We don’t really address timeliness here at Phil-Literature; we put all our time into coming up with flawless names like “Phil-Literature.” So every week when we review these books it’s going to be just plucked off the shelf from whenever a time we feel like it. And by “we” I mean “just me.” Read this book review from last week if you’re truly lost as to what’s going on here.
I’m staring at this book and I hate it.
It’s ESPN’s name plastered readily to the front, it’s the title that could have worked on any trophy-starved sports team’s championship season retrospective, it’s the picture of Jayson Stark front and center, like we just stumbled upon him at a garage sale in his neighborhood while he was purchasing some baseball equipment and agreed to pose.
It occurs to me that what I’m doing is literally judging a book by its cover. So let’s open it.
“…I was blown away by how many people stopped to thank me for the way I told their baseball team’s story.”
“Philadelphians kept telling me, over and over, ‘You should put all your Phillies columns in a book. I’d buy it.’”
“A week off in October is a great thing for you or me. For us, a week off in October means sneaking off for a golf trip, or a peaceful week on the beach, or a jaunt through the wonders of some new European destination.”
Oh my god, dude, if you’re so familiar with Philadelphia, then you should know that those things are totally not what a week off in October would be like for “us.”
So, what Stark wants you to know first and foremost is that there haven’t been a lot of sports championships won in Philadelphia. If you’re reading it, chances are you are a Phillies in some capacity; a capacity big enough to hold the desire to read a book about them winning the World Series. So you probably know about the whole “sucking” thing we’ve done in the past, and if the Sixers have anything to say about it, in the present, too.
He also wants you to know that pretty much every post season game the Phillies played in 2008 was just the wildest bunch of madcap shit human eyes have ever bulged out at. The book is a collection of his columns from that year, introduced by italicized personal notes that never span more than a page, and the thing is, he’s not wrong. It’s just… repetitive.
Think about when you were probably reading these for the first time. You were at work, or at home and hungover, or using that laptop you stole from a RadioShack the night before one last time before ditching it in a sewer. And you were just freaking the fuck out that the Phillies were in the post season and not being erased in front of your eyes–even though they weren’t really hitting the ball for a lot of it.
These were appearing with at least 24 hours between them, and they were neat and entertaining. Now, all crammed together, you get a sense that Jayson Stark is a solid storyteller and giggling statistician, but his journalistic format becomes repetitive and bland when more than a month’s worth of deadlines are glued together. By the last account, you will be very sick of sentences that go, “In Philadelphia, [some reference to bad luck in sports].”
But I guess the most telling conclusion of this book is that he would remind me of some awesome part of that playoff run, and I would think, “Yeah, that was awesome,” and then put the book down and go look up a video clip of it.
Stark keeps listing stat after stat, some painfully minute (though I know that works for some fans) turning most accounts into narrative non fiction sandwiches, dripping with digit-grazy. Which is cool. This is a story we’ve already heard, you know; and its not like it’s a gritty reboot.
It’s a more magnified tribute to the heroes we watched from afar. That’s the whole point. You can only suck in so many personal anecdotes from the 400 level, waving a for-some-reason home made rally towel and demanding with a hoarse voice that the Phanatic shoot a hot dog into your section for the first fucking time.
So Stark’s our, as Phillies fans, inside guy, and he’s got the ESPN tag in his hat, so the scoop’s his. And while I can snort at the cover all I want, he still was one of the prime storytellers of this tale, and it’s not like he’s a horrific writer. He’s clear, easy to follow (You’ll get through it quick), and dusts in some lengthy exposition when he wants to. It felt like every few sentences there would be a sharp line or a good point, but each one was pre-empted and/or followed by some baseball/movie/local cultural reference that had been brought to him by an assistant. It was like stepping through a field of mines that exploded with the power of laughter.
Despite being familiar with the cast, overall story, and prolific stepping stones we followed along the way, Stark does offer some great Phillies quotes and stories that those of us escorted out by security would have never known. Especially epic was this Matt Stairs quote after Game 4 of the NLCS:
“I’m not gonna lie. I try to hit home runs. And that’s it.“
I guess the point is this. Did you live through this World Series? Great. So did Jayson Stark, and he wrote about it professionally. Give it a read if you have a long commute on public transit every day; you’ll smile fondly a lot and you’ll be done with it in a week.