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More than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History

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Overview


“I have done a report of some kind on the Fred Merkle story, whether in print, on radio, or on TV, on or about its anniversary, September 23, virtually every year since I was in college. The saga has always seemed to me to be a microcosm not just of baseball, nor of celebrity, but of life. The rules sometimes change while you’re playing the game. Those you trust to tell you the changes often don’t bother to. That for which history still mocks you, would have gone unnoticed if you had done it a year or a month or a day before. That’s who Fred Merkle is. I have often proposed September 23 as a national day of amnesty, in Fred Merkle's memory.”—Keith Olbermann, from his foreword.
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Editorial Reviews

HaroldSemour.com

"David Anderson’s book is a winner in its own right. Not only does it enlighten us about a season that might really have been ‘the best and most exciting’ of all time, it gives us the feeling that we’re standing hatless among the overflow crowds of nearly a century ago, rooting for Matty, Rube, the Big Train, the Flying Dutchman, the Georgia Peach, and all the other flannel-clad immortals of days gone by. . . . Anderson has fashioned as close to a masterpiece of baseball research and analysis as any first-class author has produced in a long time."—David Shiner, HaroldSeymour.com

— David Shiner

New York Times Book Review
"A fascinating archival account of what baseball and America were like nearly a century ago."—New York Times Book Review
USA Today Baseball Weekly
"Those not acquainted with the dramatics of the 1908 campaign might find Anderson's hyperbolic title a bit extreme until they read of the many astonishing events that took place that year. To wit: three NL teams finishing within a half game of each other (forcing the first-ever playoff game) and an AL race decided by .004 percentage points. Toss in the exploits of legendary figures Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and other future Hall-of-Famers and the book's description more resembles an exercise in prosaic restraint."—USA Today Baseball Weekly
Sports Illustrated
"As his title suggests, there was more to this memorable season than an infamous blunder."—Sports Illustrated
Parade
"The arrival of a new baseball season serves to rekindle an old question: Which was the most exciting season ever played? In a book called More Than Merkle, David W. Anderson comes up with an answer that will startle many fans: the season of 1908. Just to make things perfectly clear, he subtitles his opus 'A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History.' Of course, the centerpiece is Fred 'Bonehead' Merkle, whose 'boner' of not running from first to second base while the winning run was scoring cost the New York Giants a pennant. Both leagues had close races that year, and the author covers them in exuberant detail. He also focuses on such star players as Christy Mathewson, Three-Finger Brown and Johnny Evers, not to mention more obscure figures, such as a pitcher with the fascinating name of Orval Overall, who won two games for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (their last World Championship). Baseball antiquarians will relish the book."—Parade
HaroldSemour.com - David Shiner
"David Anderson’s book is a winner in its own right. Not only does it enlighten us about a season that might really have been ‘the best and most exciting’ of all time, it gives us the feeling that we’re standing hatless among the overflow crowds of nearly a century ago, rooting for Matty, Rube, the Big Train, the Flying Dutchman, the Georgia Peach, and all the other flannel-clad immortals of days gone by. . . . Anderson has fashioned as close to a masterpiece of baseball research and analysis as any first-class author has produced in a long time."—David Shiner, HaroldSeymour.com
Sports Illustrated

"As his title suggests, there was more to this memorable season than an infamous blunder."

New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating archival account of what baseball and America were like nearly a century ago."

Parade

"The arrival of a new baseball season serves to rekindle an old question: Which was the most exciting season ever played? In a book called More Than Merkle, David W. Anderson comes up with an answer that will startle many fans: the season of 1908. Just to make things perfectly clear, he subtitles his opus ''A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History.'' Of course, the centerpiece is Fred ''Bonehead'' Merkle, whose ''boner'' of not running from first to second base while the winning run was scoring cost the New York Giants a pennant. Both leagues had close races that year, and the author covers them in exuberant detail. He also focuses on such star players as Christy Mathewson, Three-Finger Brown and Johnny Evers, not to mention more obscure figures, such as a pitcher with the fascinating name of Orval Overall, who won two games for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (their last World Championship). Baseball antiquarians will relish the book."

