Book Review: The Complete Game

Few pitchers have been afforded the opportunity to start Game Seven of the World Series. Fewer have capped a successful playing career with an Emmy-winning turn as a broadcaster. Still fewer have offered such an insightful take on the game from the pitcher’s perspective as Ron Darling has in his book “The Complete Game.”

Dividing the material into nine innings, or chapters, Darling spans the different phases of his career, from green rookie during a September 1983 callup with the Mets to seasoned veteran with the 1992 Athletics. He even includes a bonus chapter on his final college game for Yale, a showdown with St. John’s lefty Frank Viola. But the presentation of the material is such that it doesn’t feel like your typical athlete autobiography.

Each inning in the book corresponds with a real life experience from the mound, often by the author but occasionally by a pitcher who he’s observed in his three years in the booth as a game analyst. In this case, Pedro Martinez and Mike Pelfrey get their own chapters.

But it’s Darling own firsthand experience that resonates the loudest, particularly for the meticulously detailed game accounts he provides. For example, the reader will learn what spurred a then-26-year-old righthander from a poor bullpen session prior to Game Seven of the 1986 Series to a workmanlike performance that put the Mets in position to win it all on their home turf. While Darling doesn’t mention that he started three games in that Series, going 1-1, 1.53, he does detail the disappointment of his start and early exit from Game Seven of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers two years later.

As most games have a turning point, most every veteran player experiences a critical point in his career where he has no choice but to adapt. For pitchers, this often means coping with diminished velocity, and Darling visits this phenomenon in his ’92 A’s chapter, in which Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan successfully teach the 32-year-old pitcher to do more with less.

Darling, now a color analyst for SNY and TBS, expertly details the pitcher’s thought process to approaching everything from pre-start ritual to an opposing lineup. While Mets fans certainly will be delighted by the volume of pages devoted to the 1984 through 1988 clubs, Darling spends enough time mining the game’s unique psychology to interest any baseball fan. That he goes into detail like only a cerebral pitcher can make these tangents the highlight of the reading experience.