AFPL Bookends: Let’s Play Ball!

Now that the Major League Baseball season is underway, we thought we would put together a list of recommendations for baseball fans!

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The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight.jpgThe Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight

News-making, inside revelations about the tumultuous years when the Los Angeles Dodgers were remade from top to bottom—from the ownership of the team to management to the players on the field—becoming the most talked-about and most colorful team in baseball.

In 2012 the Los Angeles Dodgers were bought out of bankruptcy in the most expensive sale in sports history. Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson and his partners hoped to put together a team worthy of Hollywood: consistently entertaining. By most accounts they have succeeded, if not always in the way they might have imagined.

Now Molly Knight tells the story of the Dodgers’ 2013 season with detailed, previously unreported revelations. She shares a behind-the-scenes account of the astonishing sale of the Dodgers, and why the team was not overpriced, as well as what the Dodgers actually knew in advance about rookie phenom and Cuban defector Yasiel Puig and how they and teammates handled him during his roller-coaster season. We learn how infighting on the team nearly derailed the 2013 season and nearly cost manager Don Mattingly his job—and how the team turned around the season in the most remarkable fifty-game stretch (42-8) of any team since World War II, before losing in the NLCS. Knight also reveals the facts behind the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox—and why that trade may yet turn out to be of greater benefit to the Dodgers. And, there’s an intimate portrait of star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, probably the best pitcher in the game today, including details about the contract offer he turned down before accepting the richest contract any pitcher ever signed.

Exciting, surprising, and filled with juicy details, Molly Knight’s account is a must-read for baseball fans and anyone who wants the inside story of today’s Los Angeles Dodgers.

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1954 by Bill Madden.jpg1954 by Bill Madden

1954: Perhaps no single baseball season has so profoundly changed the game forever. In that year—the same in which the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregation of the races be outlawed in America’s public schools—Larry Doby’s Indians won an American League record 111 games, dethroned the five-straight World Series champion Yankees, and went on to play Willie Mays’s Giants in the first World Series that featured players of color on both teams.
Seven years after Jackie Robinson had broken the baseball color line, 1954 was a triumphant watershed season for black players—and, in a larger sense, for baseball and the country as a whole. While Doby was the dominant player in the American League, Mays emerged as the preeminent player in the National League, with a flair and boyish innocence that all fans, black and white, quickly came to embrace. Mays was almost instantly beloved in 1954, much of that due to how seemingly easy it was for him to live up to the effusive buildup from his Giants manager, Leo Durocher, a man more widely known for his ferocious “nice guys finish last” attitude.
Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Bill Madden delivers the first major book to fully examine the 1954 baseball season, drawn largely from exclusive recent interviews with the major players themselves, including Mays and Doby as well as New York baseball legends from that era: Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford of the Yankees, Monte Irvin of the Giants, and Carl Erskine of the Dodgers. 1954 transports readers across the baseball landscape of the time—from the spring training camps in Florida and Arizona to baseball cities including New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Cleveland—as future superstars such as Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and others entered the leagues and continued to integrate the sport.

Weaving together the narrative of one of baseball’s greatest seasons with the racially charged events of that year, 1954 demonstrates how our national pastime—with the notable exception of the Yankees, who represented “white supremacy” in the game—was actually ahead of the curve in terms of the acceptance of black Americans, while the nation at large continued to struggle with tolerance.

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Down to the Last Pitch by Tim Wendel.jpgDown to the Last Pitch by Tim Wendel

Never before in baseball history had a team finished last and rallied to take the pennant the following season. Yet in 1991, lightning struck twice as the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves both reached the World Series. The remarkable turnarounds resulted in arguably the greatest Fall Classic of all time.

Four of the games between the Twins and Braves were settled by “walk-off” runs. Three of them, including the climactic Game Seven, went into extra innings. And all seven games had memorable moments—from close plays at the plate to base-running blunders to pitching gems to dramatic late-inning home runs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cautioned fans about sleep deprivation as the nation was riveted watching Jack Morris, Kent Hrbek, Dan Gladden, and Kirby Puckett go against Tom Glavine, Lonnie Smith, John Smoltz, and David Justice on primetime television.

In Down to the Last Pitch, award-winning writer Tim Wendel brings to life these seven memorable games, weaving contemporary interviews with discussions decades later about this classic World Series, and teasing out fact from legend.

When the final out was recorded in 1991, the cover headline in Baseball Weekly read, “BEST WORLD SERIES EVER?” While that can always be debated, what happened inside and outside the lines in 1991 continues to resonate today.

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Philadelphia Phillies Past & Present by Rich Westcott.jpgPhiladelphia Phillies Past & Present by Rich Westcott

The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has been providing thrills and chills for its faithful fanatics for more than 125 years—with the 2008 World Series victory providing the ultimate high for the team and its city. The Phillies have boasted great legends of the game, including sluggers like Chuck Klein, Richie Ashburn, Mike Schmidt, and Ryan Howard; beloved characters like Tug McGraw, Lenny Dykstra, and John Kruk; and stellar hurlers from Pete Alexander to Robin Roberts to Steve Carlton to Cole Hamels. The team has left its fans alternately inspired and frustrated, while forever retaining their loyalty and passion through more than a century of baseball. Philadelphia Phillies Past & Present offers a richly illustrated tour of the players, managers, ballparks, and moments that have defined the Phillies of the past and of the present.

