Book Reviews


Reviewed by Stew Thornley unless otherwise noted


The Baseball Necrology by Bill Lee
Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003

Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology is a thoroughly researched book with entries for more than 7,600 dead players, and other significant baseball personalities, that include information on their post-baseball career, death, and burial site. It can be a handy reference for those with need for such information and a fun book to thumb through. Here are some typical entries:

Steve Yerkes—7 Years Infielder (b. 15 May 1888 Hatboro PA – d. 31 Jan 1971 North Penn Hospital, Lansdale PA) He owned and operated Glenside Bowling Lanes. Buried Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Philadelphia PA.

Moose McCormick—5 Years Outfielder (b. 28 Feb 1881 Philadelphia PA – d. 9 Jul 1962 Lewisburg PA) Served in the U. S. Army during both World Wars I and II. He coached baseball and basketball at Bucknell Univ from 1922 to 1926 and baseball at West Point from 1926 to 1936. He managed the veteran’s housing at Bucknell from 1947 to 1958 when he retired. He had been in ill health for a year when he died. Buried Lewisburg Cemetery, Lewisburg PA.

Chet Hoff—4 Years Pitcher (b. 8 May 1891 Ossining NY – d. 18 Sep 1998 Halifax Medical Center, Daytona Beach FL) He worked for Rand McNally in Ossining before retiring to Florida in 1956. Died after falling and breaking a hip a week earlier. Buried Dale Cemetery, Ossining NY.

An appendix provides a useful cross-reference for finding burial sites by state. I also appreciate Lee’s introduction in which he explains his methods and criteria. His search for details took him across the country with visits to many libraries and county courthouses for records to supplement what he was able to find from newspaper obituaries. This is clearly a labor of love, which makes it all the more enjoyable to read.

Lee acknowledges errors and seeks reader support to correct them. Since I’ve spent a lot of time researching graves, I’m aware of the challenges, particularly with people who are cremated. Often a cemetery that performs a cremation gets listed as the interment site, and Lee has Roy Campanella listed as being buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles although Campanella was only cremated there, with his remains returned to the family. On the other hand, Lee does list Bob Lemon as being cremated, even though many sources incorrectly note his interment site as Forest Lawn Cemetery in Long Beach, California, where he was cremated.

Cremations get even trickier when the remains get moved around. (This can even happen with uncremated remains although not as often.) For example, an urn containing the ashes of Don Drysdale was held for many years at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, but was picked up by the family in early 2002. These sorts of things are almost impossible to keep up with, and I can’t fault Lee for still listing Forest Lawn as the interment site.

However, he is in error with his listing of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for John Clarkson (who is buried in Cambridge Cemetery, next to Mount Auburn), and I don’t understand his listing of Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland, for Hack Wilson. I have visited Wilson’s grave at Rosedale Cemetery in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

A book with this many entries, covering more than 500 pages, is difficult to fully assess with regard to accuracy. I did a lot of random checks on verifiable information, such as birth and death dates as well as interment locations when I myself was sure of the location. While there were some errors, I found it overall to be remarkably accurate.

The only real problem I had with some of the entries could be considered one of interpretation. Lee includes a notation for those in the Hall of Fame; however, this is included with not just actual inductees but also with recipients of the Ford Frick and J. G. Taylor Spink awards. Since these awards are presented by the Hall of Fame, it has become somewhat common to refer to the recipients as a “Hall of Fame writer” or a member of the “broadcaster’s wing of the Hall of Fame.” Although perhaps it could be argued that this is merely a matter of interpretation as to the meaning of the awards, it is clearly misleading to refer to Byrum Saam (Frick recipient) and Gordon Cobbledick (Spink recipient) as members of the Hall of Fame in the same sense of Ernie Banks, Henry Chadwick, and Mickey Mantle.

Because of its massiveness, The Baseball Necrology retails for $55, a price that will require careful consideration by potential buyers as to how much use they may get from it.

Go to top

Baseball Burial Sites by Bob Bailey,
Haworth, NJ: St. Johann Press, 2004

My first urge after receiving Bob Bailey’s Baseball Burial Sites was to determine the ways it compared and contrasted with Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology. The most obvious difference is that Baseball Burial Sites is spartan, listing only each person’s date of death and cemetery while The Baseball Necrology contains more information for each entry, including what the person did after his career and often the cause of his death.

This is not a criticism, merely an observation of a primary difference. By sticking to the basic information, Bailey has produced a smaller and lighter book, one that is easier to haul along during a grave-hunting expedition in addition to being priced at only $27.50, half the cost of Lee’s book. Baseball Burial Sites also separates the entries into categories, rather than lumping players and managers together with executives, writers and broadcasters, owners, and umpires. Baseball Burial Sites also contains a section on Negro Leaguers.

Here are some typical entries:
Name DOD Cemetery, City, State
Day, Pea Ridge (Clyde Henry) 03/21/1934 Pea Ridge Cemetery, Pea Ridge, AR
Carl Mays 04/04/1971 River View Cemetery, Portland, OR
Seibold, Socks (Harry) 09/21/1965 Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus, OH

Like The Baseball Necrology, Baseball Burial Sites is internally cross-referenced in an appendix that allows a reader to look up graves by location, and each book contains an introduction that explains the methods research. Bailey’s introduction is particularly fun to read as he explains how he developed his interest, through a friend who arranged a more elaborate marker for Pete Browning and how Bailey was able to acquire the former marker and store it in his garage. (I only wish he had recognized his friend for his efforts by providing his name.)

By virtue of being published a year later, Baseball Burial Sites is more up-to-date, including both the grave locations for those who have died since the publication of The Baseball Necrology and updated information such as Don Drysdale’s ashes being returned to his family. Of course, by the very nature of the subject, this book will also become outdated quickly as former players and other baseball personalities continue to die. That is why a web page may be a more appropriate forum for such a project, although I am still very pleased to add Baseball Burial Sites to my baseball library. It will probably spend less time on the shelf than The Baseball Necrology, which I will continue to refer to often, while keeping Baseball Burial Sites in my luggage to accompany me on road trips.

