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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Book Reviews, Part I

Cecilia Tan, The 50 Greatest Yankee Games (John Wiley & Sons)

(Disclaimer: I know all the authors of the books I’ll be reviewing in this short series. Since few, if any, of them are getting the attention of the big book reviewers, I’m happy to publicize them here. That shouldn’t, and won’t, stop me from reviewing them objectively.)

A week ago, I wore out my keyboard ripping on the east coast-centric view of baseball, and here I am recommending a New York Yankees book. What makes this one different?

First of all, there’s the author herself. Cecilia Tan is hardly your typical baseball scribe. An author (and editor) of several acclaimed volumes of erotic fiction, she’s had plenty of practice in telling stories—even if the topic is a forgotten 17-0 Yankees slaughter of Washington from July 1920.

In addition to having a feel for the rhythm of baseball, Ms. Tan brings to these games—many of which have been recounted time and time again—a plainspoken, no-b.s. analytical viewpoint.

Women who write about baseball remain few and far between, and Ms. Tan’s work and life experience help keep this book reasonably free of standard sportswriting clichés. As an outsider from many angles, she clearly had to work just that little bit harder than most men in the business; some ballplayers don’t like talking to women, especially those who aren’t TV types and don’t put on the glamorous act.

The extra effort was worth it. Even if you’re a longtime Yankee fan, you’ll still probably learn plenty; Ms. Tan did her research, going through multiple game accounts from old newspapers, interviewing players for the newer games, and digging deep to uncover things that we’ve already forgotten, even about classic contests of the recent past.

Not all the games are glorious victories; included in the 50 are Bill Bevens' 1947 World Series near no-hitter, Babe Ruth's failed stolen base attempt to end the 1926 Series, and the wild 1983 George Brett pine tar contest.

Ms. Tan’s writing is rich, providing depth to these well-remembered and not-remembered games. Clearly the Yankees are in her blood, and she’s not at all unhappy with her condition.

Unfortunately, the use of a 50-game format in a book clocking in at under 300 pages, and Ms. Tan’s detailed prose, led to an unfortunate omission of box scores from the book (despite a claim on the back cover that box scores are included).

Certainly many of these box scores are available on line at, or in other history books, but not having a box score—even a sabermetric-style “account form” box—removed part of this reader’s, at least, ability to place himself at that point of history. After all, with only a few modifications, box scores from 80 years ago are nearly identical to those we currently peruse, and in fact in some ways (fielding statistics, for instance) much more informative.

My only other complaint is that again most likely due to space considerations, the description of some games end without a page break before the next game begins. This tends to blur the games together a bit and makes the reading slightly more difficult.

These minor points aside, I really enjoyed the book. If you want to buy it, here's a site I recommend.


Anonymous Rick Eymer said...

The way I understand it, Chicago refuses to recognize its own when it comes to baseball books about Wrigley, written by a Wrigley Field denizen. Maybe that's why we have to endure so much literature about the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Your review of Celicia Tan's book got me curious enough to visit her web site at least, and if I see the book at my local independent book store (Kepler's in Menlo Park, Calif.) I'll at least browse through it. I have to admit having several Yankee-related book on my shelves, along, as much as I'd rather not admit, with a handful books about the Dodgers. Whether we feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of east coast baseball books or not, there is a rich history there (not like in Oakland where there is no there there) and often inspires good, intelligent writing.

7:02 PM, April 26, 2005


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