REVIEW: 'Down to the Last Pitch' by Tim Wendel
To get a better understanding of this legendary World Series, author Tim Wendel breaks down every game by using the words and stories from the players who were in the middle of the action. Wendel was a founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly and he has authored ten books. His years of being around the game of baseball are evident throughout the book's chapters.
This specific World Series will always be marked as a special time in baseball. Changes would hit the game hard in the coming years. Performance enhancing drugs and labor unrest would be baseball's themes for the next decade. "In a lot of ways it will always be a sweet spot in time," said Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau. "Not only did this one Series have everything you ever wanted in terms of pressure games and great performances, you also look back on it fondly because of what was to come, the challenges the game would soon face."
Each chapter of this 253-page book is dedicated to one game in the Series. However, Wendel doesn't just retell the story of each pitch or each at-bat. He delves into the back-stories of the players on the rosters for the Braves and the Twins. He explores other stories from around the baseball world, like Ricky Henderson's stolen base record, Nolan Ryan's final no-hitter and Pete Rose being banned for life.
Baseball is never about one team or one player. It is about the stories and the history that take place on an everyday basis.
One of my favorite stories in the book took place in spring training 1991. The author, a man who covered National League baseball until '91, was trying to get to know the teams and players of the American League. He showed up late one evening to the Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers and he heard someone taking batting practice.
What he ended up finding was Kent Hrbek, Chili Davis and Dan Gladden watching Kirby Puckett taking hacks in the batting cage. Some interesting conversations took place as a strange reporter showed up to their impromptu batting session and it ended with an interesting back-and-forth between the parties involved.
"Puckett exited the batting cage and Hrbek took his place.
'But Baseball Weekly, man, you have to ask yourself something,' Puckett continued.
I shrugged, not sure what he was talking about.
'How many teams are taking BP at this hour?' Puckett asked.
'Probably none,' I replied.
'Exactly,' Hrbek said."
Did those extra spring training BP sessions pay off for the Twins? No one may ever know but the team wound up in the middle of a World Series for the ages. Five of the seven games were decided in the home team's last at-bat, four games were decided on the last pitch and three games finished in extra-innings.
Wendel's baseball acumen and historical knowledge make this a book for any baseball fan. This isn't just a story of the Twins winning or the Braves losing. It is a snapshot of baseball in the early 1990's, a simpler time when "everyone involved was left with memories of the last fine time in baseball."