"We're Gonna Win, Twins!"by Doug Grow (University of Minnesota Press, 328 pages, $25.95)
Are you old enough to remember people arguing about whether Earl Battey should have been MVP instead of the Yankees' Elston Howard in 1963? How about debates that "Squal" -- I shouldn't have to tell you that I'm talking about Twins righthander Camilo Pascual -- had a better curveball than Sandy Koufax's? Do you remember Harmon Killebrew's home run in the 1965 All-Star game? And baseball cards with the nickname "Zorro" on Zoilo Versalles' card?
To be honest, I'm scarcely able to remember most of these myself, but I recall adults discussing them at the dinner table. And if you're reading this, you probably know what I'm talking about. That means you'll love "We're Gonna Win, Twins!," Doug Grow's heart-tugging history of the team from its first year in Minnesota, 1961, to the heartbreak of last season's playoffs as Joe Nathan stared into his glove while Alex Rodriguez rounded the bases.
The book is more than a history. It's an evocation of half a century, lavishly illustrated with such out-of-left-field photos as the cover of the "Win Twins Polka" -- more fun to look at the album cover than to listen to, trust me -- to the late great Kirby Puckett, adorned in a full-length fur coat, waving to fans at the 1987 World Series parade.
Grow, a longtime Star Tribune sports columnist who currently writes for the online publication MinnPost, brings the Twins' story up to date, including an account of the politics surrounding the construction of their new park, Target Field, "made with native Minnesota limestone and landscaped with Minnesota native flowers, shrubs, and trees." The only thing wrong with "We're Gonna Win, Twins!" is that it was published before Joe Mauer signed his eight-year contract. No doubt that will make the paperback edition.
"The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macorís"by Mark Kurlansky (Riverhead Books, 258 pages, $25.95)
Reversing the wording results in a more accurate subtitle for Mark Kurlansky's latest book: "How the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macorís Changed Baseball." Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano and the Yankees' own Robbie Cano, to name only three of the most prominent, are from the impoverished village.
"The Eastern Stars" is a cutaway view of the step-by-step journey of dozens of major league players from the dusty streets of their hometown to wealth and fame in big-league cities in the United States. Each story is more thrilling and heartrending than the one before it. Not all of the players are heroes, though, as Kurlansky writes, "Heroics is a lot to expect from someone snatched away without education at age 16 and handed fame and wealth at a dizzying speed."
(By the way, fans of the delightful 2008 movie "Sugar," about an aspiring Dominican player, should love this book.)
"Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards" by Josh Wilker (Seven Footer Press, 208 pages, $24.95)
Nearly every American male has suffered the indignity of having his mother throw out his baseball cards, but Josh Wilker had an enlightened mom, and we can thank her for her part in making "Cardboard Gods" possible.
Baseball cards may just be pieces of cardboard, but try telling that to Wilker, whose obsession with them led to an imaginary correspondence with Carl Yastrzemski, and that's just the beginning. In "Cardboard Gods," Wilker connects baseball cards to more pop culture references than a season of "Family Guy" -- everything from Louis L'Amour westerns to Jack Kerouac to Elvis Costello.
"Cardboard Gods" covers territory any boy whose heart pounded at the thought of the wax paper packages will recognize. If you loved the game, you loved your cards, and you'll love this book. Added bonus: dozens of cards are reproduced in full color, including my favorite, Topps' 1980 Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.
Allen Barra was born in Minneapolis. His latest book is "Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee," available now in paperback.