It’s spring, and that means baseball here in these United States. As with all sports, there are going to be winners and losers, and George Robinson and Charles Salzberg focus on some of the most outstanding historical examples of the latter category in On a Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place: Baseball’s Worst Teams.
I have to admit, I opened this book to the table of contents, with one eye closed and kinda squinting through the other one, hoping that I wouldn’t see my beloved Detroit Tigers listed – and, with a sense of great relief, I discovered that they weren’t there. Having been lured into a false sense of security, I dove into the book, starting with the introduction. And then suddenly, there it was: “In one important sense, we were relieved that it took so long for On a Clear Day to find a new publisher. It meant that we didn’t have to write at length about the 1996 Detroit Tigers. What is there to say about the ’96 Tigers?” Plenty, unfortunately, and the authors bung down six paragraphs discussing the team’s abominable performance. Oh, well.
Robinson and Salzberg have compiled a fascinating and very funny history of some very bad teams, ranging from the 1899 Cleveland Spiders to the 1988 Baltimore Orioles. Here’s an ominous portent from the Mets’ opening season in 1962, as the players arrive at their hotel in St. Louis for their debut:
…a group of road-weary Met players, 16 in all, spiffily attired in their spanking new blue team blazers, moved directly to the front desk, where they received their keys and then made their way to the elevator that would take them to their rooms…For the baseball fan (complete rosters and plenty of stats!), or for anyone who enjoys tales of epic failure described with verve and wit, this book is highly recommended.
The elevator arrived and all sixteen players pushed their way on. The doors closed. The elevator began to move. Only, it didn’t move quite far enough. Two and a half floors to be exact. And then it stopped. The sixteen players looked at each other. They waited. They listened to a recorder in the elevator that announced that “dinner in the Tenderloin Room is now being served. Charcoal broiled steaks the succulent specialty of the house.” They listened to this announcement once. They listened to it twice. In all they listened to it 67 times…
“It wasn’t so bad for the other guys,” the five-foot-ten inch Hobie Landrith recalled afterward. “I’m not built high enough. I couldn’t get any air down where I was.”
Eventually, their screams were heard by someone in the hotel…