The opening of this book sets the stage perfectly for what is to come. It begins by stating that a baseball game that started on Holy Saturday, which is the "pause between joy and sorrow", has surrendered to the first hour of Easter. The rest of the book talks about this amazing game and the joy and sorrow faced by those at the game.
As a baseball fan who never made it past little league I envy those who get paid to play professional ball at any level. Yet for many at the game playing Triple A ball is bittersweet because the players are so close to their dream and for most they will always be one stop short of playing major league ball. For many Triple A is the place where "sweet romance meets bitter reality."
While Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken went on to greatness and a number of other players like Bobby Ojeda, Bruce Hurst and Rich Gedman had good careers, most of the players in this game never made it to the majors. Some were on the rise and hit their peak and others were on the way down and just trying to stay in the game. It is their stories that make this book so successful.
Yet, Dan Barry also talks about the game itself. This is another great thing about this book. Baseball is the amazing game that it is because it has no time limits. There are no clocks. Three outs are the only limits to an inning. A scheduled nine inning game will last until the bottom of the 33rd if that is what it takes to have a winner, even if the game has to be started again on another day.
Dan Barry does a good job of talking about the lives of these players, as well as the lives of the coaches, bat boys and team owners, in the context of the 33 inning game. He manages to talk about those involved in the game while at the same time talking about baseball itself.
We all know that an inning cannot begin in baseball after 12:50 a.m. However, the rule prohibiting this was unintentionally dropped from the 1981 International League Instructions for Umpires, Managers and Players. That fact, combined with an absurdly strict constructionist interpretation by Chief Umpire Jack Lietz, set the stage for the longest game ever played in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on the night before and the morning of Easter 1981.
Author and New York Times columnist Dan Barry uses this game to analyze life in the minor leagues. He shows a good eye for the rituals of the game telling the story of how the mud used to rub baseballs was first found by Slats Blackburne on the shore of a South Jersey Creek. Barry describes the sometimes jury-rigged style that characterizes the game played at this level. The ball park for the Pawtucket Red Sox is owned and maintained by the city and is used to store sand and salt in the winter, a practice that is not employed at Fenway. He also probes the history of this Rhode Island city which includes a strong dose of machine politics, a ballpark into which cement trucks disappeared during its construction and a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.
But above all, the book is about the thin line that separates the near poverty and virtual anonymity of minor league life from the exalted status of the 12,000 men who have played in the Show. We see Cal Ripken Jr destined for greatness from his first day and Wade Boggs who seemed to be consigned to Triple A status for life until Carney Lansford was injured late in the year and there was no one else available to bring up. This is contrasted with Dave Koza, one of the best athletes ever to come out of Wyoming, who spends the long drives home from the East wondering why he was not one of the lucky few to receive a September 1 call up from the parent club. We share the thoughts of 26 year old former FSU star Larry Jones who is realizing that the dream may be ending: "He thinks the manager is more interested in internal politics than in player development. He thinks that one Baltimore executive in particular is the worst man he has ever met. He thinks - no, he knows - that the meter is running; that athletes don't get better with age."
It is fascinating to watch this moment frozen in time (all 33 innings of it) as the eternally obscure Russ Laribee plays next to Lee Graham, who got a cup of coffee with the big club, as well as Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda, destined to square off against each other on a very different stage in the 86 World Series, and Wade Boggs, at this point no different than Graham and Laribee, but destined for 3000 hits and the Hall of Fame.
My only complaint is that the author tries a bit too hard in the early sections of the book. We get some overwritten passages such as: "The backstop netting behind home plate sways in and out of focus to lay blurry crosshatches across the unfolding scene, as if to underscore the impenetrable separation between past and future." I wonder if catcher Rich Gedman saw it that way? Fortunately, there are far fewer of these passages as the book and the innings progress.
"Bottom of the 33rd" by Dan Barry is a terrific account of baseball's longest game. More than a sports book, Mr. Barry expertly contextualizes the event and profiles its participants to bring an uniquely American drama to life. Written by an award-winning journalist at the top of his game, this captivating book is certain to be appreciated by a wide audience.
