Ten Innings At Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, With Baseball On The Brink, by Kevin Cook
While this is in general at least a mildly entertaining book in parts about an interesting game, the book is not quite as exciting as it could have been. One gets the feeling that the author was particular interested in the larger story of some of the people involved, many of whom had compelling lives and personal histories, than he was about this particular game itself. The game was high-scoring, a 23-22 ten innings game between two teams that really didn’t do anything in 1979, but the game itself and its discussion only takes up less than half of the space of the book. Most of the book is spent talking about two teams that I do not particularly care about and in the legacies of the people involved in the game, which in many ways is more compelling than the game itself and its ups and downs. Even the high scoring nature of the game appears to be due mainly to the crummy officiating as a result of having a hungover scab umpire who shrank the strike zone to such a small level that both teams were able to tee off on the ball almost at will. That tends to take away from this game’s grandeur a bit.
This book of a bit more than 200 pages is divided into three parts. The book begins with starting lineups and rosters and shows where the Cubs and Phillies were as of May 1979, a few weeks into the season. After that the author discusses the Cubs and Phillies as the National League Least (I), pointing out the history of these two franchises and their failures. The middle part of the book is devoted to a discussion of the game itself, with lots of complaints about the umpire as well as a discussion of how the Phillies build a large lead and then watched it evaporate, forcing the game into extra innings, eventually leading to depleted bullpens on both sides and victory by the Phillies in ten. The third part of the book, and the most significant, discusses the legacies of the the people involved in the game, including the managerial drama of the Phillies, the testy relationship between Kingman and the media, the disgrace suffered later by Bill Buckner thanks to his world series error, the splitter and its legacy, as well as the family history of the Boones in baseball.
Ultimately, what makes this book enjoyable is the discussion of the people involved in this game. Whether one is dealing with a lassiez-faire manager who is too nice to deal with players in Philadelphia who could not win to the level of expectations (something that remains true even now), or one is looking at the troubled father-son relationship between Tug McGraw and his son Tim, this book has a lot to offer and a lot of material to reflect upon. Ultimately that material is of far greater weight than the game itself, which was a close game that was not played particularly well and which ultimately had no weight on the playoff races of the NL East in that year. Nor was society on the brink of anything at the time except for a merciful rejection of the malaise that had afflicted American political life for far too long, which ultimately led to our own age with its deep political divides and the obsession with data collection and statistics. This book is a throwback to a more corrupt time when a good game of baseball was seriously damaged by someone who shouldn’t have been there abusing his authority as an umpire to create unnecessary drama and difficulty for two teams struggling for wins and relevance.