An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.

SUMMER OF '68

THE SEASON THAT CHANGED BASEBALL--AND AMERICA--FOREVER

During one of the most tumultuous years in our history, a remarkable baseball season unfolded.

In 1968, most baseball players had to work a second job to make ends meet. There were no wild-card teams or division winners. That year the Detroit Tigers became only the third club in history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the powerful St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. Showcasing this looming match-up, Wendel (Writing/Johns Hopkins Univ.; High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time, 2010, etc.) foreshortens the season by focusing on the stories of individual Tigers Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe and, especially, pitchers Denny McLain, who won an astonishing 31 games, and Mickey Lolich, the Series MVP. The author also looks at Cardinal stars Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Orlando Cepeda and especially pitcher Bob Gibson, among the game’s all-time greatest. He charts the thrilling Series game by game. More intriguing, though, is the season’s unique backdrop: the “Year of the Pitcher” in baseball and the national turmoil surrounding the sports world. In addition to McLain and Gibson’s heroics (both won the Cy Young and MVP awards), the season saw five no-hitters (including a perfect game by Catfish Hunter), a consecutive game strikeout record by Luis Tiant and an unprecedented scoreless innings streak by Don Drysdale. Meanwhile, the country was falling apart. Urban riots and massive antiwar demonstrations helped persuade LBJ not to run again. By the time the Chicago Democratic Convention exploded in the streets, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had already been assassinated. Wendel touches briefly on how the year agitated other sports, but he focuses on the baseball story and the athletes accustomed to ignoring the outside world. They found that impossible to do in the chaotic year of ’68.

An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-306-82018-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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Destined to take its place among the classics of baseball literature.

BOTTOM OF THE 33RD

HOPE, REDEMPTION, AND BASEBALL'S LONGEST GAME

New York Times columnist Barry (City Lights: Stories About New York, 2007, etc.) delivers an all-angle take on the longest, and surely the strangest, game in baseball history.

On a frigid evening in April 1981, 1,740 Pawtucket, R.I., Red Sox fans settled into their seats for a game with the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League. With the score tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, the teams played on. And on. On past 12:50 a.m., when the curfew provision, mysteriously missing from that year’s edition of the rule book, would have suspended the contest; on past the 21st inning, when each team maddeningly scored a run; on past the 29th and record-tying inning; on past 4:00 a.m., the bottom of the 32nd, when the league president was finally reached and ordered the umpires to suspend the contest. Wittily and gracefully, Barry works out his Easter themes of hope and redemption, providing, of course, an account of the game, but most memorably capturing the atmosphere of the city and the stories of the people who shared this weird moment in baseball’s long history: the players, two headed for the Hall of Fame, a few who would establish substantial major league careers, scrubs who would never make it, others only on their way to or back from the proverbial cup of coffee in the bigs; the dutiful umpires and the team managers, baseball lifers both; the hardy double-handful of fans who stayed the course, including a father and son bound by their promise never to leave a game; the clubhouse attendants, batboys and devoted player wives; the makeshift radio broadcasters and jaded newsmen sentenced to cover the game; the millionaire, blue-collar PawSox owner and the dismal team and decrepit stadium he inherited; the burned-out but still-defiant city of Pawtucket, where baseball would, indeed, eventually rise from the dead. When play resumed two months later, the entire baseball world descended upon the stadium, eager to participate in the historic game’s conclusion, prefiguring the enthusiastic attention Barry’s wonderful story richly inspires.

Destined to take its place among the classics of baseball literature.

Pub Date: April 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-201448-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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Ideal for Chicagoans, both casual and die-hard sports fans, and anyone who wonders, “What happens when you have a dream and...

MONSTERS

THE 1985 CHICAGO BEARS AND THE WILD HEART OF FOOTBALL

A fan’s engaging yet ultimately melancholy love letter to his beloved team and his hometown.

“Pick your team carefully, because your team is your destiny.” Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone contributor Cohen’s father’s solemn advice can be easily understood by sports fans. However, other readers will enjoy this entertaining, if profane, history of the 1985 NFL champion Chicago Bears. That team symbolized Chicago through their fierceness and audacity and by playing a “blitzkrieg” style of football that would certainly be banned today. Throughout, the author provides comical anecdotes about head coach Mike Ditka, a pugnacious tantrum-thrower whose method was “Ready, Fire, Aim.” Ditka’s orneriness mirrored that of “stingy, angry and mean” team owner George “Papa Bear” Halas (a founder of the NFL) and met its match in the defiant quarterback Jim McMahon, who, despite being undersized with a weak throwing arm and a bad eye, played without regard for his body and led his team to a 15-1 record. Cohen’s telling of the Bears’ founding and its tradition of nastiness is by turns devastating, regarding the irreparable harm done to players’ bodies and minds, and moving, as when he explains that Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton was “Chicago as Chicago wanted to be: a fighter…who’s been knocked down but always gets back up.” Cohen thankfully avoids sentimentality and doesn’t bog readers down in lengthy game reports or analyses. The author is at his best in the interviews with 32 retired players and executives who offer their impressions of the Bears’ famed “46” defense, “the most devastating force in football,” and its characters, including the Hit Man, Mongo, the Black & Blues Brothers and, most famously, the Fridge.

Ideal for Chicagoans, both casual and die-hard sports fans, and anyone who wonders, “What happens when you have a dream and that dream comes true?”

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29868-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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