Inside Baseball: The Best of Tom Verducci
By Tom Verducci (SI Books, $25.95)
Tom Verducci has a great job ‘“ he’s the primary baseball writer at Sports Illustrated. This gives him the freedom to take as long as he needs to get the story, and (presumably) the opportunity to choose what he wants to write about. Certainly, there are issues that he has to cover ‘“ steroids, for instance ‘” but what comes through in this collection of 21 stories is about his love of the game, a game he writes about so very well.
“High Wire Act,” an examination of the modern-day closer, is one of the best, as he dissects what closers deal with ‘“ they don’t win the game, but they can lose it, along with their sanity if the pressure gets to them.
Then there’s “What’s Rickey Henderson Doing in Newark,” a profile of the game’s all-time stolen base leader playing for the Newark (NJ) Bears in the independent Atlantic League, trying for more shot at playing in the majors. Whereas some writers might have told this tale as a tragedy, Verducci sees it as just another chapter in a colorful Hall of Fame career.
“Totally Juiced” was a ground-breaking story, when former MVP Ken Caminiti went on the record to discuss his and the alleged widespread use of steroids, which made sluggers out of singles hitters and record breakers out of players who were already big.
The last story points out the only weakness of the collection’“the epilogue. Caminiti died of a drug overdose and now players are being tested for using performance-enhancing chemicals. Verducci offers postscripts, but you want more.
But the stories that are frozen in time, such as a profile of Sandy Koufax, who’s not making a comeback, or the Boston Red Sox sweeping away the curse in 2004, are the capture of perfect moments or the appreciation of a legend.
”A Game for Unlikely Heroes” was for an assignment called “I wish I’d Been There.” Verducci chose not to write about Mays’ catch or Ruth’s Called Shot. He selected a moment from game four of the 1947 World Series, when two undistinguished players came face-to-face with destiny. Yankee pitcher Bill Bevens was one out away from the first World Series no-hitter, when the Dodgers’ Cookie Lavagetto’s doubled in the winning runs. Neither player did much before or after this, but one of the beauties of baseball is how ordinary people have a chance to be a hero. Verducci’s choice speaks volumes about his appreciation (and understanding) of the game.