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Baseball Books Book Review

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

The baseball season is in full force.  Two recently published books, one a biography and one fiction, have America's favorite pastime as their main theme.  

Lefty: An American Odyssey by Vernona Gomez and Lawrence Goldstone; Ballantine Books; May 2012; 393 pp.; $28.00

Vernona Gomez, the daughter of Vernon "Lefty" Gomez, and Lawrence Goldstone, author or coauthor of thirteen books, have collaborated to write the first modern biography of pitching legend Lefty Gomez, who won six World Series games for the New York Yankees.  Lefty (1908-1989) was a steady but also colorful ballplayer who pitched for the Yankees from 1930-1942.  His teammates and friends included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and his roommate Joe DiMaggio.  He was married to Broadway star June O'Dea, mingled with many prominent people, and even gained a private audience with the Pope in 1934.  Known for his high velocity fastball, Lefty was the winning pitcher in the first ever All Star Game and finished his major league career with a 189-102 record.  Fun-loving and personable, Lefty was known for his wit; he acquired the nickname "El Goofo" during his pitching career.  His one-liners include "I'd rather be lucky than good" and "The secret of my success is clean living and a fast outfield."

Lefty is an interesting story of an entertaining baseball player, to be sure, but it also offers a glimpse at the time period when many of the larger-than-life legends of the game played ball.  Using photos, film clips and interviews with Lefty, June, and over 300 friends, competitors and teammates, the book describes how the game was played in that era. The authors tell of Lefty's vacations with Babe Ruth and his relationships with Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. Lefty also chronicles the Gomez's highly publicized separation during their fifty-six-year marriage and Lefty's bout with alcoholism later in his life.

Sports and history enthusiasts will enjoy this book about one of baseball's legends, brought to life by many humorous anecdotes and numerous compelling photographs. Lefty is a must-read for baseball fans.

 Calico Joe: A Novel by John Grisham; Doubleday Books; April 2012; 198 pp.; $24.95

John Grisham's newest book is not a legal thriller, as is his norm.  Instead, for the first time, Grisham has penned a novel set in the world of Major League Baseball.  Calico Joe is the tale of two major league ballplayers: a sensational rookie hitter from Calico Rock, Arkansas, named Joe Castle-nicknamed Calico Joe-- who plays for the Cubs, and Warren Tracey, a hard-throwing, hard-partying pitcher for the Mets. The story is narrated by Tracey's son, Paul, whose favorite ballplayer happens to be Calico Joe.

In the summer of 1973, Calico Joe has been amazing all of baseball, hitting three home runs in his first major league game for the Cubs, and two months later, still hitting over .500.  When Tracey faces Calico Joe for the first time, Young Paul is in the stands, rooting for Calico Joe, but also cheering for his dad, who has never been a model father.  After giving up a homer to Calico Joe in his first at bat, Warren then throws a fastball at Joe's head, knocking him out of the game and out of baseball forever.

The main characters in Calico Joe are fictitious, but a number of them were real major leaguers back in 1973, which makes the tale even more enjoyable for baseball fans.  Grisham alternates his narrative between 1973 and the present, when Paul attempts to reunite Calico Joe and the senior Tracey, who is dying of cancer. 

Forgiveness and redemption are the focus in this short, but big-league tale.  Grisham, who has authored twenty-four novels, has once again written a solid, enjoyable read.

lefty                             calico joe