A Minnesota Kid: In Search of Heroes and Ghosts by David Butwin
Rockland, Main: Maine Authors Publishing, 2012

A few years ago the University of Minnesota alumni magazine had an article, “A Human Tackling Dummy,” chronicling the story of a source of motivation for the Minnesota Gophers when they won the national football championship in 1960. The author, David Butwin, had written an article in the Minnesota Daily that was not well received by the players. Years later, Butwin contacted one of the stars of the team, Judge Dickson, and found out that the football team had taped his article to a tackling dummy as a way for the team to take out its aggression on the offending article and its author.

Butwin included this story as a chapter in A Minnesota Kid: In Search of Heroes and Ghosts, a collection of memoirs from his youth as a child of the 1940s and 1950s growing up in St. Paul. The book covers time, place, and events, and Butwin has been more than a passive observer in stirring up his memories.

A baseball fan, Butwin spent much of his time following the St. Paul Saints at Lexington Park. He rarely made his way to enemy territory, Nicollet Park, home of the Minneapolis Millers, but he remembers well the day the rivals to the Saints came to St. Paul in 1949. Minneapolis catcher Sal Yvars, dubbed as “Public Enemy Number One,” was ejected from the game and compounded the infraction by taking a swing at a St. Paul fan on his way out. Decades later, Butwin tried contacting Yvars. While the former tough-guy catcher was dying from a rare blood disease and unable to talk to him, Butwin had a nice conversation with Yvars’s soon-to-be widow.

Such is the theme of A Minnesota Kid as Butwin does more than reminisce. As a young Twin Cities newspaper reporter, Butwin was on the scene for one of St. Paul’s most notorious murders, that of Carol Thompson in 1963, a case that was quickly closed with the arrest of T. Eugene Thompson, a prominent attorney who was convicted of contracting for the murder of his wife. However, Butwin was even more intrigued by a murder than occurred earlier but has never been solved, that of 17-year-old Geraldine Mingo, slashed to death in his neighborhood in 1948. Butwin contacted the St. Paul Police Department and found that the case was still in the department’s files and, though cold, was not yet closed.

A Minnesota Kid is an interesting journey worthy of reading by anyone, regardless of when and where one grew up. And the chapter, “Sergeant Fay, Your Schwantz Is Showing,” is worth a perusal just for the title itself.

Batter-Up! Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Baseball by Ross Bernstein
Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 2002

Ross Bernstein is a young man with many positive qualities. He is extremely personable. He has great ability in the areas of entrepreneurship and promotion.

Unfortunately, his skills do not include writing, and this quickly becomes apparent to anyone reading any of his books on Minnesota sports history.

What may not be as apparent is his lack of careful research. Bernstein’s latest book, Batter-Up! Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Baseball, is so full of factual errors that I cannot recommend it to any segment of any audience, not the casual fan and certainly not anyone who needs to rely on it for for accurate information.

It appears that the author accepts anything he finds or that is told to him without feeling the need to check facts. Any serious researcher knows that stories told by former players, especially when they’re recalled many years later, are suspect and that details must be checked. The same is true with retrospective articles written decades after the fact. Bernstein does not seem to know this or, even worse, does not seem to care.

Breakdowns in basic editing add to the overall sloppiness of Batter-Up! I’m sure Bernstein knows that the Twins played the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Atlanta Braves, in the 1987 World Series. Yet he fails to catch his statement on page 45 that Kent Hrbek hit a grand slam home run in the sixth game of the 1987 World Series against Atlanta.

It would be understandable if such errors were the exception; unfortunately, they are far too frequent.

Most readers will quickly recognize the mistake regarding Hrbek’s grand slam. But will they recognize the many other errors, such as the claim that Hall of Famer Eddie Collins managed the Minneapolis Millers in 1909 (page 15) when it was really Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins? Or that Lefty Grove pitched for the St. Paul Saints in 1930 when it was a different Hall of Famer, Lefty Gomez (page 25)? These are hardly minor mix-ups; they are significant mistakes that signify both a lack of effort and an absence of concern for getting things right.

Bernstein has now completed the circuit on the major sports, already having written similar volumes on hockey, football, and basketball, each coming out one year after the other. Such works require more than a few months of information gathering and fact checking, but if one doesn’t bother with the latter, it is possible to churn out these books on an annual basis.

There were certain enjoyable parts of Batter-Up! It is loaded with photos, which may be the main reason for someone to get the book. Although he offers few details of Richard Brookins, Bernstein does tell the story of this apparent African-American playing with Fargo in the Northern League in 1908, nearly 40 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Montreal Royals in 1946. (Bernstein also points out that Robinson was the first black in the major leagues in the 20th century, not the first black ever in the majors, nicely avoiding an error made by many others.) There have been a few articles written about Brookins, who had played two seasons in Green Bay before coming to Fargo, but the story has often been ignored, and I appreciate Bernstein bringing it to light.

Bernstein has interviewed many people for the book. Some are listed in the acknowledgements, but it would be nice if they were individually listed in the bibliography. The interviews add a lot, particularly in the sidebars on various Minnesota baseball personalities, which include comments from the interviewees about their peers. Once again, however, as with retrospective articles, Bernstein does not seem to understand nor care enough about the need to check details acquired from these sources.

This review actually derived from a request from a fellow reviewer for an assessment of the accuracy of Batter-Up! Since I was somewhat familiar with Bernstein’s earlier books, I expected to find some, perhaps many, errors. Even so, I was unprepared for how bad it would be. I went through only the first 61 pages of the 160-page book, the sections on the history of baseball in Minnesota, Minneapolis Millers, St. Paul Saints, and Minnesota Twins. I did not do it with a baseball encyclopedia at my side, checking every item and trying to find mistakes. No, I did not have to look that closely. Had I done so, undoubtedly I would have found more. But even by noting only the mistakes I knew to be incorrect in barely 35 percent of his book, I filled nine pages of a legal pad with such notations. By the way, no matter how “sure” I was that a detail in Bernstein’s book was incorrect, I did my own fact checking to confirm it as such.

The remaining chapters, which I merely scanned, cover the Northern League, high-school and college baseball, and town ball. Bernstein told me he has more confidence in the accuracy of these sections since he relied, in part, on information found in media guides or received from sports information directors. I will leave it to other researchers and reviewers to verify or refute this assessment.

