One Pitch Away

Mike Sowell

Read April 2003

1986 had one of baseball's greatest post-seasons. The Red Sox came back from 3-1 against the Angels; a key player in the series loss, Donnie Moore, committed suicide some years later. In the NLCS, Mike Scott terrorized the Mets so, they won game 6 well into exta innings against the Astros so they wouldn't have to face Scott in a decisive game 7. Then the Red Sox got within an out of breaking The Curse before a wild pitch/passed ball let the Mets tie; Bill Buckner's infamous bloop only added to the drama.

Sowell organizes the book with an essay on each series, followed by a group of retrospectives with the key players. He has a great organizational conceit: first present the events, then describe the same actions through the eyes of the participants. It's like Rashomon.(For instance, Donnie Moore, in relief of Mike Witt, surrendered a key home run to Dave Henderson. Witt lets Moore (and manager Gene Mauch) off the hook; Doug DeCinces is critical of Moore and Mauch; but Moore himself is no longer alive to recount his version.)

But Sowell doesn't do nearly enough with all this. The preliminary essays are uneven in writing, sometimes breathless. The player articles rapidly degenerate into transcripts of their spoken words, which have the two disadvantages of being (a) spoken and (b) by baseball players, a group not particularly articulate and (like most modern sports stars) given to excessive cliché. Too often the player essays repeat the events that have already been described in the opening chapters. Still, this will probably be the definitive work on a remarkable season, so it's worth reading.

(Speaking of baseball clichés reminds me of Bull Durham. The Hall of Fame recently [2003] cancelled its 15th anniversary screening of the movie, on account of what Robbins and Sarandon might have said against the war in Iraq. Who cancelled it? Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey, who briefly worked for Ronald Reagan in the White House.)