If the layoff between the National League Championship and the World Series has left you in the doldrums, I think this is a great chance to catch up on your reading while stoking your Phillies fever. There are many Phillies books worth reading, as long as you do not get taken by Jayson Stark’s latest work. A veteran of Phillies beat and long time Philadelphia newspaper sports’ contributor, he has left us for the greener shores of ESPN. If he was trying to gain back his Philadelphia badge with this book Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies, he surely missed his mark.
A long time friend gave me the book in the Spring to rekindle the magic of late October. He told me he had brought multiple copies for his friends and I understand why since Stark was a Phillies writer, it had a catchy title and well, who knew if we would ever experience a World Championship again. One of the best parts of the Phillies reaching the World Series and marching through the playoffs in 2009 could perhaps be that Stark’s book may fall into the wayside of quick, opportunistic sports’ books. Stark employs every cliché he can think of in his introduction to connect the Phillies fan’s jubilation with a national audience. The problem is that it falls flat and makes the fans look like bumbling idiots who spent all their energy and lives devoted to Philadelphia sports. The introduction was filled with emotion, evoked mostly by the Phillies loyalty from his children, but left a hollow feeling since Stark’s objectivity landed him his job for ESPN. He is just another writer who left and decided to come back when the mood was right and get us to buy a baseball book on a team he used to follow.
The book is broken into five sections and an introduction. The introduction was called Free at Last. Maybe it was the jubilance at the parade that made him believe that he was still capable of capturing his old Philadelphian readership or as he suggests, a passerby’s advice. Stark forgets that baseball has been quite successful in this town for the past five years and we did win the whole thing in 1980. He suggests the Philadelphia sports psyche has been damaged by 98 unsuccessful championships from our four top teams, and with this one win, the city was healed. As almost everything in the book, the statements are trite and erroneous. He mentions the booing of the fans. No kidding that is all a national audience knows about us because that is all that gets printed. The most irritating notion was the idea of suffering generations. We did not suffer like the Cubs fans or Boston before they broke it. We are avid fans but few of us are all four sports fans. Again a national writer, exploits the Philadelphia fan myth and makes a mockery of people who enjoy baseball but demand at least a decent product for what he pays for. Why is that so different? Stark alienates us again and never, not even once, called us good baseball fans.
The season is a quick thought in his book. He uses the overused Rollins’ story, “The team to beat” and regurgitates its controversary. We were in the playoffs the prior year with home field advantage. He quickly brings up the needed Mets rivalry that baseball desires so much, but is only promoted by the media or younger group of riotous fans who drink and look for fights. Phillies fans do not care about the Mets anymore than the Braves, who actually had been dominating the division since I was in my teens. But whatever fills pages for a national audience, though the title and chosen author was certainly chosen to sell it here.
In a season of remarkable stories and plays, he simplifies the season to when Jimmy was benched for being late for a game in New York. He wasn’t playing well at the time and it was his second time late in less than a month, surely not a defining point since Jimmy didn’t play great all year or in the playoffs. Another was Bret Myers in Lehigh Valley. The man struggled but regained his form two games after he returned in July. This section of the book is worth reading though and its strongest attribute. There are stories and decisions made by the writer that are entertaining and thought provoking. There is drama and strong writing, Stark is a good sports’ writer and the five moments that defined a season was enjoyable, but it only lasts for 28 pages in an over 200 page book.
The rest of the book concerns the playoffs. Over 150 pages are devoted to the playoff run that to my knowledge lasted three weeks. The Phillies did not play their best and the opponents played worse. There are quick reviews of games that any memory will remember if there was a need, but after you are done reading, you remember why you forgot. The second most interesting part in the book is the “useless information”. They would be worth the price if he didn’t already mention most of the information in the pages before the “useless information”. If it is so “useless”, then why do we have to read it twice.
I wish I could tell you this would be a great book for your library. A book made to recapture a memory in words and pictures to show to your grandchildren. But buy the CDs of the games if you want to do that, because this book does not do justice to the roller coaster season or the individuality of the players. It belittles the fans as sheep of a 10,000 game loser who were thrown a bone in a parade made by happenstance, more than hinting at a potential dynasty. Worst of all, it is another example of how a local writer gone mainstream exploits his relationship with the city to sell a book that would be better left off in the archives of the newspaper.
2008 World Series was worth the wait, but this book is not worth waiting for or reading at all.