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Monday, August 10, 2009
Note: A somewhat different version of this review was originally written for the New York Post. It didn't run, however, and given how rarely it is that I praise something, I figured it was worth sharing with the world.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Thurman Munson’s plane went down in Canton, Ohio, killing the Yankee captain at age 32. That’s longer than Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia have been alive. It’s also far too much time to have passed before a definitive treatment of Munson’s life was put to print, but now it has and it’s an excellent one.
Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain is actually author Marty Appel’s second pass at Thurman Munson’s life story. His first was as co-author of Munson’s 1978 autobiography which, due to its subject’s taciturn, guarded and – there’s no escaping it – surly nature, was not particularly revealing. Appel interviewed Munson for twelve hours back in 1977 and Munson simply wouldn’t let him in. “[H]e didn’t have many funny stories and he didn’t want to share much about his childhood,” Appel notes, “so what we had was a pretty traditional baseball bio.”
After thirty years, Appel’s new bio is still traditional but it’s much more comprehensive. Unlike the last book, this one has plenty from Munson’s troubled upbringing. Most significant are the stories about his distant, unloving, and uncaring father. A man who said of his son that he “figured he had the market cornered on brains . . . but he didn’t,” and that he had a “swell head” and “couldn’t be taught anything.” A man who said all of these things, it should be noted, a mere two months after his son’s death. One can only imagine what it was like to grow up with him.
But unlike so many brought up in such circumstances, Munson was not defeated. Indeed his story is one of triumph. Triumph over both his upbringing and a physique that didn’t suggest to anyone that he belonged in the Major Leagues. A triumph, Appel quotes former Yankee executive Pat Gillick as saying, that was due to Munson’s “mental attitude and heart . . . he had that heart of a winner.” The accounts of Munson’s heart and perseverance – most of which come in the parts of the book that recount Munson’s pre-Yankee years – are what make “Munson” a must-read.
Of course readers will be more familiar with Munson’s Yankee years, and all of the familiar stories are here. However, unlike the way those stories are often told, Munson is not cast as a victim of Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin or George Steinbrenner’s nonsense. To the contrary, as Appel reminds us, through all of the “straw that stirs the drink” and Bronx Zoo drama, Munson remained a fan favorite, comfortable in his own skin and surprisingly unaffected, no doubt due to a long-sought and much valued loving home life with his wife and children.
Sadly, however, it was the desire to be with his family as much as possible that led Munson to obtain his pilot’s license and fly the jet that eventually killed him. Though the reader will dread the inevitable account of that fateful day in Canton from the moment he or she opens the book, Appel relays both the details of the crash and the drama of its aftermath in such a way as to avoid undue focus on its unsettling details while also avoiding overwhelming the reader with sentiment and melodrama. For the specifics, Appel allows one of the survivors from the crash – Jerry Anderson – to provide much of the detail. For context, Appel pretty much says it all when he notes “On strike three for the final out of the inning, Munson knew to roll the ball to the mound for the opposing pitcher to warm up with. It came naturally to him; he knew the game’s subtleties. His piloting skills weren’t as natural. Mistakes were being made.”
Overall, “Munson” presents a comprehensive, and dignified portrayal of both the subject’s life and his death. Which, based on everything Appel tells us about Thurman Munson, is exactly the way he would have liked it.
Via BTF, Milwaukeeans Jason Albert and Steven Hyden debate the merits of a professional sporting press. I tend to agree with Hyden, who believes that there is still a real need for working reporters with access. People like me certainly can't report anything. The highest and best use for bloggers, in my humble opinion, is opinion, and we can't write it without the Tom Haudricourts of the world getting the news.
I'm with Albert, however, when he talks about nuts and bolts stuff like box scores, recaps and injury reports:
I like to think I’m a pretty dedicated Brewers fan, but I can’t remember the last time I read a game recap. There’s just no need. When I miss a game, I can get free, real-time status updates on my phone, and for $15 a month I can watch any archived game I want on mlb.tv. Not to mention all the relevant highlights are posted online immediately following the game, if not sooner. The only thing I use the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for is up-to-date injury reports, roster moves, and columns. Except for the columns, that’s all stuff that originates from the Brewers’ offices, and could easily be dispersed through the team’s media relations flacks.