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1961 by Phil Pepe.jpg1961 by Phil Pepe

Before Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa, there was Roger Maris, the reluctant home run king who electrified the baseball world with one of the most unforgettable seasons the sport has ever known. Born in Hibbing, Minnesota, and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Maris was a small-town boy who unwillingly became a New York Yankee when he was traded by the Kansas City Athletics. Almost immediately, he was thrust into the glare of the big-city lights and found himself pursuing one of the most prestigious and most celebrated of all baseball records: Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark of 60, set in 1927. Thirty-four years later, Maris joylessly was drawn into the chase and found himself the eye in a storm of controversy. He became the center of attention he never sought and the recipient of a celebrity he didn’t want. As a young sportswriter, Phil Pepe joined the fray on August 2, when he took over as the Yankees beat writer for the New York World-Telegram & Sun, and he covered Maris’ race for the record to the very end. Here is his firsthand account of that historic home run challenge and the man that conquered it

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Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik.jpgBig Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik

After twenty consecutive losing seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, team morale was low, the club’s payroll ranked near the bottom of the sport, game attendance was down, and the city was becoming increasingly disenchanted with its team. Pittsburghers joked their town was the city of champions…and the Pirates. Big Data Baseball is the story of how the 2013 Pirates, mired in the longest losing streak in North American pro sports history, adopted drastic big-data strategies to end the drought, make the playoffs, and turn around the franchise’s fortunes.

Award-winning journalist Travis Sawchik takes you behind the scenes to expertly weave together the stories of the key figures who changed the way the small-market Pirates played the game. For manager Clint Hurdle and the front office staff to save their jobs, they could not rely on a free agent spending spree, instead they had to improve the sum of their parts and find hidden value. They had to change. From Hurdle shedding his old-school ways to work closely with Neal Huntington, the forward-thinking data-driven GM and his team of talented analysts; to pitchers like A. J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole changing what and where they threw; to Russell Martin, the undervalued catcher whose expert use of the nearly-invisible skill of pitch framing helped the team’s pitchers turn more balls into strikes; to Clint Barmes, a solid shortstop and one of the early adopters of the unconventional on-field shift which forced the entire infield to realign into positions they never stood in before. Under Hurdle’s leadership, a culture of collaboration and creativity flourished as he successfully blended whiz kid analysts with graybeard coaches—a kind of symbiotic teamwork which was unique to the sport.

Big Data Baseball is Moneyball on steroids. It is an entertaining and enlightening underdog story that uses the 2013 Pirates season as the perfect lens to examine the sport’s burgeoning big-data movement. With the help of data-tracking systems like PitchF/X and TrackMan, the Pirates collected millions of data points on every pitch and ball in play to create a tome of color-coded reports that revealed groundbreaking insights for how to win more games without spending a dime. In the process, they discovered that most batters struggled to hit two-seam fastballs, that an aggressive defensive shift on the field could turn more batted balls into outs, and that a catcher’s most valuable skill was hidden. All these data points which aren’t immediately visible to players and spectators, are the bit of magic that led the Pirates to spin straw in to gold, finish the 2013 season in second place, end a twenty-year losing streak.

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Trading Bases by Joe PetaTrading Bases by Joe Peta

An ex–Wall Street trader improved on Moneyball’s famed sabermetrics to place bets that would beat the Vegas odds on Major League Baseball games—with a 41 percent return in his first year. Trading Bases explains how he did it.

After the fall of Lehman Brothers, Joe Peta was out of a job. He found a new one but lost that, too, when an ambulance mowed him down. In search of a way to cheer himself up while he recuperated in a wheelchair, Peta started watching baseball again, as he had growing up. That’s when inspiration hit: Why not apply his outstanding risk-analysis skills to improve on sabermetrics, the method made famous by Moneyball—and beat the only market in town, the Vegas betting line? Why not treat MLB like the S&P 500?

In Trading Bases, Peta shows how to subtract luck—in particular “cluster luck,” as he puts it—from a team’s statistics to best predict how it will perform in the next game and over the whole season. His baseball “hedge fund” returned an astounding 41 percent in 2011—and has never been down more than 5 percent. Peta takes readers to the ballpark in San Francisco, trading floors and baseball bars in New York, and sports books in Vegas, all while tracing the progress of his wagers. Often humorous, occasionally touching, and with a wink toward the sheer implausibility of the whole project, Trading Bases is all about the love of critical reasoning, trading cultures, risk management, and baseball. And not necessarily in that order.

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About Avalon Free Public Library

Avalon is a bustling little shore town in southern NJ. Our small population of 1800 expands to about 30,000 at the height of summer. We like to think that we serve them all and then some! Our goal is to make our library available to our patrons wherever they may roam.

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