"108" Baseball Literary Magazine, Summer 2006
Book review: Red Legs and Black Sox
Proving that there really are two sides to every story, author Susan Dellinger has used her keen familial insight and spectacular research to write Red Legs and Black Sox (Emmis Books). Though there is a countless number of books/movies/plays/poems/maybe even songs about the 1919 World Series, nothing has ever been produced like Dellinger's Red Legs and Black Sox. The granddaughter of the Reds' star centerfielder Edd Roush, Dellinger tells us about the infamous Series through the victor's perspective ... and it's generally a wonderful read. Dellinger, who used some of her extra material from the book to produce a Teammates article in the premiere issue of 108 about the friendship of Roush and Bill McKechnie (http://www.108mag.com/pdfs/issues/Teammates Summer2006.pdf), skillfully weaves a biography, a love story and a historical "mystery."
The first section of the book walks us through the beginning of Roush's career, from his local team in Indiana to his beginnings with the Reds, and Dellinger playfully foreshadows the 1919 Series with mentions of gambling and the key characters in the scandal. The second section of the book then examines the Series, mostly from the Reds' perspective including the man who first tipped Roush off to the fix. Throughout the book, Dellinger offers touching references to her grandmother (Roush's wife Essie Mae), helping to paint Roush as a complete man ... not just a batting champion.
Dellinger's most-impressive feat was displaying the importance of two new characters in the scandal. The first was a newspaper salesman named Jimmy Widmeyer, who was friends with both the gamblers and ball players. The second was detective Cal Crim, who was hired by AL President Ban Johnson to investigate the fix. I'll not ruin the story with the details of these two characters, but I found their side stories fascinating.
A device that Dellinger uses often is the hypothetical conversation. Though some will be turned off by her putting words in the mouths of others, I believe it's a great novelistic approach to a historical tale, especially one that's been told so many times. It's so much more entertaining to "imagine" what these conversations were, as long as a reader keeps in mind the hypothetical nature of these quotations (and Dellinger does remind us through footnotes). Speaking of footnotes, there's some great stuff in the myriad notes, but it's always tough to find them at the end of a chapter rather than the "foot."
The book also has some great photos and cartoons. My favorite was of gambler Abe Attell standing behind the Reds' bench prior to the first game of the 1919 Series. Unfortunately, Red Legs and Black Sox does have a few too many grammatical errors. When I find a single missing space in a book, it makes me say, 'Ah-hah, I gotcha!' ... but when I find error after error, it becomes very distracting. Every chapter has a lead-in quotation, and chapters 9 and 11 begin with the same quotation ... attributed to DIFFERENT people and more than 60 years apart! There's a few mispelled words, sentences without punctuation, inconsistent spacing, and there's some footnote problems (they don't match up properly in a few instances).
Still, if you can overlook the "small stuff" (and it's easy to do with such a great tale) and get used to Dellinger's novelistic approach to historical storytelling, you'll find Red Legs and Black Sox to be a real page-turner that offers great insight into the life of Edd Roush and the Reds' World Championship in 1919.
For those who've already enjoyed Red Legs and Black Sox, a bonus chapter can be found at http://www.redlegsandblacksox.com/bonus.html.
- Phil Osterholt
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