Verducci's imagery yields vivid tales

February 28, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

Inside Baseball: The Best of Tom Verducci

Sports Illustrated Books/318 pages

Tom Verducci, a veteran journalist who has been the lead baseball writer for Sports Illustrated since 1993, doesn't really write features or profiles. Instead, he writes epics.

This is hardly news to the weekly devotees of SI, who have been quietly raving about Verducci's gifts for some time now. But reading the recently released anthology of his magazine work, Inside Baseball: The Best of Tom Verducci, one can't help but be awed, once again, by the carefully chosen rhythm of Verducci's sentences, and the authority with which he tackles narrative journalism. In this era of disposable culture - where sportswriting is being used with increasing frequency as little more than a rung on the ladder one must climb in order to become a television personality - Verducci still manages to make the written word speak the loudest.

Verducci's greatest strength in this 21-story collection is that he never clobbers you over the head with obvious metaphors, but he still manages to illuminate. Perhaps most impressively, he allows you, the reader, to relive scenes instead of just reading them. You practically see the tears running down Pedro Martinez's face on the dirt fields of Santo Domingo (The Power of Pedro). You shudder under the icy glare of a private man such as Sandy Koufax (The Left Arm of God). You feel helpless as you witness the deterioration of Mets prodigies Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden (The High Price of Hard Living).

Not every story in Verducci's collection strives to achieve the intensity of a Russian opera. There is humor (What is Rickey Henderson Doing in Newark?) as well as some stellar investigative journalism about baseball and steroids, an issue Verducci played a major role in uncovering (Totally Juiced). But the most powerful story in the book clearly came as a result of Verducci's decision to write not about a mythical curse after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, but instead about what it means to be a fan (At the End of the Curse, A Blessing). The poetry alone contained in the following sentences from that story make this book worthy of a spot on your shelf.

"What the Red Sox mean to their faithful - and larger still, what sport at its best means to American culture - never was more evident than at precisely 11:40 EDT on the night of Oct. 27. ... This Boston team connected generations, for the first time, with joy instead of disappointment as the emotional mortar. This team changed the way a people, raised to expect the worst, would think of themselves and the future. And the impact, like all things in that great wide community called Red Sox nation, resounded from cradle to grave."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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