In Cait Murphy’s Crazy ’08, she offers up a detailed account of the events that helped transform baseball in the early twentieth century through a chronological analysis of the season that is highlighted with the National League pennant race between the Chicago Cubs, New York Giants,and the Pittsburgh Pirates. According to Murphy, baseball in 1908 represented a shift that symbolized the spirit of America. It had riots and deaths; scandals and arrests, the bizarre and the beautiful; the sublime and the ridiculous. The whole season was with the drama, tragic, odd, and merely the incredible. (xiv). It would reach its climax in one of the most famous games in baseball history and forever change the lives of every player involved in it.
Over its long history, baseball historians or the casual fan continually debate which decade or year propelled the game to the next level. Whether it was the emergence of Babe Ruth or the live ball era of the 1920s, each year has told a significant story to the rise of the game in America culture. Murphy’s narrative parallels these other books that focuses in on a specific year by capturing the microcosms that made up the different personalities of the game. In addition to transporting the reader back to 1908, her writing style and background in American studies allows for more personable breakdown of the different events and players that would help set up the controversial make-up game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Cubs.
Murphy’s ability to combine the narrative of the 1908 season with players’ accounts allows for a more personal approach to understanding the different characters that makes baseball uniquely different than any other sport. While John McGraw and Christy Mathewson continue to etch their place in baseball history, it is her characterization of players like the Chicago Cubs Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker that let readers become completely immersed in the time period. However, it her sympathetic portrayal of Fred Merkle and the infamous “bonehead” mistake in the pivotal game between the Cubs that leaves a lasting impact. Merkle’s return to a standing ovation at the Polo Grounds in 1950 for an Old-timers game left him in tears. (295).
While Murphy’s strength is retelling the story of the 1908 baseball season, her attempt at bringing in other non-baseball related events to show the changes to America culture was not as successful. This analysis actually took away from the flow of the narrative and created a minor disjoint in different chapters. Yet, it does not take away from her overall argument that shows the way cities and its fans gravitated to the pennant race that forever change the perception of the game. There will definitely be those who disagree with Murphy that 1908 was the greatest year, but it is hard to deny that 1908 is one the most influential in the long history of the game.