Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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Casey Award nominees released: Recapping a good year of baseball writing
Posted Nov 12, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Mar 27, 2013 at 10:08 PM
November is when baseball awards are handed out. This week, we will see the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award winners named. It’s a great time to reflect on some of the best performers of the season.
The same holds true for books. Specifically, books about baseball. It’s the time of year when “Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine” announces its nominees for best baseball book of the year.
The prize is the Casey Award, and some of literature’s best baseball writers have been honored through the judges commissioned by Spitball.
Roll these names off your tongue: Roger Kahn, Leigh Montville, Jonathan Eig, Bill James, Peter Golenbock and Larry Tye. All six authors have won Casey Awards.
This year marks the 30th time Spitball will honor baseball’s author of the year. It’s been a good year for baseball books, and this year’s nominees are good ones. Here they are, in alphabetical order by book title:
“Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan,” by Rob Fitts (University of Nebraska Press)
“Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,” by Paul Dickson (Walker & Company).
“Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, 1915-1931,” by Norman L. Macht (University of Nebraska Press).
“Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift,” by Harvey Araton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
“Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets, and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend,” by Tom Clavin & Danny Peary (New American Library).
“Golden Boys: Baseball Portraits, 1946-1960,” by Andy Jurinko, with text by Christopher Jennison, (Skyhorse Publishing).
“The Last Natural: Bryce Harper’s Big Gamble in Sin City and the Greatest Amateur Season Ever,” by Rob Meich (Thomas Dunne Books).
“The Might Have Been: A Novel,” by Joseph M. Schuster (Ballantine Books).
“Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss,” by Marty Appel (Bloomsbury).
“Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home,” by Gregory Jordan (Triumph Books).
All books nominated had to carry a 2012 copyright. Only works published as real physical books were eligible; works published only in an electronic format are not eligible. Perhaps someday eBooks will qualify, but for now, it has to be a book you can hold in your hands.
Last year’s winner was “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports,” written by Kostya Kennedy.
Three judges get to pick this year’s winner. It’s not an easy task. I did not read all 10 books, but I did read eight of them and have reviewed six of those books on this blog.
Here is how the process works. All baseball books received by Spitball during the calendar year are automatically considered for Casey Award nomination, without regard to genre or topic. During October of each year, the editors of Spitball compile a short list of finalists. That list is based on the editors’ opinions, published reviews, and the nominations of publishers, librarians, authors, subscribers, and others.
The lists are given to the judges, who work independently of one another and rank the finalists from “least best” to “best” in an effort to identify the book that makes “the greatest contribution to baseball literature.”
Each judge evaluates the nominees in five categories: literary quality, informational content, analytical content, originality, and artistic appeal. And lest you think an author like Kahn would get preferential treatment because, after all, he is Roger Kahn, the Spitball folks make it very clear that judges only look at the current body of work. The Casey Award is not a lifetime achievement award.
Two books missed the cut, but I wish they had been finalists: “Wherever I Wind Up,” by R.A. Dickey, and “Out of My League,” by Dirk Hayhurst. Two excellent books written by a pair of very perceptive pitchers.
What book will win? I’m not sure who the judges will pick, but here are mine. Granted, I haven’t read all 10 nominated books (I read eight of them, remember?), but based on what I have read, here are my choices.
No. 1 to me was Dickson’s biography of Veeck. I thought this was a detailed and precise book and shed new light on baseball’s ultimate showman. So much has been written about Veeck, but Dickson wades through the obvious and reveals a more complicated figure.
Second place — by a hair, in my opinion — goes to Fitts. “Banzai Babe Ruth” was a meticulously researched book that required a thorough knowledge of the Japanese language and culture, and there were details about baseball and political intrigue that were simply fascinating to me. Clearly, this was the most original subject of 2012 baseball.
Third place goes to Appel, who won a Casey Award in 1996 for “Slide, Kelly, Slide: The Wild Life and Times of Mike ‘King’ Kelly.” But like the rules state, this is not some lifetime achievement award. Appel, who has intimate knowledge of the Yankees from his years working there, still manages to present fresh perspectives about a team that has had countless books written about it.
Macht’s book on Connie Mack certainly was detailed and well researched, and Araton’s book about the relationship between Berra and Guidry was sentimental, but not overly so. A nice balance. The Gil Hodges biography filled a needed void in baseball writing. The Aikens story is an amazing one, and the book about Harper shows why this budding star had the physical and mental makeup to make it in the majors (and win the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year award).
Those are my selections (like the Casey Award judges care, right?), but from what I’ve read, there wasn’t a loser in the bunch. We’ll see how the judges vote.