Monday, April 25, 2011

Book review: The House That Ruth Built

Over the past two weeks I have repeatedly found myself transported from the rain falling on Seattle in 2011, back in time and place to the baseball fields of New York in the year 1923.  My time machine was a fabulous new book from Robert Weintraub, titled The House That Ruth Built.  Here's a bit about the book, from the publisher's website:
The untold story of Babe Ruth's Yankees, John McGraw's Giants, and the extraordinary baseball season of 1923

Before the 27 World Series titles--before Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter-the Yankees were New York's shadow franchise. They hadn't won a championship, and they didn't even have their own field, renting the Polo Grounds from their cross-town rivals the New York Giants. In 1921 and 1922, they lost to the Giants when it mattered most: in October.

But in 1923, the Yankees played their first season on their own field, the newly-built, state of the art baseball palace in the Bronx called "the Yankee Stadium." The stadium was a gamble, erected in relative outerborough obscurity, and Babe Ruth was coming off the most disappointing season of his career, a season that saw his struggles on and off the field threaten his standing as a bona fide superstar.

From that first home run of 1923 to the storybook World Series matchup that pitted the Yankees against their nemesis from across the Harlem River-one so acrimonious that John McGraw forced his Giants to get to the Bronx in uniform rather than suit up at the Stadium-Robert Weintraub vividly illuminates the singular year that built a classic stadium, catalyzed a franchise, cemented Ruth's legend, and forever changed the sport of baseball.
First off, I should say that I am 1) only a sometimes fan of baseball in general, and 2) not a Yankees fan at all. I actually chose to review this book mostly because my dad is one of the hugest Yankees fans who ever lived, and I thought it would be fun to have some historical information to discuss with him about his beloved team.  Still, despite my non-Yankees-loving status, I really enjoyed this book. The research that went into writing it had to be overwhelming, as the book is absolutely crammed full of historical details about stadiums, players, owners and managers.

Although the book is titled The House That Ruth Built, and does contain a lot of information about Babe Ruth, it's way more than that. It shares so much information about other Yankee players and players from many other teams, about the building of Yankee Stadium, about the Giants and their manager John J. McGraw, about the shift from "scientific baseball" to the big hitting game that we're familiar with today, and so much more.  Admittedly, there's so much information that I sometimes lost track of players and names, but there's a handy index at the back of the book if you (like me) need to go back and refresh your memory about a particular place or person. 

This is a truly great book- one that you don't so much read as experience. I didn't for one moment feel like I was reading a dry, boring historical book or sports column, I felt like I was meeting the players face-to-face and sitting in the stands to watch the games.  Mr. Weintraub is a gifted writer who excels at  description and detail.  If there is a baseball fan in your life, definitely consider this book for him or her. Father's Day and graduations are just around the corner- this would be a great gift idea for those events!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review for myself, thanks to Hachette Book Group and the Product Review Place. I was not compensated in any other way and all opinions posted here are mine and mine alone.