Sports

"The 3,000 Hit Club" is an Interesting Read, but Not Without Flaws

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Sports Publishing’s updated version of The 3,000 Hit Club, by authors Fred McHane and Stuart Shea, is an entertaining series of sketches about arguably the greatest collection of hitters in Major League Baseball history: those men who recorded at least 3,000 base hits during their careers. For years that number was a guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown, and nearly everyone included in this book is in the Hall of Fame. Starting with Pete Rose, the all-time leader with 4,256 hits, and finishing with Roberto Clemente, who managed exactly 3,000 hits in a career cut tragically short, the book takes the reader through every era of American big league baseball in a quick, engaging read. Its generous use of statistics stays just this side of overbearing so that the casual fan of the game should enjoy these stories. And the sketches aren’t linked, so the reader can pick the book up, choose one of the 28 greats to read about and not feel as if he’s jumped in on the middle of the story.

The 208-page book is peppered with colorful anecdotes about these greats that will delight lovers of the game. According to Lefty Grove, Honus Wagner’s arms were so long he “could tie his shoes without bending over.” Paul Waner, “a low ball hitter and a high ball drinker,” according to Wagner, was once so hung over that all he could manage was to hit a record-setting 4 doubles in one game off of Dizzy Dean. On a more inspiring note, we find out that Lou Brock learned the economy of motion that made him a great base runner from football great Deacon Jones and Olympic legend Jesse Owens. These stories and others keep the reader turning the pages, hoping for more.

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The stories also remind us that the game has always been played by mere mortals. The authors refuse to shy away from the serious flaws and demons of these great, if mortal, athletes. For instance, their portrait of Cap Anson, the first to reach the 3,000-hit plateau, is downright ugly. Anson, a product of the late 19th century, was a stone-cold racist who played a major role in establishing the racial barrier that plagued MLB until 1947. Likewise, the reader who expects to encounter the miserable character that was Ty Cobb won’t be disappointed.

Then there’s Eddie Collins’ frank admission that the 1919 Chicago White Sox, a team that feuded bitterly all season before 8 of them conspired to throw the World Series, was probably the greatest team he ever saw, a notion that belies sport adages about the importance of chemistry, teamwork and other so-called “intangibles.” Finally, Carl Yastrzemski’s “punishing” desire to succeed while having to follow in the footsteps of the great Ted Williams provides a glimpse of the freakish drive that must have been a fundamental quality of each of these men.

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The book is not without its misses, however. Some are structural, while others are more worrisome. On the structural side, many of the sketches tail off in an unsatisfying way. McHane and Shea often seem to be in a hurry to get to the next story before closing out the current one. For example, the comparatively extensive treatment of Cobb’s post-baseball life is hard to reconcile with the single paragraph devoted to George Brett’s life since retiring. Additionally, while the fact that the sketches stand on their own is a strength of the book, it is also a weakness.

The authors end up repeating the story about the controversial batting title of 1910 in two separate chapters. For some reason they chose to go into more detail describing the controversy in the chapter on Nap Lajoie than they did in the chapter on Ty Cobb. And while the editors provide updates as to the status of Cal Ripken, Jr., and Tony Gwynn, pointing out that both were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, they fail to provide similar updates for Paul Molitor (HOF 2004) or Eddie Murray (HOF 2003). The result of all of this is a book that is at times uneven.

Those structural issues are not as important as certain factual issues. For a baseball junkie, the occasional factual errors in the book are disturbing, mostly because they’ll cause that sort of reader to wonder what else might be wrong. For instance, the famous “pine tar incident” involving George Brett is chronicled in the book. The authors get the umpire who called Brett out wrong. Tim McLelland was the umpire that Brett charged after McLelland inspected the bat and called him out, not Joe Brinkman. Likewise, in the section on Derek Jeter, the Yankees are credited with winning the World Series in 2006. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in 2006.

The Tigers eliminated the Yankees in the ALDS. Maybe 2006 is a typo for 2009. If that’s the case, the editing needs work as there are several such typos throughout the book. For example, the “update” to the Cal Ripken, Jr., entry refers to “MLB” as “MBL.” A small error, but, come on, the whole book is about MLB. How do you miss that one? Additionally, this updated volume correctly notes that Jeter’s 3,000th hit was a home run. However, a later chapter credits Wade Boggs with being the only member of the club to reach 3,000 hits in that fashion. This updated version needs, well, updating. The casual fan may not notice or care about such details, but baseball devotees who wallow in detail will find these and other similar items off-putting.

All in all, its noted shortcomings aside, the newest edition of The 3,000 Hit Club is an enjoyable read with plenty for both casual fans of the game and for those to whom baseball is more of an obsession than a casual pastime.

Jonathan Dyer has been a baseball fanatic since playing Little League in the 1960s, and he’s been following the Oakland A’s since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1970s when he watched Rickey Henderson play for Billy Martin. Dyer, the author of three novels, now brings his long-term perspective to writing about baseball, connecting the modern game to its historic context. You may email Jonathan directly at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp. You can follow his progress on two new novels he’s writing at www.booksbyjonathandyer.webs.com