In former Sports Illustrated writer Jim Kaplan's mind, there clearly is no game that even rivaled the duel that took place between the 42-year-old Warren Spahn in the twilight of their career and the incomparable Juan Marichal back on July 2, 1963, in San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
The game was a classic. Both pitchers pitched complete games over 16 innings and 428 pitches before the game ended 1-0 on a Willie Mays home run. And while the game, and the 15,000 or so fans who remained certainly witnessed one of the greatest pitching duels of all time, the story of the game itself, essentially 16 innings of zeroes, doesn't fill more than a fraction of the pages of the book, despite Kaplan's attempt to drag it out.
Instead he fleshes out the stories of these two giants of the game by telling their stories, in mini biographies, pieced together with interviews and detective work that tell the life stories of the two pitchers who met that fateful night. They were men from different backgrounds, from different worlds who faced different challenges, and ended up in the same place, and even ended up as friends.
For those who never saw Spahn or Marichal pitch, or failed to live in that era, it's a glimpse into a period of the game where Latin players, not to mention black ones, were still a novelty. There were hard stereotypes to break, and players like Marichal and Spahn were some of the men who helped change them.
Throughout the book Kaplan throws in little snippets about other great games, about modern pitches, pitch counts, game length and more. At times they seem brilliant and poignantly placed, and at others they seem a bit more like a distraction from the overall story that Kaplan wants to tell. Yet they add to the book.
There is a lot to like about the book; it's well written, literate and it tells the story of one of baseball's greatest games. But at times it seems just a little laborious, and while it captures an era, it's an era that has been covered over and over by other books about other players.
If you can handle that, it's a solid read.
AHP Rating: 2 Balls
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Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
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One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.
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