Synopses & Reviews
In The Old Ball Game
, Frank Deford, NPR sports commentator and Sports Illustrated
journalist retells the story of an unusual friendship between two towering figures in baseball history.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Christy Mathewson was one of baseball's first superstars. Over six feet tall, clean cut, and college educated, he didn't pitch on the Sabbath and rarely spoke an ill word about anyone. He also had one of the most devastating arms in all of baseball. New York Giants manager John McGraw, by contrast, was ferocious. The pugnacious tough guy was already a star infielder who, with the Baltimore Orioles, helped develop a new, scrappy style of baseball, with plays like the hit-and-run, the Baltimore chop, and the squeeze play. When McGraw joined the Giants in 1902, the Giants were coming off their worst season ever. Yet within three years, Mathewson clinched New York City's first World Series for McGraw's team by throwing three straight shutouts in only six days, an incredible feat that is invariably called the greatest World Series performance ever. Because of their wonderful odd-couple association, baseball had its first superstar, the Giants ascended into legend, and baseball as a national pastime bloomed.
"At the turn of the 20th century, 'every American could want to be Christy Mathewson,' Deford writes, and 'every American could admire John J. McGraw.' For a generation of fans in the era before Babe Ruth, Giants pitcher Mathewson was the best baseball had to offer and the epitome of good sportsmanship. By contrast, McGraw was a hard-drinking player/manager frequently ejected from games for attacking the umps. When McGraw came to New York (after wearing out his welcome elsewhere), though, the two became so close that they moved in together along with their wives. Deford, expanding on an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated, provides an entertaining string of anecdotes peppered with his own observations, focusing on one player and then looping back to address the other. An NPR Morning Edition weekly commentator, Deford has a thoughtful eye for the details of a century past, but he also points out how much early 1900s baseball culture shares with today's, as when he compares early gambling scandals to the contemporary steroids controversy. Though not quite a full biography of either player, this lively volume offers great diversion for any baseball fan. B&w photos. Agent, Sterling Lord. (Apr.) Forecast: Heralded by GQ as 'the world's greatest sportswriter,' Deford is sure to get plenty of media attention at the start of the season." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Deford effectively weaves the threads of these two touchstone lives into the broader tapestry of an ascendant sport and a rapidly modernizing America. A fine baseball book but just as fine a study of American popular culture." Wes Lukowsky, Booklist (starred review)
"Deford is in command of this story, as much a piece of social as of sporting history.... Its Defords reach of baseball knowledge... that sets this one apart." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Deford tips a journalist's fedora, rather than a child's cap, to one of the most remarkable pairings in sports history." Alan Schwartz, New York Times Book Review
"Deford's dual biography is more than simply sketches of two starkly different personalities. It re-creates the early twentieth-century period, explaining the mood of the country and the nascent stages of a game in flux." David Plaut, USA Today Sports Weekly
"A breezily incisive look at the sport when it truly was America's pastime... The surprising similarities between today and yesteryear pulse through Game's narrative." Michael Roberts, Westword
"Vintage Deford, lively and learned and fun... He is especially deft at depicting forgotten athletes and their stories. It is a pleasure to get to read him again on such a subject." John Eisenberg, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Thank heaven for Frank Deford.... Written with the deft touch and the huge vocabulary of a great author, The Old Ball Game is worth reading twice, just to pick up all the details." David King, San Antonio Express-News
"Frank Deford writes the kind of sentences that you find yourself rereading for the sheer pleasure of it. The Old Ball Game was never more fun, or more real, than it is in the pages of his marvelous book." Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four
Focusing on the unusual friendship between John McGraw and Christy Mathewson, "The Old Ball Game" is a masterful chronicle of the early days of baseball from America's most beloved sportswriter. Illustrations throughout.