What’s on the mind of a major-league pitcher, out there in mid-inning and mid-career trouble once again, with men on base, his concentration wavering, and some of his best stuff not on call today? According to this account by Ron Darling, the stalwart ex-Mets starter and incumbent Mets broadcaster, it’s a good three or four pages’ worth of anxiety, reminders, tendencies, situations, afterthoughts, and admonishments per pitch. “Once again,” as he puts it, “I thought, This is not good.” Darling offers pitches and outcomes (but no box scores) from ten selected games in his career, including a successful World Series start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in 1986, a gruesome windy-day thumping suffered at Wrigley Field, and his celebrated extra-inning near-no-hitter back when he was pitching for Yale. Among them are enough oddities and thrilling turns of baseball to make a reader glad to be here and—well, not out there.
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*Starred Review* Darling was a Major League pitcher from 1983 to 1995. He was good but not great. Along the way, he became a student of the game—and a very observant, self-aware one at that—and has since won an Emmy as a baseball analyst. Using a unique nine-inning format in this mix of autobiography and reflection on the game, Darling picks a particularly notable—not necessarily successful—inning in his career and minutely dissects it. For example, for his first entry, he examines his first inning as a big-league pitcher: who he faced, what he was thinking, why he threw the pitches he did, what happened, and what he learned. His fifth-inning choice takes place during an August 1984 game against the Chicago Cubs in which Darling was intimidated, pitched poorly, and nearly incited a brawl when he hit a Cub batter out of frustration. He supplements each chapter with context, flashbacks, and other examples from his career to illustrate how what he learned in that particular inning carried forward—or didn’t. It’s hard to recall a baseball book that offers as much information about the game—from a player’s perspective—as this one. Baseball generates dozens of books every year, from biographies to statistical abstracts. This is easily the best of the year so far. --Wes Lukowsky
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