Reading the introduction to Jeff Blair’s history of the Toronto Blue Jays is a maddening experience a few weeks into the 2013 season. He writes about the promise and hope at the beginning of the previous year, with fan enthusiasm hinging on players who either didn’t perform or succumbed to a cascading series of injuries. “Has there ever been [a season] that tried your soul as much? That made you wonder if the baseball gods had it in for you?” Given the pain with which a once gleefully optimistic 2013 began, you want to accuse Blair of the infamous baseball jinx.
Herein lies the problem with a baseball narrative as sweeping and ambitious as Blair’s: the game is an organic beast, constantly moving and changing in a way that is impossible to pin down. The length of the season – the forgiving (but also punishing) number of games – means hope is almost always alive. But the constant reversals of fortune also result in debilitating challenges for a writer charged with weaving a coherent narrative thread. Many baseball tomes avoid this trap by simply delivering a catalogue of facts, but this approach ignores what many fans long for: a story with which to mould the inscrutable data into something we can understand and enjoy.
Blair, a writer with more than 30 years’ experience, has for the most part succeeded in building a compelling narrative out of the Jays’ history. Amazingly written (if the author is to be believed) in “less than a year from idea to index,” Full Count is learned and thorough, with a keen eye on engaging readers instead of drowning them in the deluge of the author’s knowledge. Yes, the reader occasionally gets lost in minutiae, but the book manages that rare narrative pull that eludes so much contemporary sports writing.
For those unfamiliar with the team’s legacy, Full Count works as an historical overview and handy reference. For long-time enthusiasts, it is a detailed trip down memory lane, an opportunity to relive and cherish the more glorious moments of a game – and a team – that is impossible to predict, beyond the fact that it can continually break your heart.