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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 159-161
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Josh Suchon. This Gracious Season: Barry Bonds & the Greatest Year in Baseball. N.p.: Winter Publications, 2002. 390 pp. Cloth, $29.99.
Josh Suchon opens his book by quoting Shakespeare: "To see this gracious season. / All o'er joy'd, / Save these in bonds: let them be joyful too" (Cymbeline, act 5, scene 5). With this passage Suchon makes it clear from the beginning that This Gracious Season is a book not about Barry Bonds, but about the season that Bonds experienced in 2001. As Suchon states in greater detail in chapter1:
This is a story about an extraordinary baseball player having an extraordinary baseball season, interrupted and impacted by an extraordinary time in America, how he dealt with the extraordinary attention he brought on himself, how it changed him, how it changed the people around him and how he rarely got a chance to enjoy any part of the season. (p.36)
To discuss that season Suchon chooses an effective and engaging narrative structure. He starts by discussing the moment that makes this a season worth remembering and a story worth telling—Bonds's 70th home run, which tied the single-season record set by Mark McGuire three years earlier. Suchon then goes back to spring training and follows the season along, telling the story in chapters that are divided by clusters of consecutive home runs from Bonds's season. The clusters are not divided evenly by number. Rather, Suchon bases his breaks on the significance of the home runs to Bonds's career or to other events that contextualize the season. So, for instance, Suchon groups the first 5 home runs of Bonds's season together in chapter3 because they build up to the 500th home run of Bonds's career. Bonds's 6th and 7th home runs of the season are then grouped together in chapter4 because of the significance of the 6th home run as the 500th of Bonds's career and connections that Suchon makes between the 6th and 7th home runs.
As Suchon moves through Bonds's season, he connects Bonds's home runs to events from Bonds's life, Bonds's career, baseball history, the 2001 baseball season, and events outside of baseball—all of the "extraordinary" things to which Suchon refers in his first chapter. Often these events are contextualized by the venue in which Bonds is playing. For instance, a trip by the Giants to Pittsburgh serves as the backdrop for a discussion of the first part of Bonds's playing career when he played with the Pirates, while one of the Giants' trips to Phoenix allows Suchon to discuss Bonds's college career at Arizona State University, and a trip to St. Louis serves as the basis for Suchon's discussion of [End Page 159] the experiences of Mark McGuire as he set the home run record, including how those experiences relate to Bonds's experiences in 2001.
The events are also often contextualized by the home runs themselves. For example, Bonds's 521st and 522nd career home runs, tying and passing Willie McCovey, serve as the basis for Suchon to discuss the history of the Giants in San Francisco and the significance of McCovey as a Hall of Fame San Francisco Giant. Also, Bonds's 53rd home run allows Suchon to discuss Barry's relationship to his godfather, Hall of Famer and former Giant Willie Mays, since that home run surpassed Mays's record for the most home runs for a Giant in one season.
Some of Suchon's connections do seem a bit stretched (pun intended, though the connection to McCovey works fine). For instance, in chapter5, Suchon discusses the roles of longtime veterans Shawon Dunston and Eric Davis on the 2001 San Francisco Giants club. While the connection may be an apt one and while the discussion of Dunston and Davis is certainly warranted for inclusion in the book, the relationship between these players and Bonds's...