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Midwest League Reference Pages

Recommended Reading

This page has reviews of books and periodicals of interest to Midwest League fans and followers. Reviews are by me (Joel Dinda) unless credited to someone else.


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MWL Fan's Guide

Books


Midwest League

Waterloo Diamonds

by Richard Panek (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995)
Not Currently in Print

When Panek's editor suggested that he write a book about the resurgence of the minor leagues, he decided the way to research that book was to learn a lot about the 1992 Waterloo Diamonds. The result was a very different book than his editor probably expected.

This book is almost entirely about how the Diamonds died. It's a portrait of the owners, the team officers, and the city slowing coming to realize that the team was no longer viable, and of the efforts of a large number of people to stave off what was perhaps inevitable. It's also an exploration of the causes of that death. Waterloo Diamonds is a wonderful, if sad, book, and its great strength is its sympathetic portraits of the principal characters. They didn't all agree, and their differences are the drama. Excellent book; if you can find a copy I highly recommend it.


Cougars and Snappers and Loons (Oh My!): A Midwest League Field Guide

by Dave Hoekstra (Elgin: Can't Miss Press, 2009)

This book ranks with Panek's Waterloo Diamonds as the best books ever written about Midwest League baseball. It's a book of roughly seventy essays on Midwest League topics.

Hoekstra, who writes for the Chicago Sun Times, has been writing essays, called "The Glove Compartment," for publication in the Kane County Cougars' gameday program for most of the team's history. About sixty of the essays here originated as Glove Compartment pieces; the others were newly composed for the book. The result is episodic, of course, but it's a reasonably thorough history and (as it says) field guide to the league. Moe Hill, Deacon Jones, and the 1951 Paris team are all profiled. Paul Molitor, Joey Meyer, and scores of Cubs are mentioned. The emphasis, though, is on the current teams and recent players.

Because of the book's origins, there's some repetition, but less than you'd expect. The essays are reprinted apparently as originally published, with notes at the end to establish what's gone obsolete since they appeared in the KC programs. There are, unsurprisingly, a handful of factual errors, but none are really glaring.

All in all an excellent book. Highly recommended to all baseball fans, wherever you watch the game.


The Boys Who Would Be Cubs

by Joseph Bosco (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990)
Not Currently in Print

Joe Bosco spent the 1988 season on the bench and in the hotels with Peoria's Chiefs; this strange book is that summer's chronicle. Since Joe mostly hung out with the coaches, we get the story mainly from the perspective of manager Jim Tracy and his staff. There are fine portraits of Tracy, of Jimmy Piersall, of Richie Zisk, of Tony Franklin--all were minor league instructors, that year; the players are Rick Wilkins ("The Phenom") and a bunch of lesser lights, all of whom are struggling with baseball. Pete Vonachen is, of course, a major character, and his friend Harry Carey's here, too.

This is a difficult book to recommend. Nearly all readers will find something offensive: The book's language, its discussion of the players' love lives, and its general cynicism are all off-putting. It reads like fiction. Bosco chose to tell his story as a present-tense monologue, and everyone's called consistently by nicknames which are not always explained. But it's a fascinating, if quirky, portrait of the Chiefs' season.


Owning a Piece of the Minors

by Jerry Klinkowitz (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999)

Jerry, who teaches at the University of Northern Iowa, was one of the owners of the Waterloo Diamonds from 1978 until they were sold in 1994. This series of essays explores that experience from a variety of perspectives; he talks about how he got involved with the team, about how he wrote a novel (Short Season) based on his ownership experiences, about his grandstand neighbors, about team officer Mildred Boyenga, and about why the Diamonds failed.

Taken in isolation, each essay is excellent. They aren't so successful as a book. The main problem is repetition; many of essays cover the same general material and some of the stories get told several times. Said differently: The book's not very long, and about half of it could have been left out. Nonetheless, this is a valuable look at how baseball looked in Waterloo during the 80s, and is worth your time and a few of your dollars.


General Baseball

The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

by Bill James (New York: Villard Books/Random House, 1985)
A new edition was published in 2001.

Great book about the history of baseball. Each Decade from 1870 to 1970 is discussed with "How the game was played", Where the game was played, "Who the game was played by", "the decade in a box" (cool tidbits), "nicknames", uniforms of the decade, ballparks of the decade, etc.

This is a must-have book if you like the history of the game. There is also a section on each decade on the minors (the best minor league teams of each decade) although the MWL is not mentioned. The next two sections (The Players and The Records) are better covered in Macmillan's Baseball Encyclopedia or Total Baseball.

Note from Joel: There was a second, paperback, edition published in 1988. It's essentially the same book with a lot of revised material. Either edition is worth your time to locate.

Now there's a third edition, called The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. While the new edition retains much of the original material, it's a substantially different book; much of it is based on a new evaluation model James calls "Win Shares."

...

Review by Jon Mielke


Fodor's Ballpark Vacations

by Bruce Adams and Margaret Engel (New York: Fodor's Travel Publications/Random House, 1997)

A good reference if you are planning road trips to the teams covered. The places that are reviewed in this release are:

Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Bluefield, Lynchburg, Shenandoah Valley League, Chattanooga, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Jackson, Little Rock, Birmingham, Charleston, Savannah, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Norfolk, Richmond, Woodbridge, Baltimore, Frederick, Hagerstown, Delmarva, Harrisburg, Reading, Williamsport, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Trenton, New York, New Haven, Pawtucket, Boston, Cape Cod League, Portland, Cooperstown, Fishkill, Oneonta, Elmira, Buffalo, St. Catherines, Jamestown, Cleveland, Toledo, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, KANE COUNTY, CEDAR RAPIDS, Des Moines, DAVENPORT/QUAD CITIES, St. Paul, Sioux City, Helena, Butte, Idaho Falls, Vancouver, Everett, Portland, Stockton, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Lake Elsinore, Phoenix, Tucson, Denver, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Arlington, and Oklahoma City.

Each review has a short (one page) write up, where to stay, where to eat, entertainment, and sites to see.

Review by Jon Mielke


In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People

by George Gmelch & J.J. Weiner (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)

Gmelch played briefly in the Tigers system, and now teaches anthropology; Weiner's worked in the minors and is an anthropology student. The book is a series of portraits of the people who labor at ballparks. The book was built from a series of interviews; there's some explanatory commentary, but much of the book is directly transcribed from those interviews--a vendor, a scout, a manager, a general manager, a sports writer, and so forth--talking about what they do at the ballpark and what they like about the work. The last chapter offers some analysis.

The folks profiled here are privileged, and that's a recurring theme in their remarks. In almost every case it's clear that it's important to the person talking that he or she is part of Baseball; it's more important than their specific job, and it's what they think of as their defining characteristic. An interesting and provocative book.


Dollar Sign on the Muscle: The World of Baseball Scouting

by Kevin Kerrane (New York: Avon, 1984)
Reprinted in 1999 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Kerrane spent 1981 following scouts around, asking what they did, how they did it, why they did it. He also gave some thought to the implications of what they did--as, clearly, did they. The book concentrates on the Phillies organization, at that time a strong development organization (Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Ryne Sandberg--you get the idea). We watch scouts in a variety of environments, from high school grandstands to draft day. It's a thoughtful book about a subject which gets far too little attention. It portrays the end of one scouting era, but it asks good questions which still apply.

Many of the players mentioned in the book had big league careers, and the scouting reports can be evaluated in that light--they overestimated Dick Schofield, for instance. Kevin McReynolds is here. So are Juan Samuel, Joe Carter, Doc Gooden, and Mike Moore. Bip Roberts is here, though you might confuse him with Leon. And so's Joey Meyer--you remember Joey. He won our triple crown in 1984.

I first read this book when it was new; when I reread it in the late '90s I discovered it had heavily influenced the way I watch ballgames. This is a wonderful book; if you've not read it, you should.


