THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)





"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

QUICK HITS III

Here are some quick looks at a few more books that I have given a rating of 5 out of a possible 5 stars.  All deal with the world of sports.  Two are novels about professional boxing while all the others are nonfictional looks at professional baseball.



THE PROFESSIONAL by W.C. Heinz (originally published in 1958)

This debut novel by notable sports journalist W.C. Heinz is the story of the quest of a boxer to become the middleweight champion.

Here are what some other writers thought about the book:

"....one of five best sports novels ever written." -- Pete Hamill   

"....the only good novel I've ever read about a fighter." -- Ernest Hemingway

"The way I remember it, I read The Professional when it came out in January 1958, and for the first and only time in my life wrote to the author to tell him how much I liked his book." -- Elmore Leonard

And finally this:

"Heinz is not just one of the great sportswriters this country has produced, he is one of the great American writers." -- Mike Lupica




THE KILLINGS OF STANLEY KETCHEL by James Carlos Blake (published in 2006)


Stanley Ketchel
"The short brutish life of Stanley Ketchel, the middleweight champion of the ragtime era who ruled the ring until his murder at age 24, serves as inspiration for Blake's action-packed novel....From Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbitt, who enjoys a passionate liaison with Ketchel, to Emmett Dalton, last of the old-time outlaws, Blake brings to life a huge cast of characters across a glittering, vital America. -- Publishers Weekly

Yes, Blake's book is a novel, but it is based on the life of a fighter that many experts believe to be the greatest middleweight champion in history.

He won forty-nine of his sixty-four fights by knockout and lost only four.  A handsome, dapper, lady's man, he was murdered in 1910. 




STEINBRENNER: THE LAST LION OF BASEBALL by Bill Madden (published in 2010)



Bill Madden is a veteran baseball writer who has covered the New York Yankees for the New York Daily News for many years.  He has been there for many of the ups and downs in the life and times of George Steinbrenner and his team. 

Love him or hate him (being a lifelong Cardinals fan, I confess to being in the latter camp), it is impossible to argue with the man's success as the owner of the New York Yankees -- or is it?  Well, the team did win seven World Series during his stewardship, but Michael Shapiro argues in his review of the book that those victories were not always the result of his actions -- but sometimes in spite of them.  

Shapiro goes on to say that if Steinbrenner "had limited his involvement to writing checks, there is every reason to believe the Yankees might have fared better."  In the end, he says, Madden's book is "a devastating account."

At the time of the book's publication, Steinbrenner, at age seventy-nine, was retired and in bad health. He died later that year.



SEASONS IN HELL: WITH BILLY MARTIN, WHITEY HERZOG AND "THE WORST BASEBALL TEAM IN HISTORY" -- THE 1973-1975 TEXAS RANGERS by Mike Shropshire (originally published in 2005)



Billy Martin makes his point with the man in blue
Mike Shropshire, who covered the Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote a humorous, irreverent, politically incorrect, funny book about that team and its cast of characters. If Hunter Thompson had written a "Ball Four" book about the Texas Rangers this would have been the book.

Here is a sample:

"Even before the start of spring training, Herzog had said, 'If Rich Billings is the starting catcher again, we're in deep trouble.' When that evaluation was passed along to Billings, he simply nodded and said, 'Whitey, obviously, has seen me play.'"

If one reads the reader reviews on the Amazon website, one will find that Texas Rangers fans hate the book and everybody else loves it. I'm not a Texas Rangers fan.




THE LAST REAL SEASON: A HILARIOUS LOOK BACK AT 1975 -- WHEN MAJOR LEAGUERS MADE PEANUTS, THE UMPIRES WORE RED, AND BILLY MARTIN TERRORIZED EVERYONE by Mike Shropshire (originally published in 2008)


This is Shropshire's sequel to the above book.  It is a humorous, irreverent, politically incorrect, inside view of the 1975 baseball season, starring Billy Martin and the hapless Texas Rangers, a team that began the season with playoff aspirations. Unfortunately, it didn't happen and the Rangers had to wait another twenty-one years before it would happen.

Shropshire had the job of covering the Rangers when they were one of the most incompetent teams in the major leagues. He was able to survive with the aid of certain mood enhancers and a sense of humor.

If you are a baseball fan and old enough to remember the escapades and exploits of Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin, I think you will really enjoy The Last Real Season. If not, you might still enjoy it; but maybe not if you are a Rangers fan.




CULT BASEBALL HEROES: THE GREATS, THE FLAKES, THE WEIRD AND THE WONDERFUL -- edited by Danny Peary (originally published in 1990)



This is an anthology of essays written about fifty-nine baseball players -- the greats, the flakes, the weird and the wonderful -- by a varied collection of writers.  As Peary writes in the introduction, the essays "were written by sports columnists from around the country, broadcasters, and former players, as well as actors, directors, and an assortment of writers who have a deep love of baseball."

My personal favorite among the essays is the very first one. Film director Ron Shelton writes about minor-league phenom Steve Dalkowski, whose fastball even scared Ted Williams -- yes, that Ted Williams!  

You probably never heard of Dalkowski because he was so wild that he never made it to the major leagues.  But could he ever throw hard!  He once hit an umpire with a wild pitch and broke his mask in three places.  An attempt was made to measure the speed of his fastball with a primitive radar gun, but it took him almost an hour to hit the target.  Due to the fact that he had made so many pitches and consequently had lost so much off his fastball the measurement when he finally did hit the target was meaningless. The actual speed of his legendary fastball remains a mystery.



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