An Illustrated History of Baseball's Forgotten Heroes

By Gary Cieradkowski

Touchstone.

240 pp. $25

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Reviewed by

Michael Harrington

Frank Sinatra had a baseball team. Ol' Blue Eyes called his club the Swooners, made himself the starter at second base, and played exhibitions in the 1940s with a lineup that included Anthony Quinn and Nat King Cole.

In the 19th century, army officer Frederick Benteen had a service club that survived Custer's Last Stand (though the Benteens' pitcher and second baseman were wounded in the fight, ending their baseball careers).

Eiji Sawamura, Japan's greatest pitcher, was killed in 1944 when his troopship was sunk by an American sub - whose crew included the grandson of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Charlie Ebbets, namesake of the stadium.

While playing in the Pacific Coast League in 1957, Tommy Lasorda sparked a 35-minute fight, broadcast live on TV, after brushing back a batter, then rushing him on the ensuing bunt.

Bespectacled Steve Dalkowski, a fireballing lefty and Baltimore Orioles farmhand, may have been the model for Bull Durham's Nuke LaLoosh. He could throw in excess of 110 m.p.h. and averaged 18 strikeouts per game, but he walked even more. He hit a patron at the hot-dog concession and a radio announcer in the booth. Still, Dalko once appeared on a 1963 Orioles "Rookie Star" card. But the story does not have a Hollywood ending, alas.

So we learn from The League of Outsider Baseball, a gorgeous tome written and illustrated by Gary Cieradkowski, packed with bar-bet-winning trivia and fanciful drawings in the solid-line style of the tobacco cards of the turn of the last century.

Cieradkowski's interest in baseball trivia started in the 1970s, he tells us, as he swapped odd factoids with his father when he was a fan of the woeful New York Mets. As such, it's the perfect beach book for Phillies fans in this, the summer of our discontent.

The Phils feature in several stories.

The first major-league club Babe Ruth ever faced, as a reliever for the then-minor league Orioles, was the Phillies. (The Bambino committed a balk on his first pitch, but shut out the Fightins the rest of the way and got the win.)

Harlan Pyle, a pitcher who suffered from stage fright, was finally able to take the mound when his visiting Reds played the Phillies in 1928. The crowd numbered just 200.

Eddie Boland, a former Phillies outfielder turned New York garbage man, played for the Washington Senators during his summer vacation in 1944.

Then there are the team names, mellifluous and even poetic. The Lake Charles Skippers of the Evangeline League. The Hollywood Sheiks. The Hutchinson Wheat Shockers. Olinda Oil Wells. Norfolk Mary Janes. Paterson Silk Weavers. Wilson Tubs.

This is a book any fan of the game should own, one that rewards repeated readings.