Have you ever found a book that on the surface you found intriguing, but was not sure it merited what the title was portraying? A book that was trying to catch a certain market or readership base, but you knew deep down inside that it probably wouldn’t be able to meet any of the readers expectations within that market. These were the dilemmas I was facing when I picked up today’s book. I wasn’t expecting too much from this one, but I am very happy to say that this book proved me wrong on every front.
I will admit when I read the author bio on the inside cover I became a little nervous. What could someone who gave up baseball and became an anthropologist give to the baseball reader? I realize he had done other baseball books in the past, but none have ever crossed my desk, so honestly I was unfamiliar as to what tales George Gmelch would be able to produce.
What I found in this book is a great journey of a young man through the minor leagues during the tumultuous 1960’s. It is a time in our country where the consciousness was changing in society and baseball was slowly following suit. It really was both an unsettled and amazing time to be alive in our country.
In this book the author really shows you life from both sides of the fence. From a baseball player who’s ultimate goal is to make it to the big leagues. One who is supposed live, eat and breath baseball. The other perspective is showing his normal teenager, early 20’s side. One who is aware of the changes of the world around him and the affects they are having on both him and his fellow man. You see a very personal side of the author and see how interactions with teammates, friends and the fairer sex all help shape and change him during a very influential time in his life.
Unfortunately in the end, George Gmelch never made it to the big time in baseball. After various stops in the minors his career fizzled out and he was left, like many players to figure out what was next. Luckily for George he landed on his feet and had a great career as a Professor of Anthropology. You can see some events in this book that helped guide him towards that career path.
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t expecting much from this book, but truth be told, I couldn’t put it down. It kept the reader entertained through the entire book and felt like you were on this journey as the authors friend as opposed to a reader forty some years later.
You don’t need to have any particular team affiliation to enjoy this book. It really is a good book about a life journey that has a baseball flair to it. As baseball fans that is what will draw us to this book, but the entire story makes us stick around to the end.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
Canada has always in my opinion, been an overlooked area when we read about baseball. I realize it really only came into play in the last 45 years or so, but I never thought it got the attention it deserved. In reality over the last 50 years it has created two strong teams, introduced Canadian fans to the game and to some degree cut into the Hockey monopoly in Canada. With talk of the Rays possibly packing up and moving to Montreal, I thought now would be a good time to see what books are available for the teams north of the border.
The Expos in Their Prime 1977-84
By Alain Usereau – McFarland & Co. 2013
To me it feels like the Expos didn’t exist. Maybe its a matter of nobody remembers that they were even there or that nobody wants to remember. But whatever the case may be they did exist at one point. During that existence they had a span of years where they were always at the top of the standings fighting for the division crown. The years from 1977-84 were really the defining years of the franchise. They had a steady parade of Hall of Famers on the roster but could never quite get over the hump to glory. When you have names like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and countless other stars like Rusty Staub, Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, you would think they would be able to pull it off a few times during those years.
Obviously they did not, but Alain Usereau has taken a deep, hard look at the Expos during their glory years. You get some behind the scenes look at the way the team operated on and off the field, both as a group and individually. You see the mind-set of the front office and why they made some of the moves they did during those years. The reader also gets a look at what the team meant to the fans of Montreal. This book proved to me that Montreal is still today, a viable option for a MLB team as the fans would support it there. Perhaps it was the poor product on the field in the final years of the Expos that contributed to poor fan support. It seems that in Montreal if you build it, they will come……if it’s a decent product.
This book gives a lot of insight to an often forgotten team with limited success. It’s overall a good book, that most baseball fans should enjoy. I only mention this next thing because it is a pet-peeve of mine. It would have benefitted from a little better copy editing because their were to many grammatical errors for my liking in a finished book. But as I said its a good book that most fans will enjoy.
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland & Co Publishing, http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com
Lets look at the other side of the coin in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays. Since their inception they have had good fan support and produced some serious thrills for their fans. A few division titles, and oh yeah, two World Series Championships, which make for a happy fan base. While the Blue Jays had their growing pains in the beginning, they seemed to stumble upon a better plan for on-field success that the Expos could never quite attain. But what happens in Toronto when the team and the fans have huge expectations and it blows up in their faces?
Great Expectations, The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season
By Shi Davidi and John Lott – 2013 ECW Press
For all intents and purposes, 2013 was supposed to be the Toronto Blue Jays year. Much like the Chicago Cubs have done this off-season, the Blue Jays blew up the roster and started over. The looked at weaknesses at every position and went out and brought in some of the best names in the game to fix their problems. On paper the Blue Jays looked like the team to beat and at the start of the 2013 season other teams noticed. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the 2013 was a flat-out train wreck. Injuries, career declines and pretty much the fact that anything that could go wrong……did go wrong, the Blue Jays had a dismal year.
Davidi and Lott take the reader on a journey through the 2013 season. They look at the blockbuster trades that were made in the off-season, free agent signings, spring training and of course the season. They give a nice look at the operations side of the Toronto front office and how the fans had embraced the new hope in Toronto. It also shows the mindset of the GM and what management felt they were accomplishing by assembling this team on the field. The book gives a detailed look at how the season in Toronto, and in the end the fans turned on the team and the front office. It is a great look at how the Blue Jays and its fan base operate and feed off of each other.
The 2014 season was a little better than 2013, and probably the residue of this 2013 team will achieve the initial success they expected eventually. But I think much like the Expos, the Blue Jays are often an afterthought to fans outside of Toronto. But it is nice to see that books are coming forth that show the Canadian pride in their teams and most of the time they are just as good if not better than the other teams out there. Just because most of the country is hockey crazy does not mean that they have forgotten how to love baseball.