I hope my effort is worthy of Tom Hoffarth’s attention in 2014. The Los Angeles Daily News sports media columnist really loves baseball books. So much so, that he does an annual review of 30 baseball books in 30 days in April on his Farther off the Wall site.
It has become a rite of spring for me and others who still enjoy a good book about the grand old game. Hoffarth writes about books that you likely wouldn’t find otherwise. Such as: Baseball’s Last Great Scout: The Life of Hugh Alexander, by Dan Austin
Earlier this week, Hoffarth provided a 10-day update so you can see what you missed.
I asked Hoffarth to detail what he enjoys about baseball books and why he decided to engage in this exercise.
It’s the fourth year I’ve attempted this, mostly the result of loving baseball literature, find it to be a pleasure rather than work, and realizing there were so many baseball-related books that seem to come out every spring that it wasn’t possible to give them all their proper due. I guess I’ve succeeded to the point where some publishers finally have me on the radar and send me review copies earlier so I can start this process in February, but for the most part — seriously — I go out and find the books in the store and buy them (don’t tell my wife).
I want the review to be something where a reader may not just be intrigued by the book, but if he goes out to buy it and it’s not out yet, that’s frustrating. I find that too often in my own experience. Every April, the newspapers come out with their roundup of baseball books, and half of them aren’t out until June.
It’s not a perfect system, because sometimes the book won’t come out until later in April, or early May, so I had to set a window — the book had to be new in 2013 (so I kind of eliminated anything that came out late in ’12) and available to buy.
I’m still a book guy. A print guy. I don’t have a nook or ereader. I want to touch the pages, feel at the photos. smell that new-book smell.
When I travel, my backpack usually has a couple of books jammed in there and I don’t care about the extra weight. One of my favorite times are to take a weekend, go to spring training in Arizona, and read three or four books on the trip.
I’m not a speed reader per say, but I do consume quickly and I think my intent is to make the Southern California reader mostly engaged in the content. I can’t get caught up in the latest book about the Yankees or Red Sox. At some point, they all seem the same to me.
But then, there are three books out related to the Detroit Tigers this year — a new biography on Hank Greenberg, a book written by Ty Cobb’s grandson, and another on Mark Fidrych.
There’s a new book on Lenny Dykstra may not seem to be SoCal centric, but it is because he lives out here, opened up a car wash, bought Gretzky’s home in Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks and his son, Cutter, got drafted out of Westlake High. And he’s in jail here,currently. And in a review of the new book, “Nailed!” I try to take it from a personal perspective and give it my own spin before getting into the review. What drew me to the book? What could draw you as well? In this case, Dykstra once offered me a job to write for his magazine. I never followed through because of his reputation. Now it’s all there in book form to confirm my reservations.
So maybe it’s like the book “Cardboard Gods,” where these books replace the cards and make me reflect on something baseball-related in my life.
I’m at a point where I think I can get 30 quality books in the 30 days, and even leave a couple out of I can’t get to them in time. In the past, I’d have to fill some dates with books I thought were less-than B-plus quality, and then review it that way, either because the book was popular, topical or related to a Southern California figure. A book about Don Mattingly, for example, came out a couple of years ago just as he was stepping in fulltime as the Dodgers manager. I didn’t enjoy it at all and wrote that, as a warning for those who might just pick it up without thinking twice.
Every spring, I look forward to a new Jackie Robinson book, because inevitably, one is timed with the April 15 celebration. This year isn’t any different and I’m so enthralled with “Behind the Plate” by Mike Long, who did “First Class Citizenship” recently. Long collected newspaper columns that Robinson wrote in the late ’50s and early ’60s and categorized them. You find how relevant they are today as they were 50 years ago — such as Robinson warning the Republican party that they were too white and exclusive and it would come back to burn them some day. Surprise! And Robinson was once compelled to campaign for Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, but not in ’68.
I’m also huge on history-related books, but only if they’re written well, not like a college dissertation but with a writer’s flare to insert color and not just research. This year, another book by Robert Weintraub nails it with “The Victory Season.” The opposite is true with a bio on “Smoky Joe Wood.”
I also would love to give a shout-out to one of my biggest supporters, Ron Kaplan, who not only has a great blog ronkaplansbookshelf.com but also has a book himself out called “501 baseball books fans must read before they die.” I did a column Q/A with him before the series started and will leave a review of it for the final one this month.