In his introduction, Bernstein explains that “the epiphany behind Batter-Up! was to celebrate the wonderful heritage of baseball that we, as Minnesotans, so dearly love and respect.” I believe he means purpose, not epiphany, but he is right that many of us love and respect baseball. I certainly do, and while I like Ross Bernstein personally, I deeply love baseball and am bothered when I see it defiled.

As troubled as I am by the quality of the book, I remind myself that neither literary vandalism nor butchering of baseball history is a crime. The proper response, of course, is for someone—a reviewer, reporter, or anyone else—to bring the issues to light. That’s what this review is about.

I spoke directly to Bernstein about his book before completing this review. As I saw how flawed the book was, I felt it was important to give him a chance to respond. This process was helpful as I was able to learn what some of his sources were and also to confirm some of the things that I had suspected, such as his frequent reliance on retrospective articles or interviews without going back to original sources to check details.

In our conversations, Bernstein claimed that accuracy is important to him. However, his actions—or rather inactions in terms of checking facts—belie the claim. For example, Bernstein admits relying exclusively on a 1953 retrospective article by Don Riley regarding the 1920 Little World Series rather than reading game stories from 1920 newspapers. Had Bernstein taken the time to go through contemporary news accounts, he may have gotten the details correct.

And for his account of the 1906 riot at Nicollet Park, he used only George A. Barton’s 1957 book, My Lifetime in Sports, as his source. Barton, a longtime Minneapolis newspaper columnist, provides incorrect details of the melee and includes some ridiculous hyperbole—all passed on by Bernstein.

Bernstein also perpetuates a myth about the Millers’ Andy Oyler and a two-foot home run, a story Bernstein admits he got from a 1966 article reprinted in a commemorative booklet issued at the time the Metrodome opened in 1982. He said he assumed anything in such a booklet would be accurate. Even a novice researcher would know better than to make such an assumption.

Bernstein told me he blames the many errors, in part, on “conflicting sources of information,” adding that some of the mistakes were a result of information that “must have been recorded wrong in many sources.” As noted in the previous paragraphs, it doesn’t appear that he checks enough sources to come across many (or even any) that conflict. Beyond that, while conflicting sources are the bane of all historians, any decent researcher can reconcile the conflicts much better than he has.

Often, Bernstein’s own accounts are conflicting as, on numerous occasions, he contradicts himself. For example, on page 44, Bernstein says Kent Hrbek’s home run, in his major league debut in 1981, was in the 10th inning. On the next page, he says it was in the 12th inning. (The latter is correct.)

On page 53, Bernstein contradicts himself in the same paragraph, first saying that Kirby Puckett signed a new contract with the Twins in 1992 before the season started. A few sentences later, he says the signing occurred December 4. The latter is correct. Puckett signed his new contract after, not before, the 1992 season.

On page 12, he describes the score of the first game between Minneapolis and St. Paul, in 1884, as 11-0. He gets it correct two pages later, this time identifying the score as 4-0.

On page 22, Bernstein contradicts himself on how Charles Comiskey came to St. Paul. He first says that Comiskey purchased the Western League Sioux City franchise in 1894 and moved it to St. Paul for the following season. (This is essentially correct, although it’s not clear if he actually purchased and moved the Sioux City franchise or if he was granted a new franchise in St. Paul after Sioux City was dropped by the Western League.) However, earlier on page 22, Bernstein says that the 1884 St. Paul team, which played in both the Northwestern League and Union Association that season, “was owned by a gentleman named Charles Comiskey.”

Overall, his account of Comiskey and his role in St. Paul baseball is horribly bollixed as he does far more than just get a few details wrong. This is almost certainly not the result of conflicting sources, and, even if it is, the errors are ones that could quickly be rectified by checking any baseball encyclopedia.

Bernstein garbles dates and details of Comiskey’s transfer of the St. Paul team to Chicago. This move took place after the 1899 season although, on page 23, Bernstein says the move occurred in 1901. He then writes that Comiskey had to build a ballpark on the south side of Chicago to avoid competition with the Cubs, “who played on the North Side at Wrigley Field.” The ballpark that eventually became known as Wrigley Field did not open until 1914. Bernstein adds, “But, as usual, Comiskey got the last laugh, erecting a state-of-the-art stadium bearing his name and then winning the AL title that very next year. His White Sox have played there ever since.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! The state-of-the-art park that bore Comiskey’s name was not built until 1910, and the White Sox have not played there ever since. In 1991, the team moved into a new stadium, which was also known as Comiskey Park until 2003, when it took the name U. S. Cellular Field.

I seriously doubt that any other source says Comiskey Park or Wrigley Field opened as early as 1901 or that the original Comiskey Park is still being used. What is frightening, however, is that a future researcher might use Bernstein’s book as a definitive source, just as Bernstein’s has used George A. Barton’s book, and pass on this type of misinformation. One hopes that no one could be that careless, but Bernstein himself has already proven this notion to be false.

Bernstein commented to me that many of the inaccuracies in his book were ones that few people, such as myself, would be aware of, and that most people wouldn’t know them to be false. That’s the point. The problem is not the readers who will recognize the inaccuracies, but those who won’t.

Bernstein complains of “conflicting sources” and bad information, but all his book does is greatly add to the morass of misinformation already out there.

Beyond the inaccuracies is the writing, which includes far more than its share of poor punctuation and strange styles (even the title: since when does the term “batter up” have a hyphen in it?), clichés (especially frequent use of the the phrases “when all is said and done” and “the rest, as they say, is history”), typographical errors (a passed ball is referred to as a “past ball” on page 61, Bill Veeck is spelled “Bill Veek” on page 28, and Tacoma is spelled “Takomah” on page 31), and juvenile prose (he refers to a bases-loaded home run at the Metrodome as “a grand salami at the humpty-dump” on page 8), as well as some sentences that make no sense, such as (on page 6), “. . . while driving in 100-plus RBIs.” RBI stands for run batted in. A hitter may drive in a run, but he doesn’t drive in a run batted in.

Batter-Up! is not only painful to try to read because of the poor writing, it is difficult because of the small type that, on some pages, runs the entire width of the page. On most, but not all, of the pages, the text is broken into columns, something that is necessary with a book that has a trim size of 9½ x 12. Regardless of whether a page contains one or two columns, on many the text on the inside margins runs right into the gutter of the book, rendering it unreadable.

