Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Book Review: Beating About the Bushes

March 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Book Review

Beating About the Bushes:  Minor League Baseball in the 60s  by Tim Sommer

BUSH LEAGUE  A professional sports association at the lower levels of minor league organization

So starts this very enjoyable recounting of Tim Sommer’s 8 years in the Baltimore Orioles organization during the 60s.  Sommer spent these years, as a pitching prospect, bouncing between the A / AA / AAA levels of minor league baseball and had a decent, if unspectacular minor league record (72-61 win-loss record, 3.23 ERA, 1.245 WHIP).  That he never made it to the major leagues is understandable. During Sommer’s sojour in the bushes, the Orioles made it to three World Series and were consistently stocked with superior pitching. 

When I first started reading Sommer’s book, I half expected another Ball Four type of tell-all expose.  I was wrong.  Gratefully, Bushes is told with an “aw shucks” humility that makes for good story telling.  Sommer’s motivation for writing the book came from his own family who, after hearing him tell his stories, convinced him to put them into book form.

The result is a roller coaster story of improbable events.  Blessed with a 90 mile per hour fastball, Sommer earns a minor league contract with virtually no support from his family, no High School team, and only one year of college at Ohio University.  During his time in the bushes, Sommer:

  • Experiences the segregation of the South,
  • Participates in baseball’s early free agent negotiations,  
  • Takes part of mock beaning of Reggie Jackson,
  • Is  hypnotized into believing he was a strip tease artist,
  • As a freshman for Ohio U, beats Ohio State University,
  • Throws a 13-inning, 15 strikeout game for AAA Rochester and then is sent to AA the next day.

Sommer’s story isn’t all glossed-over nostalgia or boys-will-b-boys shenanigans.  He also sheds light on some of the grittier aspects of minor league life;  the use of “greenies”, betting on games, and cavorting with baseball groupies. Sommer always takes responsibility for his actions and doesn’t rationalize his behavior or blame his teammates.  

In retrospect, Bushes could be bitter screed about Sommer’s lack of progress through the O’s minor league farm system.  Sommer was demoted from one minor league level to a lower one when his drunken manager, hiding a dark secret, spied him in a bar.  Likewise, players during the 60s were, for all intents and purposes, indentured servants.  Sommer wasn’t free to negotiate with other pitching-needy clubs.  None of the potential bitterness bleeds through into the book.   Instead, Sommer tells an upbeat story and saves some of his warmest praise  for his managers — Frank Wren at Ohio University and Cal Ripken Sr. manager for several of his minor league teams.

The book is transitionally choppy in spots and could have used a little stronger editing. However, it is still a recommended read. It is clear that Sommer is proud to have been associated with the fraternity of professional baseball players.  This book is a testament to that pride.  His family was right.  These stories had to be told.

BoB Ratings:  Triple (an enjoyable read from a nostalgic era)    

( Amazon: 5.00 – 6 reviews / Goodreads 4.00 – 1 review) 

Ratings Explanation

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