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The Early Word: New Books for the Week of March 15, 2010

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My favorite title of the week, new but schlock-straight to paperback: Roswell and the Reich: The Nazi Connection (by Joseph P. Farrell). Alas, no vampires. Happenstance? Or just lack of alliteration? 

 Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, the Brutal World of Early Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had
by Edward Achorn

"This is a beautifully written, meticulously researched story about a bygone baseball era that even die-hard fans will find foreign, and about a pitcher who might have been the greatest of all time."
– Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer prize-winning historian and devoted Red Sox fan

Hold the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, fans, and let’s not be too hasty about that “great American pastime” distinction. In its infancy, according to the colorful and informative Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, the Brutal World of Early Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had, 19th century baseball was often considered “one degree above grand larceny, arson, and mayhem, and those who engaged in it were beneath the notice of decent society.” Moreover, the players — usually hard-drinking illiterates in the game to escape work on the farms or in the mines — were exhibited before crowds of no more than 3,000, playing hardball in all senses of the word, with pitchers throwing toughened-up orbs at batters' heads, and catchers (and fielders) playing barehanded or wearing thin, fingerless gloves so that by the end of a game their hands were often covered with dirt and dried blood, putting them through such abuse at times that some would need fingers amputated. As this was before the introduction of relief pitchers, the starters were expected to play the entire game and to pitch often, sometimes on consecutive days — and sometimes even both ends of a doubleheader. The rough and ready aspect of the game included the fact that foul balls were not strikes, while a single umpire, often corrupt, called each game.

Author Edward Achorn focuses on Providence Grays pitcher Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn, who won an astounding 59 games — more than anyone in major-league history ever had before, or has since. He then went on to win all three games of baseball's first World Series. Achorn chronicles Radbourn's rapid rise in an era when pitchers burned out quickly because of arm injuries — the wear and tear on Radbourn's right arm lead to such deterioration that he couldn't comb his own hair. Nevertheless, Radbourn, handwringing over fears he may be overtaken by a pitcher six years his junior, persevered through the season with notable determination. Out of 75 games, all with a sore arm, he pitched 73 complete games, winning 59 and maintaining a 1.38 earned run average.

Achorn tells the tale, too, of Radbourn’s personal life, including his marriage to the legendary Carrie Stanhope, the proprietress of a boarding house with an intriguing past as a married lady who was said to have personally known every man in the National League. But how could Radbourn’s home life compare with his day job, where pitchers can take running starts which not only help them throw dangerously faster but also intimidate batters? And where his counterpart in what was surely a year of “unparalleled brilliance” was a 22-year-old Californian named Charles Sweeney, an arrogant alcoholic who may well have been a psychopath?

Now that's the kind of info you don't get from your usual sports fanatic flip-through. It takes a fascinating history like Fifty-nine in '84 to take you out to the ol' ball game as most fans don’t know it.

NONFICTION

Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted
by Todd Bridges, with Sarah Tomlinson

Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given
by Duane “Dog” Chapman

Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero
by Tom Clavin, Danny Peary 

Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans
by Brian M. Fagan

The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror
by John Kiriakou

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Michael Lewis

The Best of Friends: Martha and Me
by Mariana Pasternak

Not My Boy!: A Father, a Son, and One Family's Journey with Autism
by Rodney Peete

Dining with Al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East
by Hugh Pope

Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman
by Chloe Schama

FICTION

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
by Sarah Addison Allen

The Queen's Lover
by Vanora Bennett

Wild Ride
by Jennifer Crusie

The Body Finder
by Kimberly Derting

King, Ship, and Sword
by Dewey Lambdin

The Spellmans Strike Again (Spellman Files Series #4)
by Lisa Lutz

Warriors
edited by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1
by Stephenie Meyer, Young Kim (Illustrator)

FANG (Maximum Ride Series #6)
by James Patterson

Her Mother's Hope
by Francine Rivers

Down to the Wire
by David Rosenfelt

Think Twice
by Lisa Scottoline

Shadow Souls (Vampire Diaries: The Return Series #2)
by L.J. Smith 

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