Regarding the inaccuracies, some are minor, such as saying Harmon Killebrew was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 10, 1984 (he was elected in January 1984 but not inducted until that summer), but many—such as the misidentification of Jimmy Collins and Lefty Gomez, noted earlier—are not.

Here is a sampling, but not an exhaustive list, of errors.

Page 10: Bernstein writes, “Since the dawn of time, it has been widely accepted that Major General Abner Doubleday invented the game [of baseball] while he was a cadet stationed at West Point, New York.”

Where does one begin with this sentence? First, it was not since the dawn of time; it was not even since 1893, the year Doubleday died. It was only since the release of a report in late 1907/early 1908 by a commission formed by sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spalding for the purpose of proving that baseball had originated in the United States, regardless of the facts. And Bernstein even messes up the canard put forward by this commission, which claimed that Doubleday invented the game in Cooperstown, New York, not West Point. While it may indeed be widely accepted that Doubleday invented baseball, it should be pointed out by Bernstein (if he actually knows better) that this is nothing more than a myth.

Page 11: Bernstein writes, “In 1884 professional baseball came to the Gopher State when the Northwestern League, a professional, minor league was formed with teams from Minneapolis, St. Paul, Winona, Duluth, and Stillwater, as well as six other teams from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The Duluth Jayhawks won the Northwestern League title that year with a 46-33 record.” Duluth did not even have a team in the Northwestern League in 1884. It was in 1886 when Duluth won the Northwestern League championship with a 46-33 record. Also, the 1884 Northwestern League was not formed with a team in Winona. Winona didn’t enter the league until August, following the folding of many of the original teams.

Page 12: Bernstein offers a poor and inaccurate description of the Union Association of 1884. He provides the names of eight teams, stating that two dropped out, allowing St. Paul and Milwaukee to take their place. Wilmington, the team that disbanded to make room for St. Paul, is not listed. It’s also not noted that there were a total of 12 teams in the league that season, with two other dropouts.

Page 12: Bernstein does not cite a source for his list of “Early Base Ball Rule Adaptations,” but at least a few of the items are clearly incorrect and others misleading. One, that fly balls had to be caught on the fly starting in 1858, is incorrect; this did not happen until well into the 1860s. Another, that walks were no longer included as hits in batting average in 1890, is misleading; walks counted as hits only in 1887.

Page 12: Bernstein writes, “The Western League [that started in 1894] was an eight-team circuit which featured clubs from across the Midwest. More importantly, however, was the fact that this was the first semi-pro league that pitted the rival Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints against one another.” First, the Western League was a fully professional league, not semi-professional. And I do not have a clue what he means by this being the first opportunity for the Millers and Saints to play one another. Even Bernstein notes their games against one another starting 10 years before.

Pages 13 and 18: In discussing integration, Bernstein says the Millers signed their first black player, Ray Dandridge, in 1949. He ignores Dave Barnhill, who signed with the Millers off the roster of the Negro American League’s New York Cubans, at the same time.

Pages 14-15: Bernstein provides a very poor description of early Minneapolis baseball history. He says the new American League formed in 1900. Actually, the existing Western League was renamed the American League in 1900. In 1901, the league took on major league status, although Minneapolis, along with several other cities, was dropped from the league at that time. Bernstein writes, “The next year the Millers left the American League and jumped ship yet again, this time becoming charter members of a new top-flight minor league called the ‘American Association.’” The Millers did not jump ship; they were pushed overboard. And they did not join the American Association “the next year.” The Millers were dropped from the American League after the 1900 season. The American Association did not begin until 1902.

Page 15: This section concerns the melees, noted earlier, at Nicollet Park in July 1906 that involved umpire Brick Owens (referred to by Bernstein only as “a rookie umpire”). After the first game of a series against Columbus, Minneapolis fans tried to mob Owens, who had made some close calls against the Millers. Owens was rescued by Pudge Heffelfinger, a local celebrity who had been a football All-American at Yale. The game the next day (for some reason, Bernstein says “the next night,” even though all games were played during the day at this time) lasted only one pitch. Owens was pelted with eggs by the fans and declared a forfeit victory for the visiting Columbus Senators. Bernstein says this happened “as the ump was about ready to say ‘Play-Ball,’” not after the first pitch.

In addition, Bernstein has Heffelfinger rescuing Owens after the second game of the series, even though it was after the first game that Heffelfinger stepped in to aid Owens. As Bernstein admitted, his account is based on the inaccurate details presented by Barton in My Lifetime in Sports, not on news accounts written at the time these events occurred. Worse, Bernstein passes along the myth, provided by Barton, of Heffelfinger shouting to the mob, “Friends, you are about to do something that will forever disgrace the good name of Minneapolis . . . ” There is no indication in contemporary accounts of such an oration.

The inaccuracies continue as he writes about Mike Kelley and the aftermath of this ruckus. Bernstein says that, as a result of dwindling attendance, the Millers were sold to Gus Koch “a few years later.” The sale actually occurred in August 1906, only a month after the incident with Owens. Koch then sold the team after the 1906 season to Mike Cantillon, although Bernstein says this sale was made after the 1909 season.

Although not mentioned in the book, the sale of the Millers to Koch was partly a result of the turmoil following the July 1906 incidents at Nicollet Park. Millers manager/part-owner Mike Kelley was suspended by the American Association after accusing Owens of dishonesty (the second time that season he had, without substantiation, questioned the integrity of umpires).

In his section on the Saints, Bernstein on page 24 writes, “Kelley was pretty aggressive, though, [in developing young players and then selling them], but it caught up to him in 1907 and 1908, when he produced a pair of last-place squads.” The Saints did finish last those two years, but Kelley wasn’t with the team at all in 1907 and only for the last part of the season in 1908. Following his suspension from the American Association, Kelley spent part of the 1907 season in Des Moines and part of the 1908 season in Toronto. Helped by a petition drive by St. Paul fans, he was able to join the Saints as manager in August of 1908, in time to finish last with them. The Saints’ last-place finishes were hardly the result of Kelley’s aggressive sales, as Bernstein claims, since he hadn’t even been with the team the previous years.

