The Last Best League (Photo courtesy / Da Capo Press)
This article first appeared in August, 2010 at fieldmagazine.blogspot.com
My copy of The Last Best League is fairly dinged up now that I'm through with it. That, for me, is typically a good sign that I liked a book enough to lug it along to book-unfriendly places. Jim Collins's 2004 story of a summer spent following a team in the elite Cape Cod League certainly earned the travel. It's a straightforward look at a baseball circuit that regularly spawns major league prospects. The team he zeroes in on is the 2002 version of the Chatham A's.
The Cape Cod League provides for a unique team environment. Each player is pursing his individual dream of professional baseball; the team coalesces for roughly two months and quickly dissolves at season's end as players return to their respective colleges. The short-life span of each year's team further heightens the player-centric nature of the club. Collins moves the overall narrative along compellingly and deftly handles the precarious balance between ample and excessive game accounts.
Chatham is often a league power, but it's their on-field struggles in 2002 that make for some of the books most compelling reading. Collins also spends plenty of time off the field with the A's and effectively weaves in the backstory of the team's prominent players. It's here where The Last Best League stalls at times, through no fault of the author. The A's as a group are not to be confused with a gritty, endearing bunch of ballplayers. Therein lies the book's challenge; it's often hard to care whether they're successful in chasing their major league dreams. Still, as a detailed portrait of a time & place the book makes a compelling case that baseball's last best league indeed resides on Cape Cod. - TF