December 18, 2014

“Trading Manny” Brings Back the Baseball Love

Loyal readers of this blog know that I’m a sucker for a great baseball book, and one that I’ve been looking forward to for some time just came out: “Trading Manny: How a Father and Son Learned to Love Baseball Again” by Jim Gullo.

The book is a heartwarming father and son story as father Jim struggles to answer his seven year old’s questions about why baseball players took steroids.  The story then follows the pair as they seek answers to their questions and try to rediscover their love for the game (side note: I think this kid knows more about baseball than practically anyone I know).

The book begins with young Joe trying to come to terms with the impact of the Mitchell Report:

“Dad, did Mo Vaugn take steroids?” Joe called out from the living room, where he lay on the floor with his collection of baseball cards. It was twelve days before Christmas 2007, and he had just heard about the Mitchell Report, which named 89 major-league baseball players, from stars like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to average players like Glenallen Hill, Vaughn, and Ron Villione, as likely to have used steroids and/or other performance enhancing drugs over the past 10 seasons.  Joe, who was seven and a half years old, had heard about it on TV, and was now figuring out a new way to sort his cards.  In the past he had made lists of great second basemen, Seattle Mariners, National League All-Stars…now he was trying to separate out the juicers.

Joe goes on to pepper his dad with a series of questions about steroids: “Isn’t it cheating?  Those players who took drugs are going to be punished, right?”

Eventually, Joe’s baseball idol, Manny Ramirez falls.  Crestfallen, now nine year old Joe takes to writing to both Manny and Bud Selig to let them know how he feels:

Dear Commissioner Selig,

My name is Joe Gullo and I am nine years old and in the third grade at Memorial Elementary in McMinnville, Oregon.  I am writing to you because the steroid era has poisoned the game.  You should expel players like A-Rod and Manny, because they took steroids.  They aren’t playing the game fairly.  Guys like Babe Ruth made the Hall of Fame because they actually were good.  If I cheated to win a game in Little League, I would get in trouble.  I would never take steroids.  For one thing, it would poison my body probably, and for two things it’s cheating.

I think you should expel players who take steroids from the game.  And for Bonds’s record, you should do what they with Skazinski and delete his records.  My baseball camp coach, Mr. Walker, told us about the player named Skazinski who bragged so much that he got kicked out of the record books, and his name no longer is in them.

I have pictures of players like Jermaine Dye and Michael Young on my bedroom wall, and I want to know that they didn’t take steroids.  Thank you for reading my letter and I hope that you write back to me.

Sincerely,

Jim Gullo

We have yet to receive a reply.  Probably because the Commissioner is having his lawyers scramble to to retrace and reinstate the records of Skazinski, who, if her were playing today, would undoubtedly receive a four-year, $100 million guaranteed contract and a reality TV show.

Jim and son Joe then set out on their journey across the country to look for answers to their questions while Jim tries to teach Joe the importance of values and playing a game for pure joy, and not for winning at all costs (there’s a really great chapter where former major leaguer and current Linfield College baseball coach Scott Brosius talks openly about the steroid era from the player’s perspective).

It’s a book that will make you feel Jim’s pain as a father as he has to explain why his son’s heroes are not perfect, and also smile at Joe’s pure, all-consuming love for the game of baseball as he struggles to understand the steroid era in his own terms.

Now I should also say that the author and I are friends, but as a lifelong baseball fan, I can also say “Trading Manny” is a great read for anyone who loves the game, and I would imagine especially for parents of young baseball fans everywhere.

PS – Jim’s wrapping up his book tour, but if you’re lucky you can catch a reading.

The Baseball Bookshelf: Dodger Favorites for Spring Training Reading

Maybe it’s the summer-like weather we’ve been having in LA lately, but the anticipation is starting to build around the arrival of Dodgers’ Spring Training games in just a few weeks.  One of my favorite traditions of this time of year is to dust off some of my favorite baseball books, while also looking for some new ones.  Here are a few that I’ve loved over the years, and I welcome you to share your favorites as well! 

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball
by George Will

This was the book that transformed me from a casual baseball fan into someone who truly loved all of the small nuances of the game.  Will’s look inside at what makes a great manager (Tony La Russa), hitter (Tony Gwinn), pitcher (Orel Hershiser) and defensive player (Cal Ripken, Jr.) is fascinating for any baseball fan (even from a political commentator).  I actually find myself thinking back to many moments in the book throughout every season.  In my mind, it’s a classic.

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir
by Dorris Kearns Goodwin

While Goodwin is perhaps best known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian, her touching memoir describes growing up in New York in the 1950’s and the special relationship she had with her father through their shared love of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Plus, anyone that masters keeping score at age six is ok with me.  A fantastic look at the Dodger teams of Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roy Camanella and Pee Wee Reese through the eyes of a fan.  One of my favorites of all time.

Nine Innings
by Daniel Okrent

You might ask why I have book about a June 1982 game between the Brewers and the Orioles on this list.  What makes this book special is that the author actually disects one game, pitch by pitch, and gives the fan a great insight into the psychology of the game.  Not as great as Men at Work in my opinion, but it’s another writer’s take on the myriad of subtle moments that occur throughout the course of a game.

The Last of the Best
by Jim Murray

Growing up in Los Angeles, I became hooked on both sports and writing through the words and style of the great Jim Murray, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Los Angeles Times.  One of only four sportswriters to win the Pulitzer, Murray was a master wordsmith that focused on the people behind the moments, rather than what happened during the games themselves.  The Last of the Bestis a collection of Murray’s last 90 columns in the 1990’s and there are a few great ones about Walter O’Malley that are worth the read (to say nothing of the rest of the book).  If you’re a fan of the story behind the action on the field, then this is a great book for you.

Birth of a Fan
edited by Ron Fimrite

This is a neat little collection of essays where writers such as Roger Angell, Roy Blount, Jr., William Kennedy, George Plimpton, Robert Whiting and Jonathan Yardley (among others) recall their early days when they first fell in love with the game of baseball.  It always seems like an appropriate read as Spring Training approaches.

100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
by Jon Weisman

And what list of baseball books would be complete without the latest and greatest by fellow Dodger blogger and author Jon Weisman of the esteemed Dodger Thoughts.  The book is a treasure trove of stories, anecdotes, history and more going back the team’s days in Brooklyn.  It’s hard to describe this book in just a few lines, but it’s safe to say that this is definitely a book that all Dodger fans need to read.

I thought the following quote from Phil Gurnee at True Blue LA summed it up better than I ever could: “I’ve finished the book but chapter five [about the Kirk Gibson home run] alone is worth the book. The title suggests a fluff book but it is anything but a fluff book. In someone else’s hands this book might have been much less then what it is. In Jon’s capable hands he will enlighten and entertain you about the team you love. Anybody who calls themselves a Dodger fan should be ordering this book not only for themselves but for any and all of their Dodger friends and family. The paperback is the perfect companion to read between innings while watching the game on TV or even at the ballpark.”

Now let’s hear from you on your favorite baseball books!