Baseball fans who are also fans of baseball history are always on the lookout for books that flesh out familiar stories from the game’s past. There are a plethora of baseball non-fiction books that merely put a spit-shine on eras, teams and players of bygone days, adding nothing to our understanding or appreciation. Then along comes a book like “Crazy ’08” by Cait Murphy, a work that not only adds new dimensions to the wild and whacky story of the 1908 National League pennant race but sheds a bright shining light on a time in American history.
Yes, “Crazy ’08” is replete with colorful baseball characters, ranging from irascible Giant Manager John McGraw, to rambunctious Cub shortstop Johnny Evers to the magnificent Honus Wagner. Of course, the infamous Merkle game is the centerpiece of this luscious feast. And truly baseball as it was played 100 years ago (the same basic rules, quite a different etiquette) is the time period. Author Murphy hits a home run in relating all these facets. But her real feat is all the stories, teams, players, managers, owners, umpires and other assorted supporting cast that she weaves comfortably and indispensably into this epic tale (an epic that clocks in at a mere 384 pages no less!).
1908 is remembered for the dramatic three-team National League pennant race between the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates that wasn’t decided until the season’s last day and then one. This added affair came about because a seeming Giant victory over the hated Cubs late in the season had to be replayed due to what has famously become known as “Merkle’s Boner” — the base running faux pas of a Giant rookie. The resulting controversy epitomizes the roles of those “Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates” mentioned in the book’s subtitle.
Murphy is nothing if not the Honus Wagner of researching, which is all well and good, but can she write? The woman’s style is so breezy the pages will flap by on their own if you don’t hold `em down.
A student of baseball history? Step right up to the plate and read “Crazy 08.” A casual fan? You’ll love it just as well. Hell, if you’re just interested in turn-of-the-century Americana or want a good read, “Crazy ’08” comes highly recommended.