Remember when Carlos Delgado hit four home runs? Or that time when Kelly Gruber hit for the cycle? Or those times when Dave Stieb just missed getting a no hitter? Shi Davidi does and his new book The Big 50: The Men and Moments that Made the Toronto Blue Jays reminds us all of what made the Blue Jays the team they are.
While there are a lot of contemporary episodes in the book to let even the newest fans “remember when,” The Big 50 is well balanced in that there are plenty of chapters that deal with every era of the Blue Jays’ 40-year history. While Great Expectations, the tome Davidi co-wrote with John Lott about the failed “all-in” 2013 season, was a fascinating narrative exposé of the struggles to win in the major leagues over the course of one season, The Big 50 is focused more on vignettes that showcase the personalities, events and moments that have contributed to the experience of being a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Yes, Davidi is trading on nostalgia here, but the beauty of his reporting is that he’s able to follow up with the key players in the Blue Jays’ most significant moments to provide context that is often humourous, or truly enlightening. In a similar way to Great Expectations, Chapter 28, which focuses on the deadline deals that transformed the Blue Jays into a serious contender in 2015, takes us behind the scenes, getting the scoop from Alex Anthopoulos on which trades didn’t work out and how those that did were finalized. New interviews with retired players, managers, front office personnel and even current Jays shed a ton of light on some of our favourite players and moments from the distant and recent past. What was Carlos Delgado thinking on the day he hit four home runs? What does Buck Martinez have to say now about the day in 1985 when he made two outs on the same play, having his leg broken on the first? What did John McDonald have to say to Dwayne Murphy when he saw how talented Jose Bautista was? Pick up the book and you’ll know.
Additionally, Davidi’s context often allows us to frame events in ways that we otherwise would not have been able to. For example, Davidi insightfully places Scott Rolen as the epicenter of the acquisitions of both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Davidi’s long view of the Blue Jays as well as his ability to see causes and effects of seemingly small events make this book eminently readable.
The book is beautiful to behold. The designers did a fantastic job, creating a simple layout that is colourful, using photos (some that are not nearly as famous as the ones with which we are more familiar) and graphics to punctuate the glossy pages throughout. The one knock on the book is that sometimes strays a little far from the supposed topic of a chapter in order to tell a story. Generally the stories are entertaining, but these few chapters that get sidetracked lose a little of their focus. One example of this is the chapter on the Jays’ scouts, focusing on a Al Lamacchia, Bobby Mattick and Epy Guerrero. Davidi shares stories about each one of these scouts but the section doesn’t give us any insight into the scouts’ roles with the team, their ability to reveal weaknesses in opponents or how they identified otherwise unwanted players whom the Jays were able to acquire cheaply (Jose Bautista comes to mind immediately).
While publishers’ temptation may be to rehash a team’s history on the five-and-ten year anniversaries and cash in on the fandom’s nostalgia, Shi Davidi’s The Big 50 goes beyond a simple recounting of the team’s history, presenting the things that fans love about the Blue Jays in a way that doesn’t shy away from context and controversy and provides fresh insight into the Blue Jays lore through new reporting and good writing.
You can find Episode 53 of the Blue Jays from Away Podcast featuring our interview with Shi Davidi here!
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