batter up!…a list of five baseball stories for fans of all ages

clemente cover imageClemente! by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Roberto Clemente, one of baseball’s greats, was born in Puerto Rico in 1934, and became the first Latino player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A powerful hitter and exceptional outfielder, Clemente’s superb athleticism and legendary arm that rocketed the ball in from right field earned him many, many honors. Yet it was his humanitarian work in his homeland and other Latin American countries that made him one of the most beloved baseball players. A Portrait Of Roberto Clementeplane crash en route to assisting earthquake victims in Nicaragua  took his life. His generous spirit is noted each year when the Roberto Clemente Award is presented. 

Willie Perdomo has written a brief, affectionate account of Clemente, told from the perspective of a young boy named after him. This little boy’s father and uncle are huge Clemente fans, and he learns about this giant-of-a-man from them — about Clemente’s boyhood, his amazing stats, his graciousness, the tensions he endured due to his ethnicity, and his tragic death. At times the narrative sparks with electric enthusiasm; at times it’s hushed with honor and pride.

Bryan Collier’s paintings and collages glow with familial warmth,  jolt with bat-cracking power, and speak to the very human, kind outlook of Clemente. A time line, author’s note, illustrator’s note,  and book and website listings, all add to our understanding of this unusual ballplayer. Ages 5 and up.

hey batta batta swing cover imageHey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball, by Sally Cook and James Charlton, illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Did you know the Brooklyn Dodgers changed their name to the Bridegrooms one year since so many of the players had married in the off-season?

Or that, back in the day,  it took nine balls to get a walk?hey batta batta swing illustration ross macdonald

Only one or two balls were used during an entire game in those days, with fans returning any balls hit into the stands, until one owner declared that fans ought to be allowed to keep them. Who was it?

Ever heard of meatballs, lollipops, taters, and cans of corn? They aren’t items to buy at the corner grocer’s. They’re part of the abundant slang created over the long, long history of baseball.

A whole motley history of baseball is presented in this book, majoring on the quirky differences that governed the game a century ago. Nicknames and odd uniforms, sneaky tricks and crazy slang, old-time rules and a ballplayer traded for a bag of prunes — it’s all here.  The authors pitch it to us  in a breezy, humorous style that will interest folks ages 6 to 100…probably the grandparents among us could add a lot of colorful commentary to the information here!

MacDonald’s lively illustrations, done in watercolor and pencil crayon, exude vintage, all-American, comical charm. A perfect accompaniment.

able to play cover imageAble to Play: Overcoming Physical Challenges, by Glenn Stout

Mordecai Brown lost a couple of fingers on his right hand in an accident at age five. Unpampered by his parents, and undaunted by life, Brown went on to become a star major league pitcher, pitched in the World Series, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jim Abbott was born with an abbreviated right arm and no right hand. At a young age, he learned to catch, throw, and bat, practicing relentlessly, then went on to become a pitcher on the U.S. Olympic baseball team as well as playing for a decade in the major jim abbot from newsday dot comleagues.

Ron Santo secretly battled diabetes at a time when the disease was much more difficult to manage, while playing third base for the Chicago Cubs.

Curtis Pride overcame deafness, learning to lip read and focus on non-auditory cues, in order to make it in the major leagues.

The stories of these four men, their perseverance, and their refusal to allow physical challenges to define them or prevent them from achieving their goals, comprise this book. Each chapter follows the course of one player’s life. Stout’s writing is vivid, packed with interesting anecdotes, play-by-plays of key sporting moments, and direct quotes. Excellent sportswriting for mid-elementary and up. Be aware that there’s a fairly gruesome bit surrounding Mordecai Brown’s injury.

Included for each player are one black-and-white photo, sources for further information, and career stats. An inspirational book for all ages, whether able-bodied or challenged, athletic or not-so-much.

full count cover imageFull Count: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Baseball, published by Sports Illustrated Kids

Baseball and statistics go together like apple pie and ice cream, it seems to me.

Part of the ugliest uniform competition!

Part of the ugliest uniform competition!


That’s why this book, with it’s top ten lists of everything under the sun connected with baseball, makes so much sense.

From more obvious lists, such as the top ten lead off hitters or world series moments, to some lighthearted entries like best facial hair or oddest pitching styles, there are 36 colorful lists of bragging rights here. Well, perhaps not all brag-worthy. There’s also a list of ten scandals and the ten ugliest uniforms.

Gobs of brilliant, full-color photography — this is Sports Illustrated, after all — fill the pages, with short commentaries for each of the entries. Super fun book for poring over, arguing about, quizzing Dad on, wiling away the hours on a summer road trip…ages 5-100. Published in 2012, so we’re right up to date.

no easy way cover imageNo Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 season, by Fred Bowen, illustrations by Charles S. Pyle

Speaking of stats: Take a nine-inch ball, have someone hurl it at you 100 miles-per-hour, then try to hit it with a slim stick of wood. Little wonder that Ted Williams claimed “hitting a baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports.”

Williams, though, excelled at just that, and was the last major league player to maintain a batting average above .400 for an entire season. That was in 1941. Williams was playing for the Boston Red Sox, with Joe DiMaggio giving him a run for his money over at the Yankees’ club.

Williams accomplished this seemingly-unbreakable record by sheer, hard work.

Ted Williams

Ted Williams

There was no easy way, he knew.  In fact, with just a couple of games left in the season and an average just mathematically high enough to call  .400,  lots of folks, including Williams’ manager, thought he should sit out the remaining games in order to not jeopardize his record. Williams refused, declaring he wanted to earn the record, the whole season through. No easy way.

Fred Bowen’s account of Ted Williams’ life, his pathway to major league ball, and the grueling 1941 season, is loaded with all the determination and tension surrounding the forging of that amazing record. Charles Pyle’s paintings are striking, capturing the feel of the 40s, the athleticism of the players, and seating us in the stands, the dugout, or right smack in the batter’s box. Excellent biography for ages 6 and up.

Here are Amazon links for this entire line-up of baseball books:

Hey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball
Able to Play: Overcoming Physical Challenges (Good Sports)
Sports Illustrated Kids Full Count: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Baseball
No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season