USA Today Baseball Weekly

"Those not acquainted with the dramatics of the 1908 campaign might find Anderson's hyperbolic title a bit extreme until they read of the many astonishing events that took place that year. To wit: three NL teams finishing within a half game of each other (forcing the first-ever playoff game) and an AL race decided by .004 percentage points. Toss in the exploits of legendary figures Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and other future Hall-of-Famers and the book''s description more resembles an exercise in prosaic restraint."

HaroldSemour.com

"David Anderson’s book is a winner in its own right. Not only does it enlighten us about a season that might really have been ‘the best and most exciting’ of all time, it gives us the feeling that we’re standing hatless among the overflow crowds of nearly a century ago, rooting for Matty, Rube, the Big Train, the Flying Dutchman, the Georgia Peach, and all the other flannel-clad immortals of days gone by. . . . Anderson has fashioned as close to a masterpiece of baseball research and analysis as any first-class author has produced in a long time."

—David Shiner, HaroldSeymour.com

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803210561
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2000
  • Pages: 285
  • Lexile: 1240L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author


David W. Anderson is a telecommunications consultant in northern Indiana. He is also an umpire for Indiana high school and Babe Ruth league baseball. Keith Olbermann is anchor for Fox Sports.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Baseball Turned Upside Down
The 1906 World Series


No club that wins a pennant once is an outstanding club. One which bunches two pennants is a good club. But a team which can win three in a row really achieves greatness. —John McGraw


    New York Giants manager John McGraw never forgave the Cubsfor what happened in 1906. His 1905 World Champion Giants wereone of the strongest teams in baseball history. The '05 club was amongMcGraw's favorites because it was the first National League team todefeat the despised upstart American League in a World Series. TheGiants had refused to play Boston in the 1904 World Series out ofcontempt, scorn, and outright hatred of the American League and itspresident, Ban Johnson.

    McGraw's animus toward Johnson was due to their relationshipwhen the Giants manager had been skipper of the American LeagueBaltimore Orioles. The two clashed frequently over McGraw's abuseof umpires and other on-field behavior. While McGraw believed thatJohnson arranged to throw him out of the league in 1902, in realityMcGraw left for the National League before Johnson could have himremoved. In truth, McGraw was happy to leave to manage the Giants.Johnson was equally glad to be rid of a major problem. Both men werecapable of holding long-time grudges. They succeeded in maintainingtheir mutual loathing for the rest of their lives.

    John McGraw wanted nothing more than to win a third straightNational League pennant in 1906. In McGraw'smind, only then wouldthe Giants achieve true greatness and assume their place among theimmortals. The Giants chalked up ninety-six wins in 1906, enough todo the job in more than a mere handful of seasons. McGraw had cajoled,fought, ordered, and willed the team, overcoming the illness ofChristy Mathewson, Mike Donlin's battle with booze and injury, andother assorted injuries and ravages of age to other key performers. Butthe third straight pennant was not to be.

    It was not to be for a variety of reasons. An important one could havebeen pride. McGraw was always one to gloat. The Giants' uniforms had"World Champions" emblazoned across the chest and the team rode tothe ballpark with "World Champions" embroidered on horse blankets.Neither of these gestures endeared the Giants to their opposition,who could be counted on to give extra effort when New York wasin town.

    Also standing in the way of Giants greatness was an emerging dynasty.Frequently ungracious to his opposition, McGraw regarded theseup-and-comers as upstarts, barely worthy of respect and quite deservingof scorn. The upstart bushers were the Chicago Cubs, managed by firstbaseman Frank Chance.

    The 1906 Cubs had a year like no other big league team had everhad, winning 116 games and easily icing the pennant by twenty gamesover the also-ran Giants. The 1998 Yankees' regular season 114-48(.703) mark came close to approaching the Cubs record, remindingmodern fans of the Cubs' achievement. The Yankees' march throughthe 1998 play-offs and World Series set a major league record of 125games won for the year, compared to the 1906 Cubs' regular and post-seasonmark of 116.

