The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw by Michael Sokolove
This may be the second book about L.A. baseball that I've written about in less than three months, but it's that time of year, and I adore baseball despite the fact that my ignorance on the subject is staggering. I used to fancy myself something of a baseball nut. I played baseball as a kid, I played softball as an adult, I attend at least one major or minor league game a year. I have watched a few episodes of that Ken Burns documentary. But you know what they say about a little bit of knowledge...
Anyway, one night I was at a party and the topic turned to Hank Aaron. Thinking that I remembered a fun fact from ole Ken Burns, and wanting to weigh in on the subject, I said quite innocently, "Wasn't he in the Klan or something?"
A stunned silence filled the room for a moment, then someone leaned over and whispered a clarifying fact in my ear. And then everyone pointed and laughed.
Turns out, I'd been thinking of Ty Cobb. Who was also not in the Klan (although he was, by most accounts, a racist and a terrific asshole).
But I digress.
The Ticket Out starts off with the 1979 Crenshaw High School baseball team, one of the most talented in the history of the LAUSD, and then picks up more than 20 years later to find out what happened to them.
Nearly every starting player on the 1979 team was being checked out by agents and scouts. Several were drafted right out of high school, including Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry was by far the most successful member of the original team (although, based on the memories of his former Crenshaw teammates and coach, not the most talented), but even he left baseball a man broken by drug addiction, financial problems, and cancer. As for the others, some adjusted to life after baseball. One player became a high-profile kosher chef, another joined the Navy and writes hooks for rappers in his spare time.
But other players never got over the anguish of having their baseball dreams taken away. Things turned out particularly tragically for one man, who becomes a casualty of California's ludicrous 'three strikes' law.
This is not your typical story of 'the redemptive power of baseball to bring people together and correct the wrongs of the world if only for an afternoon.' Still, through Sokolove's interviews, the love that that players of Crenshaw have for the game and for the high school glory days it gave them are evident. Baseball may have betrayed them, but they haven't turned their backs on it. What's interesting is that the only men who don't seem to feel this way are Darryl Strawberry and Chris Brown, both of whom had careers in the majors.
If you like...: There's a certain formula in fiction and non-fiction wherein a group of people are drawn together by certain events, split up, and then are brought back together years later to resolve unfinished business. It's been used in everything from Stephen King's It to Chris Colin's What Really Happened To the Class of '93 to The Big Chill, and it is an eminently appealing device. If you like books like this, this one is for you.