Needless to say, I certainly have a good dose of annual spring fever, enjoying the diamond sport in a pleasant weather. How about you? I even purchased a monthly subscription on MLB.com where I can watch online nearly every game (live or on demand).
The new baseball campaign has already brought back my childhood memories of the 1960s and early 1970s when I religiously collected baseball cards, including stars like Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Lou Brock, Johnny Bench, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, among others.
And, if you are nostalgic about the good old days, there are several recently-published baseball biographies that you’ll enjoy reading.
— “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” (Scribner, $30.00) by James S. Hirsch is a book that you may want to check at your favorite bookstore or on the Internet.
The 628-page book has received excellent reviews from the news media as well as the customers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble Web sites.
Arguably the greatest player in baseball history, Mays, as you may recall, began his career as a teenager with the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Choo Choos in the Negro Southern League and was the headliner in baseball’s expansion to California (San Francisco and Los Angeles) in 1958.
The author shows a complex portrait of the centerfielder who hit 660 home runs with meticulous research and drawing on interviews with the hall of famer himself as well as with close friends, family and teammates.
Mays was a transcendent figure who received standing ovations in opponents’ stadiums and who, during the turbulent civil rights era, urged understanding and reconciliation.
— New York Yankees outfielder Roger Maris, who is best known for his 61-homer record in 1961, is another standout that I remember although he was beginning to go downhill in the mid-1960s.
“Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero” (Touchstone, $26.99) by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary is a story of the baseball legend who withstood a firestorm of media and fan criticism to emerge as one of the great players of his era.
On the back cover, CNN’s Larry King wrote the two-time American League MVP was “a true American hero who didn’t want to be one.”
— Remember ex-Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh, who won two World Series titles (1960 and ‘71)?
Titled “The Whistling Irishman: Danny Murtaugh Remembered” (Sports Challenge, $19.95) by Colleen Hroncich, the book is about a gentleman who is probably one of the most underrated managers in baseball history.
This 303-page book has a special interest in my heart. When I was in high school, I met Murtaugh before a game at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field during the early 1970s (through a friend, Nellie king, who was the Pirates’ TV and radio broadcaster at the time).
While I was a very nervous teenager, the manager was kind enough to personally give me an autographed baseball. I didn’t ask for it and I’ll always cherish that moment, remembering his “folksy, grandfatherly” face up close.
Interestingly, the book is written by Murtaugh’s granddaughter, who was only two years old when he passed away in 1976 at the age of 59.
A full-time mother of four children, Hroncich managed to put together a fine collection of memories and stories about Murtaugh from family, friends, teammates and players, delighting fans of any age.
— Another literary effort is “Kiss It Good-Bye: The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates” (Shadow Mountain, $24.99) by John Moody.
It’s basically a trip back to the early 1960s when the author was a small child who loved the Pirates and his hero was star pitcher Vernon Law, a Midwestern country boy who was nicknamed “The Deacon” because of his strict Mormon upbringing.
The insightful book also explores a compelling mystery that has persisted now for nearly 50 years, revealing at last why Law was unable to continue his dominance of major league batters after the 1960 World Series.
— Scheduled for release in mid-May, “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron” (Pantheon, $29.95) by Howard Bryant is the first definitive biography of Aaron, who is second on the all-time list with 755 home runs. The detailed Aaron biography, by the way, will be over 600 pages long.
— Another popular hero from the 1960s era is Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers. The outfielder is the subject of a new book titled “Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon” (Triumph Books, $24.95) by Jim Hawkins.
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The pre-season baseball magazines are out.
As usual, both Athlon Sports and Sporting News have produced fine-looking articles with color graphics and photos along with the team previews.
Not surprisingly, both yearbooks are predicting a repeat matchup in the 2010 World Series between the defending world champion New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Athlon has the Phillies over the Yankees in the Fall Classic, while Sporting News picks the Yankees over Philadelphia.
Jamie H. Vaught, whose syndicated sports column currently appears in Kentucky newspapers, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at CatsUpClose2008@yahoo.com.