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Tuesday, 18 June 2019 19:34

Roger Dodger – ‘They Bled Blue’

Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is entangled with its history. Even as we witness magnificent feats in the present, our eyes turn ever toward the past. Whether it is through statistics or stories, baseball fans love to look back.

Author Jason Turbow has a knack for transporting us to times gone by and thoroughly revisiting players and teams from the game’s history. We’re not talking about grainy black-and-white history, however – these are teams whose memories are still vivid in the minds of fans of a certain age.

His latest is “They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26). That mouthful of a title looks back nearly 40 years, digging into the particulars of an iconic franchise during one of the strangest seasons baseball had ever seen.

Seriously – the sport had never seen anything quite like the 1981 Dodgers. From the full-on phenomenon that was Fernando Valenzuela to the era-ending turn from one of the game’s longest-serving infields, from a season split in two by labor strife to the strangest postseason set-up ever, it was a time of turmoil and triumph.

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No American sport is as enamored of its own history quite like baseball. Even as today’s players take the field, the shadows of those who came before are omnipresent. Baseball is as much about what was as it is about what is.

But there are some moments that transcend even the game’s historical affection. These are the times that make the leap from history to legend, the instances and accomplishments that are the foundation of baseball’s long and intricate mythology.

Kevin Cook’s “Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink” (Henry Holt and Co., $28) is a thorough exploration of one such instance, a single game in 1979 that wound up as one of the greatest offensive explosions in the history of Major League Baseball. That game – a May 17 contest that saw the Chicago Cubs play host to the Philadelphia Phillies – ultimately went 10 innings, with a final score of Phillies 23, Cubs 22; it was the highest scoring game of the modern era.

(It was second only in MLB history to a 1922 game that, funnily enough, featured these same teams; the Cubs triumphed in that one, with a score of 26-23.)

Through a combination of personal interviews and meticulous research, Cook gives an inning-by-inning rendering of the game (known to many as simply “The Game”), breaking down every on-field moment while also delving into some off-the-field exploration into the lives of some of the major players. An historic and iconic MLB moment, the picture painted of a generational contest.

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Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is defined by its stories.

None of our American pro sports leagues have the same lengthy history within the culture. Nor do they have the same reverence for that history. Baseball is about narrative, a constant tale-telling that is built around connecting the present to the past.

Ron Darling’s new book “108 Stitches: Loose Thread, Ripping Yarns, and the Darnedest Characters from My Time in the Game” (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99) is about telling those stories, all through the lens of his own experience in the game. And he’s got plenty of experiences to talk about – a 13-year major league career where he won 136 games as a starting pitcher and two decades in the broadcast booth.

Darling’s conceit is a simple one: A series of stories about the various figures with whom he crossed paths over the course of nearly four decades in professional baseball. All told, there are 108 tales – just like there are 108 stitches on a baseball.

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