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The Best They Could Be: How the Cleveland Indians became the Kings of Baseball, 1916-1920 Hardcover – April 1, 2013
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About the Author
SCOTT H. LONGERT is the author of Addie Joss: King of the Pitchers and has written numerous articles on baseball history for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine, TimeLine, The Baseball Research Journal, and The National Pastime. He lives in Beachwood, Ohio, with his wife, Vicki, and golden retriever, Blair.
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There is only one other book that goes in detail of the 1929 season and that book is titled The Pitch that Killed by Mike Sowell. The book goes through the day by day American League pennant race of 1920 and is considered a classic book on a long ago classic pennant race. In Scott Longert’s The Best They Could Be the author goes back to a franchise in financial peril owned by former millionaire Charlie Sommers who was bankrupt by 1915. No longer able to run the franchise due to suffocating debt, Ban Johnson the President of the American League talked an inexperienced millionaire Sunny Jim Dunn to buy and operate the club.
Longert goes year by year from 1916 to the pennant winning year of 1920 as to how Dunn wisely built a contender and finally the World’s champions of baseball. In describing the ups and downs of a gut wrenching three team race where tragedy occurs in the Polo Grounds in August of 1920 with the Carl Mays beaning of Ray Chapman we see a story that if told as fiction would not be believed. The author describes the funk which surrounded the team and looked like it would cost the Tribe the pennant. What actually transpired proves to one and all the character and perseverance of the players and should rate as one of the great pennant races of all time. Unfortunately current baseball gurus have long forgotten this classic pennant year.
Longert not only goes into describing the 1920 World Series, he gets to the knitty gritty of what it was to be at League Park and what the Lexington, Linwood area was like. The author puts you on the streets and in the seats of that long ago classic park. The author almost goes into inning by inning, pitch by pitch as the games played out. To me, and believe me today’s baseball gurus have no idea of the greatest World Series game ever. Without being a spoiler it occurred of October 10, 1920, look it up, three events happened in a matter of one afternoon all three are firsts in a World Series. One event has not been duplicated through 2015.
This book is not only for Cleveland Indians fans, it is a must for all serious students of the game of baseball.
The 1920 Cleveland Indians championship baseball team was not built just out of good luck, an owner with deep pockets or even because of their good fortune. While some it was true, this team overcame a lot of hardship and even a death of one of the better players to win the World Series that year. Scott Longert’s book on how that team was built and what they overcame is a terrific read that any baseball fan will enjoy.
The book takes the reader from the time that Jim Dunn became the owner of the club in 1915 up to the end of the 1920 World Series that Cleveland won 5 games to 2 over the Brooklyn Robins. At that time, the World Series was a best-of-nine series. Through the chapter on the World Series, it is noted that three historic events took place all in game four and all were good for Cleveland. Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam homer in World Series history to put the Indians up 4-0. Indians pitcher Jim Bagby followed up with a three run shot of his own, becoming the first pitcher to homer in a World Series game. Then Bill “Wamby” Wambsganss turned the first (and to date, only) unassisted triple play in World Series history. Each achievement gets special treatment during Longert’s recap of the game. These are but a few examples of the excellent writing about the baseball played at that time.
What sets this book apart from other baseball history books is Longert’s writing about off the field activities that affect the Cleveland Indians. His telling of how Dunn acquired the team was a rich collection of stories not only about Dunn himself, but also of the business climate at that time in the country as well as some good research on the owner and American League president Ban Johnson. The chapters about how baseball dealt with World War I and the government’s order for all men aged 21-30 to “work or fight” was well researched and gives the reader a clear picture of what the game meant to the country at that time.
However, I felt the best part of the book was the moving passage about the death of Ray Chapman. The Indians shortstop became the first player to be killed on the field when he was hit in the temple by a fastball thrown by New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays on August 16, 1920 and died the next day. The stories of how Chapman’s death shook not only the Indians, but the soul of a city and of a sport were some of the best researched and written baseball stories I have read. It felt like I was grieving along with Chapman’s teammates.
This was an outstanding book on that time span in which the Indians became the toast of baseball. The research and writing is top-notch and all baseball fans, regardless of team loyalties, will enjoy this book.
I wish to thank Mr. Longert for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Pace of the book:
Very good as it is an easy read that chronicles the team for those five years. The interruptions of the history with brief biographies of players were well placed in the book and enhanced the particular story being told at that point in the book.
Do I recommend?
This book is an absolute must-read for not only Cleveland Indians fans, but all baseball fans, especially baseball historians who want to learn more about how this team was built.
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