EEEEEE! Looks at Books

SF Giants: An Oral History -- Mike Mandel

by Gregg Pearlman

Saturday, January 30, 1999

I have a lot of baseball books, probably not as many as I want. They range in content and style from dry numbers (The Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia) to fake numbers (The Baseball Prospectus) to biographies (Say Hey) to diaries (Ball Four) to fictions (The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop.). Some of these I've read several times, some just once, and some never. Some of these can't be read more than once, and some just can't be read.

In "EEEEEE! Looks at Books," that's all I'll do, roughly once a month: just look. Well, I'll read a given book, but I don't intend to review it, exactly. Yeah, I'll tell you whether I like it or not, whether I consider it a worthwhile use of your time. But mostly I'll comment on bits and pieces and present what for all intents and purposes is a book report -- something I haven't written in at least 20 years.

The first installment of "EEEEEE! Looks at Books" examines SF Giants: An Oral History, the only book I know of by Mike Mandel, a young guy (at the time) who hung around with ballplayers, past and then-present, and interviewed them about being Giants. Clearly, most of the guys were all too happy for the attention, so they coughed up all kinds of details.

I received this book as a gift from my sister and her then husband in 1979. It was wrapped in a Hustler centerfold featuring extreme close-ups of a woman's nonfacial end. Not easy to feign nonchalance while your parents are sitting there, watching you unwrap presents, but that's not the weird part. The weird part is that I knew what was under the wrapping paper, because some months back I was visiting my sister and saw the book on a shelf. Her husband, upon finding me reading it, said, "Um, you're not supposed to know about that yet, so just pretend you don't." So I did.

The book, certainly, has long outlasted the wrapping paper. I like it enough to have reread it twice over the years, each time rediscovering nuggets I'd forgotten, each time remembering that it's not an easy book to read. Books like that just aren't. Plus, Mandel takes every opportunity to draw players out on the subject of religious beliefs -- certain players, that is, who share a particular spiritual mindset. It would appear that the author is not too subtly sharing his own beliefs with his readers via the mouths of his interview subjects. I don't consider that a very honest technique, and I'm not interested in being witnessed to by a baseball book, so consider yourself warned (if you want to be warned).

The reader's attention is jarred a bit, I think, by some rough editing, and Mandel's punctuation leaves something to be desired (and he tends to make one word out of two-word nouns, such as "leftfield" or "homerun," but that's just a matter of preference or style). The book was edited, designed, and published by Mandel himself (copyright 1979), so I expect it to be a bit tough to track down.

But this book is obviously a labor of love by an enthusiastic, somewhat star-struck Giants fan, so by definition, he deserves a lot of slack. Also, Mandel lets his interview subjects do virtually all the talking, and his humor comes across, to an extent, in the way the book is arranged. (See the Bobby Murcer entry, for instance.) I admire Mandel for his pluck and initiative in seeking out these Giants alums.

Like most San Francisco Giants fans, Mandel adored Willie Mays, and he tells us rather pointedly that Mays would not agree to be interviewed for the book, which is a true shame. (Certainly Willie was talked about, in this book.) I'm not sure of the timeline, so I wonder if Mandel conducted his interviews while Mays was temporarily banned from baseball for playing golf with casino enthusiasts, and that was a factor in his refusal to cooperate.

Mandel included lots of boxscores -- John Montefusco's no-hitter, Mike Sadek's first home run, the 1962 pennant winner -- which is fine, but way too many of them describe Giants losses. What's up with that? In the boxscores Mandel picked, the Giants went 31-24, and the first seven boxes were games in which the Giants lost. Somehow I'm convinced that if it were a Dodgers retrospective, there wouldn't be any Dodgers losses.

Here are some of the more noteworthy passages in the book:

I've left out a lot of interesting anecdotes -- I mean, if I'd kept them, I might just as well have typed in the whole book. But still, if you can find SF Giants: An Oral History, get it. Read it. It's fun, it's interesting -- you'll relive memories you don't even have. Mandel is really to be commended for his effort.

Copyright © 1999 by Gregg Pearlman

Last updated 1/30/99

Gregg Pearlman,

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