Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review - Roger Maris: A Man For All Seasons, by Maury Allen

In preparing for my transpacific move, I took a box of (non-baseball) books to Half Price Books the other day, and during the 15 minutes I had to wait for them to decide to give me a whopping sum of $8 for the whole box, I stumbled on this book, which I started reading in the store and then decided to just go ahead and buy. It was $5.50, which after tax left me with a remainder of about $2 to put towards a Chipotle burrito for dinner.

But I digress.

Roger Maris: A Man For All Seasons, by Maury Allen

I've read one or two other books about Roger Maris, but this one was actually written in 1986, for the 25th anniversary of the 61 in '61 year. Sadly, it was also written right after Roger's death, which means that a lot of the interview quotes in the book talk about what the speaker was thinking or doing when Roger died, or at his funeral, and so on.

About 70% of this book is straightforward history and prose, and about 30% is sections of text transcribed from interviews. I thought that this style of writing would grate on me after a while, but I actually enjoyed a lot of the short vignettes related by the different people, who ranged from Roger's friends and family to his teammates and opponents from various points in his baseball career. Most of the time there's a few paragraphs of lead-in, then a short blurb introducing the next speaker, and then several pages of prose that follow from whatever the speaker had to say. It's very different than just reading a lot of prose with various one-line quotes thrown in from interviews, and there's often funny little things that come out, like the guy who gave up Roger's first home run in 1957 (Jack Crimian, who only pitched in 4 games that year, and went to the same high school as my dad) describing it, or Jim Bouton relating how when he first came up to the majors, Roger gave him a new glove, or the story about how Mantle sent Roger a wooden carving of a hand extending the middle finger, which Roger would keep on his chair when he didn't want to talk to reporters.

There's some pretty sad parts -- I was on the bus home from work reading the chapter where former Yankees and fellow pallbearers Moose Skowron and Johnny Blanchard were talking about Maris's funeral in detail, and I nearly started to cry. I had to put the book down for a bit to make myself stop sniffling, which was sort of embarrassing on the bus.

If there's any failing of this book, it might be to provide the reader with some more details of Roger's life away from his baseball career. The bulk of the book is about Roger as a baseball player, though to its credit, it evenly covers his entire career, not just the 1961 season that everyone knows about. In a 12-year career he played in 7 World Series and got 3 rings -- and 2 of those series (one win) were with the Cardinals after he left the Yankees. The author was just getting started as a sportswriter during Maris's career, so he has some interesting quotes and observations from Maris's games and postgames, especially from the later years.

And really, given how Roger wanted to be a private sort of guy and keep the media and public away from him as much as possible, it's not surprising that a lot of details about his life either don't exist or aren't that interesting. "Roger worked as a beer distributor in Florida for 20 years" probably isn't that great of a story anyway. And in all fairness, after I got so freaked out reading Luckiest Man and the details on Lou Gehrig's medical condition, I'm actually kind of glad that Maury Allen didn't make a point of going too deep into Maris's condition and how it deteriorated from the lymphoma.

Anyway, this was a pretty good read, and a relatively good bus book as well. If you're interested in borrowing/buying my copy and local to Seattle, let me know, as I'd feel silly putting such a good book into indefinite storage.

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