Review: "The Final Season" by Tom Stanton
On a pleasant evening filled with the light of the setting sun, Adrian, Jack, Scott, and Ted gathered at an outside table to talk baseball and our latest book, The Final Season, Tom Stanton’s memoir of the ties that baseball creates between fathers and sons, and between complete strangers across time.
The book is a combination of memoir, baseball history (specifically of the Detroit Tigers), and a way of bearing witness to the passing of a beloved place (Tiger Stadium) into the fading memory of history. When Detroit played its last season in Tiger Stadium during the spring, summer, and early fall of 1999, Stanton––a journalist and avid Tiger fan––decided to attend every one of the 82 home games. It’s true that Tiger Stadium (which opened in April of 1912) had seen better days by the time of the final season. The building was falling into a state of disrepair and plans were in place to move the Tigers to the brand new Comerica Park. Despite the obvious physical defects, not everyone was happy about the move, and Stanton shares conversations on this topic with a number of visitors and employees during the final games. He also explores his family’s history with baseball and how a love of the Tigers extended back as far as he could remember. It’s a love he tries to share with his own sons, with varying success.
The format of the book was a surprise because one would expect excruciating detail about each of the 82 games, but instead Stanton uses the games as the context for his stories about family and about baseball. It’s the setting for his conversations with the owner of the souvenir stand, or the guy who runs a parking lot, or the people who come from across the country for one last visit to the old ball park. Angelo (by email) commented, “It was an interesting format for what seemed more like a memoir than a book about baseball itself.” Irv agreed, writing, “I did not get invested in the author's family history but did enjoy the baseball history.” Others did not enjoy this story-telling so much: “He tells some good stories but way too much family/personal stuff for a baseball book.” Or “I love baseball and generally like baseball memoirs. This particular one, not so much. I'm about halfway through and will probably not finish.”
Using the book as context ourselves, we talked about our own relationships with baseball. All four of us at the table Thursday night had played baseball as kids in some way. We all played with our friends in empty lots, a couple of us played organized Little League, and Adrian played in a college intramural league. Scott was a passionate fan, brought up on the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, watching Carl Furillo (“the Reading Rifle”), Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Roy Campanella. Jack grew up in Omaha––home of the College World Series––but he was more interested in playing the game than in watching it. Adrian was not a baseball fan, perhaps because the Braves had just left Milwaukee when his family arrived from Holland. Ted was a Detroit Tigers fan and had attended a couple of games at Tigers Stadium in the 1970s and ‘80s. Unfortunately, none of us ever had the thrill of meeting a professional ball player.
Almost all of those writing in their comments before the meeting were baseball fans as well. Angelo “appreciated the part [baseball] played in my relationship with my son... and now my son and his adult son (they are going to a Cubs game next week).” Irv was reminded of “riding the train into Chicago to watch the Cubs with my dad back in the days of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and when all the games were day games.” John was a season ticket-holder for the San Diego Padres, “even during the season they got pounded by the Tigers as is often mentioned,” and he attended a game during Comiskey Park's last season. Ron knew former Detroit catcher, Bill Freehan, but explicitly stated that he has “zero interest in professional baseball.”
We ultimately enjoyed the book, or maybe we enjoyed the chance to re-visit our youth. Either way, The Final Season earned an average score of 4 out of 5 for Readability and a 3.5 out of 5 for Interest. Most would not read another book by Stanton, but a couple of us might, depending on the subject.
Next month, on June 18th, we will take a look at our Earthly interests through the eyes of Colonel Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.