Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Book Review - "Where Nobody Knows Your Name"
Okay, baseball fans, put his one on your "Must Read" list, and do it sooner, rather than later.
John Feinstein has written about a million books about sports, all different sports, basketball, football, golf, baseball, and they are all good. He even wrote one about professional tennis several years back that was terrific, and I could pretty much not care less about professional tennis.
Anyway, this one, as the sub-title tells you, is about "Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball". Feinstein spent the 2012 baseball season following the International League (IL) and focusing on the fortunes of nine individuals....six players, two managers, and an umpire.
For you Pirates fans out there, one of the players he follows is former Bucco Nate McClouth. McClouth's story is one of the more successful ones. You may recall that the Pirates released McClouth in early May of that year. He was unemployed for a few weeks, was able to sign a minor league deal with the Orioles, and ended up being a starter and a post-season hero for the O's that year.
Two of the pitchers he follows, Brett Tomko and Scott Elarton, were guys who had had pretty old success in the majors, but were now in their late thirties and struggling to try for "one more shot" in the big leagues. So was 2005 World Series hero Scott Podsednik.
Along the way, Feinstein also give you what e calls "Slices of life" about other people he ran into during his year in the IL. One of these slices is about Dean Treanor, manager of the Pirates Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis. There is a terrific story about how Treanor was able to deliver the news to his star player that year, Starling Marte, that he was getting "the call" to Pittsburgh. In fact, there are several stories in the book about managers who get to tell players that they are going to the Big Club. It is the best part of their jobs.
I found the stories of the managers really interesting. Like the players, they, too, long for their shot at the Majors, but winning and losing are not important in running a minor league ball club. The needs of the major league team are paramount. For example, Matt Hague's and Jaff Decker's brief stays in Pittsburgh don't add much more than warm bodies to the Pirates for the few days they were here, but their absence in Indianapolis makes a world of difference to how Dean Treanor's Indy team fares on the field.
Another example. When Pawtucket won the IL championship at the end of the '12 season, 63 different players had passed through their roster that season, and of the players that were there when the IL Championship was won, only seven had been on the roster on Opening Day.
We all think that the life of a major league ballplayer is pretty cushy, but one lesson that this book brings home, time and again, is that for every Andrew McCutchen and his multi-year, multi-millions contract, there are 50 or 100 Matt Hagues out there who are struggling to achieve their lifelong dream of a major league career, a career that most of them will never have.
If you are a baseball fan, you really need to read this book.