Pioneers don’t always know it.

Southern League, A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race by Larry Colton; 2013; $28.00; 321 pages; Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY; 978-1-4555-1188-4; Purchased from Amazon.com; 8/15-8/16

Why did I pick this up?  Because I am a fan of Larry Colton and his books, which are all about teams in some form.  I have had this on my nightstand for quite sometime but was trying to get through all the books I had checked out from the Multnomah County Library first.  I currently have nothing checked out and have started to attack the pile on the nightstand.  I will see Larry at Wordstock, October 5 & 6 and wanted to have read this before then.

What is the story?  The Southern League had shuttered some of its franchises in 1961 in the face of integration.  In 1964 Albert Belcher resurrected the Barons, in Birmingham, Alabama which had come to be known Bombingham because of all the racially motivated bombings.  Fresh in most peoples mind was the September 15, 1963 16th Street Baptist Church which killed 4 young girls.  Into this atmosphere came Birmingham’s first integrated professional baseball team, the Birmingham Barons, the Kansas City A’s AA franchise. The story here focuses on the teams manager, Haywood Sullivan, from Dothan, Alabama, Tommie Reynolds, from San Diego, Blue Moon Odom from Macon, Georgia, Paul Lindblad from Chantue, Kansas, Hoss Bowlin from Paragould, Arkansas and their lives previous to Birimingham.  Some were African Americans who had never faced overt racism before, some were African Americans who had been raised in the heart of the south, some were white who had never given racism and Jim Crow much thought before.  Together they all came together to be the first integrated team in Birmingham.  This is the story of that season and how baseball and civil rights came together in a town in the Deep South and how the team came together.

Did I like it?  Yes, Larry Colton masterfully melds a season of baseball with the strife going on in the country at the time.

Grade-A

What is with the title of the review?  Most of the players just wanted to play baseball and progress up the ladder to the major leagues, they didn’t see themselves much as pioneers.

 

 

Too many maybes and possibilities.

Fifty-Nine in  ’84,  Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had by Edward Achorn; 2010; $22.00; 366 pages; Smithsonian Press, New York, NY; 978-0-06-182586-6; Loaned to me by Travis “Punk Rock Paint” Peterson, started reading in the air over Southern Oregon; 6/15-6/20

Why did I pick this up?  My good friend Travis Peterson recently made a set of cards based on the Twitter of Old Hoss Radbourn and he had read this in doing research. He loaned it to me while I was staying with he and Kerri.

What is the story?  Charles Radbourn was a pitcher in the early days of professional baseball.  There were no gloves, no substitutions, no relievers, an even more daunting schedule and even greedier owners (I know that is hard to imagine). In a season of 112 games, his team won 84 games and he personally won 59 of those games. He pitched in 678 innings that year and the Providence Grays won the professional pennant.  This is an exciting story of the life of one of the all time greatest pitchers.

Did I like it?  It is a great story of one of the most exciting seasons in professional baseball, however my appreciation of the story was decreased by the many instances of conjecture in certain aspects of Radbourns’ life.

Grade-B

What is with the title of the review?  The authors offers too many instances of conjectures when it comes to Radbourns’ love life, which is not essential to the story of his baseball victories.

Portland to Petco, Day Two

This morning while Robert and Phil slept in I went down to the restaurant at the Red Lion in Eureka and availed myself of the buffett. I had eggs, french toast, potatoes and fruit. After the guys got up we went and checked out and then headed into Fortuna to go to church.  We were going to check out the church our family had gone to when we lived here between 1962-1965.  We were a little early for church so we drove into Ferndale, a real small town, but the home of Food Network star Guy Fieri.   We drove most of the way out to the base where Dad had been stationed, the road didn’t look like much had been done to it since we left in 1964.  We got out to the last big turn before the base and that was when I realized how much had changed.  There used to be a big house right there and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the hillside and that was all gone.  We then turned around and I took a road back to Main Street and there it was the building I started my formal education in.  Ferndale Elementary School, I don’t remember anyone from there at all or any teachers.  After snapping a couple of pictures we headed back to Fortuna to go to church, we used the navigation from our phone to get to the church which looked vaguely familiar.  We went in and talked to the Pastor for a little while, he was from Dallas, OR, had gone to seminary in Portland, had attended Trinity Baptist and had work with Cadence in Germany. So to get to the point he knew of , or knew people that Robert and I knew.  His name was Mike Schellenberg, and then he conducted the entire service by himself.  It was like attending a church service from the 80’s or 90’s.

