Ron Kaplan

While not on a par with the aforementioned legends on the baseball diamond, Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw (who died from brain cancer in January) was nevertheless a hero to his fans in New York and Philadelphia. Ya Gotta Believe, written with Don Yaeger, is more than a recap of McGraw's athletic glories. It is a frank description of family dysfunction, despair (he was diagnosed late in life with bipolar disorder) and redemption. McGraw tells of his life as a typical pampered athlete, to whom women were “tomatoes.” It was during one of his liaisons that he fathered a son whose identity he denied for many years. That son grew up to be country music superstar Tim McGraw. The reconciliation between father and son makes Ya Gotta Believe (the title was McGraw's oft-repeated rallying cry for the 1973 pennant-winning Mets) one of the more honest sports books in many years. An epilogue describes McGraw's final days, spent in a Tennessee cabin with his son, Tim, by his side.

While other books may focus on disparate aspects of the game, biographies of baseball greats provide an educational and entertaining look at the way we were, warts and all.

While not on a par with the aforementioned legends on the baseball diamond, Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw (who died from brain cancer in January) was nevertheless a hero to his fans in New York and Philadelphia. Ya Gotta Believe, written with Don Yaeger, is more than a recap of McGraw's athletic glories. It is a […]

For more than 20 years, Hank Aaron quietly went about his work, doing all the things that Mantle and Mays did, but with less media attention. That is, until he came within striking distance of the most prestigious record in baseball: Babe Ruth's 714 lifetime home runs. The two seasons (1973-74) Aaron spent closing in on Ruth's mark should have been a time of excitement and joyful anticipation. Instead, it was a horror. In recognition of the 30th anniversary of the feat, Tom Stanton takes a look at the withering pressures the slugger faced in Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America.

The increasing media focus and demands on his time as well as the daily grind of being an aging athlete were compounded by the small mindedness of those who believed that Aaron, as an African American, had no right to such acclaim. Instead of enjoying the ride, it reached the point where Aaron told reporters, “I want to get this nightmare over with.” Stanton mixes sport with social commentary as he describes the racism Aaron faced, including death threats to himself and his family, hate mail and the inexplicable indifference of baseball's commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

For more than 20 years, Hank Aaron quietly went about his work, doing all the things that Mantle and Mays did, but with less media attention. That is, until he came within striking distance of the most prestigious record in baseball: Babe Ruth's 714 lifetime home runs. The two seasons (1973-74) Aaron spent closing in […]

If Mantle was brute force, Mays was style and grace. His ability to stay healthier than his Yankee counterpart allowed him to put up superior numbers. Charles Einstein chronicled his long-playing story in Willie's Time: Baseball's Golden Age, a book first published in 1979 that came to be regarded as a classic of baseball writing. This year, Southern Illinois University Press is releasing a 25th anniversary edition.

Einstein combines the name-dropping witticisms of a gossip columnist with the keen analysis of a history professor, citing dozens of sources to illustrate his observations on Mays, whose time in the big leagues spanned five presidential administrations. The author discusses the parallel maturation of the ballplayer and America, but concentrates mostly on the pernicious racial inequities suffered by Mays and other African-American ballplayers. Rather than being heavy-handed with indignation, Einstein manages to infuse a gentle sense of humor into even these ugly situations.

If Mantle was brute force, Mays was style and grace. His ability to stay healthier than his Yankee counterpart allowed him to put up superior numbers. Charles Einstein chronicled his long-playing story in Willie's Time: Baseball's Golden Age, a book first published in 1979 that came to be regarded as a classic of baseball writing. […]

For years the debate raged: Mantle or Mays? They both debuted in 1951 and their careers mirrored each other for more than a decade both even had songs written about them. Such memories are the basis of two books, one new and one a re-release of an old favorite.

As a sportswriter, Maury Allen covered Mantle during his playing days; Bill Liederman was Mantle's partner in the popular New York restaurant that bears his name. Between them, they've collected a half-century of high- and low-lights in Our Mickey: Cherished Memories of an American Icon. Allen contributes anecdotes from Mantle's teammates and opponents, citing celebrated feats of athletic ability in a lifetime diminished by injury and alcoholism. Liederman came into Mantle's life relatively late, but his stories still reflect the awe in which even the rich and famous held the Yankee slugger. Celebrities such as Henry Kissinger, Billy Crystal, Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton are among dozens who recount what Mantle meant to them and to the American psyche.

For years the debate raged: Mantle or Mays? They both debuted in 1951 and their careers mirrored each other for more than a decade both even had songs written about them. Such memories are the basis of two books, one new and one a re-release of an old favorite. As a sportswriter, Maury Allen covered […]

All due modesty aside, Ted Williams considered himself among the greatest hitters who ever lived, and he was not alone in that assessment. Leigh Montville takes a fresh look at the Red Sox slugger in Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero.

Williams was a true hero, and not just in the hyperbolic lexicon of the sports world. He put in two stints as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea and helped to establish several charities. Montville offers numerous accounts of Williams' friendship and generosity to the “little man” over the years. But for all his success, Williams' family life was a dismal disappointment: three failed marriages and a manipulative son who, even as Williams was dying, sought ways to cash in on his father's fame. These antics continued after Williams' death, when his son had his father's remains stored at a cryogenics lab, a sad coda to the life of this proud and vibrant personality. Montville's extraordinary insight and access into Williams' life outside the sports spotlight makes this a fascinating volume sure to pique the interest of fans.

All due modesty aside, Ted Williams considered himself among the greatest hitters who ever lived, and he was not alone in that assessment. Leigh Montville takes a fresh look at the Red Sox slugger in Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero. Williams was a true hero, and not just in the hyperbolic lexicon […]

The late Stephen Ambrose, who brought the Lewis and Clark expedition to life for adult readers in his best-selling book Undaunted Courage, does the same for young people in This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This fictional account of the famous westward excursion is Ambrose's final book and his only work for young readers.

Eighteen-year-old George Shannon, an enterprising young man from Philadelphia anxious to join the expedition, convinces Captain Meriwether Lewis that neither his youth nor his genteel upbringing should be held against him. Lewis eventually accepts Shannon, charging him with the responsibility of keeping a journal of their travels.

Through Shannon's words, Ambrose portrays the sense of wonder and wariness of this band of pioneers, braving the elements, boredom and other challenges in their quest to expand the nation one day, one mile at a time. As if to mirror the growth of the nation, Shannon develops from a relatively innocent youth to a hardened frontiersman. Though faced with dangerous situations and dishonorable dealings from various Native Americans, he refuses to generalize and condemn all: “I cannot agree with Capt. Louis [sic] that [they] are savages. Some of them are to be sure, . . . but this does not mean all Indians are.” Lewis and Clark complete their assignment, but the story does not end there. The narrative continues many years later, with Shannon, now an established attorney, hailing his colleagues in commemorative ceremonies, defending their actions and refuting historical inaccuracies.

Ambrose writes in the vernacular of the era, with intentionally incorrect spellings, which can be distracting at times. Parents and teachers should also be cautioned that there is a fair amount of violence in the book, as well as some brief but fairly explicit sexual material. Still, Ambrose's novel is an imaginative and informative account that puts a human face on an expedition that helped to shape a nation. Ron Kaplan writes from Montclair, New Jersey.

The late Stephen Ambrose, who brought the Lewis and Clark expedition to life for adult readers in his best-selling book Undaunted Courage, does the same for young people in This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This fictional account of the famous westward excursion is Ambrose's final book and […]

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