Monday, October 12, 2009

The Motley Book Review Post

So, this post is painfully overdue, partly because I'm used to reviewing books for an academic audience made up of folks who do things like review books as a way to avoid writing articles on such thrilling topics as the sex lives of sea sponges and the neo-baroque turn in contemporary Eastern Appalachian roadside cooking. Translated: I have no idea how to do justice to the books in question. I don't want to be a cheerleader and I don't to be a jerk. Especially since I can't be bothered to proofread my own posts, which is absurd, since I spend my days proofreading others' work.

Anyway, we'll go with a three part system: The Good, The Great, The Silly, with an arbitrary number of CCs awarded at the end. Seems fair or completely unjust, but it's my imperfect way of dealing with books, and seems pretty fair given that I'm writing in God's pretty imperfect world.

The Good: Let's face facts, which are that right now, off the tops of your head, you'd be hard pressed to name the umps who called Monday's Phils-Rockies tilt. Which is as it should be, for the most part, only it means that we the fans loose sight of the umps and quickly forget them. Unless they screw up, in which case we remember them forever, not for the good calls they made but for the ones they blew. Although Motley was known as a charismatic, entertaining umpire, he takes pains to outline his experience and formation as one of the best umpires in the Negro Leagues. In other words, he considered himself an umpire before an entertainer, a professional plying his trade first and foremost. This becomes painfully clear when he chronicles his attempts to break into MLB as the league's first black ump. And let's be straight about this: as the head of the Negro Leagues' umpires and someone who graduated first in his class from the Al Somers Umpiring School, there are NO legitimate reasons as to why that did not happen. Which brings us to....

The Great: Motley's decision to abandon his dream of umpiring in the Majors in order to provide for his family is heartbreaking and makes it all the more poignant that he wrote the book with his son. Thus, this is not a book where the hero achieves his goals and we, as readers, (and especially those of us white readers) put the book down and feel good about ourselves. It deals with stark choices we all make, with options open and not open to us for reasons well beyond our control, be they just or unjust. In Mr. Motley's case this had simply to do with the color of his skin. Do the math: Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in '47....and it would be almost another 20 years before Emmett Ashford because the first Afro-American ump on April 11, 1966. Words fail. Which brings me to...

The Silly: Motley's attempt to break into the Negro Leagues as a pitcher when he's a kid. Absolutely had me on the floor, and an absolute must read. We've all been there at some point!

The grade: The book is an amazing read, fun, and full of great stories. You can pick this up on the cheap at Amazon, and Mr. Motley says he'll sign it is you send it with a prepaid envelope, and that only increases the appeal as far as I'm concerned.

I'll give it 95 CCs on a scale of 100 for it's unflinching account of life in the Negro Leagues, good and bad, as well as its frank portrayal of institutional racism in baseball well past 1947.

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