    The enormity of Chicago's achievement has dimmed with the passageof time, but the numbers do not lie. At the end of July, the Cubswere in first with a 61-26 record. They won fifty-five and lost only tenmore games the rest of the year, for a final 116-36 (.763) slate for theregular season. This first team of the great Cub dynasty of 1906-10dominated the National League in nearly every significant statisticalcategory; batting average (.262), slugging percentage (.339), fieldingaverage (.969), shutouts (28), and earned run average (1.76).

     Like all other sports successes, this Cubs dynasty was built over severalyears and was the result of a combination of luck, determination,money, and patience. It did not hurt to have a front office committedand smart enough to spot talent and to go out and get it. Each of theCubs' key players was obtained by a trade and/or purchase. Each transactionwas calculated to add personnel to fill weaknesses and buttressthe assets of the club. Most of the credit for building the team ought togo to one of the most overlooked managers in baseball history, FrankSelee. Credit for execution of Selee's plan went to his successor, player-managerFrank Chance.

    Selee managed the Cubs for three and half years, from 1902 untilstepping down in midseason 1905 due to illness. Prior to coming toChicago, Selee had managed the National League's Boston Beaneatersto five pennants from 1890 to 1901. Selee's overall record as a managerwas 1,284-862 (.598). That winning percentage is fourth highestamong managers in baseball history. Selee's trademark teams had outstandingoffensive and defensive speed with excellent baseball intelligence.It is sad that Selee's achievements have been ignored for almostan entire century. His contribution to baseball was finally recognized inearly 1999 when the Old Timers Committee voted him into the Hall ofFame.

    While Selee didn't win any pennants for the Cubs, the core of thisdominant team had been acquired by the time he resigned and handedover the reins to Frank Chance. The players Selee acquired or retainedwho played a key role for the Cubs from 1906 to 1910 were Chance, aconverted catcher, at first; second baseman Johnny Evers; Joe Tinkerat shortstop; outfielders Jimmy Slagle and Frank "Wildfire" Schulte;catcher Johnny Kling; and pitchers Carl Lundgren, Mordecai "ThreeFinger" Brown, and "Big Ed" Reulbach.

    Chance wound up with all of the managerial glory and with membershipin the Hall of Fame. After 1905 Chance reportedly said the clubneeded a pitcher, an outfielder, and a third baseman. In 1906, the teamthat terrorized the National League for five years added pitchers JackTaylor, Jack Pfiester, and Orval Overall; outfielder Jimmy Sheckard;and, to round out the infield, third baseman Harry Steinfeldt, acquiredin a trade with Cincinnati. Steinfeldt, overlooked because of his morefamous infield mates, was a key part of these fine Cubs teams andanchored an already strong defensive unit. Sheckard added anotherbat and strong defensive skills to a solid outfield. Taylor, Pfiester, andOverall, each in his own way, contributed significantly to Chicago'ssuccess during their five-year run.

    From 1906 through 1910, the Chicago Cubs played 765 regularseason games, winning 530 and losing only 235 for a staggering .693won-lost percentage. That translated into four pennants and a second-placefinish during those five seasons. The Cubs' World Series recordduring the dynasty was a more down-to-earth eleven and nine, winningtwo World Championships. The so-so World Series record aside, thisCubs dynasty was the best in the game's history in terms of total winsand winning percentage, beating out the great Cardinals teams of theearly 1940s and Yankees teams of the thirties, fifties, and sixties (seeappendix C).

    Over in the American League, the crosstown White Sox scratchedtheir way to their third American League crown since 1900. The 1906American League race was close as the New York Highlanders andCleveland Naps finished off the pace by three and five games respectively.The Sox were paced by a nineteen-game winning streak in Augustbut still needed to fight off a late charge by New York in Septemberto win the pennant.

