Playing With Tigers

Book Review: Playing with Tigers by George Gmelch

I love to read baseball books, but I have a hard time reading about the minor leagues. I find books about the minors to be dull, tedious, and unexciting. That’s why I was surprised by how much I enjoyed George Gmelch’s Playing With Tigers, a memoir about his days as a minor leaguer in the 1960s.A former player turned Anthropology professor, Gmelch’s memoir recalls his playing days in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system. Prior to reading Playing With Tigers, I thought Gmelch’s story was going to be dull and slow-moving recollection that revealed little new insight into the minor leagues. Its slow beginning reinforced this idea. I was mistaken.

With great humor, personal insight, recollection, and research, Gmelch succeeds in taking his readers back in time. He paints a picture where minor leaguers, void of modern technology, had to lean one another for support and camaraderie. Their low salaries meant sharing cramped and humid apartments with one another while competing for a spot in the next ring up the ladder to the majors. Glemch succeeds in not only recalling the specific details of these times, but his words make you feel like you’re right there with him sweating out long double-headers, scratching your head at the division between white and black players, and reeling over heartbreaking news from your girlfriend.

I wasn’t expecting Gmelch’s book to explore the life of a minor leaguer outside of the ballpark in so much detail. Most books about the minor leagues tend to focus on what happens on the field and in the clubhouse. Gmelch takes us a step further by discussing his love for baseball as he grew up, first loves, personal decisions about his career, and his views on political and social aspects like Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. This is where the book thrives. He not only recalls them with the aid of diaries he kept during his playing days, but his style of writing makes you feel for him. My heart broke for Gmelch as he recalled difficult breakups, but I howled with laughter when he described the jokes he and his teammates played on one another in the clubhouse.

Gmelch's Playing With Tigers balances humility with grace, heartbreak with humor, and victory with defeat in a way that readers not only understand, but appreciate.

Reviewed by R. Zachary Sanzone

January 6th, 2017

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