The Tedium of Baseball

A review of “The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season” and “33 Days.”

Blue Rider
The games drag on: in 2014, they averaged a record three hours and two minutes. The statistics pile up: thanks to Statcast player-tracking technology, data will soon include metrics such as ball spin and launch rates. And now comes a book called The Grind. If baseball doesn’t watch out, mind-numbed fans will need uppers to stick with the sport.

But don’t let Barry Svrluga’s title deter you. In fact, the Washington Post sportswriter’s portrait of the intricate tedium of “baseball’s endless season” delivers a surprising pick-me-up. Forget the sentimental excess of Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer (1972). Skip the high-flown analysis of George Will’s Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (1990). Svrluga’s brisk, down-to-earth account takes us inside the heads of members of the Washington Nationals organization—from a starting pitcher on up to the general manager—as they gear up for, and power through, 162 games in a 182-day season.

If every era gets the baseball books it deserves, The Grind is definitely one for ours. Svrluga reveals a culture of nonstop stress: a relentless rhythm of scouting odysseys, training routines, travel monotony, injuries—all before anyone gets out on the field. No wonder these guys are obsessive. But they must also be undaunted. In our distracted, data-saturated age, grittier models of excelling would be hard to find.

Melville House

A caravan of cars, trucks, bicycles, baby carriages, horse-pulled carts—anything with wheels, everything piled high with stuff—jammed the roads out of Paris in June 1940. Almost the entire city was fleeing the Nazis. As gas, tires, and hooves gave out, “limping pedestrians” carried on. Léon Werth, a novelist and critic who was among the hordes, was a sharp-eyed witness to the chaotic exodus.

He ended up in hiding in the Jura region of France, and the account he wrote has had a bumpy journey too. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—who dedicated The Little Prince to Werth, his beloved friend—smuggled the memoir out of the country as he fled to the U.S. in the fall of 1940. En route, he composed some lyrical thoughts about his own uprooted fate to serve as a preface. He found a publisher in New York, yet no book appeared. In 1992, Werth’s manuscript surfaced and was published in France. Last year, Melville House unearthed Saint-Exupéry’s introduction in a Canadian library.

The reunion was worth waiting for. In 33 Days, Werth scrutinizes the motley crowd from up close while his friend yearns from afar for idealized France of his soul mates. “Forgive me, Saint Ex,” Werth writes. “I recount the lowly; I tell, in the immensity of this war, the stories of insects.” The compatriots he’s thrown in with—peasants, soldiers, German sympathizers—can seem as alien as the enemy forces do. Werth arrives back in Paris, his vision of fraternité darker but also wider.

By Leon Werth (Introduction by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; translated by Austin Denis Johnston)

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