Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 12 2011
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Winner of the 2012 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting ()
Dan Barry has crafted a loving and lyrical tribute to a time and a place when you stayed until the final out...because that’s what we did in America. Bottom of the 33rd is chaw-chewing, sunflower-spitting, pine tar proof that too much baseball is never enough. (–Jane Leavy)
“What a book -- an exquisite exercise in story-telling, democracy and myth-making that has, at its center, a great respect for the symphony of voices that make up America.” (–Colum McCann)
“Dan’s Barry’s meticulous reporting and literary talent are both evident in Bottom of the 33rd, a pitch-perfect and seamless meditation on baseball and the human condition.” (–Gay Talese)
“A fascinating, beautifully told story... In the hands of Barry, a national correspondent for the New York Times, this marathon of duty, loyalty, misery and folly becomes a riveting narrative...The book feels like ‘Our Town’ on the diamond.” (–Los Angeles Times)
“An astonishing tale that lyrically articulates baseball’s inexorable grip on its players and fans, Bottom of the 33rd belongs among the best baseball books ever written.” (–Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“Meticulously researched and tremendously entertaining!” (–Columbus Dispatch)
“[Dan] Barry does more than simply recount the inning-by-inning-by-inning box score. He delves beneath the surface, like an archaeologist piecing together the shards and fragments of a forgotten society, to reconstruct a time and a night that have become part of baseball lore.” (–Associated Press)
“Whether you’re a baseball aficionado or a reader who just enjoys a good yarn, you’ll love this book.” (–Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“A worthy companion to Roger Kahn’s classic Boys of Summer ...[Dan Barry] exploits the power of memory and nostalgia with literary grace and journalistic exactitude. He blends a vivid, moment-by-moment re-creation of the game with what happens to its participants in the next 30 years.” (–Stefan Fatsis, New York Times)
“Brilliantly rendered...The book is both a fount of luxurious writing and a tour-de-force of reportage.” (–Washington Post)
“[An] heroic conjuring of the past.” (–New York Times Book Review)
“[A] masterpiece...destined for the Hall of Fame of baseball books.” (–Publisher's Weekly)
From the Back Cover
On April 18, 1981, a ball game sprang eternal. What began as a modestly attended minor-league game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings became not only the longest ever played in baseball history, but something else entirely. The first pitch was thrown after dusk on Holy Saturday, and for the next eight hours the night seemed to suspend its participants between their collective pasts and futures, between their collective sorrows and joys—the ballplayers; the umpires; Pawtucket's ejected manager, peering through a hole in the backstop; the sportswriters and broadcasters; a few stalwart fans shivering in the cold.
With Bottom of the 33rd, celebrated New York Times journalist Dan Barry has written a lyrical meditation on small-town lives, minor-league dreams, and the elements of time and community that conspired one fateful night to produce a baseball game seemingly without end. Bottom of the 33rd captures the sport's essence: the purity of purpose, the crazy adherence to rules, the commitment of both players and fans. This genre-bending book, a reportorial triumph, portrays the myriad lives held in the night's unrelenting grip. Consider, for instance, the team owner determined to revivify a decrepit stadium, built atop a swampy bog, or the batboy approaching manhood, nervous and earnest, or the umpire with a new family and a new home, or the wives watching or waiting up, listening to a radio broadcast slip into giddy exhaustion. Consider the small city of Pawtucket itself, its ghosts and relics, and the players, two destined for the Hall of Fame (Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs), a few to play only briefly or forgettably in the big leagues, and the many stuck in minor-league purgatory, duty bound and loyal to the game.
An unforgettable portrait of ambition and endurance, Bottom of the 33rd is the rare sports book that changes the way we perceive America's pastime, and America's past.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
What the game that lasted 33 innings all tolled (albeit the last inning was played almost two months after the fact when finally the winning run crossed the plate) became was a framework for author Dan Barry to talk about the players, coaches, general mangers, owners, fans, annoucers, ballpark employees, police officers, families of such and the cities of Pawtucket (pronounced P'tucket in case you're wondering), Rhode Island, and Rochester, New York.
I found the stories behind the protagonists and even the fans such a joy because they were all about real life warts and all. Also, for anyone who has either sat through a lengthy extra-inning ballgame or even wondered what it's like, this is a must-read. There's also plenty of future Major League ballplayers, coaches and managers including two Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken, Jr., and Wade Boggs in this game that make it all the more appealing.
Yet despite all the wonderful words written about this strangest of ballgames, the agony of an endless game played on a bitterly cold April night was best summed up by the Rochester Red Wings' centerfielder Dallas Williams as he stood at his position and muttered the following to keep awake:
"F--- this, f--- the cold, what the f--- are we doing out here, f---, f---, f---."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As a baseball fan who never made it past little league I envy those who get paid to play professional ball at any level. Yet for many at the game playing Triple A ball is bittersweet because the players are so close to their dream and for most they will always be one stop short of playing major league ball. For many Triple A is the place where "sweet romance meets bitter reality."
While Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken went on to greatness and a number of other players like Bobby Ojeda, Bruce Hurst and Rich Gedman had good careers, most of the players in this game never made it to the majors. Some were on the rise and hit their peak and others were on the way down and just trying to stay in the game. It is their stories that make this book so successful.
Yet, Dan Barry also talks about the game itself. This is another great thing about this book. Baseball is the amazing game that it is because it has no time limits. There are no clocks. Three outs are the only limits to an inning. A scheduled nine inning game will last until the bottom of the 33rd if that is what it takes to have a winner, even if the game has to be started again on another day.
