10 October 2017

2017 Reading List, July - September

Kevin Cook, Electric October. NY: Henry Holt, 2017.

New York City, 1947. The Yankees meet the Dodgers in the World Series, again. We already know that, in Jackie Robinson’s rookie year, the Yankees win. Again. So why another book?

Cook covers the games -- exciting games, especially numbers four and six, in the greatest Series to date, and first to be televised. He does so, however, by focusing on six less-famous figures: Burt Shotton and Bucky Harris, the managers; Bill Bevens and Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees; and Al Gionfriddo and Cookie Lavagetto from Brooklyn. The book’s structure introduces Six Lives, recreates Seven Games, and then follows the men through Six Futures, combining good biography with good baseball for good reading.

Syd Hoff, How to Draw Cartoons. NY: Scholastic, 1975.

These simple instructions for getting started -- draw a circle, now add eyes, &c -- will help a beginner move from stick figures to slightly more realistic illustrations, and Hoff’s ability to create emotion and movement with simple lines shows what can be done with simple shapes. There isn’t much to the book, so an aspiring cartoonist can quickly master what is here and begin using it to bring imagination to life.

Diana Henriques, First-Class Catastrophe. NY: Henry Holt, 2017.

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, once famously noted that a Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ may be interpreted as ‘opportunity’. He said this in the depths of the 2008 financial meltdown, when the Lehman Brothers investment firm failed and triggered a cascading world-wide recession worse than anything since the 1930s.

This crisis had its roots -- in fact, nearly mirrors -- another misunderstood catastrophe, that of 1987, when the combination of institutional traders, unregulated securities, and electronic transactions first conspired to crash the markets and show strains in the regulatory safety net.

The crisis in 1987 was, as Henriques shows in her well-documented text that nonetheless reads like a political thriller, thankfully averted. Yet an opportunity was also lost, and more than thirty years later, we are still trying to rebuild the markets so they can withstand future shocks.

Chris Jaffe, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

This study uses statistical comparison as the basis for determining how the longest-serving Major League managers went about winning ballgames. By comparing their records and strategic tendencies to one another, Jaffe is able to show which were most prone to bunting, which liked using relief pitchers, and more. He begins by describing how the study is executed, but the bulk of the book is devoted to individual entries for each manager who served at least ten years between 1876 and 2008, divided into six sections representing major shifts in the game. It is a tremendous piece of work, and should be of interest to fans seeking a deeper understanding of how the game has changed and how various managers instigated or reacted to those changes.

Leonard Koppett, Man in the Dugout. NY: Crown, 1993.

Man in the Dugout focuses on leadership styles, rather than game tactics, of baseball managers, meaning it is necessarily more biographical than Jaffe’s Evaluating Baseball’s Managers. Koppett divides successful and influential major league managers into three ‘family trees’, based on what earlier mentors and methods influenced how they approach the job. John McGraw, Connie Mack, and Branch Rickey represent three distinct styles, though these are of course intertwined in later managers. McGraw is seen as dictatorial, trying to control all aspects of his team on an off the field; Mack is the talent scout, finding and bringing out the best in the best players; while Ricky’s skills were in organization, developing methods by which his teams could systematize success. After discussing these pioneers, Koppett shows how later men, from Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel through Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver, were influenced by the managers under whom they learned.