Monday, September 16, 2013

Hit By Pitch - a review

Many months ago, I requested a copy of Hit By Pitch from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.  I was thrilled that I was chosen to receive a copy, but it never showed up -- until last week, when I eagerly devoured it, and was not disappointed. This one's not for *kids, but certainly suitable for young adults.

Lawless, Molly. 2012. Hit By Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

If you've ever watched a player get beaned by a baseball, you've experienced the sickening feeling that occurs merely from watching.  In 1920, fifty years before the mandated use of batting helmets, Cleveland Indian shortstop, Ray "Chappie" Chapman, became the first and only major league baseball player to be killed by a pitched ball.  This is his story and the story of  pitcher, Carl Mays of the New York Yankees.

In some ways, it is easy to write about sports as the statisticians make the research simple  - dates, times, players, locations, runs, hits, balls, strikes, averages - it's all recorded history.  However, the single entry in the scorer's book for the game at the Polo Grounds between the Cleveland Indians the New York Yankees, "hit by pitch," cannot explain the tragic story of baseball's only fatal beaning on August 16, 1920.  Molly Lawless uses black and white drawings, period quotes, newspaper articles, and sportswriter commentaries to animate this story for a new generation.

A more perfect tragedy could not be conceived if it were a work of fiction - the odd, sullen and nearly friendless "villain," Carl Mays, versus the cheerful, handsome and beloved athlete, businessman, husband and friend, "Chappie." One will live and one will die.  Both stories end in tragedy.

Fascinating, well-researched, and told with a keen eye for the game and all its intricacies and idiosyncrasies. Ms. Lawless' respect for (and love of) baseball is apparent in every page. Her black and white illustrations evoke the time and spirit of the game in the "deadball era," and an American public, still processing the effects of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and the relatively new phenomenon of Prohibition. Fans of baseball, graphic novels, history or tragedy will love this book.

*For younger readers interested in this topic, Dan Gutman's, Ray & Me (Harper Collins, 2009), tells the tragic story as part of his Baseball Card Adventures series, combining fact, fiction and a hint of fantasy as the young protagonist travels back in time to great moments in baseball history.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by author, Anastasia Suen, at her Booktalking blog.

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