Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Miracle at Fenway (2014)

By Saul Wisnia

Those that thought fans of Boston Red Sox had an unquenchable thirst for books reviewing the 10th anniversary of their memorable season put those boosters to a good test in 2014.

At other points on this blog, you can find reviews of Ian Browne's "Idiots Revisited" and Allan Wood and Bill Nowlin's "Don't Let Us Win Tonight." Now comes "Miracle at Fenway" from veteran writer Saul Wisnia. I think I'm close to done.

Wisnia has done other books, including one on Fenway Park, and has a blog on baseball. At last look, he works for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, regionally famous in New England for its Jimmy Fund, which has a long relationship with the Red Sox.

While the other two books concentrate almost entirely on the 2004 season, Wisnia widens the scope of this book quite a bit. It essentially starts in 2000 with the beginning of the process that saw the team be sold. The new ownership group headed by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino took over in 2002. And away we go.

After a variety of changes in 2002, the Red Sox were ready to contend again. In 2003, the team came close, losing in Game Seven to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. If you believe that a season begins the day after the previous season ends, then the story of the 2004 campaign begins on page 125 of the 278 pages of text. That's later than was probably expected.

Wisnia goes through the story of the season in a straight-forward manner. Red Sox fans can recite the details by heart, of course. There's the hot start, a mediocre middle, the Varitek/A-Rod scrum, the Garciaparra, the run to the playoffs, and the postseason itself. To fill in the details, the author checks in with a variety of people. Surprisingly, the players contribute a rather small percentage of the material - and few of the stars provide fresh material, although they turn up with quotes from other sources. We hear from Lucchino, and we hear from a Fenway Park peanut vendor. And some people in between - including Jason Varitek's parents, but not Varitek himself.

This is written with a little distance; in other words, Wisnia is obviously a fan of the team, but his editorial judgments on what happened during those years seem to be more or less on target. This is also a quick read, but in fairness this may be a case of the events being so familiar that it's easy for some (well, me) to go through it.

There are better books out there on that Red Sox team. There aren't many revelations here, and some of the fan experiences related in the book aren't overly gripping. But "Miracle at Fenway" still works as a to-the-point, easy-read recap for casual fans of a magical time for an iconic franchise, which I think partly explains the glowing reviews on Amazon.com. Therefore, if you want a one-volume recap of what happened then, this is a good destination.

Three stars

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