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Seasons in Hell Hardcover – June 12, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Baseball's Texas Rangers were the Washington Senators before they were moved in 1972 by owner and political-insider Bob Short, whom the author describes as "Hubert Humphrey's bagman." In 1973, Shropshire first began covering the Rangers, a group of has-beens and never-weres, for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. No one could play ball, but everybody could drink, chase women and use "ability pills"-amphetamines. We see the likes of Rico Carty, so slow "you could time him with a sun dial"; bonus baby David Clyde, who would be finished within a year; and Jim Bibby, known for his fastball and his "apparatus of manhood." Manager Whitey Herzog, who did a fine job retooling the team and would go on to success elsewhere, was replaced by Billy Martin in 1974. Between Martin's almost daily fistfights, the rantings of Jimmy "Fear Strikes Out" Piersall and the riot that ensued at 10-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, the Rangers overachieved and finished second in the American League West. But these guys played over 20 years ago. Only those few fans who actually read books during rain delays will want to transport themselves to the locker-room shenanigans of a lousy team of the 1970s. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Texas Rangers baseball team is the only nonexpansion club never to appear in the postseason playoffs. Shropshire covered the team for the Forth Worth Star Telegram from 1973 through 1975, particularly notable years because the Ranger managers were Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, two of the game's best strategists and most memorable characters. The Herzog season (1973) was awful baseball-wise, but along the way, Shropshire learned a great deal about the game at the hotel bar from Herzog, who survived the Rangers to forge a successful managerial career over the next decade. Replacing Herzog on the hotel bar stool was Billy Martin, a master at quickly resuscitating drowning teams and at starting fights with his booze-fueled tongue. He does some of both here. This is a funny, revealing, Ball Fourlike romp through mid-seventies baseball, an era whose off-field excesses are best summed up by this Latin player's account of a good day at the park: "Go two-for-two and score big blonde." Shropshire offers the perfect antidote for those weepy-eyed tributes to baseball's pastoral beauty. Wes Lukowsky
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Top customer reviews
Baseball in the 1970s was much more vivid than the way the game is played today. Read Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s, and then compare that sport to the sterile, plastic version of the same game on offer now. The managers were much more unguarded with the media; the players were still relatively poor and didn't have agents and media handlers telling them how to behave; and, boy, did the alcohol flow freely. Shropshire recounts being late for his first day of work on the Rangers' spring training beat, and over the next three seasons, recalls his epic hangovers about as well as he does the various games he covered for his newspaper. Traveling with the team, he gets to witness (and recount, in funny prose) urban blight in then-benighted cities such as Cleveland and Baltimore.
You'll meet lots of memorable characters in this book: controversial (and quite successful) managers like Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin; painfully inept owners in Bob Short and Brad Corbett; long-past-their-prime players struggling at the back ends of their careers, like Rico Carty and Jim Merritt and Willie Davis; and up-and-coming future stars who would do their best work after Texas prematurely offloaded them, like Jim Bibby and Bill Madlock. And, in a class by himself, David Clyde: the #1 pick in the 1973 amateur draft who bypasses the minor leagues and goes straight to the Rangers, where he flames out in two seasons. A pitcher like Clyde would never be handled like this today. While his mis-handling is, 40 years later, one of baseball's great tragedies... it makes for much better writing than a book about Stephen Strasburg or Matt Harvey will probably produce in the year 2054.
While author Shropshire adopts the persona of a hard-drinking, back-slapping, fun-loving Texan, his literary merits shine through. Along the way, describing not only the booze and the women and the bad baseball, he also works in quotes from Terry Southern, the film The Lost Weekend, Ian Fleming, Madame Bovary, Shakespeare, and The Grapes of Wrath. Watergate is happening in the background, too, and there are brief cameos by the likes of Sandy Koufax and David Eisenhower. The fiery Billy Martin's voice is described as "misleadingly soft" and is likened to that of Mr. Rogers. There's a lot more to enjoy about the writing of this book than just the bad baseball on display.
It's interesting to note that Shropshire did not write this book immediately after leaving the Rangers beat. He wrote it 20 years later, months before the Rangers finally clinched their first-ever playoffs berth (and 15 years before they finally landed in the World Series). The narrative works much better this way, although his fact-checking could use some work (he wrongly blames a Willie Davis error for a memorable 1975 Rangers' loss, even though we know now from the Internet that Davis didn't play in that game). However, while Shropshire correctly predicts that the Rangers are never going to win a World Series... it's still nice to know that the current Rangers' manager, Ron Washington, is a throwback, whose open demeanor and unorthodox strategies would have made him a good fit with Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin. In that sense alone, not much has changed for the Rangers since 1973.
Go back one decade, place the focus (or a majority of the focus) on a pretty bad team in an expansion town, and you have a book that you'll read over and over again. When you're annoyed that you have to pay $30 for one (1) spring training ticket, suffering through techno beats during a pitching change, or looking for the remote to mute Joe Buck, return to this book for some top notch baseball tales. Those in the book had no idea how good they had it, trust me.
"Seasons in Hell" is not only a fun baseball book to read, it borders on bent as well.
If you love the game, you'll enjoy this book.
Most recent customer reviews
Shropshire did great in expressing it. Fun to get insight on the players of my youth