Carl Mays - sympathetic figure or bad guy?
Well, I think the Carl Mays part is an interesting question. Did he try to make him look bad? I'd argue no - I think that Carl Mays was a jerk. Sure, part of it was the Boston media which still crucifies players and managers today, but because this book was so well researched and contained so many quotes and anecdotes, I came to the conclusion that Mays was just an asshole. However, once he hit Chapman with the pitch, he became sympathetic. Maybe it was because he kept his mouth shut. Maybe because anytime anyone wanted to talk to him it was about the pitch. He didn't seem to say things to make him seem like as much of a jerk, just a bit defensive, which given the situation is understandable. Maybe he seemed worse in comparison to Chapman as there was not a negative thing said about him. Yes, he seemed like a great guy, but because he died young, I would expect more to be hidden about him than Mays.
I don't remember a single bad thing said about Chapman. Maybe it's because as members of society we view speaking of the dead in any negative light as bad taste. Still, it's hard to believe he was perfect. Mays was not perfect, but I think that's a more reasonable portrait of most people. It's not that Mays is a bad guy, it's just against the "angel" that is Chapman, anyone would look like a jerk.
I think Mike portrayed Mays as he was perceived by the players in AL. He had virtually no friends even on the Yankees. He was known as a head-hunter even before Chapman.(he had 54 hit batters up til then). While he did express sympathy to Chapman's widow, he showed up for work and never missed a start.That didn't say much to me about his character. He did nothing to explain his pitch except when the Yankees told him to cooperate with the D.A.Those are facts that Mike objectively set forth.Mike does emphasize that Mays was a very fine pitcher in his era.
I agree that Sowell was pretty hard on Mays, but if he was reading accounts from Baseball Magazine in the 20's and 30's I have no doubt to its authenticity.
I think Sowell probably overdid playing up Mays as a bad guy. I don't think he threw at Chapman intentionally. Mays hit batter to walk ratio isn't out of line for top pitchers of that era. And he was a top pitcher. Because of that, I do find him to be a sympathetic figure. Much like Fred Merkle or Jack Chesbro, I feel like an error he made on one play overshadowed the rest of his career.
What did you think of the depiction of the 1920 pennant race and the role of the beaning in the context of the Indians season?
As for the best part and the pennant race, what I like best is the fact that I didn't know when Mays hit Chapman with the pitch. Every time the Yankees and Cleveland played, I'd get a knot in my stomach just because I was worried about Chapman and I didn't want him to go. I felt tension and impending doom even though the title told me as the reader what would eventually happen.
I found the pennant race to be thrilling especially because of the depression and hurt felt by Tris Speaker and the team's catcher.
I liked how Sowell used the pennant race between the Yankees and Indians as the greater conflict leading up to the Mays/Chapman incident. It made for a much more interesting read.
What did you enjoy the most about the story? Least? Did Sowell make you want to learn more about anything?
Off the top of my head, things that make me a bit more curious were the history of nicknames of the various major league teams. I kind of want to read more about the White Sox season of 1920 (since this was more about the Yankees and Indians and the White Sox definitely had some issues hanging over their heads.)
I was inspired by the book to create a modern day legal suspense novel called A Pitch For Justice that takes Mike's book one step further.What would happen today if a fatal bean ball were thrown? Would there be a homicide prosecution.
On page 12, I felt I had discovered a factual error in Lowell's research (he claimed that Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis had graduated from St Marys College in OAKLAND, instead of Moraga, CA; I live 20 miles away) and I had that in the back of my mind while I continued through the book.....if he was to make an error like that, then how many other factual errors did he make? About 3/4 through the book during the recap of the 1920 pennant race, I decided to confirm what I thought was true (wikipedia)....and found that St Marys moved from Oakland to Moraga in 1928....and Sowell's research was accurate. So I deemed myself the idiot, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire book. Great stuff about Joe Sewell, I did not know much about his background at all. This book definitely deserved the Casey Award in 1989.
Definitely a good read. I enjoyed that there was a story told. I didn't like that Mays was treated so poorly and Chapman so highly. As Jason said, I don't think there was a negative thing said about Chapman which I believe to be as much of a function of creating a good guy/bad guy scenario than Chapman being some morally superior human being. Nothing struck me as something I wanted to check out later which to me is a sign of good non-fiction so that's a minus. Still enjoyable.
So along those lines, what did you think of the book as entertainment? Can you see a non-baseball fan enjoying it? What did you think of Sowell's style? How does this compare to other baseball books you've read? Other books you've read?