Of course, I read multiple recaps every day in order to write"And That Happened," which essentially mocks the idea of game recaps. I'm not sure what that all means, but I feel that if I think about it too much my grandfather won't be born, I'll cease to exist and the world will fold in on itself or something.
Amounts to very little in the grand scheme of things, but this blog post about it by John Fay at the Cincy Enquirer website has me thinking about stuff:
David Weathers was in the seat in front of me on the red eye from San Francisco to Cincinnati.
I was having a drink at a bar in the same hotel the Reds were staying in Cleveland for an interleague series a few years ago when Weathers walked through the lobby after one of the games. He was met by his wife and a bunch of kids, one of whom I presume was the son who isn't happy with Walt Jocketty. They mobbed him, and Weathers walked to the elevator with kids literally hanging off of him, a big happy smile on his face the whole way. I haven't been able to read the guy's name or watch him pitch since then without thinking of him as Super Dad, so I'm feeling for the guy today, even if it's less than two months until he's back home with the kids.
Second, I love road trips, and even if the Cincinnati-to-Milwaukee drive is about as far down on the road trip interestingness scale as you can get, I'm getting happy thoughts of Weathers cruising up I-65 towards Chicago -- I'm guessing he has an SUV, but I'm going to pretend it's a 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 -- listening to some good music, slurping on a Coke and burping up Steak 'n Shake. I'm going to pretend that he hit the one just off the State Road exit in Lebanon, Indiana, and has spent the last 30 miles wishing he had ordered the Bacon 'n Cheese Double instead of the Deluxe Cheddar 'n Bacon, because everyone knows that real American cheese is better than "cheddar sauce," whatever the hell that is.
Sorry, I was drifting there for a second.
AmLaw Daily is talking about that MLB-Topps baseball card deal from last week and raises the notion that Upper Deck could file an antitrust suit. Countering that is the assertion in the article that "In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court established a common-law exemption for Major League Baseball in cases involving antitrust laws, a decision most recently affirmed in 1972."
Well, sorta. Given the rather fluky basis of the exemption itself, the scope of baseball's exemption is rather murky. Yes, the Flood court said in 1972 that it's up to Congress to fix the original 1922 ruling, but many courts have hacked into it over the years and there really is no clear consensus as to how broad it is. I've long argued that a well-conceived challenge to the exemption could pass muster with the courts, mostly because, the Supreme Court's comments in the Flood case notwithstanding, there is nothing stopping it from changing its mind and overturning the Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore case. I don't know if baseball cards can form the basis of a well-conceived challenge, but I'm guessing that Upper Deck is going to seriously consider the issue.
As a childhood baseball card dude I'd rather like, on sentimental grounds, to see order and brand scarcity injected back into the card market if at all possible. Indeed, I blame Upper Deck for kind of ruining much of what I liked about cards back in the day. But I'd much rather see baseball's antitrust exemption disappear than a small part of my childhood restored, so I'm rooting for Upper Deck in this one.
Jermaine Jackson got himself a souvenir yesterday:
In the bottom of the second inning, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal lifted a foul ball toward the area where Jackson was sitting, and Jackson didn't hesitate. Jermaine, a right-hander wearing a Manny Ramirez No. 99 jersey, made a nifty backhanded grab and celebrated the snatching of the souvenir. Not surprisingly, Jermaine caught the ball while wearing one glove. A baseball glove.
I'd call it an Epic catch, but you'll remember that Jermaine married Berry Gordy's daughter and thus stayed at Motown.
Steroids and libel suits go together like liver and onions: really well actually, but they still leave a bad taste in your mouth:
The publisher and authors of a book about steroid use in major league baseball were sued today by a Texas man who says they falsely claimed he was "pushing" steroids to professional athletes and using his gym as a front for selling drugs, according to The Gibson Law Firm.
