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Posts Tagged ‘baseball memoir’

Supposedly an embedded report on the 2010 Clinton LumberKings, Seattle Mariners Midwest League affiliate. Entirely more about the author, but that’s intentional. It’s creative/literary nonfiction. I’m used to this genre, but it really doesn’t occur in baseball nonfiction much and when it does it’s by younger essayists. No problem there, but it will take a while for those who only read baseball nonfiction to get used to.

Unfortunately it’s also part of the memoir genre, so critiquing the book may get into critiquing the author as displayed in the book. I think Mann wasn’t old enough to write this book. He’s too close in age to the players (24 at writing) and too far in age from the locals he also profiled. It also doesn’t help that he’s a Vassar grad from New York City attending the University of Iowa’s MFA program who then plops himself into semi-rural working-class Iowa for this project. Simply put, he doesn’t understand Iowa. Iowa City as a college town is much its own thing, not resembling the Iowa he has chosen to work in. (I am questioning why he didn’t try to follow the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the team far closer to his Iowa City base; perhaps the Mariners were the only Midwest League parent club that would co-operate with a nontraditional journalist?) He doesn’t understand the players either; I think some of his subjects, like Nick Franklin, may be from similar economic backgrounds, but they’re not from the same region of the US (or the same country) or the same religion, or the same college background. He mentions his college drug use–ballplayers get tested, they’re not supposed to do that. They wasted their university experience in a completely different way if they had a university experience at all. He doesn’t get why he’s dragged into taking players to bars or to Wal-Mart–he has a car, the players don’t, and they’re exchanging the information he needs for their project for car rides they need to conduct life off the field. He’s not a friend, he has nothing in commmon with them; the players aren’t stupid and they seem to know that he holds them in a mixture of awe and contempt. As Pulp sung, “Everybody hates a tourist.” The part that really got me in his interaction with players was when Mann went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with Danny Carroll. First off, neither of them were really old enough to get this movie–Bryan Lee O’Malley is doing nostalgia for thirty-somethings in the comic–and Mann missed a major analogy from the comic; Scott and a bunch of other characters are from small towns in Ontario that are a lot like small towns in Iowa. But, in this scene at the movie, we see that Carroll is at least inquisitive about cultures he doesn’t belong to.

The best part of this book is the oral history of Clinton that Mann only touches on, with the rise and fall of various industries and the union struggles of the 1980s. He understands that but I don’t think he really could get enough of a feel for his subjects to capture it well or in depth.

The other problem I found in this book was in Mann’s treatment of female fans. It seems that he believes that there are no nonsexual reasons for women to be baseball fans. From page 59 of the hardcover edition: “Women watch, never play. Women support, sometimes they love.” Most of the female fans he follows are middle-aged or elderly; I’m surprised he didn’t go the more logical “team mom” route but this is even worse. He does touch a little bit on groupies/seasonal player girlfriends but the more I thought about it the less I think that the women in relationships with players are trying to latch on to stardom or follow the players around than I think that they’re looking for the same relationship with sex that men have. These are small towns. A woman has to stay there, but the players are always leaving.

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Why’d I pick up a book about a manager I dislike and a season where his team prevented mine from making the World Series? It was on the new books shelf at the library and I wanted to encourage the purchase of more baseball books: just think of this review as a goodwill gesture towards the Dakota County Library and their circulation statistics.

Besides, I really did want to read about the 2011 NLCS, and about Jason Motte…and of course there was very little about that. There were a lot of complaints about Nyjer Morgan (if it’s OK for Chris Carpenter to have the hockey player mentality, why not Morgan? Morgan actually played semipro hockey) and a blatant admission of plunk wars. Well, at least we know now that our Brewers were hit on purpose.

I found the discussions of management–the off-field stuff–to be the most interesting. A lot of what La Russa says about baseball applies to the mundane workplace as well. I found his idea of a sounding board of veterans to be interesting.

It does look like he retired because his management style had stopped working. Vets were handling things themselves, younger players weren’t used to the system, and there were many interpersonal conflicts. I don’t think from the evidence given here that La Russa could really deal with the changes. There were lots of things left unsaid. But he blames agents, fans and media for the change; lots of blaming others. He really dislikes the fan-driven new media.

Where’s the Dave Duncan book? Duncan sounds like a super-interesting person and now that he’s retired I’d really like to know what his pitcher-fixing secret is.

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A lot of reviews of this book seem to come with a lot of baggage around the subject. Due to paying minimal attention to baseball between 1994 and 2007, I came in with very little: I only remembered Piazza at Oakland’s DH in 2007, I vaguely knew that he had a reputation as a bad defensive catcher, and my NYC friends kept asking me about tabloid gossip in ’02. (And then they all were Belle and Sebastian fans…the risk of being in a certain niche of anime/manga fandom a decade ago. Anyway.) The advantages of reading a book about a player one knows little about and isn’t invested in are that one is free to judge on the information received and create their own opinion. Unfortunately, most of you reading probably won’t be able to do that unless you were also under that rock for a decade. That’s a shame; this book is valuable as one of the first player accounts of the 1990s, a transitional period in the game that will probably end up maligned or ignored.

Things covered in the book: (1) For all the family wealth, it’s interesting to see what’s mentioned: hard work and luck. They wouldn’t have it without the luck, or the work (being in the right place at the right time: the import boom of the 1970s.)
Anyway, the cultural history of Pennsylvania, once again, is the interesting bit.

(2) Prospects vs hard-working ignored low-round picks–the more things change, the more they stay the same. Organizations have preconceived slots for minor leaguers (and thank goodness for nepotism in this case.)

(3) changing perceptions of loyalty, more openness about the sport being a business. Teams are important everywhere, of course, but it’s this constant theme of disillusionment.

(4) Related to that, this is another switch, to celebrity culture; and from what’s here I don’t think it was one Piazza was ready for–scrutiny, parasites, etc.

(5) PEDs, the bombshell people were waiting for. Nothing exciting–we already know that ballplayers are crazy for supplements; it’s just that a few of them are illegal now and weren’t 15 years ago.

(6) If I see another bio where the back material is trying to make a Hall of Fame case, it will be too soon. There’s a place to admire good players without insisting they’re among the greats (even if they are.) It’s one of the things that irked me the most in a recent Gil Hodges bio. It irks less here but I’m wondering why.

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