A knuckleball ride through the wonderful and wacky year the nation celebrated its 200th birthday—and the national pastime changed forever.
In 1976, it seemed that every old-guard skipper was on a vain crusade to trim back the mutton chops and Fu Manchus that had almost become de rigueur on the diamond. But no matter how successful they might have been reining in the free-flowing Afros and bushy beards that filled their clubhouses, they could not stop the evolution of the game. Although they gave their best efforts, baseball owners learned that they could not stop the development of free agency or keep their stadium doors padlocked. The game was moving forward. That strange year in the history of the game allowed some unforgettable characters—e.g., the fiery Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett and the late Detroit Tigers oddball hurler Mark “The Bird” Fidrych (1959-2004)—to soar straight into the hearts and minds of a nation desperate to escape darker days. At the same time, it also provided enduring mavericks like Bill Veeck (1914-1986) with a national stage to work their last bits of baseball enchantment. Epstein brings the entire sideshow to life with a narrative that has all the jump of a juiced-up home run ball smacked high over the center field wall. The author tracks the seminal season’s progress—both on and off the field—with enough statistics and analysis to make even the most hard-core fans grin, and he makes the zany zeitgeist of the times irresistible. On the particularly inept Atlanta Braves, the author writes, “the chances of the Braves winning 81 games in 1976 looked about as likely as the Ramones selling a million copies of their debut album.”
A must for everyone who still remembers when the White Sox wore shorts.