of their major league competitors, by coughing up their luxury tax dollars to the tune of $26 million. Do the other team owners leave out cookies and milk for Steinbrenner Claus? I think not.

So to all of you out there, have a merry and a happy! See you with some light posting next week!

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