    The 1906 Sox were affectionately known as the "Hitless Wonders."As with most baseball nicknames, it fit. It could be said that if the Soxfell out of a boat into the ocean, they couldn't hit water, or if they did,they wouldn't hit it hard. The Sox .230 team batting average was last inthe league. They ranked dead last in most other offensive categories,reflecting owner Charles Comiskey's philosophy of building a teamaround pitching and conditioning while utilizing a strategy of squeezingadvantage out of every hit, walk, error, stolen base, or lapse by theopposition. Comiskey's philosophy about offensive baseball also appliedto his finances. He squeezed every penny out of each dollar asmuch as his teams treasured each base runner.

    Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers boiled the Hitless Wondersdown to this simple declaration: "The team excelled any team everorganized in concentrating every move toward making runs, one at atime, and while nearly weakest in batting, scored the greatest averagenumber of runs per hit of any club in the history of the game."

    Analysis of runs per hit in 1906 does not entirely bear out Evers'sstatement. The Sox were among the leaders, but not the leader in thisobscure category. They scored .50 runs per hit, or a run for every twohits. The Cubs scored .53 runs per hit, the best in the game. The Giantswere the only other 1906 team to exceed half a run per hit at .51 runsper hit. Significantly, both the Cubs and Giants clearly had more offenseto work with, outhitting the Sox by a wide margin.

    Further analysis of opponents reveals just how good the two Chicagoteams were in 1906. Cubs opponents scored .374 runs per hit, while theSox opposition was just off that pace at .379 runs per hit. This stinginessresulted in an interesting statistic, which gives truth to Evers's declarationabout White Sox offensive efficiency. The Hitless Wonders scored3.77 runs per game and surrendered 3.05, for an average margin ofvictory of just over half a run. The Cubs scored 4.62 and allowed 2.51per contest, defeating opponents by over two runs a game.

    Like the Cubs, the White Sox were led by a player-manager. FielderJones directed his team's fortunes from center field. Jones was a hardnosedleader, able to get every bit of effort and ability out of his players.He enjoys the distinction of being one of only two White Sox managersever to win a World Series, and his 426-293 record with the South Sidersis among the best won-lost records in the checkered history of thefranchise. Jones's .592 managerial winning percentage is best amongWhite Sox skippers, but his achievement has been largely forgotten.

    The White Sox featured a veteran lineup with ex-National Leagueslugger George Davis at shortstop and Frank Isbell at second; they andfirst baseman John "Jiggs" Donahue were the only starters to hit above.250 in 1906. Defense and pitching were the Sox forte. It was a staffhandled by one of the best defensive catchers in the Dead Ball Era, BillySullivan. The pitching staff was anchored by twenty-game winnersFrank "Yip" Owen and Nick Altrock. Big Ed Walsh and Doc Whitebolstered the staff. Sox pitchers registered a team-earned run averageof 2.13, just over a third of a run higher than that of the Cubs.

    On paper, the White Sox seemed to have little hope of defeating themighty Cubs. But, as the adage goes, games are played on the field.From October 9 through 14, the city of Chicago stood still as the Cubsand Sox waged a six-day war. Like all contests between nearby rivals, theSox-Cubs series resembled civil war in some respects.

    It was civil war with an ethnic flavor in a city where ethnicity was,and still is, an important matter. By accident or coincidence, the Cubslineup was dominated by German surnames—Kling, Sheckard, Steinfeldt,Reulbach, Pfiester, Hofman. As for the South Side White Sox, thelineup looked like a list of voters from the nearby predominantly Irish-AmericanBridgeport neighborhood—Walsh, Sullivan, Dougherty,Jones. This ethnic division was the source of amusement during a timewhen much was made of such things without arousing outrage.

    Johnny Evers in Touching Second relates the following anecdote:


When the West Side and the South Side were engaged almost in civil war, there was an Irishman named Faugh, a Ballagh Finnegan, better known as "Fog," who made a small fortune in trade on the West Side, and who, although he never had seen a game, was one of the most loyal supporters of the West Side team. On the day of the first game "Fog," gloriously arrayed, and with much money to wager, was the center of a group of ardent West Siders assembled in one section of the South Side stands. Standing on his seat he defied the White Sox supporters and flaunted his money in their faces.

