Book Review: "Worth The Wait"

Book Review: "Worth The Wait"

Go into any self-respecting bookstore in the Philadelphia area, and you'll find a half-dozen or so books devoted to some aspect of the 2008 baseball season, and/or the 2008 World Series. (You might even find my book there...) Every year, after the World Series, authors and publishers rush to produce volumes germane to, and of interest to, the World Series and the fans of the winning team therein.

As a public service, and to avoid the needlessly expensive task of buying all of the current works on the Phillies' triumph, here's the scoop on this year's crop of World Series Books… if you can buy only one, buy "Worth the Wait" (Triumph Books; ISBN 978-1-60078-273-2) by Jayson Stark. (Of course, I won't mind if you also buy "The Breaks Even Out and Midnight Comes Quickly for Cinderella.") Without having read the rest of the entries in the field, in fact, without having to read the rest of the entries in the field, I'm here to tell you that "Worth the Wait" is not only the best of breed, but it's also… worth the wait.  

Why is that? There are a couple of reasons. First, if you're a Phillies fan, or in any way shape or form interested in the Phillies, then Jayson is your man… even though he's been writing for ESPN.com (and appearing on various ESPN shows as well) for the past nine years. You see, Jayson started out at the Philadelphia Inquirer, oh, back about 1979, where he covered the Phillies and served as the Inky's national baseball writer. To this day, no one is better connected to the Phillies' organization, even to the point of using such ex-Phillie greats as Doug Glanville and Larry Andersen as virtually exclusive sources.  

Second, he's a native Philadelphian, who still lives in the Philly suburbs, and who has a better feel for his fellow Brotherly Lovers and the city than anyone who's stopped by the Liberty Bell (which was cast by a relative of former Athletic great Harry Stovey) since Ben Franklin. Rumor has it that he can recite the address of every top cheesesteak place (including "Dela's" on Henry Avenue) in the metro area. So, he knows Philly and Philly sports.  

Third… during his stint in his hometown he developed his signature style, his schtick, if you will. His "Notes" column, better known as Rumblings and Grumblings, and his own unique look at baseball's numbers, the Useless Information Department. Now beloved by legions of internet surfers, Rumblings and Grumblings and Useless Information have been the trademark of as entertaining a baseball writer as Philly has seen since the days of Charles Dryden.  

To recap… he knows Philadelphia and the Philadelphia sports scene, he's a superb baseball writer, and he's got connections. A winning combination.  

And, his book is a winner, too. The title doesn't refer to the length of time it took to produce the book -- publisher Triumph Books (www.triumphbooks.com) is famous for quick turnarounds and bringing out timely books like this. And, it doesn't refer to how long Jayson's readers had to wait since his last book. "The Stark Truth" came out to much acclaim last year. No, showing a true understanding of Philly sports fans, the title pays homage to the wait since 1983, when the Sixers won the NBA title. In another sense, of more significance to baseball fans, it's been even longer since 1980. Twenty-eight years is a long time to wait, in that it is a quantifiable time that many, many individuals can (and have) suffered through. It's not the same as the Cubs' famous 100-year drought… there are very few Cubs fans left who can expound at length on the glories of Three Finger Brown and Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. But there are legions of Phillies fans who saw Michael Jack Schmidt rip that eighth inning double off of Dan Quisenberry in game two, saw Pete Rose grab that pop-up that bounced out of Bob Boone's glove, and saw Tug McGraw leap off the mound after throwing a Peggy Lee fastball past Willie Wilson. Jayson Stark, although he was a working sportswriter for the Inquirer at the time, was one of them.  

Thus, "Worth the Wait" delves into the mind, the very being, of the Philadelphia baseball fan, a persona that Stark knows well. Perhaps his Introduction says it best, "Free at Last." Now, a lot of writers could have written something similar, focusing on the larger picture of the 2008 World Series win, focusing on what this win meant to the Phillies, their fans and the city (for that it what this book is really about), but Stark brings it home in both the truest and most effective manner, by using as his most important source, his seminal figure in this story of triumph, all 5-8, 165 pounds of shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Make no mistake about it, J-Roll is/was the heart of this team.

"The Phillies – his Phillies – were heading for the parade floats… After a quarter-century of waiting for a team like this to end their torment, that team had finally arrived. This team. Jimmy Rollins' team."

Coming back several times throughout the book to J-Roll, Stark uses him to help tell a story bigger than a single game, or even a single World Series. It's the story of Philadelphia baseball fans. Now, Stark doesn't go into the fine teams of the ‘90s (the 1890s, that is) which always seemed to have something different go wrong. And he doesn't mention the 1901 Phillies, who would have won the National League if they'd been able to keep Nap Lajoie. And he doesn't go in to Connie Mack breaking up two of the great dynasties in baseball history due to financial considerations beyond his control (the Federal League and the Great Depression.) Nor does he repeat the sad tale of the impoverished ownerships of William Baker and Gerry Nugent. First of all, that's not really Jayson's style, and secondly, it's not necessary, it's ancient history to current fans (and everyone else, except ancient historians like your humble scribe). He's telling a much more recent history, the last 25 (or 28) years.  

"This, for years, had been the team these people had the least faith in. So how amazing was it that this was the team that had finally set them free… When something like this happens, this is not a sports story. This is a life story."  

The life story Stark tells is largely drawn from his 2008 ESPN.com columns. However, since he wrote enough during the year to fill several books, it took some very skillful editing to produce a book that, as the subtitle says tells "Tales of the 2008 Phillies." Starting with his Nostradamus imitation written during Spring Training (on Feb. 29, 2008… a day that only comes up once every four years), wherein he quotes Rollins at length (including his now-famous 100-win prediction) and refers to him as the Phillies' MVP/psychology major, Stark takes the reader through the key moments of the 2008 season, featuring, in Part 2, the "Five Moments That Defined a Season." In case you're wondering, they are; manager Charlie Manuel benching that same Jimmy Rollins for not running out a pop up, Brett Myers taking a trip to the minor leagues, the late August sweep of the Dodgers, the four-game mid-September sweep of the Brewers that cost Ned Yost his job, and the National League East clincher, wherein Rollins and Chase Utley turned one of the great clutch double plays in history. Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance indeed.  

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of "Worth the Wait" give an inside look of the three tiers of the postseason. Read it for yourself, it's worth the wait. But, don't forget to also stop and peruse another feature of this book that is so typically Jayson Stark. At the end of every write-up of every single game of the NLDS, the NLCS and the World Series, he gives us, that's right, an installment of Useless Information (like the famous six-day wait between games in the 1911 World Series between the A's and the Giants.)  

We'll leave the final word on "Worth the Wait" to Geoff Jenkins, who Stark quotes in the final line of the book.  

"When you win, it's forever. It's forever, man. And that's a great feeling."


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