The book: “Slide! The Baseball Tragicomedy That Defined Me, My Family, and the City of Philadelphia – And How It All Could Have Been Avoided Had Someone Just Listened to My Lesbian Great Aunt (1964 Phillies)”
The author: Carl Wolfson
How to find it: Mascot Books, 224 pages, $19.95, released December 5, 2017
The links: At Amazon.com, at the publishers website.
A review in 90-feet or less: Another pluck from the late ’17 releases, long after our list last year was assembled and released.
We won’t make a habit of this, but because of the subject matter, and the timing, this comes at an opportune moment.
Consider just the first few games that Gabe Kapler, rookie manager for the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies, the former Taft High of Woodland Hills kid, has already gone through.
Kapler is “Unlike Any Manager Phillies Fans Have Known (and Booed),” according to a New York Times headline over the weekend. And that’s before all the bizarre moves he has made with his bullpen that caused MLB to take notice.
That also led to a Deadspin.com post: “Gabe Kapler’s Cosmic Brain is Putting The Phillies In Some Tough Spots.”
“The label Philly fans get is that they’re tough,” Kapler says in the NYT story. “Well, they just want you to play well, play with passion, sacrifice your body and never take a play off. Is that tough, or is it … normal? I see it as normal.”
Now, meet the Wolfsohn family (spelling later changed by the author to “Wolfson”). Party of five from Arlington, Va., who had to move back to Philly via Jersey, and became die-hard Phillies fans just in time for the darkest period of the franchise history.
A period still book-worthy because of the honest laughs it continues, in this instance, to generate.
If you’re already familiar with the premise of “The Goldbergs” or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” then it’s not much of a stretch to imagine how someone like Wolfson could still create his own sit-com treatment based on his journey of faith during the Phillies Great Collapse of ’64 – a point in time where Wolfson still has (and shows on the back cover) a pennant from that time proclaiming the Phillies as the 1964 National League Champions.
Wolfson, who has what’s probably a useless PoliSci degree from UCLA, once did stand-up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and then gravitated to morning radio in Portland from 2007-’16, has nailed down a period of time in Major League Baseball history that for too long was documented only by historians and journalists who loved that they could prove the point that a pennant race is never over ‘til it’s over.
It’s the bleakest mark on Gene Mauch’s managerial career – similiar to Kapler, an L.A. native, who was just a 38-year-old skipper at the time, but still in his fifth season with the Phillies (Kapler, who the Dodgers’ front office once had pegged as the replacement for Don Mattingly in ’16, is 42).
That ’64 collapse mucked up Mauch through his career of semi-successes in Montreal, Minnesota and Anaheim until his passing in 2005.
Yet, it’s the fertile comic fodder for which “Slide!” brings out just how much a family can invest in a baseball team, in denial all the while a 10-game lead in the NL dissipates over the last 12 games, as displayed by showing the the standings change as they introduce each chapter.
Listen, if you’re not laughing at this point, you’re crying. And in the end – not to blow the punchline – there are tears, but Carl is left trying to cheer everyone up.
“Next year,” says his dad at the end of Chapter 21.
“ ‘Next Year’ never came,” Wolfson starts the Epilogue. But he does live to see the 1980 Phillies World Championship, and is able to convey his tearfully emotional conversation with his mom and dad at that moment.
An excerpt: To get a sense of just how pristine Wolfson comically crafts this story with this small publishing house that seems to welcome tales such as this, we offer up this piece from Chapter 6, a flash back to September, 1963, when Wolfson went to his first Phillies game at Connie Mack Stadium – a Friday night doubleheader – with a friend and his dad who drove them.
“An expanse of very green grass, bright brown dirt and important white lines were boxed in on three sides by canopied seats, flush with fans. On the fourth side, in right field, a tall, green-paneled wall completed the perimeter. Light standards rose high into the blue sky, their enormous bulbs pointing downward to the busy boys of summer who jawed and trotted and bent their knees for a go at pepper.
“ ‘They could have 30,000 here today,’ Mr. Spang said as we sat. ‘Sandy Koufax is pitching for the Dodgers.’
“I had heard of Sandy Koufax, so I knew he was important. I also liked how his name sounded and whispered it.
“ ‘Who’s pitching for us?’ Jeffrey asked.
“ ‘Chris Short in the first game,’ his dad answered. ‘I’m not sure about the nightcap.’
“ ‘Dennis Bennett,’ a voice fell upon us.
“We turned and saw a porky guy pinched into the row behind us. He was in his mid-20s, with a lazy right eye and questionable hygiene.
“ ‘He’s 8 and 3 with a 2.60 ERA,’ he said quickly, as if delivering secret and vital information. ‘Better than last year’s rookie stats of 9 and 9 and 3.81. Not a bad hitter either.’
“Lazy Eye grinned and continued his peanut shelling. We nodded thanks. …
“I then learned that the first All-Star Game under the lights was played here in 1943, during which (Lazy Eye’s) mother caught a ball which she later had autographed, but might now have to sell to help pay for her emphysema, which was her own damn fault for smoking too many Tareytons and was of less concern to him than his dog’s butt-rubbing on the living room carpet. The guy was a flat-out filibuster. …
“By the second game, Lazy Eye was up and bibbed for more chow.
“ ‘To the Phils!’ he toasted loudly, raising a cup of Schlitz that he ceremoniously laced with two Alka-Seltzers.”
How it goes into the scorebook: We let Wolfson explain:
“ ‘1964’ became a symbol for the city’s poor sports fortunes; the unparalleled collapse was analyzed, over-analyzed, debated and written about for years. It messed with a lot of people who clung to a deep feeling of betrayal or hurt .. Likely, it was the breaks of the game. The 1964 Phillies, though, had forever won my heart. Baseball was new to me then, as I cheered Ruben Amaro’s Gold Glove play at Connie Mack or tried to imitate Richie Allen on a scruffy field in Oaklyn. ‘Wes Covington, Tony Gonzalez and Johnny Callison’ would always be my outfield. No one would ever throw a better screwball than Jack Baldschun. If they finished in second place, they also gave me enough thrills for a lifetime. They were the team of my youth.”
As for Aunt Nelle, the lesbian great aunt and “reigning baseball authority in our family” mentioned in the title: Consider her the official scorer for this tell-it-like-it-is tale. It’s up to you to process her scorebook notations.