From Publishers Weekly
At the turn of the 20th century, "every American could want to be Christy Mathewson," Deford writes, and "every American could admire John J. McGraw." For a generation of fans in the era before Babe Ruth, Giants pitcher Mathewson was the best baseball had to offer and the epitome of good sportsmanship. By contrast, McGraw was a hard-drinking player/manager frequently ejected from games for attacking the umps. When McGraw came to New York (after wearing out his welcome elsewhere), though, the two became so close that they moved in together along with their wives. Deford, expanding on an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated, provides an entertaining string of anecdotes peppered with his own observations, focusing on one player and then looping back to address the other. An NPR Morning Edition weekly commentator, Deford has a thoughtful eye for the details of a century past, but he also points out how much early 1900s baseball culture shares with today's, as when he compares early gambling scandals to the contemporary steroids controversy. Though not quite a full biography of either player, this lively volume offers great diversion for any baseball fan. B&w photos.
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*Starred Review* When John McGraw stepped down in 1933 after 31 years as manager of the New York Giants, the team had won 10 National League pennants and three World Series trophies--and baseball had become the national pastime. McGraw--known somewhat redundantly as "Little Napoleon"--was the most well-known personality in the game during his early years at the Giants' helm, but his celebrity was soon outstripped by his star player, the game's first "hero," pitcher Christy Mathewson, who won 30 or more games in each of McGraw's first three full seasons as his manager. Deford, a senior contributing editor at Sports Illustrated and author of 14 books, does much more than make a case for his two subjects' sporting legacy. He portrays their fame and emerging preeminence in America's consciousness as parallel to and emblematic of baseball's explosion in popularity, showing in the process how the growth of sport was made possible in the early years of the twentieth century by the rise of the middle class and the increase in disposable income. With McGraw as the gruff but fair father figure and the college-educated Mathewson as the golden boy whom parents wanted for their daughters, the pair became the first sports figures to intrigue the public as individuals. Deford effectively weaves the threads of these two touchstone lives into the broader tapestry of an ascendant sport and a rapidly modernizing America. A fine baseball book but just as fine a study of American popular culture. Wes Lukowsky
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