There’s more. On page 24, Bernstein writes, “In 1913 Mike Kelley sold the club to some local investors and got back with the Millers. As a result, the Saints finished in last place that next season.” Kelley did not get back with the Millers until 1924. He left the Saints following the 1912 season to become a part-owner and manager at Indianapolis. The Saints finished in last place two seasons after Kelley left, not the next season. And connecting the last-place finish with the departure of Kelley is ludicrous. In 1913, the Saints, without Kelley, finished fifth, a spot higher than they had the year before with Kelley. By the way, the team that did finish last in 1913 was Indianapolis, managed by Mike Kelley.

On page 16, Bernstein reports another myth that has been disproven, the one of Millers shortstop Andy Oyler, on a rainy day, hitting a ball into the mud in front of home plate at Nicollet Park and then circling the bases with a home run as the other team searched in vain for the ball, which had traveled only two feet. This story has been told before, although no documentation has ever been provided with it. The fact is that Oyler, in his years with the Millers, hit only one home run. It was in an 8-6 loss at Milwaukee on August 2, 1904, and the newspapers made no mention of there being anything special about the home run, something that surely would have been noted had the ball traveled only two feet.

Pages 16 and 24: According to Bernstein, the first World War lasted from 1918 to 1919. On page 16, while writing about the Millers, he says the war ended in 1919. On page 24, in his section on the Saints, he writes, “The 1918 season was cancelled due to the onset of World War I.” Even the onset of United States involvement in the war was in April 1917, not 1918. Also, the American Association season was not canceled in 1918. The season was started but shortened due to the war.

Page 17: In 1933, Joe Hauser of the Minneapolis Millers set a professional record by hitting 69 home runs. Bernstein writes, “The pro record stood until 2001, when outfielder Barry Bonds hit 73 for the San Francisco Giants.” First, Hauser’s professional record had been equaled and later broken in the minor leagues by Bob Crues and Joe Bauman, respectively. If one is talking about a professional record set by a minor league player, then this must be done in the context of all professional baseball, including the minor leagues. Even if this were compared to only the major leagues, the claim is still inaccurate since the total of 69 had already been topped in the major leagues before Bonds hit 73. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals did it with 70 home runs in 1998, a fact well-known even to many non-baseball fans.

Page 20: Bernstein says the Millers were moved to Phoenix in 1957 and were replaced in Minneapolis by a Boston Red Sox farm team. The move occurred after the 1957 season, and the Millers became a Red Sox farm team starting in 1958. Since Bernstein writes nothing about the 1957 season, merely jumping from 1956 to the shifting of the teams, it appears that he is referring to the 1957 season when he writes of the “new” Millers, managed by Gene Mauch. He goes from confusion to outright incorrectness when he then says that Orlando Cepeda played on the Millers “that year,” referring to Mauch’s first year as manager with Minneapolis. Cepeda played for the Millers under Red Davis in 1957, when the Millers were still a farm team of the Giants. He did not play with the Millers in 1958 under Mauch.

Page 21: Bernstein says Gene Mauch “first met [Fidel] Castro when the two played together in the Cuban winter league in 1951 and knows him personally to this day.” Castro’s baseball ability has been inflated by various myths; he had only modest skills at the game and did not even play in college, other than in an intramural game. Castro definitely did not play in the Cuban winter league. Mauch did play winter ball in Cuba in the early 1950s, at a time when Castro was a young lawyer and not involved in any way in baseball. The claim that Mauch continues to know Castro personally to this day is remarkable and needs elaboration and documentation. Bernstein confirms that this material came from an interview with Mauch. Admittedly, checking a story like this is more difficult (but certainly not impossible) than looking up more routine facts claimed by a former player; however, it points out why details of such interviews need to be checked, something Bernstein admits to not having done.

Pages 22-23: In his section on the St. Paul Saints, Bernstein refers to the 1880s State Street Park as “the pillbox.” The Pillbox was a separate park on the northern edge of downtown, used by the Saints from 1903 to 1909. It was a significant ballpark, but one that Bernstein does not mention at all, apparently because he confused it with the State Street Park.

Page 22: Bernstein writes, “In 1884, the Saints fielded a team in the Union Association. The team played its games at the old West 7th Street Grounds and was owned by a gentleman named Charles Comiskey. The same year, the Saints jumped to the Northwestern League.” In addition to incorrectly identifying Comiskey as the owner, as noted before, Bernstein is incorrect with his assertion that the Saints jumped from the Union Association to the Northwestern League. It was vice versa, and they really didn’t jump. The Saints, along with Milwaukee, were among the few surviving teams in the Northwestern League, and they accepted an invitation to play in the Union Association (and the team played all its games in the Union Association on the road, not at the West 7th Street Grounds).

Page 28: As he starts his section on the Twins, Bernstein says the Saints and Millers were “farm-clubs of the New York Giants and Boston Red Sox, respectively.” The Millers were a farm club of the Giants (1946 to 1957) and the Red Sox (1958 to 1960), but the Saints were not a farm club of either the Giants or Red Sox (the Saints in their final decades were owned and/or controlled by the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers).

Beyond these items are a number of simpler errors, not such serious mangling of details, which follow.

  • Page 12: Bernstein says Bobby Marshall died August 27, 1968 at the age of 88. He died August 27, 1958 at the age of 78.

  • Page 19: Bernstein writes, “By 1955 a stadium debate had erupted in the Twin Cities. Just the year before the National League approved the transfer of the Boston Braves to Milwaukee . . . ” The move of the Braves to Milwaukee occurred in 1953, not the year before 1955.

  • Page 32: Bernstein says Halsey Hall in 1961 “became a member of the original Minnesota Twins broadcast team, along with Herb Carneal and Ray Scott.” The original broadcast team was Hall, Scott, and Bob Wolff. Carneal did not join the crew until 1962.

  • Page 34: Bernstein says Sandy Koufax shut out the Twins in Game Five of the 1965 World Series at Met Stadium. Koufax shut out the Twins in the fifth and seventh games of the series. The seventh game was at Met Stadium, but Game Five, contrary to what Bernstein says, was in Los Angeles.

