In Print : Baseball trivia, nostalgia
"Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs," by Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan. Acta Sports, 2008. 213 pages, soft cover. $14.95.
Jim Kaplan, summer resident of Oak Bluffs and former writer for Sports Illustrated, has written or collaborated on more than a dozen books about baseball. In "Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs," he collaborates with Bill Chuck, who writes a daily on-line baseball column, "Billy-Ball," about "the fun of the game...and making fun of the game."
This is first-class bathroom reading for the baseball fan. The authors have collected hundreds of anecdotes and factoids about baseball, including 78 accounts of games, which ended in the ninth inning or later with the home team's scoring the winning run (a "walkoff"). They also include short pieces on the final appearances ("last licks") of selected hall-of-famers (and some others), and chapters on ballparks past and present, streaks, perfect games, and a digest called "The Last...."
Did you know that Hank Aaron was the last Negro league player to appear regularly in the major leagues? You could probably make up your own trivia game using "The Last...."
The serious baseball fan will find a great deal that he or she already knows, but even the most widely-known bit of baseball lore may have a back story or a follow-up not so widely known.
For example, everyone knows that Bobby Thompson's three-run, walkoff homerun in the ninth inning gave the Giants a 5-4 victory over the Dodgers and the 1951 National League pennant. But perhaps not everyone knows the following nugget, mined and reported by Chuck and Kaplan: the Perry Como television show offered Thompson $500 to appear that same night. Thomson turned the offer down, saying, "I'd really like to share this moment with my family." Then, Thompson remembered, "The guy says, 'We'll give you one thousand bucks.' ... [I said] 'For one thousand bucks, my family can wait,' and I did it."
In small doses (say, four or five) the short accounts are entertaining and often informative. But trying to read more than that at one sitting is tedious. The nature of a walkoff is that it happens in the final chapter of the story, and the first section of this book is 83 pages of final chapters culled from pennant races, playoff games, and World Series games. Spiced as they are with interesting facts and amusing anecdotes, each is complete in itself and does not connect with other final chapters except for the coincidence of the way they all end. Together they do not make a sustained narrative or coherent essay. And of course there is no suspense - you know how all those stories end.
The book contains a disappointing section on "Perfect Games," which is only a table listing the 17 perfect games that have been pitched in the major leagues. The chapter on "Streaks" is more interesting. There is nothing that you can think of about baseball that somebody somewhere doesn't keep track of. Every baseball fan knows about Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Cal Ripkin Jr.'s 2,632 consecutive games played, but there are less famous records for scoreless innings, consecutive saves, team wins, and so forth, each reported with some narrative. It's often interesting to find out how a streak ended and who ended it.
The chapters on ballparks and hall-of-famers and the list of "lasts," as with the walkoffs, are all entertaining in small doses.
If you buy this book, don't plan on burying yourself in it for hours at a stretch. Keep it in the bathroom, or maybe by the TV to pass the time between innings.