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Baseball sprung eternal

  • Dec 31, 2013
Rating:
+4
On the Saturday and Sunday of Easter 1981 the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings played the longest professional baseball game ever.  Thirty years later Dan Barry retells the story of the game through the stories of its key participants:  the future Hall of Famers (Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr.), the ones who finally made it to the show (Joe Morgan and Rich German), and those who toiled in obscurity in Pawtucket, Elmira, Winter Haven, and a hundred minor league stops in between without ever making it.


Baseball is so popular as a literary subject in part because of its unique relationship with time.  Baseball games are defined not by time elapsed but by milestones accomplished:  three outs per half inning, each team one turn at bat per inning, nine innings per game, and extra innings played until a tie is broken.  As Barry writes, a baseball game, even a single at bat, could theoretically last an infinity, and this game tested that theory to the greatest extent ever in its 33 innings and over 8 hours of play.

Another aspect of baseball time is the length of the gestation period of a typical career.  A player drafted out of high school or college may take three, four, five years or more to progress through the minors from rookie ball to AAA, establishing through the slow accretion of statistics over time the repeatability of his ability; Pawtucket manager Morgan used the term "consistency" to describe why the hero of The Longest Game never made it to the majors despite years of success in the minors.  Yet somewhere along that path the unstoppable accretion of time turns a young man old in baseball years and he must make the realization or accept the inevitability of retirement.  It is Barry's treatment of time that gives this the poignancy of the best books about this oddly timeless and time driven game.

But it is a game, an event, and Barry also writes a highly readable account of this game as it unfolds over hours and days:  the cold wind that chills the players hands and empties the stands as the game draws on, the plays and hits that resulted in scores tied at 1-1 and 2-2 (when each team scored a run in an inning in the 20s that raised and dashed hopes that the game may end soon), the attempts of players on the field and on the bench to stay engaged during the hundreds of at bats (and 60 strikeouts), and the reason why the game wasn't suspended at the typical minor league curfew.

Barry calls this a "non-baseball baseball book" and uses the framework of the game to write a history and a story of a time, place, people, culture, and language--and of the Christianity symbolized by the celebration of Easter Sunday and the faith professed and lived by several of the players.  Baseball does this to writers, and in this case, in a good way.  One tie to the timelessness of baseball and to its literary reach:  Steve Grilli who took the loss in the game, near the end of a career in which he had made the majors but would not reach them again, is the father of Jason Grilli, the aging relief pitcher who found new life as the closer for my favorite Pittsburgh Pirates.

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January 01
Good detailed review!
 
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More Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Rede... reviews
review by . June 03, 2011
Baseball is unique among professional sports simply because infinity is built into the rules - not only teasing us with the remote possibility of endlessness but suspending time for those who play, and watch. At 30, some players evolve into veterans but never really get old and simply fade with their skills, perhaps losing a step to everything but our memory.      This is both the genius of the sport and the genius of Dan Barry's Bottom of the 33rd who places that timeless …
review by . April 24, 2011
Elegantly written account of one of the most bizarre contests in the history of professional sports.
On a chilly Saturday evening in April 1981 1740 hearty souls gathered for a Triple-A baseball game in a run-down 1940's-era ballpark in the city of Pawtucket, RI. This night the game pitted the Rochester Red Wings, AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles against the hometown Pawtucket Red Sox.  Earlier in the week I had promised a couple of young teenagers in my neighborhood that I would take them to the game that night.  I was hoping that the cold and wind would discourage them but …
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Todd Stockslager ()
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I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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ISBN-10: 006201448X
ISBN-13: 978-0062014481
Genre: History of Sports
Publisher: Harper
Date Published: April 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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