Imperfect is a very telling title for this book, as it is far more about Jim Abbott’s lack of a right hand, than about baseball. In fact, it is mostly about the mental challenges he faced because of that lack.
The best part of the book is when Abbott recalls the games he played in. The no-hitter that he pitched is told inning by inning, every other chapter. But the chapters aren’t evenly balanced in terms of length. The chapters dealing with his no-hitter are generally quite short, usually only a couple of pages. Equally good are the tales about playing against the Cuban team, in front of Castro, and the final game in the Olympics.
I saw Abbott pitch once, and it was a great experience. I was quite excited when I saw this book, but I was disappointed. In one place Abbott comments on his arrival with a new team and states that if he were around long enough, pretty soon his disability would be forgotten. And as much as he seems to long for that to happen and to be seen that way, the major overtone of the book is that of Abbott’s never letting himself do what he wanted of others, to simply see himself as a ballplayer, which enough challenges for anyone.
I don’t want to take away from what Abbott accomplished. He is an inspiration. For everyone. For we must all find within ourselves the determination to become exceptional with whatever starting material we have. But I would have liked the book to be more about the games he played, the teams, and the other players he met throughout his career.
The book actually begins with pre-Pacific Coast League ball. It outlines baseball on the Pacific coast from the game in 1890 with the King of Hawaii present to 1957.
For any baseball fan interested in the history of the game, this is an important chapter. The book reads well, but it isn’t spell-binding. It is quite easy to read a chapter, put the book down and then come back to it days later. It is more a summary of the teams and managers from an organizational standpoint; rather than being about individual players and games.
I had just finished readying Lefty: An American Odyssey by Vernona Gomez which actually begins with a mention of the Pacific Coast League and the Seals so I was interested in the League and also I wanted to see how Snelling’s book would mention Lefty Gomez who played only one year for the Seals before being bought by the Yankees. But the Hall of Fame pitcher goes unmentioned and I suspect that many other great ball players are not mentioned as well as the book really isn’t about the players.
It is quite thoroughly researched and there are over 50 pages in the Appendix containing a lot of information.
Vernon “Lefty” Gomez was born in Rodeo, California in 1908. By 1942 he had a lifetime pitching record of 189 – 102. He had won 20 games in a season four times, led the American League in strikeouts three times, led the league in shutouts three times, started seven World Series games for a 6 – 0 record and he was the starting, and winning, pitcher of the first All-Star game as well as hitting in the first run of that game. Beyond these accomplishments, he was also the glue of the Yankee clubhouse during the 1930’s; a friend and confidant to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.
What emerges in the book is the man, himself. He learned as a child that if you wanted something you had to work for it. He had been working on his parent’s farm since he was a child. At age eight he was milking the cows at 4:00 am. Even at five and six years old, if he wanted money for a candy or ice cream he had to earn it. He entered into everything he wanted to do whole-heartedley with no half-way measures. Being fascinated, as a child, with the sax he earned the money to pay for lessons by lighting streetlights and plucking chickens. He carried the same attitude into becoming a pilot and a baseball player. There was one game the kids played – sandlot baseball – and Lefty became determined to be a big-league pitcher.
The book was a joy to read. Here was a player that didn’t get big-headed with success. He didn’t make excuses for the times he lost, he didn’t whine, he didn’t put on airs, he didn’t drink, he didn’t fight. And while he was great with the one-line quips (which became known as Lefty-isms) and jokes on team mates in the locker room, he was also a serious person who listened to others, didn’t gossip and didn’t lie.
Here, too, are images of great ball players, free of the publicity, rumor and hype. Babe Ruth, for one, became an entirely different person than the one I had grown up believing him to be. There are stories of Dizzy Dean, Jack Dempsey, and scores of others.
While the book follows the games, the seasons and the big comings and goings of the players and teams, it focuses on the people. It is immensely readable and makes you feel like you’ve been at the ballpark on a really sunny day, watching the best of the best play ball.