Skip to main content

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink

Review

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink

In 1985, Daniel Okrent (the founder of fantasy baseball) wrote NINE INNINGS, which is about an average, run-of-the-mill baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Baltimore Orioles. It has been a long while since I read that book, and I am not totally sure I remember what Okrent’s methodology was in choosing this particular game over every other game. It could be that he threw a dart at the 1982 American League schedule. I do not know. It was a great idea, and a great book, but as it turned out, the game was…well, I hate to say it, ordinary.

The 1979 Cubs-Phillies game featured in TEN INNINGS AT WRIGLEY was not ordinary. It was an outlier. An outlier, statistically, is an event that is uniquely different than other similar events in a set. Baseball is well-populated (if not somewhat obsessed) with outliers: Cal Ripken’s consecutive-games streak, Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record. (CC Sabathia, at age 38, is the active career strikeout leader; he would need to throw 2,500 more strikeouts to even approach Ryan’s record.) But this particular outlier --- a single game where both teams scored more runs than they would in an average week --- is nowhere near as storied. Kevin Cook’s book should change that.

"Cook has taken a story that could have been one of those online oral histories you see occasionally and turns it into a feast for the ears of any true fan of the Great Game and the way it was played in the ’70s."

After nine innings in the Cubs-Phillies slugfest (which featured the stiff Chicago wind blowing the ball out of Wrigley Field on multiple occasions), the score was tied 22-22. The Phillies held the lead most of the way, after a nine-run first inning, but couldn’t hold off a determined Cubs attack. After a brief rundown of the storied histories of both clubs, Cook keeps the focus on the game --- providing an out-by-out, if not a pitch-by-pitch, rundown of each inning.

Generally speaking, there is a word for such a thing: tiresome. Almost nobody, not even the most hardened fan, wants to read about every single out of every single game. Even with an eventful game like this one, the narrative lags now and then. So what you do, obviously, is occasionally take the focus off the game and put it on the players, and there were (fortunately for the reader) a lot of interesting, memorable characters among these athletes. For the home Cubs, it’s the odd couple of Bill Buckner and Dave Kingman, professional hitters who did not get along in the least. For the Phillies, it starts with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and temporary rental Pete Rose, on loan from Cincinnati. But the Phils also have Tug McGraw and his screwball, Bake McBride and his Afro, and Garry Maddox and his sublime outfield defense.

If there’s one thing I could have done without in TEN INNINGS AT WRIGLEY, it’s the consistent reliance on, and repetition of, every single solitary cliché known to the baseball world. Just take Maddox. Does Cook use his nickname (Secretary of Defense)? Yes. Does he reference the quip that water covers two-thirds of the earth and Maddox covers the rest? Yes. And that’s just one player. It’s almost as though anyone who writes anything about Maddox has to cover these two data points, like it’s a league rule or something. Finding little notes like this throughout the book is like finding a penny in a bowl full of pennies. If you don’t like baseball, you’re just not going to read a book like this. If you like baseball, even a little bit, you probably already know that Pete Rose was called “Charlie Hustle,” and you don’t need to reference it. These little shibboleths are everywhere in baseball writing, and Cook can’t bring himself to excise them.

I liked TEN INNINGS AT WRIGLEY quite a bit. But it likely will have zero appeal outside the devoted baseball fan base, and that’s a disappointment. Cook has taken a story that could have been one of those online oral histories you see occasionally and turns it into a feast for the ears of any true fan of the Great Game and the way it was played in the ’70s. But the book isn’t quite enough of an outlier to be truly remarkable.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on May 24, 2019

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink
by Kevin Cook

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1250182034
  • ISBN-13: 9781250182036