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[Book reviews]

The way it was
That Red Sox championship season

BY MARK BAZER

1918: Babe Ruth and the World Champion Boston Red Sox
By Allan Wood. Writers Club Press/iUniverse.com, 420 pages, $20.95.

Occasionally you see some dude in the Fenway bleachers wearing one of those T-shirts that says “Red Sox, 1918 World Champions.” An old joke, you might think to yourself, but, well, at least the guy’s wearing a shirt.

Yet do any of us so-called Sox fanatics really have a clue about the 1918 team? Maybe we could tell you that they faced the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Or that a 23-year-old named Babe Ruth was the team’s star. But for all most of us know, Harry Hooper wasn’t the veteran outfielder for the 1918 world champs but Mr. Hooper, the shopkeeper from Sesame Street.

Enter Allan Wood, who’s emerged from countless hours buried in old Boston Globes, Posts, Evening Records and other local dailies to tell us a Red Sox tale with a happy ending. The Vermont native’s first book is an intensely researched and entertaining read, even if it occasionally wanders.

The author understands that the usual game-by-game analysis and even the novelty of a Sox championship won’t sustain a book. What made the 1918 season so unusual were the Great War, a narrowly avoided strike in the middle of the World Series, and the emergence of Ruth as a national superstar known as much for his bat as for his pitching arm.

Wood handles the potentially confusing nature of professional baseball’s relation to the war especially well. Without overburdening the reader or losing sight of the pennant race, he reveals the chaotic nature of a league that was battling the government for the right to finish the season, all the while losing players to combat and war-related industries. Meanwhile, during a season in which his father died and he briefly quit the team, came down with tonsillitis, and battled management to pitch less and play in the field more, Babe Ruth still led the league in home runs and had a 2.22 ERA. And apparently he still managed to party and goof off every chance he got.

But just as Ruth overshadowed the rest of his team in real life, he does it again here. Wood’s account of his childhood and early baseball-playing days have been well documented and seem redundant. And by the time he gets to the Series itself, you may be surprised by how little you know about the other Sox players. It’s not until page 242 that we learn shortstop Everett Scott had “an ability to remain clear-headed and composed under pressure — and his glove work was unrivaled.” The chapters on the World Series, though carefully reported and even at times suspenseful, suffer as a result: it’s hard to feel an emotional connection with the team. Wood also tends to let unimportant details get in the way of his story. Why, I wonder, is it important or interesting that the announcer mispronounced Sox pitcher Jean Dubuc’s name?

On the other hand, Wood does offer compelling reporting on the off-the-field activity during the postseason. As different as the game was 80 years ago, the players’ grievances and their near-strike over what they considered paltry World Series shares is a reminder that bitter feuds over money aren’t a new phenomenon that has destroyed a once-innocent game.

Wood ends the book with a matter that’s teased on the back cover: “Was the 1918 World Series fixed?” Given that kind of hype, you’d expect more than the brief chapter that he concludes with: “From the available evidence, it cannot be determined whether or not the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs was fixed.” This last-minute investigation comes off as something of a gimmick. Wood, however, published this book himself through a vanity press, and he needs to fight for publicity and distribution. A seasoned publisher ought to take note and, with a tight edit, give him a prominent spot on the vast Red Sox bookshelf.

1918:Babe Ruth and the World Champion Boston Red Sox is available through online bookstores, as well as the author's website:

www.1918redsox.com .

Issue Date: June 7-14, 2001