This is not a mere pitch-by-pitch recount of the game. Mr. Barry has the ability to see outside the chalk lines to bring our attention to certain themes that add character and dimension to the story. Mr. Barry writes about the players, managers and families who struggle mightily to achieve their dreams, documenting their sacrifices as they achieve fleeting moments of success or, in a few rare cases, major league immortality. Among the dozens of character sketches, the bittersweet profile of the game's hero, Dave Koza is particularly praiseworthy for its profound insight and sensitivity.
Importantly, Mr. Barry draws interest from elements of the story that might be easily overlooked. Mr. Barry paints a portrait of the hardscrabble industrial town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island whose elders took great pride in building the minor league ballpark whose peculiarities would contribute to the game's drama. Mr. Barry finds spiritual meaning as the players struggle for their baseball lives in the early hours of Easter morning. The author also has a penchant for unearthing the kind of detail that adds enormously to the story's appeal: the shivering radio broadcasters who wouldn't quit; the ejected manager who kept his eye on the game through a secret peephole in the fence; the angry wife who couldn't believe her husband was still playing ball; and much, much more.
I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone.
on August 30, 2013
When one of the greatest sportswriters who ever lived recommended to me Dan Barry's account of the longest baseball game ever played, "Bottom of the 33rd," I thought he was merely hyping the book of a friend and made no effort to run out and buy it. I should have. It is a modern masterpiece.
Nominally it is the story of the 33 inning game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings of the Triple- A International League, the highest minor league level, which began on a blustering cold Easter Eve 1981, and ended on a freezing Easter Sunday. Yet it is so much more.
It is also a history of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a decaying rust belt mill town. It is a history of the game's setting, McCoy Stadium, built in the Great Depression on a sinkhole as a public works boondoggle to put the city's citizens to work by their powerful mayor, Thomas P. McCoy. It is the story of its Quebec born owner who rescued the franchise, Ben Mondor, a self made millionaire who bought and sold old textile mills and manufactured women's wear fabrics, and who was staunch Catholic in a Catholic city, and possessed a strong sense of Christian charity and obligation.
It is the story of two future Hall of Famers who played all 33 innings, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr. It is the story of all the players who never made it to the majors and their long suffering wives who worked part time jobs to support their dreams. It is the story of the teenagers who grew up in Pawtucket and earned their first tiny paychecks working in menial jobs such as doing the laundry of the players, cooking their post game meals of spaghetti and chicken, selling tickets, picking up garbage. It is the story of the two managers, Joe Morgan and Doc Edwards, who spent their lives traveling the small roads and small towns of America to teach the American baseball dream to aspiring players who mostly never made it to the majors.
It is mostly however, a story of Dan Barry's powerful writing. Such as: "The 7th inning has arrived, and Danny Parks has just walked Rochester's lead off batter, Mark Corey, which has led to another walk: that of Park's manager, Joe Morgan, now strolling toward the mound, and not for his health, or to take in the air...Morgan, head down as if prepared to hear a confession, runs a cleat over the mound. Parks, head bowed in contrition, then sweeps a cleat over what Morgan has just swept. Back and forth they go, gardening, muttering, engaged in a slow, self-conscious dance in which partners try not to look each other in the eye."
Who won the game? Good question. Barry saves the answer for the end of the book.
[Hansen Alexander is a New York attorney and author of two introductory law books, "A Tort is Not a Pastry," and "An Introduction to the Laws of the United States in the 21rst Century."]
on June 29, 2011
This was a slightly different kind of baseball book in that it gave almost equal attention to the players, management, the fans, the city and the ballpark.
When you're writing about minor league players, too, you've got a good share of heartache - more than you would discussing Major League stars. Most of the guys in the minors do NOT make it to Bigs and often have sad stories to tell. Author Dan Barry provides us those, along with an overall feeling of what it must have been like enduring the longest pro baseball game ever played. I almost felt like part of the scenery in Pawtucket, which is a tribute to the author's writing.
This is not just a good baseball but a good human interest story as well.
on October 10, 2012
In his Prologue to this book on the longest game ever played in professional baseball, Dan Barry writes that one might ask the players why they kept playing, and one might ask the fans why they stayed. He believes that the players and fans would answer: "Because we are bound by duty. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. In our own secular way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection, and possibility." Barry then goes on to establish, early in the book, that to all concerned -- players, fans, umpires, officials and managers of all kinds and levels -- the game felt as if it would go on forever. The planting of that word "forever" is well done, because in the following three sections (Innings 1 to 9; Innings 10 to 21; Innings 22 to 32), Barry does a masterful job of making the reader also feel that the game will go on forever. This is an amazing feat considering that the book is only 250 pages long.
