Sunday, September 10, 2006

Its that time again….

After a brief hiatus, it is time to resume book review once again. Although, it may be a temporary respite. A quick explanation for the lack of book reviews – the problem is that I am finding nothing new to read. Sure there are plenty of books out there, but the problem is that I follow the game so closely by the time something is big enough to warrant a book, I have probably followed the story closely enough that there is very little new information. That plus the lack of creativity that exists – which working in the entertainment business I see on a daily basis….. Perhaps I should go historical. Or work on some catalogue titles. Who knows. And this entry does nothing to temper my frustration.

Without further ado, this month’s entry, Feeding the Monster by Seth Mnookin.



  1. My hiatus on baseball books began about two, maybe three months ago. After reading Andrew Zimabalists “In the Best of Interests of Baseball.” I was frustrated by the lack of new information, although in this case, I guess it can be excused since Zimbalist was really writing a history/biography of the Selig era and will likely be read by many casual fans.

    Mnookin’s work (subtitled How Money, Smarts and Nerve Took a Team to the Top) was billed as a complete insiders account of the Red Sox FO. In fact, in the acknowledgements section Mnookin claims that his book was so special that it was “…to the best of my knowledge, the first book in which a writer was given unfettered access to every level of a club.” One thing that was funny about that was that he went on then to say he attended “more than half” of the team’s games that season. Huh? I know there was a FO focus (and presumably he stuck around Boston just like the FO does), but it just struck me as odd since he did spend a bunch of time in the clubhouse.

    Mnookin is a very good writer. He just is clearly not a sports writer. And perhaps this book will grab the attention of his colleagues and readers at his non-sports gigs, I highly doubt it. My biggest frustration with this piece is that it bills itself as a complete insiders guide to the Sox franchise, but really comes up short to someone who has paid as close attention to it as I have (or any of us for that matter.) One of the hardest things as a writer must be determining how much to assume the reader already knows. Well, Mnookin assumes the reader knows nothing. There are a ton of accounts of the change in ownership and detailed accounts of already very well documented incidents (more on that a bit later), but he also had explanations of what a batting average, ERA and OBP are). So maybe that alone tells me that the book is not geared to us, but to the casual fan.

    Based on the subtitle of the book, you would think it was an account of the Sox ascension to their first World Title in 86 years, but I also knew that Mnookin gained his access for the 2005 season – obviously after the historic achievement. I was expecting some really detailed insight to the operations most specific to 2005, which was a tumultuous year. Instead, I got nearly 150 pages of background on the sale of the Sox to the Henry, Werner, Lucchino group. 75 pages on the 2003 season (and way too much info on the failed A-rod trade) and 100 pages on the famed 2004 season. The season for which Mnookin had his “extraordinary access” does not begin until page 334 (the main text is only 409 pages). Sure, there is some backfill to those previous events that are the result of Mnookin’s “access.” But there really is not much new – and certainly nothing earth shattering. In the entire book, there are probably 7-8 events/quotes that were new and interesting to me and pretty much all of them were of the ho-hum variety. The only new information (and it wasn’t even really new since it had been reported, I think Seth had to play it up a bit) was the bit of unrest in the clubhouse late in 2005. Basically it was over playing time (mostly Millar) but also (and I’m sure you will all remember, which proves the point a bit) the “anonymous” quotes about why does Schilling not get booed. And some related small time stuff.

    Another example of a scoop that is not really a scoop, two stories that are presented as exclusive were Derek Lowe and Bronson Arroyo’s off field problems. As GYS readers and most of the internet know, D-Lowe made an issue of the whispers about his drinking by Sox and anyone who has visited Deadspin knows what Bronson was up to last season – and Mnookin did not even use Bronson’s name. Odd.

    Even the back filled stuff is rather strange. In covering the 2004 season, he goes into detail about certain events and games, but others he leaves oddly untouched. He hinted that Francona had troubles with Pedro from the beginning of the season, but doesn’t mention the saga of Pedro leaving Baltimore before the game ended. I think it might have gotten a minor mention somewhere along the line, but definitely not in the context where it would have been notable – but then again Mnookin was not there in 2004 so he probably did not have the pulse of the team and city. And as we all remember, that was all anyone wanted to talk about for a few weeks. And since Francona was new, it was huge. But no mention.

    Interesting that the subtitle “How Money and Smarts Took a Team to the Top” would make you think it was a success story, but the success was the 2004 season and Mnookin was there for 2005. Plus, much of the tone was about the fractured relationship between Theo and Larry (this would have been a scoop a year ago) but after the winter, a non story. Mnookin must have been pissed that Theo left and came back because then he might have had a scoop.

    One thing I did (continue to) note was, in the context of one book covering basically 3 or 4 years. All this (public) information made it amazingly clear what a freakin soap opera the team is. I have written it a number of times here, but in the course of the last few years, the conspiracy theorists have been amazing – Nomar saying that they did not groom the field so that he would look bad, Renteria the same thing, Lowe saying that they bad mouthed him and babied him to reduce his contract value (never mind the 5+ ERA), Pedro saying a million things how he was disrespected, Damon never shutting up, Embree and Bellhorn yapping, hell even Tavarez this year. Sorry for the digression, but all I have ever wanted is to be a fan of a normal team.

    To wrap it up, this is one of the more disappointing reads I have had in a while. If only because my expectations were high. A nice summer read. Sure, I guess. An insider’s access with never before published details. Not even close. I would give this one a weak ground ball to second that moves the runner from second to third. Sure a productive out, but that is not what I would want from Manny and I thought Mnookin had a chance to hit one out of the park.

  2. That's too bad. Especially since he's such a good writer; I guess the problem is he (and the publishing company) hyped up the "access" thing way too much. To separate it out from the 10000 other Red Sox books published in the last 2 years. As you said, that's so similar to my complaints about Book of Shadows: a good read, but nothing new if you you've been paying close attention.

    (Have you read "Fantasyland"? That looks quite good.)

  3. I have this book on my "to be read" shelf. I was saving it for after the season '06 is over. I know I will enjoy it, faults and all. And it will be that much better with no live basebal as a background.

  4. Fantasyland is the type of book I will now shoot for. something that is a bit different - not a mainstream team or player story. My other option is to go old school. I have never read the Dodger history (Bums). Or other stuff like that.

  5. You should also check out "My Head Just Exploded".. I can't remember the author's name but I hear it's an interesting read.