Book Review: The Big Chair

A trip to spring training would probably be the best gift of the holiday season, but a copy of The Big Chair is probably a close second. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)
A trip to spring training would probably be the best gift of the holiday season, but a copy of The Big Chair is probably a close second. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

The 2017 baseball winter meetings concluded last week in Walt Disney World and audiences were treated to round-the-clock baseball coverage in December. Savvy baseball fans may have tuned to MLB Network and/or followed Ken Rosenthal on Twitter to monitor reports of transactions orchestrated by the 30 general managers gathered for the annual meetings.

Ned Colletti gives readers a seat at the table in the Los Angeles Dodgers suite during the winter meetings and describes his tenure as general manager from 2005 to 2014 in his memoir–The Big Chair: The Smooth Hops and Bad Bounces from the Inside World of the Acclaimed Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager.

Colletti provides detailed play-by-play coverage and color commentary of the negotiations he had with agents over the course of his career. He provides insight into the negotiation tactics and tendencies of renowned agents–Scott Boras and Casey Close–during negotiations for Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke, respectively.

His descriptions about trade deals, including the 2008 three-way deal which sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles, are even more entertaining and insightful for baseball fans. The last-minute conference call between Colletti, Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, and Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington develops like a scene from a movie and it illustrates the intricacies of blockbuster deals.

Trades and negotiations are just two topics Colletti describes in the The Big Chair. In addition to describing his humble upbringing, Colletti uses a lot of ink to illustrate the critical relationship between baseball executives and ownership. His commentary is especially valuable based on his experience working with different owners.

Colletti highlights the challenges of working with his “hands tied” under the ownership of Frank McCourt and juxtaposes it with the flexibility granted under the leadership of Stan Kasten and Guggenheim Baseball Management.

The Big Chair even provides aspiring baseball executives and baseball fans with a chapter detailing “a day in the life” of a general manager.

A trip to spring training would probably be the best gift of the holiday season, but a copy of The Big Chair is probably a close second.

Book Review: The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball and the Art of Pitching

Ron Darling highlights some of the meaningful lessons he learned in The Complete Game. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)
Ron Darling highlights some of the meaningful lessons he learned in The Complete Game. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

My most recent memories of Ron Darling are from October 2017. The former World Series champion, now a commentator for TBS, was providing color commentary during the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. Darling’s commentary caused some Nationals fans and Cubs fans to turn to social media during games to express displeasure with his “favoritism” for the other team during the broadcasts.

It was with these recent memories in mind that I began his 2009 memoir–The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball and the Art of Pitching.

Darling’s memoir is craftily organized in a manner that highlights the meaningful lessons he learned over the course of nine innings he played in or called as a color commentator. He also includes a warm-up chapter, an extra innings chapter and a post-game chapter. These inclusions were a nice touch and emphasize to the readers that meaningful realizations can also occur outside of a regulation nine-inning game.

The anecdotes readers would expect in a conventional baseball autobiography are included in The Complete Game. Darling discusses his major league debut, pitching in the 1986 World Series for the New York Mets and his decision to retire in 1995.

He shares stories about perseverance using a story about a lousy homecoming at Fenway Park during Game 4 of the World Series when he just could not find a groove. There is also a great story about when Mets manager Davey Johnson held him accountable and forced him to overcome adversity.

Readers may find his description of pitching the ninth inning of a complete game to clinch a spot in the 1988 playoffs to be the most interesting. It highlights the type of games contemporary players circle on their calendars as “must wins” for the good of the team and personal satisfaction.

The Complete Game may not an ideal book for all readers–especially those who may have been frustrated during the NLDS by Darling’s analysis provided about pitching situations. It will, however, provide all readers with a greater appreciation for the strategy involved in pitching. This would definitely be a terrific read for a Mets fan interested in learning about the players and coaches during one of the peaks of the franchise’s history.

Book Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller run the baseball operations department in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller run the baseball operations department in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

Having both served as editor and chief of Baseball Prospectus, a prominent sabermetrics organization, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller made their livings writing articles about Major League Baseball players based on advanced analytics. An off-the-cuff remark during a podcast hosted by the “statheads” suddenly creates an opportunity when they are offered the chance to test whether the use advanced analytics could produce a winning team.

Lindbergh and Miller tell their story about running the baseball operations department of the Sonoma Stompers, an independent league team in the Pacific Association, during the 2015 season in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work.

Readers quickly become oriented with the pecking-order of the many independent league baseball teams that span the country. The local Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, for example, play in one of the highest-caliber leagues in the country–the Atlantic League–which attracts former major league talent.

