Idiot by Johnny
Damon with Peter Golenbock
One Pitch From Glory by Lou Gorman
Beyond the Shadow of the Senators by Brad Snyder
Summertime, and the baseball books are everywhere. Like most world championship teams, the 2004 champions produced a great deal of interest on the part of journalists, who have begun cranking out books as publishers seem to snap up any tome with “Red Sox” in the title. Two different books by two different men cover two very different Red Sox teams from two very different eras, while a third involves a pointedly Red Sox free topic, the integration of major league baseball. Gorman, former general manager of the Red Sox, constructed the 1986 American League champions that lost heartbreakingly to the New York Mets, while Damon, of course, was the hirsute centerfielder for the 2004 World Champions. Both books have a couple of egregious spelling errors, but other than that, both tell different tales about similar seasons with very different results.
Brad Snyder is a freelance writer from Washington DC who covers the Washington baseball scene during the era when the Homestead Grays were segregated and forced to play only Negro League ball on the same grounds as the Washington Senators, even though by many accounts the Grays could easily outplay the American Leaguers. Snyder tells the story of the Grays, who rented Griffith Stadium from the Senators' owner. After moving from Pittsburgh, the Grays played league games featuring stars like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, and Jackie Robinson in Washington, a city with a large black middle class, while Griffith refused to integrate the Senators, who were awful during this entire period. Snyder notes well that Griffith profited handsomely from the Grays' tenure in his stadium, and thus his motives to continue the status quo were not solely racist, as it is commonly believed, but at least partially economic. (Contrasting with the Red Sox, who were not only the last team to integrate but seemed to fail on this count out of sheer ignorance. Every Red Sox fans' heart aches when they consider how the Red Sox teams of the 1950s would have fared with Willie Mays, who was scouted but passed over by Boston.)
Long after the Red Sox' belated integration, Lou Gorman was brought on board from the New York Mets to attempt to build the next Red Sox champion. Gorman was the general manager for 3 division champions in the pre Wild Card era, the 1986, 1988, and 1990 Boston Red Sox. The 1986 team, of course, joins the 2004 Yankees and 1964 Phillies in the Hall of Infamy, blowing a 2 out, 2 strike World Series win with one of the most famous groundouts to first in baseball history. Gorman describes his time in the hot seat in Boston, trying to explain the reasons behind various transactions and decisions. He does take the time, as so many of his generation, to misunderstand and then bash “Moneyball”, but Gorman otherwise writes a very enjoyable tale of his building of a champion.
In 2004, of course, all the faults, failures and follies of the Red Sox history were put to rest when Johnny Damon led the Red Sox to the Promised Land as 2004 World Series Champions. Damon's book is a straightforward story of his journey to the big leagues, with most of the time spent on his Red Sox tenure. The greatest gift of his book is the honesty- he talks frankly of his divorce and alludes to some shenanigans by team mates. He also, with Golenbock, writes in a pleasing, easy tone-very skillfully balancing literacy with smoothness and the real feeling of Damon's voice coming through.
Being a Red Sox fan has seldom been easier, as the defending champions are now cruising through the summer leading the Eastern Division while the Yankees struggle behind them. One of the ways to fill the long hours between games is to relive great moments of the past, and while Damon's book covers the heights of glory, Gorman's book takes us through an agonizing loss. Snyder's book deals with the Red Sox through omission, covering ballplayers and leagues that the 1940s management refused to see clearly. But all three books tell various stories well enough to fill in those long afternoons before your team takes the field again.