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Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching's Holy Grail Book Review

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  • Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching's Holy Grail Book Review

    This is my second Joe Cox baseball book, the first being A FINE TEAM MAN, which provided valuable and thought provoking insight into the life of Jackie Robinson by relating the stories of nine individuals who were associated with Robinson before, during and after his career. Before I read the Robinson book, I was wondering what could be said about Robinson that would be new. There was actually a great deal new to me and changed my perspective on several “common wisdom” issues.

    ALMOST PERFECT recounts 13 near perfect games, that is 13 games where a pitcher came within one out of pitching a nine inning perfect game or actually pitched nine perfect innings, but later surrendered a hit in extra innings. My thought before reading this book is how is this guy going to make these stories interesting? I already know the ending. Well…not only was Joe Cox able to make these games with a known outcome interesting, he provides background and follow-up information and anecdotes that are both highly entertaining and at times quite moving.

    Stripped to its essentials, each near perfect game has a series of innings (until the last one) where three players appear and three players make an out. Cox avoids the humdrum by interlacing much of the out-by-out recounting with additional detail regarding difficult plays, the reactions of the pitcher and other players regarding the events and of most interest of course, the drama surrounding the at-bat that would eventually spoil the perfect game. The ensuing reactions of each pitcher to their failure to achieve Hall of Fame worthy glory is as varied and unique as the individuals themselves. The author sets the stage for the game events and enables the reader to become emotionally involved by providing biographical background for the pitchers by relating their struggles and key career (and life) events prior to the big game. Players are of course by the nature of celebrity far away from most fans. We know them through their deeds and not their selves, so the insights Cox provides regarding the personalities and characters of these pitchers adds another dimension to their big game. For instance, Harvey Haddix was as surprised as anyone by his performance, but Dave Steib was not; Haddix was a journeyman pitcher on the down side of his career while Steib had numerous encounters with great and near-great performances. Umpire decisions definitely affected the outcome of one game and may have affected the outcome of another. How those involved handled the controversy makes for some fascinating reading and in the case of pitcher Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce, the aftermath of the game produced an outcome far more significant in human terms than the game itself.


    Cox’s strength in this book (as it was in the Robinson book) is revealing the mostly unknown side of the story and its effects upon the participants. As the game today devolves into a marketing and stat weenie variation of Home Run Derby, it is refreshing to read an “agony and the ecstasy” version of events. These 13 games are archetypal bittersweet moments in life that I think most fans will easily relate to. Cox gives us more than play-by-play and box scores to chew on. At least half of the pitchers profiled were not “faces of the game” and would be considered insignificant “pieces” today with sad metrics and low MLB-approved merchandise sales, but these are among the most interesting stories in this book. For pure guts and perseverance, Milt Wilcox, Ron Robinson and Armando Galarraga led inspiring lives that transcended their baseball accomplishments. Pitchers featured who were (or are) stars include Tommy Bridges, Billy Pierce, Max Scherzer and Mike Mussina. Each experienced moving life events whose retelling makes this book a rich history of the game beyond the events.

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