Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost - Lew Freedman

"Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost"
Lew Freedman
McFarland Publishing, 2009
210 pages



This week Mark Buehrle set a Major League record for consecutive outs with 45. This came on heels of Buehrle pitching a perfect game, followed by almost another six "perfect" innings in the following game. Without fail, during the media coverage of Buehrle's streak, Harvey Haddix's flirt with perfection 50 years prior was ushered to the forefront of baseball discussion. Chicago-based sportswriter Lew Freedman recreates the events of May 26, 1959 with his new book, Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost, placing the reader in a box seat for all of the action.

Imagine pitching not only nine innings of perfect baseball as Buehrle did, but pitching 12 in an extra inning game, only to lose in the end. To add insult to injury, 30-something years later, a minor rule change strikes your no-hitter from the record books. Such is the story of "Hard-Luck" Harvey Haddix.

Follow Haddix as he battles flu-like symptoms to silence the bats of greats such as Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. Freedman keeps the reader on the edge of their seat as the game tightens with each zero placed on the board. Every inning, you receive insider commentary from Haddix's teammates as he records another trifecta. As the game goes along you hope that the Pirates can string together a few of their 12 hits off of Lew Burdette to push a runner across the plate.

You are clued into the mind of Manager Danny Murtaugh, dissecting each move as you approach the later stages of the contest. Will Murtaugh summon ace reliever Roy Face? Will a pinch-hitter appear for Haddix in the late innings? Conspicuously absent from the lineup was the injured Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, opening the door for Roman Mejias to start. Mejias would later gain infamy on a key play during the early stages of the game. Would the result have been different with the Puerto Rican star in the lineup?

In between the description of the game's events, Freedman delivers insightful profiles of the players on the field for Pittsburgh, allowing the reader to gain a look at lesser known players that contributed that day such as: Bob Skinner, Dick Schofield, Dick Stuart, Rocky Nelson, and Smoky Burgess.

Sadly, no footage of this game exists. The Pirates were on the road and the local TV station KDKA chose to show a speech of vice-president Richard Nixon instead of the game between the Braves and the Pirates. This is why this book excels. With the recently released footage of Don Larsen's perfect game, the mystique of what actually transpired has been diminished. It is no longer a story told by only those who were there to witness it. Freedman's script of Haddix's game and its surroundings only enhance the legend of Haddix's duel with Burdette. If you want an illumination of one baseball's most magical games, Freedman serves up a winner in detailing the greatest game ever lost.


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