Thursday, August 24, 2023

Books On Two Of Baseball's Landmark Franchises, the Red Sox & Cardinals


Boston Red Sox Firsts: The Players, Moments and Records That Were First in Team History

By Bill Nowlin

Lyons Press; paperback; $19.95

Bill Nowlin is the author of nearly 100 books, with a lot of them on the Boston Red Sox, including Don't Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox Impossible Playoff Run, written with Allan Wood. Nowlin also co-founded Rounder Records, America's most independent record label specializing in roots music.

The Red Sox are one of the most compelling teams in baseball history, as they were the most successful team in the 1910s, and then after Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, they endured an 86-year "Curse of the Bambino" before they have won four championships in the last 20 years.

Along the way over their 122-year history, Red Sox fans have been treated to countless firsts. That starts with Jimmy Collins, who was the first manager of the Sawx; then Tris Speaker, who was the first American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) to play for the Sox; Bill Dineen, the first 20-game winner; Ted Williams, the first to hit 500 home runs; and Roger Clemens, the first Sox pitcher to win the Cy Young Award.

As you can see from just those names, there are many well-known names, like Clemens and Williams, and others that will deepen your understanding of their rich history. Nowlin, the veteran Red Sox historian, presents the stories behind the firsts in Red Sox history in a question-and-answer format.

This is more than a trivia book, as Nowlin gives substantive answers to the question of "who was the first...?" on many topics, most of which will surprise even their biggest fans.

The Red Sox have played at iconic Fenway Park since 1912, so the history of where they played before that, including in the early years when they were the Boston Americans, the original name when the team was founded in 1901, is especially interesting.

Some of the questions include, "Who was the first (and only) Red Sox player to have been on four World Series-winning Red Sox teams?" and "Who was the first Red Sox player to drive in four runs in successive clinching games that won both a League Championship Series and a World Series?," as well as a chapter on foreign-born Red Sox, such as the first players from Cuba, Japan, and the Dominican Republic.

Nowlin writes of what fans can expect to find in this excerpt: " The very first team to win the very first World Series was the team we now know as the Boston Red Sox. They were also, arguably, the first dynasty when it came to World Series wins. Come the current century, are they at it again? In the first 21 years of the twenty-first century, the Red Sox have won four more championships, more than any other club.

Baseball is often described as a game in which numbers are of utmost importance - not just which team wins the most games. Baseball fans have always tended to enjoy looking at numbers. Trivia has always been prized by baseball aficionados, but many of the numbers are of real significance - which players hit the most home runs? Hit for the highest batting average? Which player won 20 games in a season? Did a player set a team record for stolen bases? How many games in a row did a given team win? Does a player have a streak of some sort going?

Sometimes it's not just the aggregate numbers that matter, but there has always been a fascination with what comes comes first? What did a rookie do in his first at-bat? Who was the first player to hit a walk-off home run?...

It's another way of looking at a team's history, another way to appreciate the highlights (and a few lowlights) over the course of time.

The park the Red Sox plays in - Fenway Park - is the oldest park in major-league baseball. We'll look at some Fenway firsts, too.

Let's start with World Series play since that's the ultimate goal for any team. Then we can step back and look at the founding of the franchise, which started play in 1901. There's always an essential historical element to any look at 'firsts,' and this book will be no exception. The team has a rich history, and much of it will be explored here, moving forward through time to look at firsts in the categories of hitting, pitching, fielding, baserunning, and other elements of play on the field, as well as a number of things off the field as well."

The Ultimate St. Louis Cardinals Time Machine Book

By Martin Gitlin

Lyons Press; paperback; $19.95

Martin Gitlin is a veteran author and sportswriter who has written around 150 books published since 2006, including A Celebration of Animation: The 100 Greatest Cartoon Characters in Television History (Lyons Press, 2018), with Joe Wos, and Powerful Moments in Sports: The Most Significant Sporting Events in American History, which earned critical acclaim. Gitlin won more than 45 awards as a sports journalist from 1991 to 2002, including first place for general excellence from the Associated Press for his coverage of the Indians-Braves 1995 World Series.

The Ultimate St. Louis Cardinals Time Machine Book is Gitlin's newest, and it presents the history of the Red Birds in a timeline format that not only includes their greatest moments, such as that that helped them win 11 World Championships, but also notable achievements.

The Cardinals have many of those, including Rogers Hornsby's two batting triple crowns, Dizzy Dean's 30-win season in 1934, Stan Musial's 17 Major League Baseball and 29 National League records, Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA (earned run average) in 1968, and the 2011 championship team's unprecedented comebacks. 

Cardinals players have won 20 National League MVP awards, four batting Triple Crowns, and three Cy Young Awards. St. Louis has been one of the most consistently well-performing teams, which has only made this season's underwhelming play more shocking. They have won 105 or more games four times, and won 100 or more nine times. 

Gitlin writes, "Their periods of superiority have been pronounced. The champions of the late 1920s. The Gashouse Gang featuring Dizzy Dean that followed. The war-year World Series winners of Enos 'Country' Slaughter and Stan Musial. The perennial 1960s title-holders led by such legends as Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda and Gibson. The stolen-base kings of the 1980s driven by Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee that snagged crowns without power. And the seemingly annual playoff participants throughout the twenty-first century guided by Tony LaRussa and Mike Matheny, the latest into 2018 of a long line of St. Louis managers whose extended stays resulted in stability and success.

"That sustained brilliance offers welcome challenges to any chronicler of franchise history. One cannot focus solely on the clubs that earned titles for the Cardinals have hoisted eleven World Series championship banners and played in nineteen Fall Classics. That provided this author an opportunity to not only write about those kings of baseball, but also the personalities and motivations of the men who graced their uniforms or worked behind the scenes to make it all happen, including owners Sam Breadon, who purchased the team for a measly $2,000 in 1917 and sold it for $3 million thirty years later, and the legendary beer baron Gussie Busch, who cycled through one general manager after another but maintained continuity in the manager's office and on the field to rule over six pennant and three World Series winners." 

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