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Fall Classics

Baseball Books

Fall Classics

The regular season is over; the second season begins.

As of this writing, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are both alive, both hoping to be the last team standing when the time comes for the American League champion to face off against its National League counterpart. Fans of the Fenway gang know all too well the agony of generations of disappointment: the object of their affection has failed to win a world championship since 1918.

If the Sox didn't have bad luck, they would have no luck at all. One only has to look back to the 2003 American League Championship Series, in which the Yankees' Aaron Boone hit an extra inning walk-off home run to wring out the Sox., a marvelous conglomeration of statistical information, shows that the Yankees have won 1,060 of the 1,953 meetings with the Sox (with 14 ties). Every meeting of the two clubs has the potential for pyrotechnic displays, whether by outrageous scores (the Sox waxed the Yankees 22-0 on August 31) or on-field brawls (which also took place this season).

There has always been a sort of inter-city one-upmanship between New York and Boston. Each civic "persona" views the other with a sort of superiority. Where New York is brash and alive, Boston is more civilized and sedate. Boston is perceived as more intellectual, due no doubt to the proximity of Harvard and M.I.T. But the Big Apple is where things happen, the "capital" of the world.

New England puritans look down their collective noses at the more "common" neighbors to the southwest. But those same sensibilities, which have held since colonial times that life is full of hardship and reward comes only after death, are of little comfort to a generation of fans who now abide by Murphy's Law, which states that if anything can go wrong it will, and at the worst possible time (see Bill Buckner).

According to legend, the "curse of the Bambino," which precludes the ultimate success for the Bostonians, began on a fateful day in 1920 when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee dealt Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Fact or fiction? Excuse or reality? Boston sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy devoted an entire book to the proposition in 1990. (Chicago Cubs and Red Sox fans get together like a couple of crusty old curmudgeons, arguing over whose aches and pains are worse.)

The competition/enmity between New Yorkers and New Englanders has been the subject of several books over the years. The trend continues this year with THE RIVALS a collaborative effort by the writers of The New York Times and The Boston Globe (even the newspapers' old English-style logos seem to be competing for attention).

The stories come from the pens (or computers, if you will) of the Times' Dave Anderson, Robert Lipsyte, George Vescey, Harvey Araton, and Tyler Kepner. The Boston lineup consists of the aforementioned Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullan, Jack Curry, and Gordon Edes.

Thrown in for points of reference are snippets of original pieces appearing in these prestigious journals, as well a generous helping of photos, covering almost 100 years of battles.

(This offering should not be confused with RED SOX VS. YANKEES: The Great Rivalry [Sports Publishing, 2004] from veteran baseball author Harvey Frommer and his son Frederic, which some might deem a more definitive, well-rounded examination of the long-standing relationship between the two teams.)

Taking a much more narrow view is Steve Kettmann's ONE DAY AT FENWAY. Following the format made popular (and done better) by Arnold Hano (A DAY IN THE BLEACHERS, the first of this single-game genre), Daniel Okrent (NINE INNINGS), and Jonathan Knight (OPENING DAY: Cleveland, the Indians, and a New Beginning), Kettmann takes both a behind-the-scenes and inning-by-inning look at the August 30, 2003 game between the Red Sox and Yankees. Like his fellow scribes, he looks at the competition from the varying points of view of select players and the general managers for both teams; celebrity fans, such as Spike Lee and former Senator George Mitchell; and a host of fans, stadium workers and others. Kettmann tries to establish a sense of drama, from the early morning as fans and players prepare for the day's work before them, until the last out is made. Despite the classic rivalry, one gets a sense of the ordinariness of this individual example. It plays like a single grain of sand on a beach.

Boston fans seem more lyrical when it comes to expressing their hopes and dreams. WAITING FOR TEDDY WILLIAMS is the gentle, if somewhat predictable, tale of Ethan "E.A." Allen, a young boy in rural New England whose sole desire in life is to pitch for his beloved Sox. Mosher, a native Vermonter, no doubt shares his character's ardor, and one can see the author living vicariously through his creation. The Teddy Williams in the story is not the legendary Boston ballplayer, but a mysterious stranger who arrives on the scene to help E.A. mature as a person and a player, against the unfair hand life has dealt his family.

True baseball fans never want the season to end. They want every post-season series to go down to the wire, drawing out the "high" as long as possible. For many, that means THE SEVENTH GAME, the ultimate "there's no tomorrow" scenario in sports.

Barry Levenson chronicles each of the 35 "last gasps" from a few different angles. In the first part of this entertaining volume, he regales us in the drama of these finales in the standard chronological manner. But the fun really starts in the latter part, as the author analyzes the games in terms of pitching, defense and hitting (or, in some cases, as he points out, the lack thereof). Naturally every aficionado of the horsehide believes he or she knows the game better than anyone else, so this section will open the door for countless philosophical arguments.

Levenson also includes a unique chapter replaying these games through APBA, a popular "simulation game" that uses (in its original form) cards and dice. The results are somewhat surprising, and not as predictable as one might think.

So which is the most exciting "game seven?" Without fear of contradiction, I guarantee the answer will surprise even the most ardent crank.

THE SEVENTH GAME will no doubt be a welcome diversion while you're waiting through those interminable commercials, commentaries, and pitching changes.

And if your team, be it the Bronx Bombers or the Beantown Brawlers, don't make it to the fall classic, take heart. There's always next year. Just remember, fans of the Montreal Expos can no longer say that.

   --- Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (

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