Monday, November 28, 2005

Book Review: You Can't Lose 'Em All

I'm still having fun in Pittsburgh. My friend's roomate actually HAS the Steve Blass / Manny Sanguillen double bobblehead from this summer. It's so funnylooking. Manny has a catcher's mitt on his head, so if you shake the desk, Steve Blass's head bobbles all around, but Manny just nods. Hee. I'll take a picture at some point. I haven't made it down to PNC Park yet this trip. I'm disappointed to find out that they only do stadium tours from April to October; I'd never looked into going on an official tour there since I've been around most of the park during games. Maybe when I'm back here in April...

Anyway, the news tidbit of the day to me is that the Yomiuri Giants signed Kiyoshi Toyoda, the Seibu Lions' closer, who was a free agent this offseason. Cool. I know, I'm mean, but this just means more of an equalizer in the Pacific League.

So, I read this book when I was still jet-lagged the last few days. It was pretty

You Can't Lose 'Em All : The Year the Phillies Finally Won the World Series by Frank Fitzpatrick

First off, the neatest piece of trivia I never knew before and learned from this book: in all of Pete Rose's 24 seasons, 3562 games, 4256 hits, and 160 home runs, he only ever hit one grand slam in his career, July 18, 1964, off of Dallas Green, who managed the 1980 Phillies and who was a pitcher for the Phillies during that fateful 1964 season. Apparently, 15 years later, Pete Rose still teased him about it. (Though the book actually has the date wrong -- they say July 19, and I checked it on Retrosheet and Baseball-Almanac. I'm sure there's no way in hell most people would notice or catch that, unless they also were like "Whoa, no way! What a crazy coincidence!" when they read it. I assume the author probably found a July 19th newspaper clipping or something.)

Anyway, if you grew up in Philadelphia and were too young to really appreciate 1980 when it happened, as I was, but went to way too many Phillies games in your youth anyway, as I did, this book is really pretty great. I mean, I remember some of the guys clearly -- Schmidt, Carlton, Rose, Tugger, Bowa, Boonie, etc -- but a lot of the other names are really pretty fuzzy to me, aside from my 1980 Phillies felt pennant. So this is the story of all those guys.

It's sort of the story of everything leading up to the events of October 21, 1980, starting with an explanation of the doomedness of the franchise in general --

Let's say you were a Philadelphian born in the first decade of the twentieth century. You loved baseball, preferred the National League, and by 1917 had become a Phillies fan. Well, by 1948, assuming you hadn't been hospitalized or switched allegiances, you would still be waiting. Waiting not just for a World Series, not just for a pennant, not even for a near miss. Thirty-one years after you gave your heart to the Phillies, you would not yet have experienced a single winning season!

(Sadly, despite the great way this is phrased, it's actually not strictly true either. The Phillies did have a vaguely winning season in 1932, where they went 78-76 behind Chuck Klein and his 38 home runs. I do love the way he pointed out how in 1930, though, Klein hit .386 with 40 HR, Lefty O'Doul batted .383, the team batting average was .315, and those two plus Pinky Whitney each had over 200 hits. And where did they finish? Dead last, losing 102 games. I thought I'd looked at every embarrassing Phillies year, but I guess not.)

We go through the Phillies' early years, of course pointing out how by 1980 the team had only been in two World Serieses, and had only won one game therein, in 1915. Hell, in winning Game 1 of the 1980 NLCS, Steve Carlton became the first Phillies pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander to win a postseason game for the Phillies at home.

Now, most of the story starts in 1964. No, not exactly with them losing the pennant in the spectacular way they did, but with the building of the Phillies farm system, as it were. Paul Owens took over, and he started signing some talented kids. Bowa in 1965. Luzinski in 1968. Boone in 1969. Mike Schmidt in 1971. They managed to trade Rick Wise for Steve Carlton. (Apparently Tim McCarver only got back his catching job with the Phillies in the 70's because Carlton refused to be caught by Boone.) Other pieces fell into place, culminating in the signing of Pete Rose to kick everyone into shape. And suddenly, boom! 1980 Phillies. Then we get the story of the 1980 season, scratching and clawing for the division lead every day, and then the insane NLCS against Houston and the World Series itself, describing most of the crazier stories and plays and players and such. (George Brett, the "Preparation DH". 'Nuff said.)

I really had no idea how crazy the team's relationship with the fans and with the press was at the time, of course -- I could barely read in 1980, and I knew people booed at the stadium a lot -- but this book covers a lot of the crazy media fights between Dallas Green and the team, and the players in-fighting with each other, and whatnot. It's really pretty fascinating for me to read about all the different things that happened, and to bring a lot of the players to life more as characters than just as names on a pennant.

Basically, I guess what I'm trying to say overall about this book is that it's really a pretty entertaining read if you're a Phillies fan. There's a lot of humor in here, of course, and a lot of funny stories about games and all, and various insights from interviews with players and fans and front office folks and everybody. Like I also said, I'm sure there are a few facts in the book that are incorrect -- it's sort of funny that the few points I wanted to bring out as being cool about the book also point out the errors. If you read this, read it for the entertainment factor and the stories and just enjoy it. I did, after all -- if I hadn't decided to review the book, I wouldn't have noticed any flaws!

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