Tuesday, May 14, 2019

TEN INNINGS AT WRIGLEY :: Kevin Cook

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

When Kevin Cook launches into the sagas of the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies, fan partisanship gives way to the lore of two of the league's oldest teams. In Ten Innings at Wrigley, Cook delves into the culture of baseball at a tipping point through a May 17, 1979, rubber match that turned into "the wildest ballgame ever."

Cook admirably winnows remarkable team histories to set the table. The Cubs, "born to lose" and cursed by a goat, were not a big market team in 1979, with Wrigley (a character in its own right) used for other events (e.g., ski-jumping contests) to make money. The Phillies were also "lovable losers," the last original franchise yet to win a World Series. But they were on the rise with something to prove, winning three straight division titles.

The game supports an inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch written recounting. With winds gusting to 30 mph, six runs in the first 10 minutes, 97 total bases and a run total of 45 that stands as the second highest of all time, the garbage truck fire beyond the bleachers is a mere afterthought. Many of the game's legendary and most colorful characters were playing (Rose, Bowa, Buckner, Kingman, Maddox) on the brink of epic cultural and league changes--cable television, the high-five, facial hair, computers, labor strikes and modern metrics, to name a few. Cook seamlessly blends these issues into this reconstruction of the game and its aftermath, a slice of history fans of any team will relish.

STREET SENSE: It may be because I'm old and nostalgic, but this book reminded me how great baseball was in the 70s. So many characters that I just don't feel in today's game. Maybe it's free agency, maybe, perhaps more likely, it's just that I'm old. But this book was a fun trip down memory lane.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: In a book reciting balls and strikes, this was more replete with funny one-liners than notable passages. I did laugh often, and whether talking about a player getting "the fondue treatment "(gas, heat and cheese) or an individual's weaknesses (sliders low and away and cocaine) Cook really took me back to the feeling of that era of play.

COVER NERD SAYS: I get the old-timey baseball feel to this font, but I'll admit it was the subject matter rather than this cover that attracted me. I would have picked it up from a bookstore shelf or table display just because the red jumps out and there's a ballplayer on the front, but the cover as a whole didn't light my socks on fire.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.

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