There are all kinds of sure signs of the coming of spring: green grass, budded trees, nicer weather, better spirits, the return of the national pastime and the avalanche of new baseball books of all types and quality.
"Bill Veeck," "Pinstripe Empire," and "Driving Mr. Yogi" form a terrific trio of reads. One summons up the tall tale of "Baseball's Greatest Maverick." Another is billed as the first narrative history of the New York Yankees in a long time. And the third tome is a unique story of how Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry truly bonded together in 1999 as designated passenger and designated driver, going to the ballpark for each season's new spring training.
The Veeck book (Bloomsbury, $28.00, 434 pages) by Paul Dickson is a full-fledged and long overdue opus that focuses on the man the tome's subtitle calls "Baseball's Greatest Maverick." And that he was. Veeck went against the grain and loved doing it, and Dickson lovingly writes about it.
A showman with a wooden leg—he lost his leg in WWII—Veeck often used it as an ash tray. He instigated interleague play, the DH and names on the back of uniform jerseys. He signed Larry Doby, who broke the American League's color line, and he signed the first black trainer, scout and public relations person.
He was a handful for players and owners alike. But as author Paul Dickson notes: "He was a transformational figure in the history of baseball." That he was—and he never truly got the recognition he deserved. Now he has.
"Pinstripe Empire" by Marty Appel (Bloomsbury, $28.00, 620 pages) is the mother of all narrative histories about the team from the Bronx. Appel's masterwork bobs and weaves its way through the history of the New York Yankees.
At times serious, funny, insightful, dramatic, sad, inspiring and nostaglic, this is a book to take to the beach, to rummage through, to pick up again and again for all the grand nuggets inside of it. The sweep of Yankee legend and lore, facts and figures is here for all time in the pages of "Pinstripe Empire."
"Driving Mr Yogi," (HMH, $26.00, 212 pages) authored by Harvey Araton of the New York Times, is a book for nowadays. Poignant, perfectly paced and precious stuff, this slim volume about the unique relationship of Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry is a must read.
The two, with a big age difference for starters and different cultural backgrounds, blend together in the pages of "Driving Mr Yogi" as they do in real life. Going into a second decade, Yogi and Gator have shared time together in the car, in restaurants and on the baseball field. We are the better for it as we learn what they know about baseball and life. It's all about friendship.
Other Great Reads
"Damn Yankees" edited by Rob Fleder (Ecco, $27.99, 304 pages) is a collection of 24 writers reflecting on different aspects of the life and times of the Bronx Bombers. Fleder, formerly Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated, has gone to friends from the circle and HarperCollins authors in the main.
They ruminate, reflect and tell stories from their vantage points on the good, the bad, the ugly of the NY Yankees. We have Sally Jenkins recalling the Yankee World Series competition just seven weeks after 9/11. There is Jane Leavy interweaving Mickey Mantle and Frank Sullivan of some Red Sox fame. If you are a diehard Yankee fan, this one is for you.
"Jack and Larry" by Barbara Gregorich (Philbar Books, $12.00, 92 pages) is the charming story of Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog." It is a true story. Jack was the first (and only) player to own a dog that was his club's mascot. And Larry got a lot of press, especially when he met President Woodrow Wilson and when his howling had him ejected from Griffith Stadium for distracting home team batters. A WONDERFUL READ.