I will admit my knowledge of baseball prior to World War II is weak at best. It seems with the popularity of the post war era, it has always held my attention better and quite honestly the record keeping from that point forward is a little more detailed. When I do venture out of my comfort zone it is usually with an author that I am familiar and one that I trust so that I know I am getting solid information about the player of that era. In the internet age, the name Burleigh Grimes is easily accessible and his legacy is easily explained to legions of fans. But what if you want more than just the last legal spitballer in the game and that he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1964? I have just the book that puts all the the pieces in place about a life well lived.
For my journey through this period of baseball history Joe Niese was a more than competent tour guide. I was familiar with his writing from his other book Handy Andy that we reviewed on the Bookcase previously, so I was confident this book would be just as good. He always does top notch research with his books as well, so you know you can trust the facts you get from his books.
Niese walks the reader through the full circle picture that was Burleigh Grimes. From his modest childhood in Wisconsin, through a Hall of Fame baseball career that included four separate trips to the World Series, with three different teams and the opportunity to play next to a record 36 Hall of Famers. It easily shows the talent that was playing during Grimes Era as well as the level the game was as a whole prior to World War II. It also leads to debate about Grimes’s personal statistics as compared to others in the era. Based on today’s standards I see him as Hall worthy, but it seems when taken against a segmented portion on his era, it may help feed the flames of debate among the detractors who argue about him being enshrined.
Next Niese takes the reader through his post playing days. His lone stint as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his life as a coach and scout as well as member of various Hall of Fame committees. On the personal side you seem to learn a lot about Grimes and get a feel for what he was all about. Between looking at his time within baseball as strictly a job and the combative attitude he took with him on the field, Burleigh did not give the outward appearance of a real people person. Perhaps that attitude was helped by having five wives. Finally the author looks at his final retirement years and living a normal life. To me it seems that Grimes came to grips with the world around him and lost some of his outward grumpiness.
For my money, Joe Niese did a great job with this book. He brought back to life someone that not many of us are familiar with. He portrays a different era in baseball in a light that all fans can relate to and understand. In my mind’s eye this became more than just a sepia tone vision of some old footage from days gone by. Niese has allowed the reader to feel like they are actually there and understand how things worked during that time.
I think any fans of the history of the game will enjoy this. It brings to light another forgotten baseball personality. Just because you made it to the Hall of Fame does not mean you will not fall victim to Father Time. This book introduces a new generation of fans to one of the games true characters. Check it out I don’t think you will be disappointed.
You can get signed copies of this book direct from authir Joe Niese
Throughout baseball history there are some amazing stories. Stories that if you tried to have someone from Hollywood write it, the general public would never believe it was true. The down side to these stories is unless the are juicy and so far out of this world against the odds, they sometimes get lost to the annals of baseball history. One such story is the one involving Fred Hutchinson and the Reds of 1964. When one talks about 1964 the big story out of the National League is the collapse of the Philadelphia Phillies and how the St. Louis Cardinals when the dust settled were the National League champions. The third sister at the dance that year was the Cincinnati Reds and as the last day unfolded they were right there trying to win the pennant as well. In the end the Reds came up short but the fascinating underlying story of that team was that their manager was fighting terminal cancer the entire season. Hutchinson’s work for most of the year along with fill-in skipper Dick Sisler, got the Reds within one step of the World Series. While today’s book is not a new release, in my opinion it is an often overlooked story in baseball history that from time to time needs to be brought back to the forefront.
Doug Wilson for me is one of those writers that could write a phone book in such a way that I would find it interesting. His other works that I have been exposed to Brooks about Brooks Robinson and The Bird about Mark Fidrych are both top notch biographies and were reviewed on this site in previous posts. This book predates both of the other two books I mentioned above but I expected nothing but the same quality book from Wilson on this one. I am glad to report that I was not disappointed.
Doug Wilson starts out the book by giving a nice background on Fred Hutchinson. His personal background, his playing career, time spent managing in Seattle, Detroit and St. Louis showing how his baseball personality was shaped along the way. The book also shows us how the first few years Hutchinson spent shaping the Reds into contenders including an unexpected trip to the 1961 World Series. It also shows how he handled up and coming superstars such as Pete Rose and how he helped mold them into winners as well.
Obviously the biggest part of the book is spent discussing the 1964 season and how right before it Hutchinson was diagnosed with his terminal cancer. In December 1963 Hutchinson was diagnosed with his illness and from the start the prognosis was not good. 1964 from the start for the Cincinnati Reds was dedicated to the fight for the life of Fred Hutchinson and both he and his Reds fought a valiant fight from day one of the season. Unfortunately Fred Hutchinson’s health did not allow him to make it through the season and he was replaced by Dick Sisler. The Cinicnnati Reds fell a bit short on winning the N.L. Pennant for Hutch and subsequently he passed away a few weeks later.
It is a very compelling story from beginning to end and if it happened in todays world the outcome for Fred Hutchinson may have been very different as well as the media coverage given to his story. Disney would have grabbed on to it and made a movie out of it, Major League Baseball would have had an official business partner for it and we would have been inundated with lots of things regarding Hutch’s situation from Joe Buck each week on the national telecast. It is a perfect example as to how the business aspect of the game has changed and how they can and will use anything they find marketable.
Getting back to the book, Doug Wilson did a great job of sharing the story of Fred Hutchinson. It is a story that will eventually get lost to the annals of time, but nonetheless should be remembered. If this story was based in New York or Los Angeles I think the media play on it would have been much more, but Cincinnati was propbably just not flashy enough for the powers that be. Wilson gave the reader a real good look at the subject and while being a sad subject , turns it into an enjoyable experience for the reader. I would obviously recommend it to Reds fans, but all readers should check it out for the valuable history lesson contained within.
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland