Book Review: Is This a Great Game, or What? by Tim Kurkjian
by Bob Timmermann
Tim Kurkjian, a longtime beat writer covering the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles as well as a stint at Sports Illustrated and now a talking head for ESPN, has penned an autobiography of sorts Is This a Great Game, or What? And is this a great book, or what? Well, it’s not really a great book.
Kurkjian’s book is a salute to anecdotes. Lots of ‘em. Did you know Cal Ripken was really competitive? If you didn’t know that, Kurkjian has about 40 different anecdotes about Ripken.
Do you like hearing stories from Rich Donnelly? If the answer is no, you might want to skip several chapters of the book.
Do you want to know about how scouts have a tough job and no one seems to respect them anymore? Well, you can read the 16 pages of anecdotes devoted to scouts. It’s mostly just two scouts going on and on, but you can dip in and see if isn’t anything you haven’t heard before.
Do you want to know about things that bug Kurkjian about baseball? Like how fielders can get assists on plays that result in errors. Or how hitting for the cycle is no big deal. Hey, if hitting for the cycle wasn’t a big deal would I bother putting it on the sidebar and creating a complicated alert system? Yellow alert if a player needs a triple or homer, orange alert if a player needs a double, red alert if a player needs a single.
Do you want to know inside details about how Harold Reynolds got fired from ESPN? I think a lot of people would. Kurkjian speaks glowingly about Reynolds and describes him as one of the best people to work with on “Baseball Tonight.” But Reynolds current status is omitted except for one reference to him being a “former ESPN analyst.” Although in this instance, I would assume the ongoing litigation between Reynolds and ESPN likely forced Kurkjian and his publisher to keep quiet on the topic.
Kurkjian loves the game of baseball and loves it in much the same way I do. He likes the day-to-day drama and despite his dislike for the cycle, he relishes much of the minutiae about the sport that I do. But I really wanted more out of this book than just a series of nibbles.
The only chapter where the anecdotes don’t seem to be all about Ripken is Chapter 6 “My Face Was Crushed by a Bowling Ball Going 90 MPH,” where Kurkjian discusses how fear is a major element in baseball. The stories from Kevin Seitzer are somewhat gruesome as is Bryce Florie’s story about getting hit by a line drive through the box from Ryan Thompson. Those anecdotes actually bring a topic that players and managers don’t like to talk out in the open, instead of the other chapters where the anecdotes seem repetitive.
I suppose the book got off to a bad start on Page 9 when Kurkjian described Danny Ainge as “perhaps the best all-around athlete of the past 25 years.” Danny Ainge? Is this a wacky idea, or what?