“Stars and Strikes: Baseball and American in the Bicentennial Summer of 1976" by Dan Epstein
Baseball, professional, history
April 29, 2014
4 of 5 stars (very good)
1976 was a celebratory year for the United States as the nation celebrated its 200th year of declaring independence. In baseball, many were not as in a celebratory mood, unless they were on the Cincinnati Reds, who were the championship team during that season that is chronicled in this fun book by Dan Epstein.
Written in much the same manner as his other book on 1970's baseball, "Big Hair and Plastic Grass", this one uses the tried and true formula that has worked for many books about singular baseball teams or seasons. Specifically, Epstein mixes many pop culture, music and political references in with the baseball when recapping the 1976 season. Some of them are pretty funny, such as his comparison of Dodgers player Bill Buckner to a pornography actor. Each chapter has a song that was a hit in 1976 as a title. One of the most popular movies to hit the big screen in 1976, "The Bad News Bears" got a nice write-up in Chapter 6, "More, More, More." Epstein even manages to show some of his political leanings in the book, especially when writing about President Gerald Ford and the man who defeated him in the 1976 presidential election Jimmy Carter.
However, the book is mostly about baseball and here, Epstein does a very good job of making the 1976 season sound very exciting despite the fact that three of the four divisional races were not close (only the AL West had any excitement) and the World Series ended with a four game sweep by the Reds over the New York Yankees. However, there was plenty of news in baseball that kept things interesting throughout the year and Epstein covers them well.
These included the elimination of the reserve clause and subsequent first class of free agents at the end of the year, new owners who were mavericks such as Ted Turner and Bill Veeck (although Veeck technically wasn't a "new" owner as he previous owned several teams and came back into the game when he bought the Chicago White Sox that year), and the controversial manner in which George Brett of Kansas City won the American League battle title when his teammate and closest competitor, Hal McRae, accused the Minnesota Twins of allowing Brett's fly balls to drop for hits to ensure a white player would win the title. But the biggest story in baseball in 1976 was a rookie pitcher for the Detroit Tigers named Mark Fidrych, nicknamed "The Bird" and was electrifying baseball fans in Detroit and across the country with his quirky antics on the mound – and oh, yes, his excellent pitching as well.
This is just a small sample of the plentiful baseball material that fans of that era of all will enjoy reliving. Most teams get at least a mention in the book, even the teams that didn't fare so well in 1976. Of course, like all books about a specific season, the best teams get most of the ink and that is the case here as well for the Reds, Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers. But no matter the level of fandom for 1970's baseball, a reader will enjoy this look back at America's bicentennial year in baseball.
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