I enjoyed Larson’s Devil in the White City as much as anyone. Knight is going for the same sort of approach here. He attempts to alternate an account of the Indians’ record-setting but ultimately disappointing 1954 season with the Marilyn Sheppard murder case (Think The Fugitive). If that isn’t enough, Knight also provides “Interludes” which explain just how disappointing the end of the season was. (Why these were printed in double columns – to look like newspaper accounts? – is beyond me. It looks like the work of an amateur.)
But either the timing does not work or Knight fails to make it work. The pace of the book definitely picks up when the account of the Sheppard murder begins, and Knight is much more adept at evoking the characters here. And while that enlivens these portions of the book, it makes the others that much more disappointing. After all, Knight is a sportswriter. But his descriptions of the season (both on and off the field) are uninspired. I’ve never been exactly clear about what is meant by ‘purple prose,’ but I’m pretty sure Knight comes close here when he writes about baseball.
Knight clearly has his biases, but they don’t intrude too much here. He loves his city and regrets the arc of its decline (which he says is bracketed by 1954 and the river fire of 1969). Probably because he perceives it as outside the scope of his book, Knight only makes passing mention of Brown v. Board of Education, yet he wants to make much of the composition of the 1954 Indians and the lessons Larry Doby learns.
Any other suggestions about how to learn about Cleveland’s history would be appreciated.