I didn't read it and don't know too much about the underlying facts of any of it, so I can't really opine on the merits. I'll say, though, that, given the subject matter, the publisher here probably had about 247 lawyers look this thing over for potential lible liability prior to releasing it.
Or at least I hope they did. Can't tell with big publishers these days.
(link via BTF)
Things to think about the next time you complain about your 20 minute flight delay. Things I wrote about while complaining about my colleague who was late with the Monday morning donuts:
I'll be back after I finish up writing a motion to dismiss a complaint that fails to raise a real or justiciable controversy. I hate using that as a defense, because I truly believe that I can turn anything into a real argument if you give me enough time.
Part of me wonders if I'll ever write a post like this one from Andrew Sullivan. Then I realize that, by definition, it's easier to blog about baseball than politics because, while I feel very strongly about the issues in the game, neither those issues or my writing about them is going to impact anyone's life too terribly. I don't know how you can weigh in on health care and war and all of that and not to feel some of the weight.
After decades of slamming the Chicago Tribune in particular, and several months of loudly proclaiming that newspapers are dead, Jay Mariotti is supposedly going to be doing a weekly column for the Tribune as of September 1st.
Which is fine, because I am capable of ignoring Mariotti across multiple platforms. I just wonder if, in light of this, he's going to start cutting anyone else who changes his mind once in a while any slack.
Shall I hold my breath?
Yankees 5, Red Sox 2: Brutal weekend for Boston. Dropping four straight to the Yankees is bad enough, but doing it on the heels of dropping two to the Rays is something of a tone-setter. Especially considering how ugly a series this was for them: Thursday and Saturday were pathetic. Friday was a stomach punch. Last night started to unravel with a stomach punch (A-Rod, Damon and Teixeira homers) followed by the bullpen just rolling over in the eighth. The Sox are 6.5 out now. They're tied with Texas for the wild card and only a game in front of the Rays. To suggest that the next seven games -- four at home against first-place Detroit followed by three games in Texas -- could make or break their season is not hyperbole. As for the Yankees, there's no denying it: they're the best team in baseball, and and it strains credulity to think that anyone can stop them. Oh, and after this weekend is anyone anywhere going to say that A-Rod isn't clutch now? Wait, it's A-Rod, so of course they'll say it. They'll just be wrong.
Reds 5, Giants 2: Aaron Harang: the best 13-loss pitcher in baseball. The Reds took two of three from the Giants over the weekend, beating Lincecum and Cain. Nice trick. The Rockies and Giants are now tied for the wild card lead. Query: how many of you thought that more than one team from the NL West had a shot at the playoffs before the season began? Of those, how many of you felt that one of them wouldn't be the Dbacks? Anyone who says that they predicted that the Giants and the Rockies would spend August and September locked in combat over a playoff berth can go take a flying leap, because you're totally lying.
Braves 8, Dodgers 2: After watching Los Angeles beat the tar out of the Braves last Sunday, it's really nice (for me anyway) to see them take 3 of 4 from the Dodgers this weekend. Was there a better offseason pickup than Javier Vazquez? He has put together one of the quieter awesome seasons in recent memory (10-7, 2.90 ERA, 171 K, 32 BB, 155 IP). If he had any run support in the middle of the season he would be a Cy Young candidate right now. The Dodgers have lost 10 of 15 and stagger into San Francisco. Winning the West once seemed like a foregone conclusion for Los Angeles. I think they'll still do it. But they're only 5.5 up on both the Giants and Rockies now.
Marlins 12, Phillies 3: With the Marlins sweeping Philly and the Braves taking three of four in Los Angeles, we may very well have ourselves a race here in the East now. Heck, the Marlins and Braves' division deficit is only a game greater than their wild card deficit. Jamie Moyer's bad day (5 IP, 11 H, 3 ER) will have people saying he should make way for Pedro Martinez in the rotation. My solution: given that Moyer has alternated between good and bad starts for 11 turns now, and given that Pedro is certainly no less fragile than he has ever been, why not just alternate between the two of them whenever the fifth start comes up for the rest of the season? You make one or the other one available to be a long man/mop up guy in low leverage situations when he's several days out from his next scheduled start. That kind of pen work would be less taxing than a start, but would be enough to (a) keep an old man loose; and (b) rest up more valuable members of the pen. And don't tell me that Moyer can't warm up like a reliever anymore. Guy throws 80. It doesn't take much warming up to do that.