A False Spring

by Pat Jordan (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975)

Every season our league has dozens of pitchers with obvious talents who can't win games; in 1960 Jordan was one of those guys. Fifteen years later, he wrote this bittersweet memoir of his baseball summers in an attempt to explain (or discover) what went wrong. He concludes that the problem was in his head, not in his body. He didn't listen to his coaches, blamed everyone else for his problems, and never came to terms with minor league life.

This is a very dark book. But it's a fascinating tale about what life in the minors is like, and about why so many talented kids fail to move up the ladder. This is the best book in this set, but it's the least joyful.


Minor League Reference

STATS Minor League Handbook

No longer being published. Formerly published annually by STATS Publishing, 8131 Monticello, Skokie, IL 60076

Every year the first statistical compilations for the most recent baseball season were published by STATS and their partners at Howe SportsData (SportsTicker). This specific volume was devoted entirely to players who played in the minors during the season. (Minor leaguers with even one major league appearance get catalogued in a different volume in the series.) There's nothing here but numbers--mostly the standard ones, plus a few others. Players were listed alphabetically in one of three sections, depending on whether they played in the high or low minors and (for the low minors) whether they hit or pitched. This cataloging system was more useful for looking up specific players than for tracking a team or a farm system.

A valuable book for some purposes, a difficult book for others. Great fun, if you liked studying numbers into the wee hours in January.


Baseball America Almanac

Published yearly by Baseball America, Durham, NC.

These books (which still can be purchased for 1986, 1988-1996) are the single best point of reference for Major League, Minor League, and Amateur information for the last decade. They also give information about indy leagues, international leagues, TEAM USA, Cape Cod, etc.

Review by Jon Mielke


STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook

No longer being published. Formerly published yearly by STATS, Skokie, IL.

This book was nice to have, but not a must-have for followers of Low-A ball because most of the players listed were at least AA. But sometimes a player does come through the MWL with AA or AAA experience.

The better players got about 1/3 - 1/2 page write-ups with stats, while some of the minor players only get a paragraph.

Review by Jon Mielke


The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball

2nd edition, edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff (Durham: Baseball America, 1995 [1 ed], 1997 [2 ed])

This is a reasonably comprehensive source book about minor league baseball. You can look up a city, a league, or a state; you can look up records; you can look for events on specific dates. The basic organization is by year, with cross references; each year is divided by league, with standings, championships, league leaders, and all-star selections. More recent years have better information; some years have gaps.

A fun book for just browsing, and a useful one for looking up specific facts. This book may not know exactly the answer to your question, but it knows lots of facts, and many of them are interesting.

Just for instance: The MWL's Keokuk franchise collapsed on August 7, 1962. The league moved the team to Dubuque (which already had a team) to finish the season and called the team the "Midwest Dodgers." Ed Serrano managed the team in both towns, and the total attendance for the year was 28,787 despite finishing an excellent 67/57 (5th of 10 teams). This team had the league's Player of the Year, Tony Torchia, who won the batting (.338) and RBI (94) titles despite the chaos. Tony's now a managing in the Expos organization, and I imagine he remembers all this vividly.


Local History

Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland

by Stefan Fatsis (Walker & Co., 1996)

This book is actually about the Northern League, but many players who have played in the MWL have also played in the Northern League. Also with the MWL continuing its movement east, the NL will probably move in behind to fill the void, as it has done in Madison. This book is about management and running a league as much as it is about players, but it does give good insight into how/why the league has succeeded under the watchful eye of Miles Wolff.

Review by Jon Mielke


Periodicals

Baseball America

POB 2089
Durham, NC 27702

Published biweekly; $43.95
1-800-845-2726

BA is a biweekly paper devoted to minor league baseball. Extremely valuable, and highly recommended.



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The Midwest League plays Single-A, professional baseball in America's agricultural and industrial heartland. 16 teams play a 140 game schedule which begins in early April and ends Labor Day weekend.

Disclaimers:
This website is a private project and has no official relation with or sanction from the Midwest League or Minor League Baseball.
The opinions expressed on this page are mine, and are worth about that.


Copyright © 1996-2010 Joel Dinda
Some Rights Reserved.