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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: July 2005

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hudy's Hardcovers: "A Tale to Two Cities" Yankees/BoSox rivalry from a new perspective

A Tale of Two Cities
The 2004 Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry and the War for the Pennant
By Tony Massarotti and John Harper
276 pages
The Lyons Press
Like any argument there are two sides and who better to rely on than two sportswriters who make their living covering the year-in-year out battle between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
While this 2005 release has the familiar ring of the classic written by Charles Dickens, it took two authors to produce a work that is worthy both of the name and the plot line of this modern day baseball classic.
Baseball beat writers John Harper of the New York Daily News and Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald have shared writing space as well as barbs about their two hometown teams and now take their grievances public in “A Tale of Two Cities.”
The idea for the book took shape just moments after Aaron Boone’s ALCS-winning homer cleared the fence at Yankee Stadium in 2003. The two minds agreed that their combined beats and insights gave the reader a truthful and exciting behind the scenes look at this historic battle.
Massarotti opens his first chapter just days after Boone’s fateful, memorable shot and rolls into the firing of Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little, the placing of Manny Ramirez on waivers, the courtship and subsequent rebuff of Alex Rodriguez, the stage being set for a divorce with Nomar Garciaparra and the acquisition of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.
Harper responds with the news that the Yankees knew of Boone’s knee injury during a pick-up basketball game for two weeks prior to releasing it to the media as well as other teams. He explains how GM Brian Cashman worked the phones, creating the trade for A-Rod along with the selling of the former Texas Ranger on a move to third base. The Daily News beat writer also includes the clandestine efforts Cashman took to prevent word from leaking out about the trade, all before taking it to George Steinbrenner.
The two authors provide insight to each team’s manager, for Harper, the ex-skipper Grady Little as well as the newly hired Terry Francona after his unsuccessful stint with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper takes the reader into the boardroom and private dining room of Steinbrenner as he proposes to extend Yankee skipper Joe Torre’s contract and why the manager waffled before finally accepting.
Once the 2004 season was underway, both writers give their viewpoints to key meetings between the two squads throughout the year and no subject is off limits.
Read how Massarotti complains of the visiting press box at Yankee stadium, the air of New York fans and players. Harper pounds back with his own tongue-in-cheek shot about “Red Sox Nation” along with his own personal hatred of Pedro Martinez.
The drama continues on and off the field as the AL pennant race heats up, in April.
Pedro Martinez is without a contract, Manny Ramirez becomes a U.S. citizen, Schilling has a bum ankle and his cell phone has local sports talk radio station WEEI in its speed dial, for starters. For the Yankees, Harper reveals how boring Derek Jeter is with the media along with how fake Alex Rodriquez is with the same hoard, but at least he can give you something for your notebook.
Harper also goes so far as to mock his Boston counterparts while filing on deadline after a loss to the Yankees as well as describe the difference in how the media is perceived in the two East Coast cities.
The two authors focus on the competing shortstops, how Jeter exemplifies style, grace and competitiveness, while Garciaparra is often portrayed as shallow, selfish and sometimes weak.
It is considered that July 24 was the turning point for the Boston Red Sox when Alex Rodriguez was hit by a Bronson Arroyo pitch and exchanged words with the pitcher before catcher Jason Varitek shoved his glove in A-Rod’s face.
Since the book includes the Yankees, Steinbrenner himself deserves a chapter from Harper, including tales of the “Steinbrenner Watch” with scribes awaiting for “The Boss” after every game for one notable quote.
After reaching a season low of 10 ½ games back of the division lead, the Red Sox went on a tear, winning 25 of 30 games and earning the AL wild card.
The rest is history, hell or heaven, well, at least for some fans it is.
A reader could have spent thousands of dollars to watch every meeting between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, spend hundreds of hours scouring the internet in chat rooms for both squads for the latest dirt and risk jail time in an attempt to bug the locker rooms of the two franchises. For the rest of us “A Tale of Two Cities” will simply have to do.
The work of these two authors who have the pleasure of writing about these two ball clubs comes together brilliantly as their passion of the game and their beats glows on the work’s pages.
Whether you bleed Yankee Blue or are a card carrying member of Red Sox Nation, “A Tale of Two Cities” must become a part of your baseball collection.