Dan Barry does a good job of talking about the lives of these players, as well as the lives of the coaches, bat boys and team owners, in the context of the 33 inning game. He manages to talk about those involved in the game while at the same time talking about baseball itself.
Author and New York Times columnist Dan Barry uses this game to analyze life in the minor leagues. He shows a good eye for the rituals of the game telling the story of how the mud used to rub baseballs was first found by Slats Blackburne on the shore of a South Jersey Creek. Barry describes the sometimes jury-rigged style that characterizes the game played at this level. The ball park for the Pawtucket Red Sox is owned and maintained by the city and is used to store sand and salt in the winter, a practice that is not employed at Fenway. He also probes the history of this Rhode Island city which includes a strong dose of machine politics, a ballpark into which cement trucks disappeared during its construction and a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.
But above all, the book is about the thin line that separates the near poverty and virtual anonymity of minor league life from the exalted status of the 12,000 men who have played in the Show. We see Cal Ripken Jr destined for greatness from his first day and Wade Boggs who seemed to be consigned to Triple A status for life until Carney Lansford was injured late in the year and there was no one else available to bring up. This is contrasted with Dave Koza, one of the best athletes ever to come out of Wyoming, who spends the long drives home from the East wondering why he was not one of the lucky few to receive a September 1 call up from the parent club. We share the thoughts of 26 year old former FSU star Larry Jones who is realizing that the dream may be ending: "He thinks the manager is more interested in internal politics than in player development. He thinks that one Baltimore executive in particular is the worst man he has ever met. He thinks - no, he knows - that the meter is running; that athletes don't get better with age."
It is fascinating to watch this moment frozen in time (all 33 innings of it) as the eternally obscure Russ Laribee plays next to Lee Graham, who got a cup of coffee with the big club, as well as Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda, destined to square off against each other on a very different stage in the 86 World Series, and Wade Boggs, at this point no different than Graham and Laribee, but destined for 3000 hits and the Hall of Fame.
My only complaint is that the author tries a bit too hard in the early sections of the book. We get some overwritten passages such as: "The backstop netting behind home plate sways in and out of focus to lay blurry crosshatches across the unfolding scene, as if to underscore the impenetrable separation between past and future." I wonder if catcher Rich Gedman saw it that way? Fortunately, there are far fewer of these passages as the book and the innings progress.
This is not a mere pitch-by-pitch recount of the game. Mr. Barry has the ability to see outside the chalk lines to bring our attention to certain themes that add character and dimension to the story. Mr. Barry writes about the players, managers and families who struggle mightily to achieve their dreams, documenting their sacrifices as they achieve fleeting moments of success or, in a few rare cases, major league immortality. Among the dozens of character sketches, the bittersweet profile of the game's hero, Dave Koza is particularly praiseworthy for its profound insight and sensitivity.
Importantly, Mr. Barry draws interest from elements of the story that might be easily overlooked. Mr. Barry paints a portrait of the hardscrabble industrial town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island whose elders took great pride in building the minor league ballpark whose peculiarities would contribute to the game's drama. Mr. Barry finds spiritual meaning as the players struggle for their baseball lives in the early hours of Easter morning. The author also has a penchant for unearthing the kind of detail that adds enormously to the story's appeal: the shivering radio broadcasters who wouldn't quit; the ejected manager who kept his eye on the game through a secret peephole in the fence; the angry wife who couldn't believe her husband was still playing ball; and much, much more.
I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone.
He goes far beyond the 33 innings and their play-by-play. (Even with commentary, that wouldn't amount to a single chapter.) Instead, Barry tells us how each player got to the field and what happened to him afterward. It's not just the dreams of little boys who want to grow up to play for the Baltimore Orioles or the Boston Red Sox; we've all heard plenty of those from the "color announcers" on major league games. The poignancy of this book is that we learn about this game's players who made it as major league stars, including Wayne Boggs and Cal Ripkin, Jr., and also about those who didn't. When baseball didn't work out, some became marketing execs or construction workers or truck drivers. Sometimes they stayed in baseball in other ways. ("Nearly 30 years after this night, Steve Luebber will find himself in a McDonald's in Frederick, Maryland, 1,100 miles from his home in Joplin, Missouri, wearing another golf shirt with a baseball team's logo, eating another cheap lunch, and waiting for another night's minor league game to begin -- this time as the pitching coach for the Blue Rocks of Wilmington, Delaware.")
Barry also describes the time and place and how the setting came to be. That is, we learn a lot about the history of Pawtucket and how the McCoy stadium was built, and what it meant to the community.
Mostly, what I got from Bottom of the 33rd was that -- in the words of pitching coach Mike Roarke, "the Triple A is 'the frustration league,' where you can waste too much energy muttering to yourself, 'Why not me?'" It's the story of men with dreams and hope who are so dedicated that they'll play 8 hours on a freezing night until 4 in the morning. All while knowing full well that only a few of them will be called up.
The author writes with a quiet voice that brings a scene to life. "[Rochester's Tom Eaton] rises from the ground after receiving the shortstop's thumping tag, on his injured foot no less, with his uniform dirty and his red helmet off his head, his pride spilled before him in the dirt. He cannot stay; he must leave. He picks up his helmet and trots off, chastened. Bare-headed, he seems naked."
Still, the quiet writing style drags a little bit. I put down this book a few times, distracted by other books that seemed a little more exciting. But I always picked it up again, and I very much like the book. It's okay to read a little bit of this at a time; I'm not sure that I'd pick it out as a solitary companion on a long plane trip.