Monthly Archives: August 2008

Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – by Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan

Even though there are still a few weeks to go in the season, the end is coming, and so I’ve gravitated to a few titles that deal with putting a season under wraps.

The first is Walkoffs, Last Licks and Final Outs, by Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan, a title from the good folks at ACTA Sports that looks at how some of the biggest games and names called it a wrap.

The book, which has chapters looking at pennant races, World Series, perfect games, streaks, stadiums, final goodbyes, Hall of Fame farewells and “The Last Chapter,” does a fairly nice job of summarizing how some big games ended and some big names walked away from the game.

As it recaps some of these stories, the book can lean a bit to the dry side – simply recapping the basic notes that made the games memorable. With stories dating back to the early 1900s, there is a decent amount to sift through, since almost every year is represented.

It took a while to find something a bit deeper that reached my philosophical side — it was page 86, which highlights game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Reds and Red Sox, where Carlton Fisk hit a 12th inning homerun to win the game, and created a lasting replay of him bouncing up the first base line waving his arms in an attempt to keep the ball fair. It worked, and the game became known to some as the game that saved baseball, as it brought the entertainment value back to the game that had been angering fans with rising free agent salaries.

The authors deflect some of the attention from that game, saying baseball “always survives the sins of those who play it, the men in blue who umpire it, those of us who cover it, those of you who watch it, and especially those who run it.”

It was a shining moment in the book that got me through the balance of it; the lack of analysis or explaining the importance of some of the games left me wanting to understand more about them. Sometimes I want to see major historical importance in every event, even though it’s not always there.

The book came across a bit dry to me just too much – there are a lot of games that just don’t have the significance I look to provide deeper thought and analysis about the game.

One major benefit of the book – it provides a tremendous amount of trivia and “do you remember?” moments. As someone who is always in need of more trivia and talking points, this did provide a nice addition to my inventory and will keep a place on the shelf close to my work area. I don’t doubt for a minute that I’ll be able to reference this book regularly with good results.

Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs would be a fun read for history buffs and those wanting to be reminded of the ways that games, players, and even stadiums ended throughout baseball. I wouldn’t say it’s a must read, but I don’t think you’d be disappointed if you did.

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But Didn’t We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball’s Pioneer Era, 1843-1870 — by Peter Morris

Peter Morris is back after writing the two volumes of A Game of Inches, which were some of my favorite books in 2007, and he takes us back to the early days of baseball – before it was even called by that name, and chronicles how the game got its footing throughout the country and made its progression from recreational sport played by children, to ultimately a competitive game that was reshaped by the Civil War and made its foray into a professional game.

Divided amongst 13 chapters, Morris starts by admitting that the reader has to maintain a certain skepticism throughout the book. Few texts deal with the subject, and as he got into the topic, found that there was a significant gap in the chronicling of this time period. Some works are too detailed; others take an approach that glosses over too many important details and leaves readers with the impression the Abner Doubleday gave the game to the Cincinnati Red Stockings and we all lived happily ever after.

The first two-thirds of the book deal mainly with history – looking at the nature of the game and those who played it, from the difficulty of finding someone who could produce a baseball to the organizations that gave rise to the first baseball teams. For someone who isn’t a history buff, this is a bit more of a topic than I cared to get into, and unfortunately I found that I glanced over more pages than I probably should have.

However, come to chapter 12, which provides a reflection of the time that has passed, which includes the conclusion of the Civil War, and more to chapter 13, which analyzes life in the new professional era of baseball, and the words and pages suddenly came alive for me.

Change was rampant in baseball, most notably the idea of the enclosed stadiums and people paying to watch a game. This radical departure from recreation to profession set baseball on a new course, and the resulting backlash of a reinvention of the amateur and recreational games rings true to this day.

Morris makes clear the struggle of baseball as an inclusive versus exclusive game, and to this day that idea still prevails. Are you a fan of baseball in general, or do you lean to a certain level or style of baseball? Do you only follow Major League games, or are you a Minor League or collegiate fan?

The glue of this book to me came in the final two chapters, and it’s because of those that I make a wholehearted recommendation to read it. Morris brings the development of baseball full circle, and shows how the struggles and discussions that were had over 100 years ago mirror those we have today.

Morris has an amazing ability to take a topic that can seem so distant and almost irrelevant to the modern era of baseball and have the words be almost entirely applicable to the current day. The text takes a dramatic turn from a primarily historic narrative in the first two-thirds of the book to an analysis of the factors that changed the game irreversibly and launched the sport on the track that has gotten us to where we are today.

To say that Morris reminds the reader that history repeats itself is an understatement; much like a baseball game, the direction of the sport has been a battle between two teams: one of seeming progression and another who seeks to keep the game as it has been.

But Didn’t We Have Fun? is a book that sat in my “to read” pile much too long, and I am glad that I plucked it from it when I did. With the current discussion of instant replay, the timing of the book was fitting, and I would encourage you to pick it up sooner than later. To see baseball in its modern era and read a book such as this, provides an easy way to gain an appreciation of where the game has come, while making it clear that history does indeed repeat itself.

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Biggio: The Final Game — by Michael Hart

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To be a franchise player for a team is something not seen much these days – guys like Edgar Martinez, Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken, who spend their entire careers with one club are almost as much of a rarity as a perfect game.

Baseball watched another one of these players move into retirement last year – the Astros’ Craig Biggio – and in a new book – Biggio: The Final Game, photographer Michael Hart takes you back to September 30, 2007 – Biggio’s final game with the Astros in their home park of Minute Maid Field.

It’s a tremendous collection of sports photography – Hart goes light on the words in favor of letting the pictures tell the story. He captures Biggio’s emotions throughout the game – from his last hit, to his last at-bat, to his final time walking off the field.There are some great sequence shots of him turning a double play in addition to a few plate appearances.

What disappointed me was some of the shots that were left out — arriving at the stadium, putting on the jersey for the final time, and leaving the ballpark, for instance. There are so many things that are done “for the last time” that it would be nice to see that entire final day.

Biggio had his number retired on August 17th – and this book is a fitting tie-in to that event. It captures the love that Astros fans have for Biggio, and Biggio’s love of the game as he chooses to walk away from it.

It’s a book worth picking up and thumbing through if you come across it – and would be a great addition for Biggio fans to have a lasting collection of his final day.

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