Rating - 5 Hudy Heads

Hudy's Hardcovers: "Win it For..." From the heart of Red Sox Nation

Win it for….
What a World Championship Means to Generations of Red Sox Fans
By Sons of Sam Horn
240 pages
Sports Publishing L.L.C.
The internet boom brought advertisements, chat rooms and message boards into everyone’s workplace and living room and it also became a place for sports fans to flock to throughout the nation. Fans who didn’t want to wait on hold for a sports talk radio show, locally or nationally, being worried about being called stupid now had a new venue to type their ideas and opinions on the information superhighway.
In 1998 a group of Boston Red Sox fans gathered via the internet, sharing their hopes, dreams and frustrations at www.dickiethon.com, a Red Sox message board. The message posting website was an outlet for those passionate about their hometown Boston boys and were safe to write their opinions without being in fear of the millions of New York Yankee fans filing their own abuse.
The popularity of the site and frequent visits caused it to crash in February of 2000. Without an immediate outlet, Eric Christensen set up a temporary site on a free service. It was for the core individuals who wished to continue the debate and of course, it needed a name. The existence of www.sonsofsamhorn.com was born and like its predecessor, its interest grew.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Sam Horn is a former Boston Red Sox slugger, who spent eight years in the major leagues, but was endeared by Sox fans.
Horn was the Boston Red Sox number one pick in the 1982 amateur draft, 16th overall who hit a two-run homer in his first professional at-bat and was named co-MVP of the New York-Penn League. In 1987 he led the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox in batting average, runs, hits, home runs, RBI, GWRBI, on-base percentage as well as slugging percentage by July 3rd, the best numbers ever by a Pawtucket player. When called up in the middle of the 1987 season, he hit a game winning 3-run home run in his third at bat of the game and also set a then-major league record, hitting 10 home runs in 82 at-bats.
He spent three years playing for Pawtucket and the major-league parent, Boston, before becoming a journeyman, seeing time with the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, along with their own minor league franchises.
In 2002 the site was forced to change from a free posting site to limit itself to only the current 1,900 members and requiring prospective members to submit an application. The web-site traffic didn’t diminish as fans continued to type in the web address, if only to view the opinions posted.
While 2003 was a year of testing any Boston Red Sox fans mettle, 2004 found them headed for the promised land.
Member Shaun Kelly began a thread for members to post who the Boston Red Sox should win the seventh game of the ALCS for. The Sox were on the brink of advancing to and winning their first World Series in 86 years. The 240 pages are simply a listing of selected threads from that initial question, who should the Boston Red Sox win it for.
It took only eight days and 1,000 entries to cap out the “Win it for…” thread on the website, earning accolades and notice in newsprint as well as television broadcasts about its popularity.
Kelly kicks off the thread hoping to win it for Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Yaz, Ted along for loved ones including his father, James Lawrence Kelly.
Remembering loved ones who were not able to see the Red Sox win it all is a common theme throughout the posts, fathers, mothers and grandparents are all missed for the history making victories.
There are postings from New Englanders, transplanted Bostonians across the nation as well as overseas. There are former New Yorkers as well as more than a few Yankee-haters.
One of my fondest is from Mike Laprey who starts his thread with the Red Sox being 27 outs away from winning the World Series. He continues the 27 out theme in wishing his father, grandfather and friend Shawn, who was on United Flight 175 on 9/11 could be there. His writing lightens with hopes of the Red Sox becoming “The New Big Red Idiot Machine, Bucky Dent going back to being just another crummy .247 career hitting shortstop, Dan Shaughnessy having to invent a new phrase and forgiving Wade Boggs and the horse he rode in on.”
The hopes and dreams are endless, as they were for the 86 years in between World Series championships for the Boston Red Sox.
“Win it For….” is a poignant look at the people who love a major league baseball team as much as they love life itself. The words they wrote are not perfect in prose, but are truthful and from the heart.
Whether a Yankee-hater, an individual who believes in the impossible dream, or someone searching for the hope and love that they think is lost in the world, “Win if for….” and a box of tissues to help wipe away the tears is a perfect gift to someone or most of all, yourself.

