Monday, December 29, 2014

Review of "The Best They Could Be"

Catching up on my baseball reading as it is one of the rare slow times during this off season. Between all the trades made in the recent Winter Meetings and the anticipation for spring training (as of today, only 47 days until pitchers and catchers report), I have decided to try to read more baseball books as well.  So to get an early start on that resolution, here is my review of a book on the 1916-20 Cleveland Indians, "The Best They Could Be."

“The Best They Could Be: How the Cleveland Indians Became the Kings of Baseball, 1916-1920” by Scott H. Longert

Baseball, Indians, history, championship

Publish date:
April 30, 2013

280 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

The 1920 Cleveland Indians championship baseball team was not built just out of good luck, an owner with deep pockets or even because of their good fortune.  While some it was true, this team overcame a lot of hardship and even a death of one of the better players to win the World Series that year.  Scott Longert’s book on how that team was built and what they overcame is a terrific read that any baseball fan will enjoy.

The book takes the reader from the time that Jim Dunn became the owner of the club in 1915 up to the end of the 1920 World Series that Cleveland won 5 games to 2 over the Brooklyn Robins.  At that time, the World Series was a best-of-nine series. Through the chapter on the World Series, it is noted that three historic events took place all in game four and all were good for Cleveland.  Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam homer in World Series history to put the Indians up 4-0. Indians pitcher Jim Bagby followed up with a three run shot of his own, becoming the first pitcher to homer in a World Series game.  Then Bill “Wamby” Wambsganss turned the first (and to date, only) unassisted triple play in World Series history.  Each achievement gets special treatment during Longert’s recap of the game. These are but a few examples of the excellent writing about the baseball played at that time.

What sets this book apart from other baseball history books is Longert’s writing about off the field activities that affect the Cleveland Indians. His telling of how Dunn acquired the team was a rich collection of stories not only about Dunn himself, but also of the business climate at that time in the country as well as some good research on the owner and American League president Ban Johnson.  The chapters about how baseball dealt with World War I and the government’s order for all men aged 21-30 to “work or fight” was well researched and gives the reader a clear picture of what the game meant to the country at that time. 

However, I felt the best part of the book was the moving passage about the death of Ray Chapman.  The Indians shortstop became the first player to be killed on the field when he was hit in the temple by a fastball thrown by New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays on August 16, 1920 and died the next day.  The stories of how Chapman’s death shook not only the Indians, but the soul of a city and of a sport were some of the best researched and written baseball stories I have read.   It felt like I was grieving along with Chapman’s teammates.

This was an outstanding book on that time span in which the Indians became the toast of baseball.  The research and writing is top-notch and all baseball fans, regardless of team loyalties, will enjoy this book.

I wish to thank Mr. Longert for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
Very good as it is an easy read that chronicles the team for those five years. The interruptions of the history with brief biographies of players were well placed in the book and enhanced the particular story being told at that point in the book.

Do I recommend? 
This book is an absolute must-read for not only Cleveland Indians fans, but all baseball fans, especially baseball historians who want to learn more about how this team was built.

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