For the past half century, the mornings of fans of the Cincinnati Reds in the Dayton area have included the prose of columnist Hal McCoy. After 50 years of writing about the Red Legs, McCoy shared his experiences with readers in a new memoir, “The Real McCoy: My Half-Century with the Cincinnati Reds.” McCoy has become a national story of sorts, as he has dealt with his declining vision throughout the past decade of covering the Reds. The book opens by detailing a conversation in which former Red’s infielder motivated McCoy to continue to cover the Reds despite his vision. However, the storyline plays little role in the book after the first chapter.
The book reads as history. McCoy thoroughly chronicles his entire life from childhood as a semi-pro baseball player’s son, to his coverage of the Dusty Baker era. McCoy makes few attempts at humility — stories of his childhood include detailed tales of his little league exploits, where failure is always explained by bad luck. However, while McCoy’s book reads as if it was written by journalist, the self-deprecating portions are presented as a simple statement of facts.
However, the largest issue with the book is the misplacement of detail. For example, as loyal seam-heads will know, McCoy’s tenure saw him cover the greatest baseball game ever played, game six of the 1975 World Series.
This game is so highly revered in baseball lore, and loyal fans, such as myself, are so familiar with the game’s details that a mere retelling does nothing but tease our interest. McCoy only spends a page and a half on the game, and what he produces gives the reader little more than he could glean from a box score. McCoy recounts the dramatic events of the evening in the plainest fashion.
For the sake of comparison, look how McCoy describes Carlton Fisk’s childlike efforts to force his sailing fly ball inside Fenway Park’s left field foul pole: “After taking a few sutter steps, Fisk began gesturing with his arms for the ball to stay fair.” In his account of the game, famed New Yorker writer Roger Angell described Fisk’s actions more vividly: “Fisk waving wildly weaving and writhing and gyrating along the first-base line as he whished the ball fair forced it fair with his entire body.”
Angell’s description does more than just relay information to the reader; he puts the reader right in the middle of Fenway Park. Even as an outsider to the Red Sox fandom, Angell’s vivid descriptions do not just allow the images of game six to dance before my eyes, but he also explains the emotion the game is full of. McCoy never does this throughout his memoir.
I understand, of course, from reading McCoy that the Reds lose game six. However, I have no sense of what it must be like to finally feel so close to the pay-off for the summer’s passionate devotion, only to see it float away into bank of light illuminating an autumn night in New England. That’s what I wanted from the book. Great baseball writing can do that; Angell made me feel the complete and utter joy of Red Sox fans that night. Grant Brisbee of McCoveyChronicles.com is able to illuminate the continued fervor of Giants fans. Ben Lindberg of grantland.com can have me rooting for a failed prospect by the end of an article. This book merely told me what happened.
If you have exhausted the great cannon of baseball writing and are searching for something new to pick up, then this book certainly will not be painful to read. It is crisp and clean. But I would stop short of dropping my school work to grab.