Book Review: Roads to Redemption by Craig W. Thomas

Roads to Redemption: A Guide to Major League Baseball by Craig W. Thomas, (Inside Corner Books, 2005), 256 pages.

Roads to Redemption is the main book about MLB on the market that was written by a Brit for a British audience, so it’s remiss of me to have taken so long to write a review of it.  Published in 2005, the book’s format does already make some parts a bit dated, but there is still much to commend here beyond the basic appeal of the British perspective on MLB that it provides.

Craig W. Thomas’ book first came to my attention when he was invited on to ‘Baseball on Five’ to promote it back in 2005.  One of the many benefits of Five’s coverage was that they were hugely supportive of baseball endeavours by Brits and presenter Jonny Gould even provided the foreword to Roads to Redemption, written in his own inimitable fashion.

It fits in well with the overall tone of the book.  Thomas is a Red Sox fan who cut his writing/editing teeth on a Chesterfield football fanzine and he brings across the humorous and witty style that characterized the best of a format sadly now largely a thing of the past. 

As the sub-title accurately states, this is a ‘guide to MLB’ rather than more broadly a guide to baseball.  It doesn’t touch on how to play the game or offer a clear guide to the rules, but it does contain a very useful “rough, incomplete, short history of baseball [MLB]”, including lots of excellent photos, and each of the thirty Major League teams is covered in order in pleasing detail.

The only slight knock on this latter section is that a lot of the opening stats in each profile focus on the 2004 season: understandable when it was published, but less relevant to someone buying the book today.  That ‘dated’ side to the profiles is unavoidable to a certain extent as the sport always moves on (titles are won, teams move to new stadiums or – in the case of the Expos – to a new city), but perhaps the 2004 content could have been kept to a minimum to lessen the impact.

The last seventy pages or so are undoubtedly the best part of Roads to Redemption.  Thomas has put together a dictionary containing 1,000 key words and phrases from the sport.  He notes at the beginning of the book that had he known of Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary before he started the task, he probably wouldn’t have attempted it.  We should be thankful that Paul Dickson’s work had failed to fall in front of Thomas’ eyes because his version is extremely useful to British baseball fans.  Of course, it is far less comprehensive than Dickson’s monumental effort, but that makes it more user-friendly to someone who simply wants to learn the key terms and phrases and it is still wide enough in scope to serves as a handy reference tool.

More specifically, it is the selection process and definitions that make all the difference.  Thomas has an eye and an ear for the terms and phrases that a Brit will discover along their baseball journey, up until you begin looking in more detail at specific areas, such as advanced statistics.  You can tell that he has been guided predominantly by the sights and sounds of a televised ballgame and, as that is often how Brits learn about the sport, that’s a great reference point to work from.  His descriptions are well-worded, with a dash of humour along the way, and he includes the etymology of words where appropriate as well.

Other sections in the book include a chapter full of book reviews, a short article about Ichiro Suzuki’s record-breaking 2004 season (written by a friend of Thomas’) and a chapter on the Red Sox’s triumph in the 2004 postseason.  Again, you’ll notice there’s more 2004-specific content here, which does help to articulate the excitement and emotions of the game, but would feel like a random departure if you bought the book now.  In fact, Roads to Redemption does seem to have been cobbled together somewhat, rather than being the product of a planned approach.

This is reinforced by the “First Impression Errata” double-sided A4 sheet that amusingly points out some of the errors in the book (in my version at least).  These range from sentences that are either missing  a word or including an extra one by mistake, to basic errors such as referring to ‘Derek’ Weaver and claiming that the Cubs “threw” the 1919 World Series rather than the White Sox.  If still uncorrected in the version you can buy, these certainly should count as a knock against the book.

However, the good far outweighs the bad in Roads to Redemption, not least with the wonderful chapter all about the Baseball on Five show.  It was enjoyable to read when the book was released, but now that the show is seemingly a thing of the past, it serves as a fitting tribute to the much-loved programme.  That chapter, the MLB history section and the impressive dictionary all make Roads to Redemption well worth buying for a British baseball fan, so long as you’re not expecting a completely polished product.

Have you read “Roads to Redemption”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you recommend any other similar books? If so, let us know.

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One Response to Book Review: Roads to Redemption by Craig W. Thomas

  1. Nick W December 5, 2009 at 10:20 pm #

    I think the myth about this book needs exploding. The truth is it is not actually very good.

    Sadly it seems to crop up all over the place as the recommended book to buy for the British baseball fan who wants to learn more – it falls well short of the mark I’m afraid.

    What you get is a not terribly well written, self-indulgent, sub-standard, sub-soccer fanzine approach.

    The lay-out also leaves a lot to be desired with its tiny, dense type just adding to the feeling that the whole thing is rather ilogical and erratic.

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, it is also inexplicably peppered with needless expletives. Sorry to sound like Auntie Ethel but the swearing here is just pointless.

    If you want to get the basics I’d recommend “Watching Baseball Smarter” by Zack Hemple. It’s better informed, better written and more fun.

    My recommendation would be to ignore the thomas book and look elsewhere if you’re a British fan looking to learn the baseball ropes.

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