I was recently asked by the publisher Little Brown and Co to review the book The House that Ruth Built by Robert Weintraub. I read the quick blurb about the book "A new stadium, The First Yankees Championship and the Redemption of 1923". I was pretty up front with my response to editor about how I was a slow reader and that I was not a Yankees fan but that I wouldn't mind taking a look. I like history. I did not know too much about the history of Babe Ruth or the Yankees and I figured I may get an education.
Weintraub weaves a very interesting story about Babe Ruth, the NY Giants Coach and anti-Yankee man John McGraw, the Yankees' owners Ruppert and Huston and the building of Yankee's Stadium. The first few chapters read more like historical fiction than a typical baseball book filled with statistics and assumed knowledge of players. Weintraub does a nice job dropping in enough modern day references like Rocky Balboa or more modern landscape references that gives the reader (me) a better visualisation than say your customary black and white photo reference.
I think that The House that Ruth Built does an excellent job at providing details, like the quantity of bolts used for Yankee Stadium, but without making the book too statistical. Everyone and everything in the book is described with personality. At one point I found myself reading as if the stadium itself was an actual character in the story. Which is understandable since every ball player in that era had a nickname that sounded like a serial killer, like "Sultan of Swat", "Jumpin Joe", "Bootnose" or "Gink".
More importantly than the detail and descriptions Weintraub does an incredible job of bringing to life the secondary personalities and lesser know characters from that era. He gives meaning and punch and purpose to construction workers, sportswriters, coaches, players and other influences to the story and the life of Ruth and theYankees.
And that right there is what makes this book such a great read. The lesser known or forgotten personalities are part of the mix. If the book were fiction these people would be considered supporting characters. But they weren't characters, they were people. People with minor influence but influence non the less.
Hearing a heartbreaking love song after a breakup gives that song much more impact. Seeing a funny movie at the right time or with the right people makes the movie that much more funny. Reading a book and liking it or feeling good about it , I believe, much like hearing a song or seeing a movie is all about the timing. Reading The House that Ruth Built is perfect in it's timing for me.
This year I am again coaching Maxfield in his Little League team. Is the next Babe Ruth on my team? Who knows. But I am aware (even more so now because I am reading this book) of all the secondary and minor influences that are happening now. If a book is written about Cole or Zach or Shamus or Nick or Billy or the other handful of kids on the team, will I be mentioned? And if so, will it be in a good way or a bad way? Was I the coach that did too much or too little? Will Maxfield be an influence on a future great player? Will he himself be a great player?
So as I read the House that Ruth Built I read every character and every name and I quickly think of the other coaches, players and other volunteers I know who give meaning and punch and purpose to the kids playing on my team. It makes Weintraub's book that much better.
I hope someday a book is written where I get a mention. I just hope it is not a book about a serial killer.