"Wan hundred to sixty on the Wist Side," he shouted.

"Wan hundred to fifty. Wan hundred to forty."

The South Siders, who were not betting on their team, ignored him. He shouted, challenged, and yelled the praises of the West Side. Presently the umpire brushed off the plate and announced:
"Ladies and Gentlemen—the batteries for today's game will be Reulbach and Kling for the West Side. Walsh and Sullivan for the South Side."
For an instant "Fog" blinked hard, wavering between loyalty to the West Side and love of Ireland. Then, leaping up again, he shouted,
"Walsh and Sullivan — thim's they byes I meant. Wan hundred to sixty on the South Side."


    While a believable instance of ethnic division coupled with the depictionof the common Dead Ball Era occurrence of gambling in thestands, Evers's story is partly apocryphal. The existence of open gamblingin the stands was accurate. But the series opener was played at theCubs' West Side Grounds and Brown and Altrock started. Walsh andReulbach locked horns in game five at West Side Grounds, not SouthSide Park. Evers can be forgiven for embellishing a credible story.

    Chicago in October 1906 was not a place for a Sox fan in Cubsterritory or vice versa. Some cooler heads managed to produce two-waybuttons showing a dual allegiance, a bear cub wearing white socks! Theseries was a highly partisan affair, but fortunately, the spirit of sportsmanshipprevailed during baseball's first intracity World Series and thelast one to feature Chicago's teams. But no matter the outcome, it was aproud moment for Chicagoans.

    Contemporary fans have witnessed some truly terrible Cubs andWhite Sox teams during the twentieth century. They can be forgivenfor believing hell would freeze over before the Sox and Cubs would everlock horns in a World Series. White Sox and Cubs loyalists would alsounderstand the possibly divine message from the playing conditions ofthis Windy City World Series. Game one of the 1906 series was played inbelow-freezing weather with light snow falling. Nick Altrock and ThreeFinger Brown each allowed four hits. The Sox won 2-1 with a triple byreserve third baseman George Rohe and a single by Isbell providing thewinning runs.

    Game two moved to the South Side where Big Ed Reulbach threw aone-hitter, knotting the series at a game each in another game playedin nasty cold weather. Cubs hitters rang out ten safeties. A three-runsecond inning, aided by a Sox throwing error, settled the issue early.Reulbach had a no-hitter going until the seventh inning, when JiggsDonahue singled. Reulbach's effort, as was sometimes the case, wasmarred by wildness to the tune of six walks and a hit batsman. The 7-1score seemed to indicate that the Cubs were back on track and the Soxwere in trouble, if only the Cubs would play like they had during theregular season.

    The third game of the series featured a stellar pitching duel betweenBig Ed Walsh and lefty Jack Pfiester. Walsh struck out twelve hitters andGeorge Rohe, hero of game one, hit a two-out, bases-loaded triple inthe sixth inning to give the Sox the 3-0 win. Rohe had appeared in onlyseventy-five games during the regular season, hitting .258. His 1906World Series heroics were soon forgotten. He was out of the majorleagues by 1908, becoming an early member of the "what have youdone for me lately" wing of baseball's archives.

    Game four saw the trend of the home team losing continue. ThreeFinger Brown threw a two-hit shutout at South Side Park to even theseries at two games apiece. Johnny Evers's seventh-inning two-out singledrove home Frank Chance for the sole run of the game. Chancehad reached base when his fly ball was lost in the sun.

    The Cubs returned home to the West Side Grounds for the pivotalgame five. Chance, superstitiously noting that the visitors had won allgames, dressed the Cubs in their road uniforms and started game twohero Ed Reulbach. Taking advantage of poor fielding, the Cubs jumpedout to a 3-1 lead, but the White Sox roared back behind an uncharacteristictwelve-hit attack that chased both Reulbach and Pfiester for an8-6 win. The Sox had miraculously overcome six errors, while the Cubswere flawless in the field.

