When I first started to be a Mets fan in the late seventies the team sucked. As I grew into my teens the organization was acquiring the talent that would lead to 1986 world series champions. Just as I was getting more heavily into my fandom players like Keith Hernandez and George Foster were being acquired. Players like Dwight Gooden and Len Dykstra were coming up from the minors. Just as I was coming into my own as a baseball fan the Mets were coming into their own as the dominant baseball team that they would be for the rest of the decade of the ’80s. The timing of my interest in baseball was such that as the team developed I was developing with them. For that reason the Mets teams of the mid to late ’80 (1982 to 1989) were my teams.
A large component of those teams was the starting pitching. And one of the better starting pitchers on those teams that had so many good starters was Ron Darling. So when the opportunity presented itself to review Darling’s new book, The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound, I jumped at it. And I wasn’t disappointed by what I read.
The aim of the book is not to chronicle Darling’s career but to get the reader inside the head of the pitcher at different points of a game. To do this Darling presents the book in such a way that each chapter represents a different inning of a game (9 innings plus a chapter about extra innings) with some introductory and post script text before and after. Most of the games are games that he played in (the first inning of his first major league start, the ninth inning of the division clincher in 1988) but a couple of them were games he was in the booth for (seventh inning of a Mets-Dodgers game in 2008).
Each chapter is concise and self contained. Darling tells how the game developed to the point of the highlighted inning and goes off on relevant tangents about related stories that contributed to his (or the pitcher in questions) frame of mind during the inning. Each chapter teaches you something else about the mental part of the pitchers job.
Great stories are sprinkled throughout the book. Stories about post game rides to Manhattan in the back of Rusty Staub’s van, becoming teammates with Frank Viola years after the he hooked up with Viola in one of the greatest college matchups of all time, Dave Duncan trying to redefine him as a pitcher at the tail end of his career, the poignant tale of the day he retired from playing and much much more.
Overall the book is educational, entertaining and enjoyable. Too many similar books seem as if they are lecturing to you. Darling’s writing makes you feel like he’s conversing with you. When reading this book I felt like a rookie getting valuable advice from a veteran instead of getting tobacco juice spit on my leg (as Darling explains Ron Hodges did to him on hist first day with the team).
On a scale of 1 to 5 (strikeout, single, double, triple, home run) this book is a home run (5).