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Home » Baseball

The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound

Submitted by on July 6, 2009 – 2:46 PM2 Comments

I'd fooled myself into thinking I was a key part of the team, and that if there were cuts to be made they would come from the bottom. It's like that old line about being fast enough to outrun a bear in the woods: you don't have to beat the bear, you just have to outrun the guy next to you. (241)

I grabbed Ron Darling's The Complete Game at the same time I did the Hernandez book, and started it right after finishing the Hernandez, hoping to end my Mets-TV-broadcast-team reading experience on an up note. Success!

ronsiDarling's book is great — likeable, accessible, and the author doesn't take himself seriously. Even the structure works; Darling and co-author Daniel Paisner use the old inning-per-chapter set-up, but each inning corresponds with an inning Darling either pitched or analyzed on broadcast (the second inning, for instance, is the second inning Darling pitched against the Red Sox on 22 October 1986; the extra-innings section is of course the famous scoreless college-ball showdown between Darling and Frank Viola memorialized by Roger Angell for The New Yorker).

The framework could have gotten twee in a hurry — sometimes, authors don't know when to stop nudging you in the direction of the overarching org principle, never more often than in baseball books — but the conceit's execution is actually pretty cool, as Darling walks readers through a pitcher's (or manager's, or expert viewer's) thought processes as they differ from inning to inning. And he registers his opinions and observations without lecturing.

Darling refers repeatedly to the fact that he backed into his major-league career, in a way; he could play baseball, but didn't consider it a real career path until he found himself on it. He didn't go to a baseball powerhouse college, he didn't think he'd do much against minor-league hitting — he took his opportunities, and worked hard, but every time he took the mound against players he thought "were supposed to" be there and didn't get shelled, it seemed somewhat surprising to him. I wonder if this isn't, in part, the difference in tone between Darling and Hernandez. Both are beloved by longtime Mets fans; both had creditable, and at times impressive, big-league careers, Hernandez probably more so than Darling; neither is considered a reasonable pick for Cooperstown, although Hernandez may get in via the Veterans Committee, having been considered the best defensive first baseman of his era.

But I think this is all Hernandez ever wanted to be or considered being — a ballplayer. I think his father was kind of a tough cookie who played minor-league ball himself and was up on Mex and his brother every damn day, practicing, talking about focus, throwing them BP until it got dark out; I think he didn't bother with college. I think this has been Hernandez's entire identity since he was a kid. Darling seemed to have other things going on — academics, other conceptions of himself — all along, and having gone to Yale and seen the other options available, even if he didn't pursue them himself, probably means that it's not as important to him to position himself as the ungainsayable voice of experience as it is to Hernandez, whose c.v. really has nothing else on it. Because Darling could be other things, he doesn't have that need to be this to the exclusion of other viewpoints, that need to point up his own importance.

Overall, a smooth narrative: informative, funny at times, doesn't try too hard, of interest to Mets fans of the old school and current fans of the game. A-minus.

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2 Comments »

  • attica says:

    In a recent interview pimping his new book, Darryl Strawberry said he and his teammates called Darling "Mr. P," as in "Mr. Perfect." But he said this not mockingly, but with real admiration. A celebrated fuck-up like Straw might indeed admire a guy who could avoid such drama with such ease.

  • Nilda A says:

    I remember back in 1987 when I was a sophmore in high school and I was walking down the street with my friends. We walked by a very good looking man and about two seconds later, I screamed 'THAT'S RON DARLING.' I never looked back to see if he heard me but he was always the only Met that I ever liked.

    I should pick up the book.

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