    Game six was no contest. The Sox chased Brown, scoring seven timesin the first two innings on the way to an easy 8-3 win. Doc White wentthe distance to win the World Championship for the White Sox in oneof the greatest sports upsets ever. For Cubs fans, the 1906 series representeda huge disappointment. For Sox fans it has provided braggingrights for several generations. Delirious Sox fans crowded the offices ofCubs owner Charles Murphy after the victory, and Murphy delivered agracious concession speech on behalf of Chicago Cubs baseball.

    Was it a case of complacency, or was it fate? Frank Chance would notlet his charges forget the 1906 series. The Cubs were gracious in theirpublic statements, to a point. Chance summed up: "The Sox playedgrand, game baseball and outclassed us in this Series. But there is onething that I will never believe, and that is that the White Sox are betterthan the Cubs."

    The enemy named complacency would be put to ground in 1907.This edition of the Cubs won 107 contests and the pennant by seventeengames over the Pirates. McGraw's Giants were a distant third andwould have to rebuild to return to serious pennant competition. The1907 Cubs team had no .300 hitters, but five pitchers; Orval Overall,Three Finger Brown, Carl Lundgren, Jack Pfiester, and Big Ed Reulbachturned in earned run averages under 1.70. The entire staff threwthirty shutouts, or nearly one for every five games.

    This time the series opponent for the Cubs was Hughie Jennings'sDetroit Tigers, who had squeaked by Philadelphia by a game and a half.The Tigers were at the start of a three-consecutive-pennants run. In theseries Cubs pitchers smothered the Tigers four games to none aftergame one resulted in a tie. Cubs pitchers held the Tigers' lineup, whichincluded Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, to a .209 average, posted a 0.75earned run average, and erased the shame of 1906.

    Going into 1908, the Cubs had won 223 games and lost only eighty-oneduring the previous two seasons. All key players were returning andit again looked as if the Cubs would be the team to beat in 1908. JohnMcGraw had other plans, and the Pirates were hungry for revenge.

    For the White Sox, 1907 yielded a disappointing third place, five anda half games off the pace. Following the season's end, manager FielderJones threatened to retire and join his brother in the lumber business inthe Pacific Northwest. It was no secret that acting as an intermediarybetween disgruntled players and owner Charles Comiskey was wearingJones down. In late 1907 Comiskey persuaded him to give it another try.Going into 1908, Jones was convinced that the Sox would be the team tobeat. The Tigers would have something to say about that. So wouldNapoleon "Larry" Lajoie's Cleveland club and, surprisingly, the St.Louis Browns. The Browns had loaded up for the campaign by acquiringace left-hander Rube Waddell from Philadelphia. Waddell's anticsand drinking had worn out his welcome and would provide distractionfor his new team. The stage was set for one of the most tumultuous,fascinating, controversial, and exciting baseball seasons ever.


Excerpted from More than Merkle by DAVID W. ANDERSON. Copyright © 2000 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations, viii
List of Tables, ix
Foreword by Keith Olbermann, xi
Acknowledgments, xiii
Introduction, xvii
1 Baseball Turned Upside Down: The 1906 World Series, 1
2 The Game in 1908: Dead Ball Era Baseball, 10
3 The Teams of 1908: A Look at the Players, 35
4 The Men in Blue: The Umpires of 1908, 87
5 April: The Best Hopes of Fans, 105
6 May: The Makings of a Pennant Race, 115
7 June: The Race Is On, 127
8 July: Gain the Edge, 137
9 August: The Storm Clouds Gather, 150
10 September: All Hell Breaks Loose, 164
11 October: Down to the Wire, 184
12 Scandals of 1908: Delayed Reckoning, 210
Appendixes, 225
Notes, 241
Bibliographic Essay, 251
Index, 255
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2000

    When Baseball was more than Home Runs

    This book is well written and has a nice pace to it. It does lack some warmth and humor, but is very, very insightful. True baseball fans will enjoy it, casual fans will be bored.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2000

    boring

    boring, great info and stats but overall no real warmth or excitement

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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