  • Page 37: Bernstein says that in 1966 Earl Battey, “after an apparent single, was thrown out at first base from right field by Boston’s Lu Clinton.” The year and team are wrong on this. The event occurred July 17, 1964 when Clinton was with the Los Angeles Angels. By the way, in 1966, the year Bernstein says this occurred, Clinton was not even with the Red Sox; he played the 1966 season with the New York Yankees.

  • Page 38: Bernstein says that the AL pitching mounds were lowered and the strike zones narrowed in 1968. These changes did not occur until 1969. Also, the pitching mounds were lowered and strike zones changed throughout the major leagues, not just in the American League.

  • Page 40: Bernstein says Rod Carew won his fourth batting title in 1973. The title in 1973 was Carew’s third (his previous titles to that point were in 1969 and 1972).

  • Page 43: Bernstein says on June 26, 1977, the Twins destroyed the White Sox, 19-2. They actually destroyed them, 19-12.

  • Page 43: Bernstein says Larry Hisle signed as a free agent with Boston after the 1977 season. He signed with Milwaukee.

  • Page 49: Bernstein says Don Baylor hit a three-run homer in Game Six of the 1987 World Series. It was a two-run homer that capped a three-run, fifth-inning rally that tied the game.

  • Page 50: Bernstein says the Twins had three runners thrown out at home in Game Seven of the 1987 World Series. It was two runners at home and one runner at third.

  • Page 60: Bernstein says the Angels beat the Yankees in 2002 in the NLDS. He should spell out acronyms, but NLDS refers to National League Division Series. The Yankees and Angels met in the American League Division Series.

These are examples of the author’s systemic failure to perform routine checks, thus rendering it impossible for the reader to trust anything written in the book.

I almost feel as though I’m piling on, even though I’m not listing every mistake I found. If the more straightforward errors listed above were few, it would be nitpicking to make a big deal of them. However, when they are as numerous as this, with many of them being a far more serious butchering of details, it’s necessary to provide this many examples as a means of establishing why no one should use this book as a source of information.

Bernstein, apparently intending this as a defense, told me he doesn’t claim for his books to be a “foremost comprehensive source” of information and that he intends for these to be fun books for readers. I don’t understand why “fun” and “accurate” must be mutually exclusive.

At least in the interest of fun in his baseball book, he didn’t repeat the “gags” in his football and basketball books, showing the picture of a relative with an outrageous caption. His football book shows a player so mean that he “once tore the arms and legs off an opponent,” and his basketball book features a caption about a player averaging nearly 100 points a game in 1849 (more than 40 years before the sport was invented). Entries like this provide one more example of why Bernstein cannot be viewed as a serious researcher or historian.

I know people who have purchased this book even though they realize they cannot rely on it for information. Some said they want it for the pictures, others for the lists that appear of things like state amateur championships, even though they are aware they will have to double check the entries. If a person approaches the book in this manner, with the knowledge that one cannot rely on any of the information in it, that’s fine. What bothers me is there are many readers who don’t know any better.

As such, this book is a disservice to baseball and to Minnesota.

Go to top

Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way by Mark L. Armour and Daniel R. Levitt
Washington, D. C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2003

Levitt, a Minneapolis baseball researcher, and Armour, an Oregon resident, team up on an fascinating project—how significant teams have been built and how they have been dismantled. While many books profile some of the great teams of all-time, this book takes it from a different angle.

Armour and Levitt mix interesting narrative, especially profiles of the builders of the teams, with statistical analysis. While the two are serious statistical analysts, their insights do not go over the heads of those who pay attention only to the most basic numbers. Their explanation of some of their stats, such as “wins above replacement” and “win probability added,” are provided in simple terms, so the book can be enjoyed and understood by a wide range of fans.

The authors profile 13 teams—from the 1899 Brooklyn Superbas to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s—and include a chapter that will greatly interest Minnesota fans, a close look at the Twins of the 1960s. This features a brief biography of owner Calvin Griffith and history of the team that extends back to prior to their move to Minnesota. The Twins came close to another pennant in 1967 and had a pair of first-place finishes in the new American League West starting in 1969, although they were clearly an inferior team to the East Division champion Orioles (and were swept in the playoffs each year by Baltimore), meaning that they never did follow-up on their 1965 magic. Armour and Levitt offer cogent reasons for their decline.

I particularly enjoyed the look at the owners and general managers, and the authors’ description of the tyranny of Athletics owner Charles O. Finley is marvelous. A lengthy look of the White Sox of the 1910s focuses not on the Black Sox who intentionally lost the 1919 World Series but on how the team that won the 1917 World Series was built. In the process, Armour and Levitt deal with the common perception that the players who conspired to throw the 1919 series were driven to it by the penuriousness of team owner Charles Comiskey. “Comiskey had his faults,” the authors conclude, “but in comparing the salaries of his White Sox to the rest of baseball, the evidence suggests that he paid no less than his peers.”

I attended a book signing and reading featuring Levitt, who is witty and articulate. After his talk, I overheard him say that he hopes people don’t find any typos in the book, but he looks forward to arguing with those who differ in their analysis. I’m afraid I may be the opposite of what he is looking for. I can’t argue with much that they have written, and, unfortunately, I did find a few typos. One is a misspelling of Larry MacPhail’s name in Rob Neyer’s foreword (it’s incorrectly spelled “McPhail”). The other comes in one of two extremely insightful chapters on the changing role of relief pitchers. On page 93, the authors state that in 1975 the save rule was liberalized to the one in use today, which requires a reliever, among other things, to protect a three-run lead for at least one inning or face the potential tying or lead run. Actually, a pitcher is eligible for a save if he enters the game with the tying run on deck. This error does not detract from a great analysis of the save rule and how it changed through the years. The rule was more restrictive in 1974, to the point that “had this rule applied to Dennis Eckersley’s 1992 season, in which he saved fifty-one games, Eckersley would have instead have been credited with only twelve saves.” (By the way, using Retrosheet, I went through the 1992 season and confirmed Armour and Levitt’s assertion regarding Eckersley and how many saves he would have had under 1994 scoring rules.)

A later chapter in the book follows up with a comparison of the “Fireman vs. the Closer,” looking at the differences when relievers were brought into the game to put out a fire and today’s closers, who are normally brought into the game at the start of the ninth inning to protect a lead of up to three runs.