Rating - 5 "Hudy Heads"

Hudy's Hardcovers: "The Pitch that Killed" a tragic look back in baseball

The Pitch That Killed
The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman and the Pennant Race of 1920
By Mike Sowell
Ivan R. Dee, Publisher
328 pages
Ray Chapman was a shortstop for the 1920 Cleveland Indians and Carl Mays was a submarine style starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. The lives of the two men became intertwined in baseball history during an afternoon game on August 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds.
It took only a matter of seconds, from Mays’ wind-up, his right shoulder dropping to deliver the ball and then history, the ball striking the left side of Chapman’s head.
As the title infers, Chapman never survived that fatal pitch, Mays was never looked at the same way again and a city, Cleveland, found a way to manage the pain associated with the loss of one of their favorite sons.
Sowell utilizes his writing talents to draw the reader into the historic period along with the lives of the primary characters as well as those famous names who surrounded them. The author brings the era to life with statements and facts from players of the day, including Cleveland player-manager Tris Speaker and New York Yankee manager Miller Huggins.
The first chapter, surprisingly, is devoted to Mays and begins with his major league career, just called up to the Boston Red Sox, traveling with a little-known player by the name of Babe Ruth. It was 1914 and the two rookies were being called up to finish out the season in the big leagues.
Mays was a victim of poor control at times, or brash daring, it is still undecided. He used the sidearm delivery as a way to alleviate his sore arm.
Early on, Mays was never intimidated by a batter, confirmed when he brushed back the cantankerous Ty Cobb twice in the same at bat his rookie year.
Combined with the history of Mays and his accent through the major leagues is the opposite path that Ruth took with the same ball club. It was Ruth’s demands for a larger contract and Red Sox owner Harry Frazee’s desire for cash that sent the “Sultan of Swat” to the New York Yankees. Mays earned his exit during the season, after a poor start and his personality rubbing virtually everyone the wrong way in the clubhouse, that he was sent to the New York Yankees. It was during the off season, when Ruth followed his fellow pitcher, Mays, to the Yankees.
Chapman’s story doesn’t begin with his childhood, or his eventual funeral, but rather with one of his happiest moments, the 1919 celebration of his impending nuptials just 48 hours later.
Sowell identifies Chapman or “Chappie” as a well-respected baseball player, but a player whose enthusiasm and smile were infectious. His career lasted only nine years, where he batted .278 with 17 home runs knocked in 364 RBIs with 1,053 hits. His fielding percentage was a solid .939 at short.
The book describes the 1919 pre-season with Chapman contemplating retirement at a young age. The shortstop was ready for a life outside of baseball and his new bride’s family provided that, but not before he saw his Indians claim its first pennant for Cleveland.
With the 1919 White Sox World Series betting scandal still to surface, the 1920 regular season was focused on the American League and the battle between the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox.
The battle between the clubs sets the stage for the August event and occurs midway through the book’s 328 pages. It takes less than two pages to describe the act that took the shortstop’s life.
In the early 20th century, batting helmets were not utilized, so when Mays’ offering struck Chapman at the base of his skull, on the left side, there was nothing to protect his skull from the blow.
The Cleveland player did not die instantly, he managed to bring himself to his feet before being assisted off the field. He was immediately taken to the hospital where a 3 ½-inch fracture was discovered. It was during surgery that additional damage was found on the right side of Chapman’s brain from the force of the injury as the brain struck the right wall of the skull.
The Cleveland Indian shortstop died early the following morning.
The city of Cleveland was in shock, the baseball fraternity itself was moved by the loss, but also split about the actions of Mays and the death during their own contest.
Charges were never filed against Mays, but his career suffered greatly. Teams threatened to boycott any contest in which Mays took the mound, angry fan mail included death threats as well as the potential retaliation at Mays at the plate.
Like the preview for the fateful event, Sowell continues to fill the reader with reaction of players, the league, the cities as well as the nation. As a footnote, Sowell informs the reader of the introduction and evolution of the eventual batting helmet, not mandated until 1956, some 26 years after Chapman’s death.
“The Pitch that Killed” was originally published in 1989 by Sowell, one of his first historic works. The author followed up with his “One Pitch Away” The Players’ Stories of the 1986 League Championship and World Series.”
While Sowell was available to contemplate his “One Pitch Away” work during the historic events, what must be admired is ability to re-create the time period of the early 20th century entirely though research.
While the author’s subject doesn’t have the glamour of everyday superstars and its history is tragic, “The Pitch That Killed” is a fascinating review of an often overlooked portion of America’s pastime.

