Friday, January 2, 2009

The Long Ball: The Summer of '75

I love it when oddball coincidences occur. I equate them to mini cosmic practical jokes played out on us unsuspecting humans. In my answers to Dinger Corner’s New Years questions I noted that I haven’t read a lot of baseball themed books. In fact, over the years, I’ve probably only read about a half dozen baseball books, and none since Faithful was published in 2005. So it strikes me as really funny that Dinged Corners would put out their questions at the same time that I finished reading The Long Ball: The Summer of '75, by Tom Adelman (which is verbosely subtitled as, Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle, and the Greatest World Series Ever Played).

I bought this book on a lark for $2.99 at a discount store while on vacation in New England this summer. While the 1975 World Series took place a year before I was born, everyone knows the Fisk home run and with a picture of it on the cover, I couldn’t resist buying this book.

The Long Ball is divided into two roughly equal length parts (though by the table of contents it technically has five). Part one describes the events of the regular season while part two details the playoffs and World Series. The first half of the book feels rushed as Adelman tries to cram 160 games into a relatively small number of pages. That combined with the frequent perspective shifts gives the first half a kind of ADHD-like schizophrenia that can be difficult to follow. The second half of the book has much better pacing to it, although it too suffers from the quick perspective shifts that can be jolting at times. Other than these couple of criticisms, I enjoyed The Long Ball. It read pretty quickly and drew me into the drama of the pennant chase and the playoffs.

One of the biggest praises that I can give The Long Ball is that I feel as though I learned a lot about the events of 1975 without having read a dry historical retelling of the season. For instance, I didn’t know that Catfish Hunter was the first free agent and that he was the first in a long line of players “bought” by George Steinbrenner and his Yankees (Red Sox bias, I know). I had never heard about the controversial interference play during Game 3 of the World Series that by all reckoning should be talked about equally with the Buckner play of 1986. And I had never heard the story of how a rat distracted a cameraman such that he lost track of the Fisk’s momentous ball and instead filmed one of the most famous videos in MLB history.

My favorite part of the book is actually Adelman’s dedication:

"For my dad, Jack Adelman, who taught me to watch the game until the very end”

Words to live by.

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