Sunday, March 25, 2012

Harvey Frommer Reviews: Duke vs. Kentucky, Hack Wilson, Summer of '68 & More

Harvey Frommer Reviews: Duke vs. Kentucky, Hack Wilson, Summer of '68 & More

Who would have thought about it? The Irish and their impact on the national pastime? I did in my book Old Time Baseball. Now along comes The Emerald Diamond by Charley Rosen (Harper, $25.99, 305 pages). Its subtitle says it all: "How The Irish Transformed America's Greatest Pastime."

Rosen, known for his writings about the NBA, is in top form here dishing out data and passing out anecdotes about many of the known and under-publicized facts and factoids as well as another area of important Irish contributions in sports.

The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds that Changed Basketball by Gene Wojciechowski (Blue Rider Press, $26.95) is a riveting inside look at the legendary game in 1992. The gang's all here and we can all enjoy the flashbacked, riveting read and the talented writing of Gene Wojciechowski. Especially for college hoop fans.

Hack's 191 by Bill Chastain (Globe Pequot Press, $24.95) is a look back to the epic 1930 season of slugger Hack Wilson and his Chicago Cubs team.  A good friend of Al Capone, an imbiber of booze and good times, Wilson was one of baseball's most colorful all-time characters. The "Hacker" comes to life in this splendid book, as does his day-by-day RBI record exploding to a still-unbroken 191.

Wheels of Change by Sue Macy (National Geographic, $18.95, only 98 pages) is a slim volume that packs a lot of charm and content. It offers the point of view that before the bicycle in the 1880s, the lives of women were restricted. With "wheels," women became emancipated. They set records cycling and explored the world. Page after page of archival images and apt observations make this tome terrific--HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tim Wendel's Summer of '68 (DaCapo ($25.00, 272 pages), like the Hack Wilson book and many others, is a look back at one specific baseball season and the events in the culture surrounding it. The year was one of tragedy, broken dreams, horrible events and turning points--rioting in major American cities, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It was also the "Year of the Pitcher" (Tiant, Gibson, Drysdale, McLain and others). The times today are fraught with peril. Back then, things were even worse, but baseball was a constant support for many. Full disclosure: As the author of Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox, I was looking ahead to read Richard A. Johnson's Field of Our Fathers (Triumph, $35.00, 288 pages). It does not disappoint. Whereas my book focuses only on baseball at Fenway, the Johnson tome includes non-baseball events. I leaned heavily on oral history with 140 individuals telling the story of the oldest MLB park. Johnson features clippings, ephemera and mini essays from folks such as Bob Ryan and Glenn Stout. 

Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz (Three Rivers Press, $16.00, 267 pages) is a slim tome that slam dunks the story of the much misunderstood and unappreciated Wilt Chamberlain.