Name the title, author, and the number of pages:
100 Things Nationals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, Jake Russell, 270 pages
Identify the type of book:
Identify the main characters:
Bryce Harper, Frank Howard, Alfonso Soriano, Mickey Vernon, Max Scherzer, Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, Ryan Zimmerman, Clark Griffith, Jose Guillen, Harman Killebrew, Gio Gonzalez, Frank Robinson, and a couple dozen others. With 100 separate stories this book covers all of the major players in DC baseball history.
In a big score, Russell was able to get new manager Dusty Baker to write the foreward for the book. Only thing is that Baker doesn’t seem to have read the book, the write-up primarily consists of Baker name dropping his friends and promoting his big plans for 2016.
Describe the book’s setting:
Primarily Nationals Park, although there are plenty of sections covering events from RFK, Griffith Stadium, and even the Swampoodle Grounds. The book jumps from very recent history, covering the Harper/Papelbon incident, to the early beginnings of baseball in DC with events dating back to the 1800s.
Give a brief summary of the plot:
The book is a large collection of stories relating to the Nationals, each of them standing alone and in no particular order. Most of the book covers historical events but there are a number of chapters with to-do lists for DC baseball fans, including suggested road trips, autograph hunting tips, and seating suggestions at Nats Park.
What was the theme of the book?:
The theme of the book is general history of professional baseball in Washington DC in a non-linear manner, nearly every one of the stories would make a great discussion item at the ballpark.
Explain why you liked or disliked the book:
The best part about the book was the mixing of the stories between the old Senators and the Nats. For those of us too young to remember the players from the 60’s and older, we’ve seen all of the names of the past greats up on the walls at Nationals Park but don’t necessarily know much about them. There are other books about DC baseball history but they can be less than compelling to read when you didn’t live through the events. Keeping the old stories short, with interesting facts, and mixed with more recent history made it the best book I have found to learn about some of the old players and events.
One issue with the format is that several events were covered in multiple stories, becoming repetitive, which would not be an issue if the book is read a little at a time but is distracting when reading it straight through. “Thelma’s trade” is a fine story but not worth the third reference, same with Soriano’s 40-40-40 season.
The chapter on the first season of MASN was one of the best, only issue is that it was too short, I wanted to read a lot more about how miserable Proctor and Darling were working for Angelos. A big item that was missed was that the Nats first win, the game when Wilkerson hit for the cycle, has never been televised in the DC area due to MASN not having the contracts in place with the local cable companies.
Another fantastic chapter was the one on the Presidential openers. Best item was that Woodrow Wilson used to park his car in the left field foul territory in his later years when he was not able to navigate around the stands, the Nats had a ball boy sit on his hood to protect the vehicle.
The chapter revisiting some of the better trades in recent Nats history is another candidate for expansion. Several of those trades could have been a whole chapter themselves with the pros and cons for making the moves at the time, along with the eventual outcomes. Only critique is that trading Guzman for Roark belongs higher on the list.
The book has an impressive degree of accuracy, although there were a small number of questionable items, particularly in respect to the end of 2015. Harper was not “sent into the clubhouse” after the Paplebon incident, he took himself out of the game. Storen didn’t take the “demotion in stride” considering that he broke his hand slamming his locker door shut. Williams did lose the clubhouse, but the number of injuries to starting players was understated. Finally, making Bowden out to be guilty of skimming in the Smiley case is going beyond the known facts in the case, Bowden was never charged and remained friendly with the Nats FO which would be unlikely if they believed that he had stolen from them.
Some of the other highlights:
- Ted Williams was offered an option to buy 10% of the Senators. They were worth under $10 million at the time. Probably he should have taken that deal.
- Eddie Brinkman was part of the National Guard on duty in RFK during the riots in the late 60’s while his teammates were on the field.
- Walter Johnson pitched three consecutive shut-outs, not just in his starts, but in three consecutive games for the Senators in four days.
- The Strasburg shutdown chapter was very measured, sticking to the facts, as opposed to the overly defensive write-ups from most of the local sports writers.
- One of the reasons given to not integrate the Senators was that the Grays were so highly profitable.
- Great stories on Moe Berg, Big Ed Delahanty, Dummy Hoy, and Bill Holdforth.
Some not so great tidbits:
- The title indicates these are things to know or do before I die, learning about Tripp Whitbeck does not meet that criteria (sorry Tripp).
- A very small number of chapters seemed like filler, particularly the listing of individual games from the ten game win streak and the list of draftees with names similar to famous people.
- The chapter on Soriano’s 40-40-40 season left out the drama of whether Alfonso would move to the outfield and his eventual thriving there with 20 outfield assists.
- The Baltimore road trip guide mentioned that pre-game and post-game opportunities in the Camden Yards area are “endless”, sure the Inner Harbor is nice, but I’m buying speedballs if I have to stay in Baltimore for more than a day. (Also, the no bad view in the park line is just plain wrong, last time I was there my seats were pointed towards centerfield, I had to lean over the whole game.)
- Spring training history was notably missing.
- The chapter on logos really needed pictures.
Smart thing about this book is that Russell has it set up to put out new editions every few years. He has a chapter on prospects that will continually need to be updated and there will always be more stories.