Thursday, June 09, 2005

Book 'em, Gammo

Since I hammered on Peter Gammons is this space not too long ago, I figure it's only right to praise him for a job well done.

So what if the "job" was actually "well done" in 1985. If you haven't read Gammons's underrated gem "Beyond the Sixth Game," please, click here and check it out. If you are a devout Sox fan, particularly one from my 30-something generation, I guarantee you will not be able to put this book down until the last page has been turned.

I'll take the praise even further. I've devoured a few sports books in my day, some brilliant, some incomprehensibly bad. (Graig Nettles's "Balls," anyone?) In my opinion this is easily the finest baseball book of its era, and if it's not the best I have ever read (I'm slightly partial to David Lamb's "A Stolen Season"), it's certainly in the argument.

As the title suggests, the book begins with the Game 6 of the transcendent 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Gammons uses the two teams as a frame of reference as he writes about the impact free agency had on the sport in the late '70s and early '80s.

Gammons was the Red Sox beat writer for the Globe during much of this period, and reading this will remind you that there was a time when he was much more than just a talking head and occasional columnist. In his trend-setting journalistic heyday, he was a hell of a reporter and an even better writter. This book stands as undeniable proof.

Here's one of my favorite passages:

The Eck, the brash wise guy from Fremont, California, rolled in to the beat of "Little GTO." He came with his own DialEck that seemed to tilt H.L. Mencken's "The American Language," one he claimed he began learning from former teammate Pat Dobson. "Here comes Mr. Slickermaster with the oil," he cracked when he saw the dapper Dick Stockton coming into the lobby of the New York Sheraton with a bottle of fine wine under his arm. Oil is liquor. "Sorry, gentlemen, I've got to go lick some beef," he told media types around his locker when apologizing that he had to end an interview. Beef is a date. When he pitched, he seemed to dance, and he was so outwardly cocky that he was hated by opponents. Jerry Remy had been with the Angels when The Eck threw his no-hitter against them in 1977, and Remy remembered that when Eckersley would get two strikes on a California batter he would point to the on-deck circle and shout, "You're next." Butch Hobson remembered swinging hard and missing one time and hearing Eckersley scream, "Swing harder, bleeper" from the mound. When Texas outfielder Juan Beniquez protested a called third strike, Eckersley walked off the mound, pointed to the Rangers' dugout, and yelled, "Take a seat."

Great stuff, huh? Again, this book is overflowing with similarly engaging anecdotes. I can't recommend it highly enough. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card . . .

Man, I wish The Eck would start using some of that vintage terminology on NESN. He could at least start calling Tom Caron "Mr. Slickermaster," or drop an occasional reference to "licking the beef." He's already the best studio analyst they've got, but I say this would bring him to a whole new level.

And by the way, at the risk of sounding like Carson Kressley, the years have been kind to The Eck, haven't they? He looks healthier these days than he did back on that '78 Topps card. That's what quitting the oil will do, I suppose.