November 27, 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.