By John McGraw
John McGraw was one of the most amazing characters ever to grace the stage of baseball. He began his career in the 1890s as the third baseman, and was soon a vital cog of the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s, a team that revolutionized the way baseball was played. When his playing career began to wind down, he turned to managing (as did many of the old Orioles), and compiled one of the most successful careers any major league manager ever had, turning the New York Giants from a spent force into a bona fide winner every year during the first quarter of the 20th century.
This book, originally published back in 1923 when McGraw was at the zenith of his amazing managerial career, attempts to shed some light on his career. Ghostwritten by either John Wheeler or Stoney McLinn, this book started out as a series of syndicated newspaper articles that were finally compiled into book form. McGraw (and his ghost writers) take the reader along a road that recounts McGraw’s history of a ball player from the minor leagues in the 1890s, onto the Orioles, and finally as the brilliant tactician of the Giants. With each chapter, the book not only gives a piece of McGraw’s history on the diamond, but also gives his thoughts on several subjects relating to baseball. McGraw gives us an insight on such subjects as college versus town lot players (McGraw always prefered college players due to their mental disposition), managerial strategies (he explains how he shut down the Yankees in the 1922 World Series in detail), live ball versus dead ball debates, and even advice on ballplayers marrying. McGraw rarely comes across critical in this book: as a matter of fact he defends people like Merkle and Snodgrass for their fatal mistakes in costing the Giants their championships, and is even soft on Bugs Raymond, a notorious carouser who drank himself out of baseball and was released in disgrace over an alleged attempt to throw a game for St. Louis. McGraw admits in the book that he gave raises in the off-season to both Merkle and Snodgrass after their disgraces on the diamond.
The book is peppered with funny anecdotes about McGraw’s contemporaries. The old Orioles, and several colourful old New York Giants get the treatment here as McGraw recounts stories with his tongue in cheek. He also gives his take on such subjects as why he jumped to the American League in 1901, and back to the National League next season, and why the Giants didn’t play the 1904 World Series (according to him, it fell squarely on the shoulders of owner John Brush). There are many things here that aren’t surprises either: while he admired the deadball-style play, he admits to retooling his strategies to compensate for the new lively-ball style play (not a surprising move from one of the best managers ever), and he, like many of the old Orioles of that era, takes credit for many of the strategies that were revolutiony for that time. Author Bill James once called McGraw "An old blowhard who blew harder as he got older." This becomes apparent as he wrongly credits the Orioles with inventing the hit and run play in the book.
All in all, this is a fun and insightful read about one of the most compelling characters in baseball history. Any Replayer looking to purchase the Deadball Decade set might want to read this to get a taste of baseball in that forgotten era. --Al Arthurs