In a way, these sections seem out of place with the ones that follow the primary premise of the book, how teams are built. However, they are enjoyable and cover a variety of topics, such as patterns in aging with regard to players’ declines.

Most of all, this book is a well-written, fresh look at a topic not explored in any extensive manner before, and it is a valuable addition to baseball knowledge and research.

Go to top

Hardwood Heroes: Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Basketball by Ross Bernstein
Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 2001

Reviewed by Marc Hugunin

Most readers of the Southside Journal undoubtedly are aware of the renaissance of interest in baseball research, historical and otherwise, that has taken place over the past quarter century. Many know, too, that there has been no analogous surge of interest in the history of basketball. Judging by the contemporary library of basketball publications, one might think the game began with Magic, Bird, Michael, an expanded NCAA tournament, and ESPN in the 1980s. With a little digging, you might find Wilt, Russ, Kareem, the UCLA Bruins, and, here in the state of Minnesota, the Edina Hornets from the 1960s.

And there are always rumors of pro ball in the ‘40s, NCAA tournaments as early as 1939, and a Minnesota state high school tournament even before that. But a young basketball fan growing up today might be excused for believing these to be little more than rumors.

So I purchased Ross Bernstein’s Hardwood Heroes: Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Basketball with great anticipation—but, frankly, also with some surprise and trepidation: Anticipation, because any book acknowledging the whole sweep of basketball history is worth a look. Maybe it would spark a surge of interest in that history. Besides, my previous experience with Bernstein, his Fifty Years, Fifty Heroes, had been a good one. It’s fun arguing about his Minnesota “athlete of the year” selections for each of those 50 years, and the pithy two-page profiles of each “hero” made for an interesting waltz down memory lane. The book presented no lofty claims as “history,” and whatever weaknesses it had could charitably be tolerated commensurate with its modest goals.

I was surprised at the appearance of Hardwood Heroes, however, because, as the author of an unpublished history of the Minnesota state high school basketball tournaments, I had been told by Bernstein’s own publisher, Norton Stillman of Nodin Press, that “there’s no market for books about basketball.” I since have realized, of course, that this is not a basketball book, but a Bernstein book—a part of a budding Bernstein publishing franchise.

Finally, I approached the book with some trepidation because Bernstein, after all, is the man who once listed Bud Grant as one of the all-time stars of the Minnesota high school tournament. Readers of Southside Journal, again, probably know that Grant hailed from Superior, Wisconsin, and played his high school sports there. Bernstein’s faux pas occurred in a half-time interview at a high school tournament game: The announcer asked who Bernstein regarded as some of the greatest players in tournament history. He appeared never to have considered this question before and seemed on the verge of being stumped, but finally came up with Khalid El-Amin, Kevin McHale and Grant. Oops.

How much could this man really know about basketball history?

Not much, as, unfortunately, Hardwood Heroes makes abundantly clear. Even worse, what little information of real historical interest in here is buried beneath a variety of disastrous editorial and formatting decisions that make the book nearly unreadable.

First, the text is laid out in columns stretching the full 8 1/2” width of the page. Worse, the text is sometimes printed on a gray background, or white on a black background, or even superimposed on a gray or screened-back photograph. These wide columns are just no fun to read.

Second, several of the book’s longest chapters—those devoted to the Golden Gophers, the Minneapolis Lakers and the Timberwolves—continue on and on (and on) without a single break. The Gophers’ chapter stretches for 32 pages and an estimated 37,500 words. Most authors would have broken up such a lengthy narrative—by decade, perhaps, or by head coaching tenure, each section providing the opportunity for analysis and summation. But no. Here, the seasons pile up and up as an endless series of mere anecdotes, none of any greater significance than the rest, until the reader is exhausted by the details, hoping for an insight that never comes. Likewise the Lakers (23 pages and 20,000 words) and Timberwolves (18 pages and 17,500 words) sections.

Third, one might question the author’s priorities in a book that is subtitled as a ”celebration of a century of Minnesota basketball.” As a child of the television age, Bernstein seems to regard professionals as occupying the top of the sporting heirarchy. In Fifty Years, Fifty Heroes, four of his first five heroes, for the years 1948-52, are Minneapolis Lakers. Hey, they were the only major league professionals in town. Meanwhile, John Mayasich and Janet Karvonen are the only high school players recognized. Similarly, here, the book opens, after short introductory materials, with the stories of the Lakers, the Wolves and even the Muskies and Pipers, whose collective histories cover only about 30 of basketball’s 100-plus year history here in Minnesota. Even Minnesota’s Continental Basketball Association teams are covered before we get to the Gophers and their 107 years of activity.

The boys’ high school tournament, arguably the state’s most popular sporting event for half its 90-year history, finally appears about midway through the book, while girls’ and women’s ball is relegated to the back of the book. The girls’ state tournaments are described in about one-third the words dedicated to each boys’ tournament. This book is an insult to girls’ basketball.

These are just the book’s most—but hardly its only—annoying editorial characteristics. Chapters don’t even begin at the top of a page; they start wherever the previous one ended. Heaven forbid that the reader should see a little white space and have the time to take a deep breath before continuing on. And Bernstein’s handling of photographs is nothing short of bizarre. When a photograph fails to fit into his predetermined format, apparently, he simply stretches the photo. As a result, players from Erling Platou to Clyde Lovelette, from Lou Hudson to Malik Sealy, and including many of Minnesota’s state high school champs, look more like fireplugs or hallucinations than basketball players.

Then—oh, yes!—there’s the content, if one can get past the formatting to read it. The fact is there’s some interesting stuff here. I didn’t know, for example, that the much-maligned Jim McIntyre completed his Gopher career in 1949 as the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer and a two-time All-American. But besides being buried, such nuggets are few and far between.

Perhaps this is because Bernstein lacks any real sense of what, in the long sweep of basketball history, really matters. History may simply occur as a sequence of events. The writing of history requires distinctions between the more and less important ones, which is simply another way of saying that good writing begins with a thesis or a “lead.” The reader gets no such guidance here.

