Baseball Book Review – Phinally! The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t

I recently finished reading Phinally and must say, it is most certainly a winner, and a book that will be worth revisiting again and again. Written by J. Daniel and published by McFarland & Company, it covers exactly what the title says – the 1980 baseball season with a bit more focus on the Phillies and Royals, because they faced each other in the World Series.

This is a meticulously researched book from start to finish, not just on the baseball teams, but also on pop culture. With nearly 40 years in the rear-view mirror it’s hard to remember what movies were popular that year, or that “Who Shot JR?” on Dallas happened back then, but Daniel intertwined that information rather effortlessly into the narrative of the unfolding baseball season.

An obvious place to start with a book such as this for a writer is at the beginning, which in this case would be at the beginning of spring training. However, Daniel wisely used the Introduction to begin near the end – during the World Series. This also was what I thought a golden opportunity seized to provide the reader with some great backstory on the Phillies and Royals franchise history.

From there, Daniel takes the reader on a month-by-month breakdown of the season. No stone is left unturned. There are accounts of players, managers, and general managers that fans will either remember well or find themselves scratching their heads. George Brett pursuing a .400 batting average that year was a big deal, and something that stands out as being memorable. Yet, for every big thing I did remember as a fan, Daniel dug up something I didn’t remember. Or I’d find myself asking, “Did so-and-so really play for (blank) team that year?”

The book flows along nicely all the way through. As a reader, I’m easily bored with game recaps, but they fit perfectly in Phinally. Daniel did a great job of making the game information interesting and not doing one after another after another. Baseball has no shortage of great quotes from colorful characters, and Daniel used several to his advantage to help keep the book moving along.

One standout thing I must mention are the chapter titles. Each chapter covers a month in the season, and the words following the month all start with the same letter, making the title flow nicely off the tongue. As a Brewers fan I was drawn immediately to ‘April: Richard, RBI’s, and Rockin’ Robin.’

The Brewers get their due in the book, as they contended in 1980 but didn’t have quite enough gas to win the tough AL East. Cecil Cooper’s monster offensive year is aptly covered, as he hit an incredible .352 only to fall well short of what George Brett accomplished. This was also the season when manager George Bamberger had a heart attack in spring training, and didn’t come back until early June.

If I picked up the book tomorrow and wanted to revisit the places where Cooper and Bamberger were mentioned, there is a thorough Index for reference. For those who would like further reading on a certain subject, the Sources section is invaluable. Just skimming through it gives a sense of how many different publications and videos Daniel accessed while researching the season.

So in my opinion, five stars and two thumbs way up for Phinally!

I had an opportunity to chat with Daniel last year about his background and writing process. You can read the interview here.

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