Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston and the 1975 World Series by Mark Frost

I remember Game Six well.  I'd left school at San Francisco State in October of 1975, and driven to Vashon Island where my parents were living with my grandparents.  It had been a tumultuous year.  My parents left our transplanted home in the Bay Area for the more familiar territory of Puget Sound.  My sister got married.  I stayed with a family near our Belmont, CA home waiting to move into my college dorm.  My long time relationship with my high school sweetheart broke up.  I was not ready to be on my own, but the show, as they say, must go on.  And it went badly.  By the middle of October I was miserable and sought some comfort in my family 900 miles from school. October 21, 1975 found me watching the World Series with my Dad on the couch in my grandparents' living room.  When Carlton Fisk hit his home run to win it in the 12th inning it was a magical moment in one of the more magical places of all time.

Mark Frost's examination of the sixth game is like a roller coaster ride that goes on a bit too long in a pouring rainstorm.  There are moments of sheer pleasure, enough so you don't mind the wet. But when the ride gets stuck in the rain it's just too much.

Frost approaches the sixth game for what it was-one of the best World Series games of all time, and he does it pitch by pitch, inning by inning.  He does a great job of providing context for the game within the '75 World Series itself, as well as within the season.  He gives dimension to the players too.  I learned so much about Sparky Anderson, Carlton Fisk, and Bernie Carbo I didn't know.  Nowhere does he do a better job of filling out our portrait of that game than his pictures of Luis Tiant and Tony Perez and their struggles to come to America from Cuba.  His view of Tiant, his recovery from serious injury and efforts to spring his parents from Castro's Cuba is excellent.  Frost's effort to provide highlights and shadows are best, however, as they tie more directly to his narrative of the game itself.  The excitement of the Red Sox's early lead is palpable.  The disillusionment that followed the Reds outburst that tied the game and eventually took the lead shows Sparky pulling all the right levers, while Darrel Johnson seems incapable or unwilling to save the sinking Sox. Carbo's home run and Fisk's game winner are all there in living color.
Is there any more iconic image in our baseball memories than Fisk willing his 12th inning blast over the Green Monster fair?  I think not.  I liked the Red Sox in those days before they became victimized, entitled whiners.
The book goes terribly awry in some spots, however.  Let me first say, that as a history person, I truly appreciate context to fill in the story, but this is ridiculous.  Frost begins by trying to share the origins of the American League and the thus the Red Sox, but that really doesn't take us very far in understanding the '75 Series.  He's a little more successful in explaining owner Tom Yawkey's origins, but mostly these loose ends are just that, loose ends.  When the story of the sixth game is over, Frost justly explains the outcome of the deciding game in Boston, but then he takes off on a discussion of free agency and the decline of both franchises.  I think this remains outside the focus of this book.  Frost really goes off the deep end when he begins to argue for the enshrinement of members of both teams in the Baseball Hall of Fame, rather than simply telling their stories after their lives in baseball, which he does quite well.

Game Six has lots of great moments, and I truly wish Frost had allowed the book to stand on the story of that season, that game, those players, rather than leading us by the nose to places that, frankly, we didn't need to go.  Reading on my Kindle, I found myself thinking, "Really, you're going here?" and then advancing ahead, looking at my watch and reaching for the light. When Game Six is good, it's very good, but when it's bad it's irrelevant.

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