One of the ways the author establishes this feeling in the reader is by the division of sections. Logically speaking, one would expect Innings 1 to 9, followed by Innings 10-18, followed by Innings 19-27, and so on, each group of nine symbolizing one full baseball game. But in this cold, windy, almost isolated early-season game, the tying run is scored in the bottom of the ninth and then, in the top of the 21st, the go-ahead run is scored. But.
But in the bottom of the 21st, the tying run is scored again, and THAT is when the players, the fans, and yes, you, the reader, will feel a sense of doom: caught in the spiral of a game that is not played against a clock and that gives each side an equal number of chances -- a game that, in theory, could go on forever. You will feel this sense of doom in a good way, however, because history tells you that the game did end, so you know that resolution will arrive. Maybe also redemption.
on October 11, 2013
I read a lot of baseball books and this is one of the better ones. It's the story of the 1981 Triple A (minor league) game between Rochester and Pawtucket, which started on Easter Saturday, and, 8 hours later, at 4 am on Easter Sunday, was still going at the end of 32 innings, only to be finished several months later. It should've ended at 12:50 am, at the usual International League curfew which was inadvertently omitted from that year's set of rules. It was and, as far as I know, remains, organized baseball's longest game ever.
I picked it up to learn more about the then minor leaguers, Wade Boggs of Pawtucket and Cal Ripken of Rochester. The parts about the famous ballplayers were interesting but the parts of the book dealing with those who never made it were even more so.
An excellent book, one I'd recommend even to the nonbaseball fan. There's plenty about baseball, or course, but even more about life and its tragedies and disappointments.
on April 9, 2016
It was easy to identify with the people Dan Barry describes throughout his book, although the superb writing certainly pulls the readers into the story and urges us to continue reading all the way through the ending credits. As one who spent hundreds of hours with a ball, listening to it "whop, whop, whop" off the side of the house, I could identify with the dreams of the various players on both the Rochester and Pawtucket teams.
Barry's storytelling is incredible, and he weaves stories of the major and minor characters in and out of the tale of two teams that could not find a way to end the game being played. Along the way we learn tidbits of information about those players who eventually ended up in the major leagues as well as what happened to the majority of those who didn't.
Excellent story, recommended for baseball fans as well as for those who just enjoy reading a story that is well told.
on September 20, 2012
There are a lot of books about baseball and what makes it a cultural and defining icon of the American experience. In this well-researched treatment of one the games historical moments, Dan Barry brings to life the aspirations, grit and real-life drama that accompanies our national pastime.
Personally, this story combines three great passions of mine: great literature, faith and baseball. The writer captures well how a group of triple-A players rise up to an unexpected rendevous with history exploring their determination to succeed, their doubts and in several cases, their future greatness (Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs). And it's a story not just about the players - there are the managers, the owners, and the fans just outside an old Pawtucket textile district whose own dreams mirror those being played out on the field.
The record-setting backdrop is the longest game of professional baseball that started one Holy Saturday evening in 1981 and after a endurance-testing 33 innings, ended in the early hours of Easter morning. Baseball novels are rich in metaphors and this one is no exception. Where you may be surprised, and dare I say; touchingly moved, is the strong link the writer makes between the game and personal redemption. Consider this excerpt:
"Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay?
Because we are bound by duty. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. Because, in our own secular way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection, possibility."
This book is one of the underrated classics that captures the moment in time where all converges at once to remind us the greatness of the human spirit and that no matter what happens in our risings and fallings; redemption is there waiting for all who seek it.
Read and enjoy this one; there will be no regrets.
on April 30, 2016
Wow! I really enjoyed this book. I'm not a die-hard baseball fan but I do love the game and I do prefer to attend AAA games. The author not only details all the crazy twists and turns in this bizarre game but also does a great job of telling the back stories of everyone involved (like the liquor distributor who pulled their beer concessions at the field and the heavy price they paid...). It becomes very clear, very fast that players working their ways up and down through the league layers have a tough time. They are subject to stresses on and off the field that most of us never consider until we read a story like this. If you like baseball, and if you think the game holds many metaphors to life, you'll love this book. It's extremely well researched and funny as hell.