Tuesday, May 21, 2019

They Said It Couldn't Be Done by Wayne Coffey

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Why I Read It: 
A review for Amazon Vine, and I'm always in for another baseball book.

Summary: The 1969 Mets. The Amazin' Mets. The Miracle Mets.

My Thoughts: Sadly, the Mets dynasty was gone by the time I started watching baseball. I was born in '71, and the Mets had given way to the Reds as the major National League power by the time I could say "Jim Rice."

But what a team it was! It's incredible to think of having Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman at the front of the rotation with Tug McGraw and - oh, you know - Nolan Ryan, out in the bullpen. Holy cow...

The lineup was not full of Hall of Famers by any means, but it was filled with characters and B+ players who somehow came together to have the best years of their careers. And there were so many different storylines and themes to what happened that year. Woodstock. The moon landing. The Vietnam War and its many attendant protests. What a pivotal moment in American history.

There was, too, the right man for the job at the time, Manager Gil Hodges. Already a baseball hero in the city, he took the reins of the team in time to steer them to their first championship, dragging them out of the depths of...Metdom.

There is a great sadness at the end of the book, as the Mets moment is symbolic of a last burst of positivity for a city about to enter a great decline. By the middle of the 1970s, the city would be bankrupt, even on fire in places. The 1969 Mets hearken back to a simpler time - one replete with its own problems, like turbulent themes around racism and such - but a time of hope, when the impossible was possible. The author weaves in player memories with fan memories, the thoughts of kids who carried off pieces of World Series champion turf, and the children of the stars themselves. This was a World Series victory for all, and the author writes it that way.

Deer's Isle's Undefeated America's Cup Crews by Mark J. Gabrielson

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Why I Read It: 
A trade with a friend.

Summary: The tale of "Humble Heroes from a Downeast Island" who become entangled in the world of the America's Cup around the beginning of the twentieth century.

My Thoughts: I think this is a topic that could be discussed for years.

First, there is simply the basic optics of the thing. Need a good crew? Rather than piece one together through trials and tryouts and the associated tribulations, just go to a great sailing center and find a group of strong seasoned sailors. It makes sense, right?

But, there is a deeper layer to this whole discussion. The fact that the same thing was happening in England at the same time should be the tip off. There were major class distinctions between the haves and have-nots in the Victorian Age, between the monied class and the working class. There is a certain feeling of noblesse oblige involved in this story, of the gentlemen of higher society championing the laborers of the day, and it feels somewhat...dirty.

As for the sailing story itself, it's a good one. It's certainly true that the Deer Isle men knew their stuff. One wonders how well they knew it, though. Allegations of cheating flew back and forth between the competitors, and it would have been easy to pin the blame on the working men without much chance of loss on the part of the boat owners. But were the crews privy to the design elements that made the allegations come to light? At the time, it seemed, no. A half century later, the last surviving sailors seemed to indicate they knew exactly what was going on.

In the end we don't know much about the crews, simply due to a lack of historic documentation. We know they played an interesting role in the history of the oldest sporting trophy in North America, though, and that makes enough for a fun read into a specific moment in that history.

Indianapolis: A Circle City History by Jeffrey Tenuth

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Why I Read It: I've visited Indianapolis twice in a year, after never having been there for the balance of my life. Figured I had to do it.

Summary: A brief overview of two centuries of the history of the city.

My Thoughts: It's an odd thing, when you grow up on the ocean, to consider landlocked life. And by that I don't mean like a few miles inland. I mean hundreds of miles from the ocean. In a strange way, such a history is fascinating to me.

With 148 or so pages to work, in the Arcadia "Making of America" series, the author does a good job of capturing the basics. It's a harder job than one would think, as there is much more left out of the book than can be put into it. what gets excluded? It's not an easy task.

In the end, its a hovering view, a drone's-eye explanation of the life of the city. It's a focus on the economic engines that have driven the city's growth through time, the transportation, the industry, and now the tourism. And it's enjoyable, from the first house (you decide who it belonged to, as the city's historians can't figure it out) to about 2004. That's when the book was published, so there could be a nice addendum capturing the last decade and a half.

I've walked around the city's center, on breaks during conferences, and have had a soaring view of the White River State Park, from high in one of the hotels now capturing the tourists. I've enjoyed getting to know the city, and feel I know it a little better now that I've read this book.