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Scapegoats: Baseballers Whose Careers Are Marked by One Fateful Play.

Christopher Bell. Scapegoats: Baseballers Whose Careers Are Marked by One Fateful Play. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2002. 182 pp. Paper, $24.95.

Acknowledging that the long history of baseball contains any number of candidates suitable for inclusion in this book, the author has nevertheless come up with a list of nine players he believes meet the highest standards for fateful plays. Readers with more than passing familiarity with baseball lore will recognize the usual suspects. From Fred Merkle of the 1908 Giants, marked forever by his failure to tag second base on a winning hit, to Mitch Williams of the Phillies, whose home run toss to Toronto's Joe Carter ended the 1993 World Series, the author explores how nine selected players became marked for life as baseball's scapegoats by the media and fans. Merkle is twice marked as he teamed with Fred Snodgrass to error a fly ball in the 1912 World Series that led to the Giants' loss to Boston. Catcher Mickey Owens' passed ball that sent the Dodgers to defeat against the Yankees in game four of the 1941 Series, Ralph Branca's home run pitch to Bobby Thompson in the final inning of the Dodgers-Giants playoff game for the 1951 National League pennant, and Red Sox Bill Buckner's infamous lost grounder in 1986 also make the cut, as one would expect, given the stakes at the time.

With these and some less notable scapegoats, the author analyzes details of the moment and the play itself, including the events leading to each player's unfortunate downfall. Bell also looks at media coverage and attitudes toward these players over some eighty-five years, noting that while miscues were recorded on film during earlier days as now, players were chastised for their miscues only in the press and quickly forgotten. Today, the filmed misdeeds of players are replayed and analyzed over and over, forever ensuring that the perpetrators will not be forgotten or forgiven.

While the author details the respective failings of his chosen gang of nine, he goes to great length to offset the new public reality by identifying mitigating circumstances. In each case, the highlighted misdeed alone did not lose a game or Series, but it was more of a team effort. For example, had another player not committed an error, walked or hit a batter, or given up a home run to extend an inning or the game, all would have been different and those players marked as scapegoats would never have been immortalized.

The author also follows each player's later career and discusses the effect public scorn, media cat-calls, and anonymous threats of violence for one play had on their lives long after they left the game. But, with the exception of the knowledgeable baseball fan who can objectively place such incidents within the context of the entire game, the majority of fans focus only on that one fatal play and accept its magnitude based on the interpretation by an unforgiving media. In the end, a scapegoat is identified, and it is his fate to be the one left standing when the music stops and the outcome of the game is only a statistic in the baseball encyclopedia.

This book is quite suitable for those with a solid interest in baseball history as it spans most of the twentieth century and includes little known facts and events about teams, owners, and teammates of these fall guys that a casual reader may find tedious. Interestingly, the book's cover probably exacerbates the very issue of scapegoatism that Bell tries to defuse. The cover shows a photo, or more precisely a mug shot, of Bill Buckner with the word "Scapegoats" prominent above his head and a black name plate across his chest displaying the book's remaining title, all reminiscent of a wanted poster in the local post office. But despite the cover, after reading this book and learning of the forgiving circumstances surrounding the dark moments for each of the unlucky nine, one can only conclude that a more suitable title for Bell's book would have been "That's Baseball."
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Author:Martin, James E.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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