Rating - 4 "Hudy Heads"

Hudy's Hardcovers: "Slim and None" fun for adult duffers

Slim and None
By Dan Jenkins
Doubleday
243 pages
Author Dan Jenkins provides a follow-up to his earlier golf fiction work, “The Money-Whipped Steer-Job Three-Jack Give-Up Artist,” returning PGA golf professional Bobby Joe Grooves onto the Tour in “Slim and None.”
Grooves is a forty-four year old tour pro who has the unpopular label of having yet to win a major championship and the clock is ticking.
“Slim and None” follows Grooves on the tour and during his rounds at all four professional golf majors, giving the reader the behind the greens look at what life on the PGA tour is like.
Jenkins utilizes his experience following the game, utilizing real-life nicknames, facts, and subbing several characters for current real-life golf personalities. Along with the names and faces, Jenkins provides real-life voices as well as profanities from several of those characters forcing some readers to wish they took a “mulligan” on their decision to pick up the book early on.
Only a few golf professionals over the age of 44 have won a major championship, Jack Nicklaus, Hal Irwin and Lee Trevino to name the few, Grooves feels that he is destined to join them.
“Slim and None” begins with the first major, The Masters in historic Augusta, Georgia. It is here where Grooves, along with numerous other pros, stop dead in their tracks upon their first view of Gwendolyn Pritchard, the mother of 19-year-old phenom, Scott Pritchard. With looks that could stop traffic on the L.A freeway and a newly minted divorce decree, the three-time divorcee Grooves is immediately smitten with his young rival’s mother.
More surprising to Grooves than the reader, a successful romance blooms between the two along with trials and tribulations of any new relationship.
With a rye sense of humor, Jenkins ensures his work is filled with laughs, including the reference to a new female-liberal, Augusta-hating feminist in the fictional Anne Marie Sprinkle doing battle with new fictional Augusta chair, K.S.”Kisser” McConnell. Not to be lost is Jenkins’ referral to fictional golf novelist, Irv Klar of the Washington Post, leading the reader to base his character on another well-known, often pretentious author with a much longer last name.
While Grooves starts the fictional work lucky in love, he isn’t regarding his golf game when a rules official makes a ruling sending Grooves into a fit, ruining his round along with his chance at the Masters Championship.
The next chapter takes the reader and Grooves to the U.S. Open where another younger phenom takes to the links, a six-foot tall teenage long hitter in 15-year-old Tricia Hurt.
In his second straight major, Grooves finds himself in a pinch with a rules official. This time, it is courtesy of a question by his partner for the final round, Hurt. Making another notable appearance to assess the damage was official Jarvis Phillip W. Burchcroft, again ruining Grooves’ round and chances at a major.
The PGA pro managed to ruin his chances at a major along with his relationship with Gwendolyn Pritchard in the same day, both of which he hoped to repair before heading to the British Open.
Jenkins confirms all of the lore and history of the British Open, along with the rumors of horrendous food, lodging as well as weather.
Grooves once again is in contention before taking a turn for the worse and another memorable run-in with Burchcroft, who was attending as a guest official.
Three majors, three missed opportunities for a title.
Leading up to the final round in the U.S. Open, Grooves is paired with Scott Pritchard, leaving Gwendolyn torn for who to cheer for more, son or new lover.
Just as the rules gods seem prepared to strike Grooves again with a lightning bolt, our hero finds his latest heroine in Hurt. The young lady was a walking analyst for television in the final round of the U.S. Open and helps rule in Grooves’ favor finally.
The ending is not surprising, but predictable for the books hero.
The author of nine fictional works, including “Semi-Tough” and seven other non-fiction books along with his monthly column in “Golf Digest” Jenkins knows the game, the players and obviously, the rules.
Jenkins provides an insight into the game, often overlooked or politely left unwritten about in “Slim and None.” The characters are amusing, colorful and realistic, but be warned that the language used may not make “Slim and None” the ideal father’s day gift for elder duffer.

