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April 04, 2006

Review: Alex Belth's "Stepping Up"

I've just finished reading Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights by Alex Belth of Bronx Banter fame.

Before I start with the review, I should disclose that I know Alex. In the past year, we've traded dozens of e-mails. And, just recently, we had a somewhat long phone conversation about baseball, books, and stuff. (That was the first time that we had ever spoken to each other.) Lastly, I actually did meet him about three weeks ago - albeit briefly.

And, from my dealings with Alex, I've found him to be one of the most generous and nicest people that you could ever hope to encounter. And, among baseball bloggers, he's a prince. You either got it, or you don't got it - and Alex has it.

This all said, you can imagine how excited I was to read his book. And, it did not disappoint.

In Stepping Up, Belth carefully documents and superbly paints the story of Curt Flood.

And, what a story it is. The Flood case brought the issue baseball's reserve clause into the light for both players and the public. And, it forced baseball owners to bargain in good faith (as opposed to treating players like property). And, for all the life-altering pain that Flood had to go through during this process, he got zilch. Picture "Joan of Arc" meets "Rosa Parks" - and, that's Flood's story.

Alex's book is a quick read - it's in a 6" x 8.5" format and contains about 200 pages of actual text. But, it's full of information.

For example, the book mentions a series of articles written by Dodgers G.M. Buzzie Bavasi (for Sports Illustrated in 1967). These articles talked about how greedy the players were - and that money was the only thing that motivated them. And, these articles went on to rally the resolve of the player's union. Until I read this, I was never aware of it.

Also, just before he was shot, Robert Kennedy mentioned Don Drysdale in his speech at the Democratic Party's California presidential primary. (This was after Drysdale just threw his 6th straight shutout.) I never knew this before reading the book.

So, besides the great story of Curt Flood, you get lots of other baseball information in Alex's book.

Now, I would have liked to have seen more detail around the 1964 National League pennant race. And, when Belth details the Tigers comeback in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, he never mentions any of the Cardinal pitchers who surrendered the game. Also, there's a mention of Spring Training "Murphy Money" without explaining why it had that name. (In fact, the term dates back to 1946 - when lawyer Robert Murphy tried to organize a player's union. While he failed, he did win the players a grant of money for expenses during Spring Training.)

Then again, maybe I'm just being picky with some of this stuff?

At the end of the day, I've learned many baseball things that I was not aware of - and enjoyed myself in the process - while reading Stepping Up. What more can you ask for in a baseball read? I highly recommend this book.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at April 4, 2006 04:27 PM