Thursday, May 15, 2014

John McGraw by Charles Alexander



John McGraw
by Charles Alexander
The definitive biography of baseball’s greatest manager.
Release Date: May 15, 2014
eBook
978-1-938545-35-1
Available from Kindle, iBooks,
and other major distributors
$6.99
Published by Summer Game Bookswww.summergamebooks.com
For media inquiries, promotional materials, and ordering information,
contact Kent Weber: kweber@summergamebooks.com



Why I read it: I was asked to review it by Summer Game Books, the company publishing the ebook in 2014.

Summary: The biography of the first great dynastic manager in baseball history.

My Thoughts: I've been a student of the history of baseball since I was a kid. Yes, I have my own baseline from which I started, flipping Topps baseball cards with friends in the late 1970s, so my history is different than the next guy's. But as I grew, I became more than just a student of baseball history, I became a historian by training and trade.

So long before I picked up my Kindle and started advancing through the pages of John McGraw, back when I was a twelve-year-old, I knew who John McGraw was, in the way that I knew who Smoky Joe Wood or Willie Keeler was. I knew the era in which he managed (I honestly didn't know about his playing career), the stars of his day, and the success he forged in the sport.

But what I didn't know about John McGraw could fit into a 350-page book.

McGraw's career spanned from the 1890s to the 1930s, and just consider the changes he saw in the game. His playing career included parts of seventeen seasons, and his managing career thirty-three, with major overlap in the sense that he was, as were many of his contemporaries in the deadball era, a longtime player-manager. He watched the game evolve from the days of Cy Young and Ty Cobb to Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell. He played with men who had roots in the very beginning of the sport of organized baseball, and managed young men who would play in the 1950s, long after he had passed on.

If the author wanted us to carry one word forward about the life of John McGraw, it might be "tumultuous." The deadball era might well have been known as the bareknuckles era of baseball, with John McGraw its John L. Sullivan. His fieriness at the helmn of a baseball squad was probably only matched in the latter half of the twentieth century by Earl Weaver, who at least kept his hands to himself. McGraw was known for his vulgarity, his fists and his baseball acumen, by many people in that exact order. But however he got there, he became one of the most successful managers in baseball history.

As McGraw aged with the sport, his problems grew deeper. His on-field incident suspensions waned with time, but poor investments, gambling, drinking during Prohibition (and mistakenly publicly admitting to doing so) and issues with cohorts with the New York Giants ownership and management landed him in court on more than one occasion. His players loved him or hated him, and some, when traded to his team, downright refused to play for him on reputation alone.

Charles Alexander takes us season-by-season through the life of McGraw - he never needed a first name, it seems, as even today there's a certain comfort to just using his surname - and we, as "modern-day" baseball fans are much the better for it. Rube Marquard is no longer just a line of stats on a website to us, and Bill Terry is no longer just a player who made the jump to manager. The stars (and scrubs) of the first four decades of twentieth century baseball come to life as they orbit around the polarizing figure who helped define the era, possibly the greatest baseball manager who ever lived.

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