Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tris Speaker biography

When people ask me what my favorite baseball book is, I usually respond without hesitation, Charles Alexander's biography John McGraw. Although it has been many years since I read it, I recall it as being well-written, extremely well-researched, informative and interesting.

Since then I have read Alexander's booksRogers Hornsby, Our Time and most recently, Spoke. All three I have found to be incredibly dull which makes me wonder if I might need to revisit John McGraw.

My hunch is that I am correct in my assessment of John McGraw as being an excellent book. Writing top-notch books about baseball, especially biographies on players, is an extremely difficult thing to do because frankly, there's not a lot of depth to many athletes. I'm not knocking athletes. it is extremely difficult to excel in any field and that often comes with a cost in terms of diversification. It's a rare person who leaves professional sports and goes on to excel in something else. Nowadays, with salaries the way they are, there is also not much need to be able to do anything else once your playing days are over.

John McGraw, like his charge Christy Mathewson, was a multi-dimensional figure. He was financially savvy and became one of the most successful managers after a solid career. He was innovative and intelligent and as such, makes for an interesting biography.

Hornsby and Speaker just don't have much going for them outside of being great players. Hornsby met with some success as a manager but neither player was particularly interesting off of the diamond. As such, both biographies spend a lot of time detailing the goings on of the season. The problem that arises from that is that the book then turns out to be more about the teams for which these individuals played and less of a biography. It's also not very enjoyable to read about the drudgery of a fifth place finish. Heated pennant races, sure, they can be interesting but trying to make it seem like the big battle for fourth place really mattered at the end of the season....come on.

That's why I can't really recommend Spoke. Even as a fan of the era and of Tris Speaker, I just didn't find the book to be captivating in the least. It took me an incredibly long time to finish it because I kept picking up other books that were far more interesting. I also have Alexander's biography of Ty Cobb which is supposed to be excellent and I expect will be because Cobb had more depth to him (plus he was a total asshat). I'm also interested in getting a copy of Tim Gay's biography of Speaker and seeing how that is.

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