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Diamond Gems:
Favorite Stories from the Legends of the Game
By Tim McCarver, with Jim Moskovitz and Danny Peary

Reviewer: Marc Maturo, MarcMyWords.net; Lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and sports copy editor for The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.


Tim McCarver, a former big-league catcher perhaps better known as an accomplished broadcaster and raconteur, can tell a story about as well as anyone, other than the iconic Ralph Kiner. But a great storyteller is usually a great listener, which is what enables McCarver to draw out interesting, at times unknown, tidbits from those he has interviewed on his weekly show. This book brings those interviews to life once again, the majority of which come from the world of baseball. This is a perfect Father's Day gift, a breezing read, broken down into 13 sections and broken down further within each section so that you can pick up the book at any moment, check out a favorite personality, and see what they have to say.

Much as in Ritter's legendary Glory of Their Time, McCarver's work, happy to relate, is not about bases and balls but rather a long list of anecdotes from the players' lives, the influences on those lives and the nuances that take the reader behind the numbers. If you want numbers, check the nearest encyclopedia or reference book.

Here, you can read about the advice given to Tommy Lasorda by his dad; Bobby Valentine comparing the rhythm and timing of ballroom dancing to the rhythm and timing witnessed in the turning of a double play or hitting the ball.

Naturally enough, McCarver introduces the reader to the manager in his opening section, Filling Out the Lineup Card. And what better leadoff hitter than the irascible, very accomplished Earl of Baltimore, Earl Weaver, who was perhaps the first manager to readily utilize statistics before the age of printouts. As Earl himself says, "I guess I was ahead of my time, because years later, every manager was doing that." Anyone who follows baseball will remember Earl's arguments with umpires and the stylized manner in which he would turn his cap around during any confrontation. Why did he do it? You'll find out, and it's only one of many hilarious and truly thoughtful insights he provides.

Lasorda, no shrinking violet either, also has much to offer, including an oft-told tale, but one that is worth repeating, regarding the defensive play of third baseman Pedro (Pete) Guerrero and second baseman Steve Sax.

What these interviews also reveal are things we might have known but had forgotten, or many things we never knew, to wit:

--Yogi Berra hit the first pinch homer in World Series history, off Ralph Branca in the 1947 Fall Classic

--Talk about a different era in baseball, just consider the late left-hander Warren Spahn, as tough as they come, who at 42 years of age led the National League for the seventh straight year in innings pitched. In that same year, Spahnie lost a 16-inning duel (that's right, 16 innings) to the great Giants' right-hander Juan Marichal. Forget about any record, this you'll never see again in our lifetime.

--The legendary Sandy Koufax of all people talks about how he failed in his attempt to develop a third pitch to complement his fastball and curveball. Sandy says he never liked the change and didn't like to throw it. As for the slider, that also went good-bye after Roberto Clemente launched one off the transformer in Forbes Field.

--How about Jim Kaat, another long-lasting lefty who finally realized the end was at hand at the age of 44. Seems Kaat had struck out Bob Watson, a feared right-handed hitter, with a slider on the outside corner. Comes the next day at the ballpark, and Watson goes up to Kaat and says, "When did you come up with that changeup?"

--The Hall of Fame Oakland A's reliever Rollie Fingers details how he became a reliever by default, and gives the story behind those storied mustaches he and his teammates cultivated during the reign of maverick owner Charlie Finley.

--The Hall of Fame right-hander Bob Gibson tells the real story behind his fabled "glare."

There's all of this and more from more than 70 retired players and managers in this diamond gem, a definite buy for any sportsman.


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