By Gilbert B. Elwyn
If you love baseball, you will find this a great read. If you are disillusioned over salaries and steroids and strikes and no longer love baseball, you will find this a great read. If you know little or nothing about baseball and know exactly what you care to know about baseball, you will find this a great read.
Crazy ’08 refers to the 1908 baseball season; yes, just a few months shy of 100 years ago. This was an era when baseball players did not wear numbers, when two-umpire crews were a new concept, when just a few baseballs were used per game, and when the bats were not only not thin at the neck, but were barely tapered. It was the time when legends such as Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and John J. McGraw ruled the game. It was a time when Cy Young was a pitcher, not an award, when Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown pitched much better with three fingers (and two of them gnarled) than most pitchers endowed with the usual number, and when the flakiest lefty of them all, Rube Waddell, was painting the finishing touches to his colorful career. And it was a time when the Chicago Cubs growled and “from Tinker to Evers to Chance” were “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” to their rivals. And did you know that all eleven players mentioned above are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
1908 was also a transitional time, a time of change and upheaval in major league baseball, and baseball reflected the times. It was truly The Great American Pastime. The next two most popular spectator sports in 1908 were boxing and horseracing.
The subtitle to Ms. Murphy’s book is “How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History.” Ms. Murphy tells the interwoven story of this “cast of cranks, rogues, boneheads, and magnates” with unvarnished honesty, but with an obvious affection for the game and the times, in a style which is refreshingly reminiscent of the vivid, lyrical prose of the storied scribes such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice and Heywood Broun.
It’s somehow fitting to close this review of Crazy ’08 with a quote from the aforementioned Mr. Broun: “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”
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