“Hurricane Season: The Unforgettable Story of the 2017 Houston Astros and the Resilience of a City” by Joe Holley
Baseball, professional, Astros, championship
May 1, 2018
4 ½ of 5 stars (Excellent)
Winning the 2017 World Series meant much more to the Houston Astros and their fans. After Houston suffered so much devastation from Hurricane Harvey that summer, some wondered if the Astros were going to be able to concentrate on baseball. That question was answered with a trade for one of the game’s best pitchers, a strong postseason and winning an exciting World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers in which two of the games (games 2 and 5) are considered to be two of the best games played in World Series history.
This book by Houston Chronicle columnist Joe Holley is a very good account of not only all seven World Series games, but also a moving description of the devastation caused the flooding from the hurricane and the long road to recovery for many people. The three chapters that described the horrific rainfall - nearly 60 inches, the most from one rain event ever recorded in the United States) and the heroic efforts of first responders to rescue thousands of stranded people.
While the storm did result in 88 deaths, much credit is given to the first responders and volunteers to prevent that number from climbing much higher. Holley’s accounts of the storm, stories about people who were helping strangers, a woman who started a rescue team from social media and so many more will move a reader to tears. He even goes as far as to make a statement that the Astros would not have won the World Series without the standard set by Houstonians that the team had to aspire to reach – and one that is hard to disprove. This is one instance where the non-sports sections of a sports book are so much more gripping than the chapters on the sport or team itself.
This is not to say that the writing about the baseball or the Astros is inferior. The accounts of all seven World Series games are filled with not only recaps of the action on the field, but stories from the players and even fans. One of the more entertaining anecdotes was the musings of a fan who attended the exciting see-saw game 5 which saw both teams take the lead and promptly relinquish it. The fan was seated just in front of the box where the Astros’ baseball operations staff was located (the staff affectionately called the “nerds” throughout the book) and noted that these “nerds” never bothered to catch any of this exciting game as they would be constantly looking down at their phones trying to find any new information on social media.
This story illustrates the new paradigm for both the Astros and all other major league teams – the reliance on statistical analysis for making decisions on players and game strategy. The Astros were one of the first teams to rely on this analysis almost exclusively and were struggling at the start, enduring three consecutive seasons with more than 100 losses. The patience paid off in 2015 when they secured a postseason berth and then the ultimate payoff in 2017. While the book doesn’t dig deeply into the nuts and bolts of this operation, Holley writes very informative chapter about general manager Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane – the former for developing the analytics department and the latter for his approval and financing.
The only aspect of the book that keeps this from being a true five-star book in my mind is Holley’s account of the unfortunate incident in which Yuli Gurriel made a racially insensitive gesture toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish. After it was captured and reported on social media, the ensuring controversy resulted in Gurriel’s suspension at the beginning of the 2018 season and an apology. Holley wrote that there wasn’t much more about the incident after the apology, which was accepted by Darvish, but the gesture was, according to Holley, “bigger than it seemed”. That, to me, was an unnecessary comment as it was unfortunate but shouldn’t be constantly overshadowing the action on the field. Also, something that Holley did leave out was the gesture Gurriel made during his first at bat in game 7. Darvish was on the mound for the Dodgers and Gurrriel tipped his cap to Darvish, who in turn acknowledged the gesture with a nod of his head. My thought was if the two men involved could make peace and move on, why couldn’t the author do the same thing?
Aside from this small matter, the rest of the book is a terrific and moving account of a baseball team, its success and its attachment to a city that needed all the good news it could get during a very tough year. Baseball fans, especially Astros fans, will want to add this one to their libraries as soon as it comes out.
I wish to thank Hachette Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.