Sunday, December 17, 2006

Book review #9

You know Babe Ruth and Gehrig and Murderers Row....
The Whiz Kids, the Cardinals and the 69 O's....
But do you recall, the worst baseball team of all?

Cleveland's 1899 Spiders,
played some lousy baseball games
And if you ever saw them
You would hide your face in shame

All of the local papers
Used to like and them call them names
Misfits, Orphans and Forsakens
Were some of the most tame

OK, enough attempts at rewriting the Rudolph lyrics. If you want to read good writing about a really bad, bad team, it is a moral imperative that you pick up a copy of Thomas Hetrick's Misfits!: Baseball's Worst Team Ever.

Hetrick's book follows the 1899 season where the Spiders were on the wrong side of a baseball syndicate formed by the Robison brothers. The Robisons were owners of both the St. Louis and Cleveland franchises. Following the 1898 season, the Robisons moved the majority of the talented players from Cleveland to St. Louis and put the lesser players with the Spiders.

The Spiders finished with a 20-134 record, 84 games out of first place and 35 behind the next closest team in the standings. The St. Louis Perfectos thwarted the syndicate plan by finishing 5th in the league.

A season full of hapless ballplayers struggling through game after game could be taken lightly. The Keystone Kop nature of their play would be easy to mock. For the most part, though, Hetrick takes the high road and applauds the valiant efforts, futile as they may have been, that the Spiders made.

Besides its coverage of the worst major league team in history, Misfits! also provides insight into the conditions, among them the syndicate ownerships in the league, that led to the formation of the American League two years later.

This is a splendid book that belongs in any baseball fans library. It was originally printed by McFarland Press and copies of this clothbound edition can be costly. Hetrick, however, has started his own publishing company, Pocol Press, and has reprinted the book in softcover.


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