Rating - 3 1/2 "Hudy Heads

Hudy Hardcovers - "Idiot" A fun look at Red Sox Nation

Idiot
Beating “The Curse” and Enjoying the Game of Life
By Johnny Damon with Peter Golenbock
Crown Publishers
258 pages
From the author who brought us “The Bronx Zoo”, “#1” and “Balls” Peter Golenbock trades in his pinstriped stories for some crimson red as he teams up with the Boston Red Sox’s head idiot, Johnny Damon, in the recently released “Idiot.”
The BoSox center fielder, leading party animal and Jesus Christ look-alike joins the deluge of Red Sox Nation books flooding the shelves attempting in one year to level the playing field against the New York Yankees with the same amount of volumes of baseball lore available at various bookstores.
For any member of Red Sox Nation, “Idiot” can be added to your collection with pride.
Like numerous other self-biographies, “Idiot” is all about the long haired, bearded Red Sox center fielder, but unlike others, it is his honesty, as much about himself and his teammates that make the book work.
Damon opens his work with a replay, or what he remembers, of his collision with second baseman Damian Jackson in Oakland versus the A’s in the first round of the 2003 American League playoffs.
Damon admits that he was not at full capacity after that, including the New York Yankees series, thanking former teammate Jason Giambi for making protecting him during the Zimmer-Martinez brawl. The shot by Aaron Boone to end the series started Damon and his entire team planning on making 2004 a season to remember.
The Red Sox centerfielder fills his earliest chapter about his childhood, great mom and dad, the high school sweetheart he would marry and to no surprise, his athletically gifted high school carrer. Damon ran track and played high school baseball, but due to an average senior year, according to himself, he fell to the 35th overall pick by the Kansas City Royals. He spent six years in the Royals organization before being traded to the rock-and-roll partying Oakland A’s for a one-year stint before entering free agency.
With super agent Scott Boras negotiating for him, Damon joined the Red Sox with a 4-year, $31 million dollar contract.
Within a week of signing his new deal, the Red Sox were sold and changes were made immediately. GM Dan Duquette was fired and just days later, Joe Kerrigan was also fired, replaced by Grady Little.
Along with his insight to the game as well as Red Sox Nation, its fans and its owners, Damon speaks his mind about the media, particularly the Boston media.
He lets readers know the general rule for ball players is to only read national publications, namely USA Today and watch national shows, such as ESPN, to avoid the often scintillating angles produced by the daily local writers.
Damon goes out of his way to explain the idiosyncrasies of former shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and the pressure surrounding him on a daily basis and being the center of the Boston Red Sox for so many years. He understood the superstar’s plight of popularity, along with the pressure of attempting to bring a championship to Boston along with the days leading up to his departure in 2004.
If there is any doubt in Damon’s biography, it’s that everyone on his Boston Red Sox team are good guys. He truly believes in the line of “That’s just Manny (Ramirez) being Manny,”, Garciaparra’s aloofness and Pedro’s often misunderstood comments to the media.
Refreshing in “Idiot” is Damon’s own admission of self-concern when he was rumored to be trade-bait for Carlos Beltran. The trade didn’t consummate, possibly being yet another key in breaking “The Curse.”
With Boone breaking the hearts of Red Sox fans, Damon looks back on the 2004 season. He covers the Ramirez waiver move, the addition of Curt Shilling as well as new manager, Terry Francona.
His book wouldn’t be complete without a look at “The Curse” and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry which comes to light in his review of the 2004 run at the title.
Damon gives the inside look at Martinez’s “They Yankees are my Daddy” statement, Shilling’s bloody sock and the Boston media asking when the Red Sox were going to give up and die a dutiful, traditional death.
With a World Championship, Damon was able to continue his party animal image on the road, appearing on Saturday Night Live, appearing in the movie, “Fever Pitch” and reviewing the joy of being in the parade of champions in Boston. In typical Damon fashion he includes in his remarks about the afternoon, “Somebody threw a baseball up for Pedro to sign and hit him in the head. I got hit by a girl’s panties.”
So goes the life of Boston’s resident Jesus look alike.
“Idiot” is a fun-loving, raucous, loving life look at the life of Boston’s Generation X centerfielder in Damon and his band of idiots during last year’s run at a world championship. Damon’s ability to convey his personal experiences on and off the field make “Idiot” a fun read for all Red Sox Nation fans.

Rating 4 "Hudy Heads"