Thursday, April 24, 2014

Down to the Last Pitch

Hyperbole is part and parcel of sportswriting. After all, it's just a stupid game. You've got to generate some interest because there are thousands of these games and millions of fans. In Tim Wendel's newest book Down to the Last Pitch he argues that the 1991 World Series was the “best” of all time. Sure, it was a terrific Series—seven games, three (including the final two) in extras, five decided by one run—and it featured two teams who had finished last the previous year. I remember it well, actually, and I can say that it was a gripping contest. The Minnesota Twins, unfortunately, played in perhaps the ugliest stadium in baseball history. I thought, at the time, that the setting took some of the luster off the games just as it had in 1987 when the Twins beat the St. Louis Cardinals for their first title.

Nonetheless the Series was reminiscent of some other classic contests like 1975 and 1986, both going to seven games and featuring great players and epic highlights. The book is organized into seven chapters, one for each game, and Mr. Wendel gives you back stories on all the principals. Giants fans will appreciate the presence of Dan Gladden, Chili Davis, and Steve Bedrosian on the Twins roster. Both teams had some fascinating characters like Lonnie Smith and Kirby Puckett, both of whom had serious off-field issues. Puckett, of course, was the hero of Game Six, and Smith the goat of Game Seven. Jack Morris pitched himself into baseball immortality with his ten-inning shutout to seal the deal, and that remains one of the greatest post-season performances of all time. John Smoltz and Tom Glavine anchored a Braves rotation that went on, with the addition of Greg Maddux, to be arguably the best of the modern era.

Down to the Last Pitch: how the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves gave us the best World Series of all time was a fun read even if you don't buy the “best” label. Being a Giants fan, I have to say Brian Wilson striking out Nelson Cruz on November 1st, 2010 was the best moment in baseball history even if that Series was a bit one-sided. (We all have our biases, don't we?) Wendel writes in the introduction that “1991 remains for me one of the last fine times.” Soon after would be the 1994 strike and the increasing use of PEDs that tarnished the national pastime for many. Wendel is also critical of what he sees as the dominance of corporate group-think in running sports franchises. As I've said before I'm not particularly nostalgic. I think the phrase “good old days” is oxymoronic, especially when applied to baseball. I think a truly modern game would have no draft, no reserve clause, and no monopoly. But that's a column for another time.


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