The Stompers, however, compete in one of the lowest-caliber leagues which presents them with challenges even before they begin to form a roster. Luring major league talent and players released from the lower levels of affiliated ball is almost impossible for the Stompers. Readers will appreciate the challenges that Lindbergh and Miller face as they build a roster based on the stats of undrafted college seniors.

This book showcases the delicate balance the executives maintain when providing advice directly to players and the field manager. Baseball fans are used to seeing their team’s general manager in a luxury box, but would never expect to see him in the dugout discussing shifts or pitching changes during the game. Lindbergh and Miller challenge this norm. This relationship is especially relevant given the New York Yankees decision to hire a managerial candidate who would be open to front office input during game situations.

Baseball fans who tune out Brian Kenny’s analysis of wOBA during MLB Network’s “MLB Now” need not shy away from The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. Lindbergh and Miller never get lost in the nuances of the sabermetrics and their entertaining narratives make this a great selection for this holiday season.

Book Review: Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.”
Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.” (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.” Readers that are brave enough to look beyond the depressing scenery overshadowed by an ominous corn processing plant will be treated to a better understanding of the stereotypical life that exists in a small town with a minor league baseball team.

Author Lucas Mann traveled to Clinton, Iowa in 2010 and he embedded himself in the clubhouse of the Clinton LumberKings–a Midwest League Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Mann effectively portrays the city as a stop along the way for baseball prodigies like 19-year-old Nick Franklin while juxtaposing it as a baseball purgatory for struggling players.

Readers develop an interest and then an attachment to the minor league players whose experiences are chronicled in the book. Mann portrays these stories to readers the same way that he learned about them–as conversations over hamburgers at McDonald’s, in car rides home to crowded apartments and in noisy locker rooms.

His story telling makes readers realize that the players, who are idolized by a core group of fans referred to as “The Baseball Family,” are really just young men who happen to be playing baseball in Clinton competing for a promotion.

The narrative perspective allows readers to truly empathize with the athletes. Erasmo Ramirez, a hard throwing pitcher who left his home in Nicaragua, constantly tries to improve his numbers while finding comfort in the company of other Latino baseball players. The conversations with Ramirez will have make readers feel determined and they are left understanding how brave some players need to be to pursue a career in baseball.

They will feel also feel the excitement of Franklin’s journey toward a home record and his inevitable promotion. Mann never lets the readers feel too high as he also shares the stories of the players helplessly relegated to the bench awaiting demotion. 
The narrative culminates in an exciting postseason run for the LumberKings which will leave readers wondering how players have the focus to follow their passion as they compete in Clinton on a seemingly endless road to the majors.

Book Review: A Great Day in Cooperstown

Jim Reisler's A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books I will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)
Jim Reisler’s A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books that Nats Gallery Blog will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)

I cast my ballot on Election Day at the public library in Aurora Hills and went searching for the first of many baseball books to get me through the winter until baseball season resumes on Opening Day. Jim Reisler’s A Great Day In Cooperstown was a great book to start with because of its focus on the origins of baseball and the establishment of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Reisler begins his 2006 book by describing Cooperstown, NY in 1939. Main Street was brimming with excitement. Major League Baseball All-Stars and legends fanned out across the town. Over 10,000 visitors packed the town to celebrate baseball’s centennial.

Fans flocked to the players for autographs and many players held court, telling their stories to anybody who was interested. Others cued up at the post office to purchase special issue postcards bearing a commemorative stamp and post office.

The book focuses a lot of attention on why the fanfare was centered in Cooperstown and Reisler debunks the myth that baseball’s rules were invented there Abner Doubleday during the spring of 1839. Reisler explains how the myth gained traction and became widely accepted in the lead up to the celebration of baseball’s centennial

Readers are introduced to each of inductees as they learn about a different aspect of the type of work that went into planning the celebration which included–speeches, the opening of the museum and a series of games played at a newly renovated Doubleday Field.

Resiler also describes the work of two little known figures–Alexander Cleland, a social worker from Glasgow, and Stephen Clark, a Cooperstown philanthropist–who were responsible for acquiring the memorabilia including the “funny old uniforms” and who worked with league officials to establish voting protocols for Hall of Fame ballots.

Washington Nationals fans may be particularly interested in the chapter about Walter Johnson. The chapter includes his brief remarks from his induction speech, the story about how he was discovered by the Washington Senators while playing for a semi-professional team in Idaho and the story about how he managed to throw three shutouts in four days.

The book concludes with a romantic description of the festivities that followed the induction speeches including a detailed recap of the game the Hall of Famers played in alongside the modern All-Stars at Doubleday Field.

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but I would highly recommend this book as an essential read for anybody traveling to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend 2017.