As our calendar flips over to March, it’s finally that time of year to once again think about my first love: baseball. The players and coaches have reported to Florida or Arizona, and spring training is in full swing. My favorite team is the Baltimore Orioles, so the spring of 2019 brings with it an imperishable hope that the O’s can somehow rebound from one of the worst, most laughable seasons in baseball history. But that’s one of the beautiful things about baseball, no matter the record or the background narrative, every game can be separately taken in its own context, and memories can be forged deep within what other sports might call “meaningless games.” One other great thing about baseball: the swearing and constant bad behavior. Dropping F-bombs, chasing pussy, doing drugs all while being revered (mostly unfairly) as heroes in their communities held to the highest of standards. This cultivates interesting stories from the players that survived them. For this edition of the TehBen.com Book Club, we examine a unique combination of these two favorites, with a collection of anecdotes from one of the game’s more interesting people.
108 Stitches, by former MLB pitcher and longtime broadcaster Ron Darling is a loosely organized collection of memories, stories, and all the other outright crazy shit from his lifetime in the game. As a self-admitted “slightly less-than-legendary player”, Darling has seen everything during his stints with the New York Mets, Montreal Expos, and Oakland A’s. He even managed to win a ring in one of the most memorable World Series ever, in 1986. The 108 stitches, by the way, represent the construction of the actual baseball itself. Pulling one thread reveals an important baseball story in his life, then connected to another, soon exposing how everything within the game is connected. This concept is expressed through Darling’s seemingly encyclopedic memory of players and coaches, almost all of which have a memorable story that you’ve most likely never heard before.
It has become a tired description (mostly thanks to politics) when someone “tells it like it is,” but honestly, it’s the best way to describe Ron Darling’s colorful musings inside this book. 108 Stitches is nothing close to a poetic or misty-eyed remembrance of America’s Pastime. Ken Burns Baseball and Field of Dreams have their place in baseball history, but this is more focused on the real shit that goes down, expressed in it’s raw original lexicon. Darling doesn’t try to soil the game in any way, and there are plenty of truly beautiful moments discussed. However, playing in the 1980’s alongside people like Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Strawberry, it’s important and well-executed for the authors to take special care to -sigh- tell it like it is.
The conversational tone is what makes this book really shine. Darling spills his guts on hundreds of baseball personalities with reflections of both on and off the field memories. It feels like he’s hanging out in the living room with us, cracking open a few beers and orating about how Frank Thomas was a big whiny baby, or how Moneyball subject Billy Beane had an elaborate system for trying to pick up girls. Darling also takes great care to describe the problems with baseball lifers, as a lot of baseball people are actually complete dicks (a story about his first big league manager spitting a mouthful of tobacco juice on him will be forever stuck in my mind).
I try to think about the possibility of players from the current era of the MLB sharing stories like this and I think it’s going to be a struggle. The ball players of the 1980’s might end up being the last great storytellers. While the massive, culturally separating size of the paychecks top players get today is one thing, I just don’t see modern players being this articulate. There’s no desire to make memories anymore, and no tall tales to share. With everything documented on social media, and cameras in everyone’s hands 24/7, baseball lore is going to be tougher to cultivate and record with each passing year. Oh yeah, there’s that and the infield shift. The infield shift really sucks too.
Verdict: 108 Stitches by Ron Darling is a fantastic memoir that digs into nearly every facet of baseball culture from the last 30 years. This is not a book for baseball n00bs, as the content is raw, unfiltered, and meant for the baseball lifers (or lifer fans) like himself. That being said, if you’re someone that wants to take in the greatest game that’s ever been invented from a new, straight-shooter perspective, this book should be in your library or on your coffee table in April 2019.
St. Martin’s Press generously provided TehBen.com with an advanced review copy of 108 Stitches. All thoughts and opinions are my own.