Book Review: ‘Last Time Out’ Surveys Baseball’s Rich History

Last Time Out: Big League Farewells of Baseball’s Greats
By John Nogowski | Lyons Press

Debut. Growth. Peak. Decline. Retirement.

Every major league star follows the same career trajectory. Some spend more time at peak. Some have a gentler decline. 

But they all retire.

And that is how John Nogowski frames his book “Last Time Out: Big League Farewells of Baseball’s Greats,” which recounts the final MLB game action for 44 of baseball’s all-time all-stars, each receiving his own essay. 

This is both a novel and effective approach to appreciating singular greatness and surveying the game’s rich history. The book is chock full of fondly remembered players—Hall of Famers, MVPs, league leaders—sometimes in forgotten uniforms. 

Nogowski writes about inner-circle Hall of Famers from the first half of the 20th century, including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb. He writes about post-World War II superstars, including Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Tom Seaver. 

In the new edition are chapters featuring recent Cooperstown inductees such as Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter. 

Nogowski drew his inspiration from “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” John Updike’s famous prose about Ted Williams’ final game, and wondered how other all-time greats made their exits. 

Through countless hours of research, Nogowski found his answers. 

The first edition of “Last Time Out” was published in 2004, at a time when the internet was not nearly the robust research tool it is today. Back then, Nogowski spent his summers researching newspaper archives on microfilm.

His time was well spent. The archival quotes attributed to players and musings from baseball writers add contemporary viewpoints that bring the book to life.

Nogowski found the new edition to be easier to research—thanks to the internet—even if some of its new characters, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, were more complex. 

“Last Time Out” also contains a touching postscript about John Nogowski Jr., the author’s son, who was 11 when the first edition was published. In between then and now, the junior Nogowski realized a lifelong dream when he made his big league debut as a 27-year-old first baseman for the Cardinals in 2020.

It was the culmination of a long journey in professional baseball. On his way up, Nogowski Jr. made minor league stops in Vermont, Stockton, Midland, Springfield and Memphis. He played in the Arizona Fall League. He played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and Mexico. 

He even made a stopover in independent ball before the Cardinals signed him and made him a big leaguer three years later.

The scope of Nogowski Jr.’s  journey gives us that much more appreciation for those superstars covered in “Last Time Out,” because we see how difficult it is to reach even the first of the five stages of an MLB career: the debut.

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