For example, Edina made history in 1968 by becoming the first Minnesota high school to win three consecutive state titles. Bernstein’s presentation for that year begins, “It was ‘David vs. Goliath’ right out of the gates in the 1968 tourney as tiny Hayfield came up on the wrong end of a 63-49 ball-game against mighty Edina.” The year 1976 featured the memorable duel between Hibbing and Kevin McHale versus Bloomington Jefferson and Steve Lingenfelter. Bernstein begins, “Little Falls, which was riding a 35-game winning streak, had little problem with Stillwater in the Class AA opener.”

Along with this lack of perspective, Bernstein’s writing also might be described charitably as cliché-ridden. A less charitable view might also mention generally poor construction and grammar. His description of the 1968 state high school tournament, quoted above, continues: “Hayfield was down only 50-46 in the fourth quarter, but when Bob Zender and Bill Fiedler took over, each of whom scoring 19 and 15 points, respectively, the Hornets pulled away. . . . Game Three between Moorhead and St. Paul Highland Park was a real barn-burner. Offense was the word of the day. . . .” Concerning the championship final, Bernstein writes, “Moorhead had made it back to the Finals, where they would once again face their old nemesis, the Edina Hornets, for all the marbles.”

Finally, and most damaging, is Bernstein’s lack of commitment to the accuracy of his “history.” Bernstein had a terrific opportunity to correct the decades-old myth of the founding of the Minnesota state high school basketball tournament, for example, but failed to conduct the rudimentary fact-checking necessary to debunk that myth. The myth, developed in a series of newspaper articles and interviews from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s, is that Carleton College athletic director and coach Claude J. Hunt founded the tournament. In 1963, a few months before Hunt’s death, the Minnesota State High School League even held a brief ceremony and awarded Hunt a plaque honoring him as the “father” of the tournament.

The first tournament was held in the spring of 1913, of course. The sad truth is that Hunt first came to Northfield to join the Carleton faculty in the fall of that year, as a call to the Carleton College Archives could easily have confirmed. Rather than explore the myth, Bernstein preferred to embellish it. Going beyond any previously published claim, Bernstein writes, “Shortly after the new Sayles-Hill Gymnasium was completed at Northfield’s Carleton College, the school’s Athletic Director, Claude J. Hunt, decided that it would be the perfect venue to host what he envisioned to be the first-ever State High School Basketball Tournament. The fan interest was there. . . . Mr. Hunt went ahead and began organizing the logistics for what would become the inaugural state high school tournament. . . . Hunt immediately started corresponding with nearly every school throughout the state….” Even a quick read through The Carletonia for 1913 clearly reveals who “organiz(ed) the logistics” and “correspond(ed) with nearly every school” in the state, and it was not coach Hunt. Concerning “the fan interest,” Bernstein claims that 2,000 fans saw the first championship game, while contemporary reports suggest no more than about 185 spectators.

But Bernstein is not a historian, and so he did not correspond with the Carleton Archives nor read through 1913 editions of The Carletonia. Nor, considering his bland and mechanical writing style and his utter blindness to the telling detail, is he a story-teller. Hardwood Heroes suggests that what Ross Bernstein is is a book maker—a man who makes books, sometimes on historical themes—and whose only mission was to complete this book on time and on budget, so that work on the next could begin. In this, and only this, can he be said to have succeeded.

As for the long-neglected early history of basketball, one can only wish it had been neglected a little longer.

Go to top

The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics by Alan Schwarz
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004

Alan Schwarz’s The Numbers Game is not a statistical book but a book about statistics that reads like a fast-paced novel. In it, Schwarz demonstrates how statistics have evolved to reflect the changes in the game as well as at times influencing the changes and promoting baseball’s popularity. It is a thoroughly researched and intriguing history that goes beyond the numbers.

Much in the way that Bill James has proven to be an excellent historian beyond the numbers, so too is Schwarz in this book. Statistics serve as the backdrop, but readers will learn much more about the changing way the game has been played and evaluated.

The book delves into a number of interesting areas, profiling the early work of Henry Chadwick and the pioneers who followed: Ernie Lanigan, F. C. Lane (whose development of a percentage value of a run for different types of hits that later were remarkably close to the values assigned by Pete Palmer in his Linear Weights method), the Eliases and the roots of the Elias Sports Bureau, Allan Roth, and Hy Turkin and the genesis of the first baseball encyclopedia.

This is followed up with the story of the first baseball encyclopedia from Macmillan Publishing Company and the use of the computer in compiling this tome. It points out the work of the editors in starting to straighten out long-held errors in record-keeping. The latter topic becomes particularly intriguing with a description of the selective changing of statistics by Joseph Reichler in future editions of the encyclopedia along with the ongoing resistance of the baseball establishment to change records that were in error, no matter how compelling the evidence, and of the push for a statute of limitations on recording errors.

While many within baseball have lamented the trend in sabermetrics, Schwarz points how that this is anything but a recent movement but rather one that has been picking up more widespread acceptance as front offices are now becoming the realm of those who cut their teeth on things like baseball simulation games and Bill James’s Baseball Abstracts.

While noting that some teams have tried to avoid the stigma of being overrun by statheads in making personnel decisions, Schwarz is for the most part respectful of the work done in this area; however, his description of those present at a meeting of the Statistical Analysis Committee at the 2003 SABR convention may cause some consternation. His overall summary of the “motley crew” with many wearing “some sort of baseball-logoed T-shirt, cap, or jacket, many with all three” is essentially a correct description of the convention attendees in general.

However, the relevance of his comment, “There were lots of beards” is unclear, and the statement that “an odd number of men spoke with a lisp” goes beyond irrelevance to downright insensitivity.

The Numbers Game is packed with information and conclusions—such as whether clutch hitting exists (apparently not) or if Jack Morris’s relatively high lifetime earned-run average was a result of him generally pitching well enough to win, independent of the run support he received in a game (also apparently not)—without the square-root, sigma signs, and other mathematical hieroglyphics that scare some away.

For me, Chapter 10 on the role of luck or random error was particularly enjoyable as he cogently examines the role of random chance in baseball along with the resistance of fans to acknowledge it.

The one essential missing from the book is a list of sources. There is a great deal of information, but it would be nice to know where it came from.

The Numbers Game, which concludes with a look to the future, is the definitive baseball book of 2004 and a must-read follow-up to last year’s best-seller, Moneyball by Michael Lewis.

Go to top

Back to main page