5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Book More About Everything Around Musial Than About The Man Himself,
This review is from: Stan Musial: An American Life (Hardcover)
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Stan Musial is one of those players that many baseball fans "know about", but really have no specific knowledge of what his career was really like. So what do we know? He was an Outfielder with the St Louis Cardinals? Check. Saw his greatest years in the 1940's and '50's? Check. Hall of Famer, one of those players that you'd consider in the "inner circle" of baseball greats, and an all-around nice guy? Check, check, and check. Ok, but what else? Was he a big homerun hitter or did he hit for a prodigious average or knock in a bunch of runs or steal a lot of bases or was he a whiz in the field? Who knows - all most of us know is the name Musial and that he was a great ball player.
So that's the background reference point I had on Stan Musial before picking up this book. Although not a hard core historian, I know my way around the Hack Wilsons, Clete Boyers, Sam McDowells, Christie Mathewsons, Lefty O'Douls, and others and Musial was always one of those players that I knew a little bit about but wanted to know more. So with all that in mind, "Stan Musial: An American Life" was a huge - even gigantic - disappointment. The author, George Vecsey, is obviously a huge fan - the Prologue in the book shows that. He obviously has this great background knowledge of Musial the player and the man and could probably shoot out off the top of his head Musials career homeruns, the years he won batting titles or MVP's or went to the MLB All-Star game, or the year he retired or was inducted to the Hall of Fame - all the stats that a true fan has rummaging around in their heads on their favorite players.
However that's sometimes the problem with people who know their subject so well - they sometimes assume that everyone else does too. It's like if you went to Anaheim to visit a friend and he takes you to obscure attraction after obscure attraction. When you are about to leave he asks you about your stay and your response is: "All I wanted to do was go to an Angels game and spend a day at Disneyland - why couldn't we have done that?" and his response is "I've done that a dozen times - I wanted to see something different..." That's what this book is like. It seems to me that Vecsey knows his subject so well that he strove to tell Musial's story from a different angle - something new and different "for him". Unfortunately the innocent reader picking up the book doesn't realize that he isn't really getting a book about Stan The Man. He's getting a book about the industrial history of southwestern Pennsylvania. He's getting a book about a Donora High School teacher. He's getting a book about the St Louis Worlds Fair. He's getting a book about Cardinal/Dodger GM Branch Rickey. He's getting a book about Cardinal/Met Keith Hernandez's dad. And so on.
So the book that Mr. Vecsey has written is Musial's life as told by the people and world around him and while it eventually gives us a somewhat foggy, often biased, picture of Musial, it is done with such a haphazard way that I was often left wondering "what does this have to do with Stan Musial?" - only to finally understand the point later in the chapter. While a biography told by the characters/places on the periphery of the subject is maddeningly incomplete as it is, what is really frustrating is how Vecsey jumps from subject to subject, era to era, and voice to voice with no clear direction and seemingly no sense of chronology or clarity. While some of the chapters start by clearly relating who are the actors and what is the focus of the text, others leave you wondering for pages who is being referred to or even who is talking in the quoted text.
All added together, the book made for a massively frustrating read. Baseball books are not generally read for scholarship - they are read for enjoyment and to unwind/relax from the work day/week. If the reader is instead focusing so hard on what is being said and striving to interpret the text to divine the overall point, I really think that the author has failed as a storyteller. Although interesting at times, this collection of miscellaneous anecdotes on Musial just doesn't cut it. I wish it did...
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 23, 2011 7:41:54 AM PDT
Kenneth Heard says:
This is an excellent review. I felt the stories were too disjointed and out of place. Vecsey would pop up with an anecdote about Musial from someone else's point of view that read like a frying pan to the face. Musial is a great man in St. Louis and well-loved by all fans. He gave me a free autographed picture once when I called his office number by mistake!) I was hoping Vecsey, who is a great writer, would have created a biography like Yogi's, or Henry Aaron's. Instead it was like he had a box of note cards depicting snippets of Musial's life and he tripped, scattering those cards.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 11, 2012 12:21:59 PM PDT
Thanks for the kind words! Completely agree with your assessment.
Posted on Dec 11, 2012 6:55:18 PM PST
Joe Shabotnik says:
"I was often left wondering 'what does this have to do with Stan Musial?'" - That pretty much sums up the whole book for me. I totally agree with your review, nice job.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 12, 2012 4:24:35 AM PST
If you are interested in a GREAT baseball biography, read the recent book of Lefty Gomez written by Goldstone and Lefty's daughter Lefty: An American Odyssey. REALLY REALLY great read. I couldn't put it down.
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