Baseball Histories | Sports & Recreation

The month’s baseball books include a wonderfully distinctive and intriguing history with something of a New York bent and a fascinating exploration of the unfulfilled dreams of MLB players.

Golenbock, Peter. Baseball Heaven: Up Close and Personal, What It Was Really Like in the Major Leagues. Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2024. 344p. ISBN 9781538181829. $28.95. SPORTS

Prolific baseball writer Golenbock’s (Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers) success in sports writing has largely been attributed to his talent for conducting interviews, especially his ability to ask the right questions and develop trust with his subjects. In this behind-the-scenes look at baseball history, he quotes heavily, including raw details, from the manuscripts of his interviews with a number of lesser-known characters who have firsthand knowledge of famous baseball events and players. Golenbock’s interviewees include the Brooklyn Dodgers owner who signed Jackie Robinson, the first Black major-league baseball player, to his team; the pitcher responsible for Bobby Thomson’s walk-off home run that became the “shot heard ’round the world”; a player from the notoriously bad early New York Mets team, who began playing in 1962; and the late baseball player Gary Carter, who elucidates the inner workings of the wildly successful 1986 season in which the Mets won their second World Series. VERDICT A wonderfully distinctive and intriguing baseball history with something of a New York bent. With its personal feel and near-mystical quality, this highly recommended work will mesmerize baseball lovers and casual fans.—Steve Dixon

Montgomery, Patrick. Baseball’s Great Expectations: Candid Stories of Ballplayers Who Didn’t Live Up to the Hype. Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2024. 216p. ISBN 9781538181805. SPORTS

In baseball, even the greatest batters hit the ball safely only three out of every 10 times. For pitchers, it is equally hard to excel; perfecting the mechanics is as important as the mental aspects of the position. Baseball historian Montgomery (The Baseball Miracle of the Splendid 6) devotes this book to long-ago and recent players who were touted by scouts and media as the next superstars. With an insider’s verve, Montgomery discusses how, for various reasons, certain phenoms didn’t live up to the hype. In some cases, it was the fault of organizational mismanagement; with others, it was mere bad luck. With some athletes—Gregg Jefferies and Ben Grieve, for example—it could be argued that they had successful and lengthy careers. Their results, however, did not match the attention they received. Via interviews with former players and their scouts, agents, and families, the book reveals baseball’s stories and what-ifs. It includes stories of heartbreak that are akin to unrequited love; the majority of these players put their souls into the game only to have the sport repel their best efforts. VERDICT A fascinating exploration of the unfulfilled dreams of pro baseball players. Will appeal to fans of the sport.—Brian Renvall

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