Book Review by Budd Bailey
The subtitle of “The Grandest Stage” is “A History of the World Series.” That sounds rather deep and ponderous. You can almost imagine paragraphs that begin with “Then in 1922 …” It’s not easy to write about long-forgotten events in an interesting way … and sometimes the reader never gives the author a chance to be judged.
Don’t worry about that here. You are in good hands with Tyler Kepner. He’s been with the New York Times for more than 20 years, and has been the national baseball writer since 2010. By all accounts, he’s smart, thorough, knowledgeable and entertaining. He showed that in his first book, “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches.” That publication shed a lot of light on a subject that in an under-discussed (at least in the public) part of the game.
Kepner made the decision early on to break this into seven chapters, but the seven possible games of the World Series. (It was actually a best-of-nine at a couple of points in history, but we’re sort of used to seven at this point.) You get the idea of where he’s going with the subtitles of each chapter. Handling the pressure. The sidebar stories to great moments. Unlikely heroes. Managing. Building a winner. The other side of glory. The ultimate World Series lists.
Let’s take the first chapter about World Series pressure. Kepner devotes sections of the chapter to some people who had to deal with such issues, with mixed results. You know about Reggie Jackson and the nickname “Mr. October.” Jim Palmer had to face that pressure at the beginning (1966) and the end (1983) of his career. Mike Schmidt had some problems at World Series time, struggling at the plate when he was needed the most. David Freeze made his reputation in the Series; David Price rebuilt his storyline at the same time of the year. And it goes down various other paths from there.
How about some overlooked facts about a particular series in Chapter Two? Kepner has nine of them, and here are the first few: The Reds were the better team in 1919; Charlie Root never got over Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1934; Clem Labine blanked the Yankees right after Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956; Bill Mazeroski’s homer in Game Seven in 1960 wasn’t the biggest hit in that game; Rick Wise was the winning pitcher of Game Six in 1975.
Kepner sought out some of the people involved to review those moments. They provide a sense of perspective about the events from the past. The author also goes back and reviews what was said at the time about those crucial moments. That’s obviously the correct combination in such cases. You’ll hear some stories you don’t know, and you’ll gain some perspective on some events you do know.
Maybe this won’t be completely entertaining to those who don’t follow baseball too closely. Then again, they aren’t likely to be interested in it anyway. “The Grandest Stage” serves its natural audience well, and it’s a worthwhile read for those with an interest in baseball history.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
Leave a Reply