After church we got on Highway 101 and headed south, we stopped in Rio Dell to get gas, stopped for lunch in Willits at Subway (Robert really likes Subway), as we headed south along the highway I kept looking for my oldest son.  He is working in California for the summer and had mentioned that he might be along the 101 went we went past.  But didn’t see him even when we went past the road to where he is working.  We got to Petaluma and kept hitting construction projects and so traffic slowed to a crawl for many miles.  We got off 101 so that we could cross the Golden Gate, traffic was pretty heavy there also.  The fog was too thick to go up to the viewpoint so we went across, we were scrambling to find money to pay the toll, but all the signs said don’t stop and pay by plate, so we have no idea if we paid the toll or not.  We then rolled through town listening to Tony Bennett sing I Left My Heart in San Francisco.  After we left San Francisco we rolled on down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz, talking about Mavericks as we went past Half Moon Bay and Robert reading the Mavericks entry in wikipedia as we rolled by.  We got to Santa Cruz and checked into our room at the Comfort Inn, two blocks from the  Boardwalk.  We got to the Boardwalk at 8 PM just as they were closing down.  We walked up and down the boardwalk and I talked about coming to Santa Cruz with the youth group from Lakeside Baptist in Oakland, CA and with Rick Lindholm.   We found a little Mexican restaurant just across the street from the Boardwalk, it was pretty good.  Then we came back and tried to find the Beavers game but they had finished blowing out K-State.  Robert blew up his air mattress and the only way to fight it in and move stuff around so that we were barricaded into the room.

For Artie Wilson and Deni Feather

Rickwood Field, A Century in America’s Oldest Ballpark by Allen Barra; 2010; $27.95; 367 pages; W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY; 978-0393-06933-4; 796.357; Interlibrary Loan from Cedar Mill Library, 6/3-6/4

Why did I want to read this?  I had an acquaintance who played there, and a friend who is from Birmingham and I had heard much about Rickwood Field.

What is the story?  Back in 1910 Richard Woodward (Rickwood) built a concrete stadium (only the 2nd in the nation) modeled after Shibe Park, also known as Connie Mack stadium in Philadelphia.  Connie Mack actually came to Alabama and helped lay out the park.  The author traces the teams that have played there, both the Barons and the Black Barons and the 1967 Birmingham A’s who might the all time best minor league.  He talks about the ups and downs of the game and the personalities that shaped baseball and Birmingham.  He shows how anti African American some of the people there were, when it was mandated that city parks be integrated, swimming pools were filled in so there was no chance of integration.  The appendixes are great, oral recollections of the ballpark by some who played there and those who attended games there and another appendix highlights other old ballparks that have either been saved or are in danger of demolition like Eugenes’ Civic Stadium.

Did I like it?  Yes it was a wonderful work of narrative non-fiction, it flowed like a river of history gently at times and fast and tumbling at others.

Grade-A

What is with the title of the review?  Artie Wilson was an acquaintance that I spoke to several times about baseball in Birmingham, as he had played for the Black Barons and Deni Feather is a friend of mine who grew up in Birmingham and lived there until she moved to Portland a few years ago.

 

Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain.

Wherever I Wind Up, My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and The Perfect Knuckleball, by R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey; 2012; $26.95; 332 pages; blue rider press, New York, NY; 978-0-399-15815-5; 796.357092 D551w; checked out from Multnomah County Library, St Johns; 5/23-5/25

Why did I pick this up?  I had seen interviews with R.A.  and read a little about him in the baseball press and was interested in what he had to say.

What is the story?  R.A. was raised by a single Mom who had alcohol issues, he idolized his emotionally distant father and was abused by a person in a position of trust and authority and a relative. He became a successful high school and college pitcher and was drafted by the Texas Rangers.  He became a journeyman pitcher in the minor leagues with occasional cups of coffee in the major leagues.  He was encouraged to become a knuckleball pitcher by his manager and pitching coach.  He began to experiment with and with the help of Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Time Wakefield he became a success at it. Last year he won the National League Cy Young Award and the Branch Rickey Award, for being the best pitcher in the National League and for his exceptional community service.  Behind the better known story is the story of a man seeking redemption and learning to deal with his past and his insecurities and life as a Christian man, husband and father while at the same time being bombarded with the temptations that come with fame.

Did I like it?  Yes it was a frank and open look behind the curtain of the life of a major league baseball player.

Grade-A

What is with the title of the review?  Unlike the wizard of Oz R.A. Dickey has no fear of exposing the man behind the curtain and showing his true self.