Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Past Time

Review: Foxes and Chickens, An Allegory, Review: A Bug Story, Review: The Girl Who Smelled Like Cheese, Review: The Supreme Bean, Review: Politics Shmolitics, Review: Blood Bites

Past Time
Phillip McGruder
Iconoclast Publishing
313 pages
Reviewed by Al Butterman

The opening screed is enough to boil the blood of every red-blooded baseball fan, even those of the fair-weather variety. Phillip McGruder’s sarcastic rant mocks the history of America’s beloved pastime and calls out its fans explicitly as “pompous sanctimonious jerks living under a veil of misplaced nostalgia.” In chapter after chapter, he systematically exposes every flaw and hypocrisy common to the sport.

He chides sportswriters, commentators, fans, and even the United States Congress for “blowing the steroid scandal out of proportion." He also claims, "They improperly made scapegoats out of some of the game's greatest players, attached asterisks to records that may stand forever… If asterisks are to be placed, place them beside every World Series champion since the nineteen eighties. If individual records are to be discounted, why not team accomplishments as well? Every one of those teams had players who were juicing, players like David Ortiz. Do you hear that Red Sox fans? Your championships don’t count because you cheated!”

This reviewer suspects Mr. McGruder won’t be showing his face around Boston any time soon, but the author’s wrath shoots like a fastball into the national league as well and throughout all facets of the sport. He faults Cubs’ fans for sending death threats to the boy who reached out for a foul ball in the 2003 playoffs, depriving the outfielder of a chance to end the game. McGruder points out that it was the Cubs pitchers, not Steve Bartman, who gave up seven runs to the Marlins that inning. He goes on to harshly state, “Another hundred-year World Series drought would make a fitting punishment to that hysterical fan base.”

“This game is not pure,” McGruder continues. “Before there was human growth hormone, there were corked bats and spit balls. Since the beginning, athletes played hung-over and sometimes drunk. Some injected speed. In the sixties, Don Larson pitched a no-hitter on acid. In the eighties, Dwight Gooden pitched strikeouts geeked out of his mind on cocaine. Since the beginning, players have looked for an edge, any edge, over the competition.

"There have always been players who cursed and drank and cheated on their wives. Many abused others based on race and creed. At one point they eliminated the best competition by forcing them to play in a separate league.  Why isn't there an asterisk by every game played before Jackie Robinson entered  the league?

"The game was never pure.  The players were never angels.  The 1919 White Sox threw the World Series.  Ty Cobb was renowned for being an ignorant dick. Walter Johnson once spat tobacco juice at a crippled bat boy and called him stupid.*  Babe Ruth once beat a hooker to death with a baseball bat after he went 0 for 4 against the Tigers.**

"Baseball is neither just nor moral and it never has been.. Baseball is nothing more or less than anything else. It is supremely and utterly imperfect.”

McGruder, himself a former Cubs fan, is a tangle of contradictions regarding a sport that he seems to love and bitterly despise simultaneously.

“I remember going to the ballpark for the first time. It was Wrigley field. I remember laughing with joy when my dad bought me a hot dog, and then I remember crying when I found a bone in it. I remember screaming in triumph when Andre Dawson hit a home run in the fourth inning and then crying after that same ball struck me in the temple as I leaned over the left field fence. I don’t remember falling twenty feet to the field, but I do remember laughing after I woke up in the Cubs’ dugout and Andre Dawson himself handed me a paper cone filled with cherry-flavored ice. Then I remember crying when I found a bone in it.

“I think maybe I was bi-polar.”

Mr. McGruder has obviously faced some difficult challenges at the ball park. Apparently, he was, for a time, the club’s batboy. He was not the most athletic child. He walked with a limp and had a tendency to give players the wrong bats, causing some of them to spit tobacco juice in his face and call him stupid.

And so in some ways the embittered author may be justified in his embitteredness, but the fact remains that in many people’s eyes, baseball is more than a game. It is a symbol of everything good and decent--America and apple pie and so forth. It is a ritual. It is a religion. And like many other religions, it is sometimes taken to extreme. I know that I, for instance, as a life-long Red Sox fan, plan to punch Mr. McGruder in the mouth the next time I see him.

*This never actually happened. **This definitely never happened.

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