This excerpt appears in the book From Black Sox to Three-Peats by Ron Rapoport. The editor spoke with Bill Littlefield on Only A Game. (Listen to our interview and read Bill’s book review.)
‘A Very Solid Book’
By Mike Royko
March 12, 1987
A New York publishing house has sent me a copy of a new paperback book it has just brought out.
With it came a note that said: “We take pleasure in presenting you with this review copy and ask that you please send two copies of your notices to our offices.”
I seldom review books in my column. The Chicago paper for which I write has a section that takes care of that. But in this case, I’m going to make an exception.
The book is called “If At First. . .” with a subtitle that says “With the exclusive inside story of the 1986 Championship Season.”
The author is Keith Hernandez, who is the first baseman on the New York Mets baseball team. Actually, he didn’t write it— some professional ghostwriter did.
But the words and story originated with Hernandez. I will begin my review by saying that this is a very solid book. The moment I opened the package and saw what it was about, I threw it against my office wall as hard as I could.
Then I slammed it to the floor and jumped up and down on it. I beat on it with a chair for several minutes until I slumped onto my couch, emotionally and physically spent. Although slightly scuffed, the book was still intact.
It is also a book that can cause excitement. I dropped it on the desk of a friend who has had weekend season tickets at Wrigley Field for the past 10 years. It immediately stirred him to emotional heights. He shouted:
“Why are you showing me that piece of (deleted)? I say (deleted) Hernandez and (deleted) the Mets and (deleted) the whole (deleted) city of New York. And (deleted) you, too.”
Then he flung it against a wall and gave it a kick. It still remained intact. I told you it was a solid book.
It’s a book that can move a sensitive reader to tears, as I discovered when I showed it to a man who has been going to Cub games since 1946, a year what is known as The Beginning of Darkness.
When he looked at the cover, he choked back a sob, a tear trickled down his cheek, and he said: “Why them? Why not us? What was our sin? How can we atone for it? You know, I asked my clergyman that, and he said he wishes he knew, because he lost $50 betting against them.”
And it’s a powerful book. As reviewers like to say: It can hit you right in the guts. This was proven to me when I showed it to a confirmed bleacherite who said: “Excuse me. I’m going to throw up.”
But enough of generalities. Let us consider the contents of this book.
On the very first page, Hernandez and his ghostwriter say: “ad made the second out on a long the Mets were through for 1986: 0 out, nobody on, two runs down, ox already leading the World Series en our scoreboard operator at”
And on page 81, Hernandez says: “round during infield practice, I draw a line man and myself and call our manager over avy? I ask. He laughs.”
Moving to page 125, we find: “Oh, sweet bird of youth, however, were a different story. It’s diff — quietly as I work my way out of a bad me to listen to his judgments. I wrong with my swing. I know hot to th hard-headed. Dand and I have had”
I know, it sounds kind of garbled, incomprehensible. But that’s the way a story reads when you rip the pages of a book in half, one by one, as I’ve been doing.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not doing that out of spite. I’m a good sport, a cheerful loser. Why, in the last two years, I don’t think I’ve watched my video of the movie “Fail Safe,” in which New York gets nuked, more than 30 or 40 times.
The fact is, I have found this to be a useful book.
I have been tearing out the pages and crumpling them into little wads.
When I have about 30 or 40 of these wads, I will put them in my fireplace under the kindling and light them. They’re excellent for getting a fire started.
Then I pour myself a drink, lower the lights, sit back, and stare at the crackling flames.
And I pretend that I’m looking at Shea Stadium.