Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training
By Charles Fountain
Oxford University Press, 336 pages, $24.95
There hasn't been a first-rate book on spring training since David Falkner's The Short Season back in 1986. Charles Fountain, author of the superb biography of Grantland Rice (Sportswriter), updates the ritual of preseason baseball from a time when major hotels were wary of booking baseball teams to today's billion-dollar-a-year business in which mayors fight to bring teams to their cities (and don't hesitate to use public money to do it).
Fountain, a journalism teacher at Northeastern University, has written that rare baseball book that also serves as a cultural history. (He makes a convincing case for Al Lang, mayor of St. Petersburg before World War I, as the progenitor of spring training as we know it.) Under The March Sun has so much atmosphere you can smell the cocoa butter as you read.
Baseball and the Baby Boomer: A History, Commentary and Memoir
By Talmage Boston
Bright Sky Press, 288 pages, $24.95
History and memoir usually make for an uneasy combination, but in Baseball and the Baby Boomer, Talmage Boston, a professional trial lawyer and amateur baseball writer, makes it work. That's because Boston (author of the 2005 book 1939: Baseball's Tipping Point) does a superb job of striking a chord with baseball fans of the last several decades by pushing the right buttons — Carl Yastrzemski and the 1967 "Impossible Dream" pennant drive, the parallel lives of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, and the career of Roger Maris from the perspective of the steroid era.
His critical faculties are unerring except for occasional gushes over the pompous late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti. The matching of Mickey Mantle and Jim Piersall to represent "The Dark Side of Fathers and Sons Playing Catch" is a master stroke.
The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie
By Ira Berkow
Triumph Books, 253 pages, $24.94
New York Times columnist Ira Berkow has written at least one bona fide baseball classic, Red, a biography of sportswriter Red Smith, and co-written another, Hank Greenberg, the Story of My Life. Lou Brissie, the subject of The Corporal Was a Pitcher, is much less celebrated, but his life was even more fascinating.
After a harrowing artillery barrage in Italy late in 1944, 20-year-old pitching prospect Brissie talked doctors out of amputating his leg. It certainly won't spoil the story to tell you that, against mind-boggling odds, he fulfilled his lifelong ambition of coming back to baseball, pitching with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's.
His potentially great career was "reduced to 44 wins . . . and a life of incessant pain," but for once the story of an athlete's life before and after his playing days is the real reason to read the book.
Baseball Prospectus 2009
Edited by Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman
Plume Books, 628 pages, $21.95
If you're the kind of baseball fan who has been resisting statistical analysis for years, this is where you'll change your mind. The BP group, as readers of their Web site know, are the smartest kids on the block, and their annual is an essential companion to an understanding of the game.
Here they are on the 2008 and 2009 Rays: "All told, the 2008 Rays may have been the game's best story, better even than that of the World Champion Phillies. . . . The 2009 Rays appear to be the game's next textbook example of how to turn the fortunes of an organization around via smart, cutting-edge management. We can hardly wait to read the next chapter."
Allen Barra's latest book is "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee." For a review, see Page 8.