A look back at the 1985 Major League Baseball season as the New York Mets were unexpectedly poised to dominate while the usually mighty New York Yankees seemed vulnerable.
Although of interest primarily to devoted baseball fans and/or New Yorkers, Donnelly’s (How the Yankees Explain New York, 2014, etc.) mostly chronological review might hold fascination for general readers as a psychological study of multiple intriguing characters in the sport. These include Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner, a stern businessman often characterized by his narcissism, cruelty, and inability to recognize the truth; Yankees’ manager Billy Martin (the Billy Brawl of the book’s title), who could not control his temper despite his advancing age; and, as dramatic contrast to Martin, New York Mets’ manager Davey Johnson, who wanted to win just as much as his counterpart but who understood the importance of being respected by his players rather than feared or hated. Throughout the narrative, Donnelly also offers insights into the dispositions of key players, especially the mercurial Mets trio of pitcher Dwight Gooden, outfielder Darryl Strawberry, and outfielder Lenny Dykstra. The author mostly resists the temptation to flash ahead beyond the 1985 season, but he gives some attention to the later personal tragedies of Gooden, Strawberry, and Dykstra. Regarding the Mets who did not self-destruct later, catcher Gary Carter and first baseman Keith Hernandez are portrayed in especially compelling detail. On the Yankees’ side, one of Donnelly’s most well-fleshed-out characters is first baseman Don Mattingly, who played his entire career for the team and is currently the manager of the Miami Marlins, and the author also captures the essence of famously eccentric outfielder Rickey Henderson. Pitcher Ed Whitson, a lesser-known Yankee, is perhaps the most persecuted player in the narrative, and readers are quite likely to feel sympathy for his treatment.
Although many readers already know the outcome of the 1985 season, Donnelly does a good job of building suspense. A solid choice for both Mets and Yankees fans.