Monday, January 2, 2017

First review of 2017: "Clearing the Bases:

To start off the new year, I am continuing one trend that I started in 2016 - that is, to review a baseball book.  While baseball is the sport that I have read and reviewed the most books on, it is the game in which by far the most books can be found.  Including this one which is a collection of previously published stories in various publications written by a long-time writer for Sports Illustrated.  Here is my review of "Clearing the Bases."

“Clearing the Bases: A Veteran Sportswriter on the National Pastime” by Jim Kaplan

Baseball, professional, history, essays, collection

Publish date:
October 6, 2016

211 pages

4 of 5 stars (Very Good)

In the introduction to this collection of essays on baseball, author Jim Kaplan states even though his own baseball career was less than successful – he writes that “In the 10th grade, I was a substitute for the ninth-grade team. Not only that, I was so slow that my teammates called me Snowshoes.” – he states that he still loves the game in part because of its “unpredictability.” 

That is an applicable description of this book as it isn’t a predictable collection – the topics of the stories, the timelines and setting and the tone of the stories all vary and cover a lot of ground.  He has stories about major league players - Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, All-Star catcher and esteemed broadcaster Tim McCarver and a relief pitcher turned physician Ron Taylor, who pitched for two championship teams, the 1964 Cardinals and 1969 Mets.  There are stories about a season (1983), about a league (The Futures Collegiate Baseball League [FCBL] and the team in Martha’s Vineyard) and about the adventures in on position (right field). 

The stories vary in mood as well, from upbeat and hopeful to slightly melancholy as the 1983 season chapter seemed to be a call for “the good old days.”  It’s interesting to read something like this many years later, when some may consider the year in question “the good old days.”  Another line in that chapter cracked me up when Kaplan wrote about Ron Kittle, the slugger who at the time was an all-star for the Chicago White Sox.  He wrote at the time that “…Kittle is already a bigger hero than Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, ever was.  Banks says so himself.”  Ask any Chicago baseball fan now who was the bigger hero and you might get a different answer.

As a fan of a minor-league team in the lower level of the system, I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the FCBL as the living and working conditions for these young men are very similar to the players I watch at the local ballpark. Hearing their enthusiasm and youthfulness through Kaplan’s words was very inspiring.

The only knock I have on the book was the very long chapter on Ron Taylor.  Not so much because it was much longer than the other chapters, as Taylor did live a somewhat interesting life, but I would have liked to have read more about his time as the team physician for the Toronto Blue Jays.  It is rare to find any material on what life is like working in baseball in an occupation other than a player, manager or owner, so I would have been very interesting in any stories he may have been able to share as a team physician.

Unlike most books of this format, there wasn’t a bad story in the entire collection. This book was an entertaining and enjoyable read, one that baseball fans of all ages and interests would enjoy.

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

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