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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Selling of the Babe: A Review

Roger Kahn, Donald Honig and David Halberstam are some of the names on the short list for of the greatest baseball authors. Someone who is making a serious run at that distinction is Glenn Stout, who is submitting another entry to his resume with The Selling of the Babe: The Deal that Changed Baseball and Created a Legend (Thomas Dunne Books)—an outstanding take on the Bambino’s famous sale from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees.

Stout is a prolific author and editor, particularly related to the Red Sox. Previous books include Red Sox Century and Fenway 1912, which are seminal works related to team history. He combines comprehensive research with an enjoyable and story-telling style of writing. The Selling of the Babe possesses all those qualities and gets down to the nitty gritty when it comes to perhaps the most infamous (and often inaccurately remembered) transaction in baseball history.

Too many baseball books get caught up in the legend of the players and stories. Stout pulls no punches while he lays out the truth. In The Selling of the Babe, he sets the record straight on a number of topics, including how Babe Ruth was a selfish player who often looked out for himself and his bank account before his team; how former Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was actually a fairly competent front office man whose ownership was impacted more by tense league politics than his first love of the theatre; and how the sale of Ruth to the Yankees was initially not seen as that much of a one-sided deal.

Unfortunately, over time, the story of Ruth’s departure from Boston has taken on mythic proportions. The slugger is typically depicted as an aw shucks child-like bumpkin whose star was just starting to surge towards its zenith when he was sent to New York by a greedy owner who was only concerned with being flush with enough cash to support his Broadway ventures. In particular, Stout puts great detail in to describing how the ownership of Frazee was fraught with interference by American League President Ban Johnson, and how when he fought back, created a power dynamic that helped force the sale of Ruth in order to maintain control of his team.

The birth of America’s obsession with the home run is another running theme. When Ruth first broke into the majors he was an excellent left-handed pitcher. At that time, baseball was in its Deadball era, and of the few home runs that were hit, many were of the inside the park variety. As the Babe was given increasing opportunities with the bat and showed an acumen to hitting long drives, the game was quite literally changed forever as fans sat at the edge of their collective seats to see what he might do next.

Components for any good baseball book include good research and detail. Stout achieves both in The Selling of the Babe, including comprehensive end notes for the buffs who may want to delve even further into particular aspects of the story. Those looking to read something about a curse or the traditional storybook version of Ruth’s sale will be disappointed. However, those wanting a well-written and detailed account of one of the most impactful and famous events in baseball history will be deeply satisfied.

So much has been written about baseball over the years that it can be difficult to find something that you feel you’re reading for the first time. While Stout tackles a subject that many people know, he is able to give it a fresh spin, which has resulted in a true home run.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free advanced copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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1 comment:

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