TALKIN' BASEBALL by Phil Pepe

TALKIN' BASEBALL

An Oral History of Baseball in the 1970s
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Playing the old nostalgia card, New Yorkbased baseball writer and radio personality Pepe (The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra, 1974) strip-mines the decade for meaningful nuggets. Part of what he unearths, if unintentionally, are some of the reasons why fans today are less enamored of the game they used to be--and why nostalgia rings hollow in cynical times. Granted, an era like the '70s did spawn its share of legends: players Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, and Pete Rose; the great managers Tom Lasorda and Earl Weaver; and such footnote characters as Mark ``The Bird'' Fidrych, and Al ``The Mad Hungarian'' Hrabosky (all of whom Pepe interviewed for this book). But the decade in question also gave rise to the proliferation of AstroTurf playing surfaces, to the widespread use of drugs by players, persistent labor unrest, ugly double-knit uniforms, and, oh yes, George Steinbrenner. And Pepe knows the era as only one who lived in the midst of it could. Unfortunately, mating the author's homely and thoughtful interview style to this book's camp concept (or is it a conceit?), is like a hitching a thoroughbred horse to a plow. Pepe's recollections of baseball's big events--the late Curt Flood's battle against the reserve clause, the tragic death of New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, Henry Aaron's assault on Babe Ruth's 60-year-old career-home-run record, or the season-delaying strike of 1972--and of such minutiae as players' hair- and lifestyles capture the times effortlessly, if somewhat guilelessly. However, such devices as numbering the book's ten chapters as ``innings'' (last we checked, most baseball games had nine) and naming it after an awful Terry Cashman song from the '80s celebrating baseball legends from the '50s trifles with its potential. Pity! Caught somewhere between reportage and nostalgic blooey, the book slips away from the outfielder. (b&w photos)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-345-41497-7
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998




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