Blue Jays 7, Orioles 3: Steve Simmons of Sun Media wrote this yesterday morning about Roy Halladay: "It's Halladay's desire to pitch in the post-season, and if that's the case he's going to have to toughen up and get used to being swamped by the media (something he detests) and get used to pitching under pressure (the Blue Jays are 1-7 in his past eight starts)." What Simmons didn't mention is that the Jays only scored 21 runs for Halladay in those eight starts, and that's not going to help you no matter how you stack up psychologically, no matter how much guts you have, whether or not you have swagger or any of that garbage. Roy Halladay needed some run support. He got some. He won. It's pretty simple. Simmons can take his pop psychology elsewhere.
Rangers 7, Angels 0: Derek Holland throws one of the more dominant starts of the year (CG, SHO, 3 H, 8K) against the best offense in baseball, and the Rangers take two of three from the division-leading Angels. The part of me that likes to see my preseason predictions borne out wants to see the Rangers overtake Anaheim, but I don't really think that's going to happen. The part of me that likes interesting things to happen in baseball would like much more to see the Rangers overtake the Sox for the wild card lead and hold it for the rest of the season. Given that they're now tied, such a thing seems eminently doable.
Rockies 11, Cubs 5: Chicago out-hits the Rockies 17-14, but gets killed in the column that matters most, and by that I mean the column that reads "facial hair." From reader Chris Koz: "I felt you should be alerted to Ryan Spilborghs' new look. I was watching the Cubs-Rocks game and I'm not really sure what he was going for there . . . gay pirate, maybe? It was kind of a bulldog mustache with chops coming all the way out to the stache, coupled with a vertical stripe on the chin." I'm not sure if that look has a name, but it certainly has power. In other news, I had mentioned several months ago that my four year-old boy wanted a new baseball cap (he was three when I first mentioned it). I let him look at every Major League cap, and stood ready to let him get any one he wanted (though I was going to veto Boston and New York on general principles). He picked the Cubs, probably because his name starts with a "C". After many delays, he finally got the cap. He looks pretty spiffy in it. I sit here this morning wondering whether having the cap will turn him into a Cubs fan or whether he views it as nothing more than a cap.
Athletics 6, Royals 3: I grew up during the age of the two-division setup. For 25 seasons -- 1969-1993 -- the A's and Royals shared the AL West. In 16 of those 25 years, one or the other won the division. In 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, and 1989, the Royals and the A's finished 1-2 (or 2-1). All through my childhood, then, one of those two teams, or both, represented the class of AL West baseball. I know the A's are no longer a perennial power and I know it's been a long time since the Royals have done anything, but something in my baseball DNA still twinges when I think of these franchises. Twinges in such a way as to make me take a little more notice of their futility than that of other bad teams. I think that's why I tend to pick on the Royals and A's more than a lot of other bad teams, anyway. Like they deserve my scorn more than, say, the Pirates, because once upon a time in my childhood, they used to be something in ways the Pirates (or whoever) never were. No point to this apart from it being more interesting to think about these teams' pasts than their presents.
Mariners 11, Rays 2: Scott Kazmir's nightmare season continues (4.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER). It was hot here in Columbus yesterday, and for reasons that aren't really important, I always make a point to listen to Jane's Addiction's "Nothing Shocking" on the hottest days of the summer. For that reason, when I looked at this box score and saw "D. Navarro" I thought that Dave Navarro was catching for the Rays. That would be cool.
Mets 5, Padres 1: Johan Santana (8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER; 2-3, RBI) was one of the few bright spots for a Mets team that dropped the first three of the weekend series to the Padres.
Cardinals 7, Pirates 3: Everything came unraveled for Pittsburgh in the eighth, when Matt Capps gave up a pinch-hit homer to Schumaker and then decided to plunk Pujols, got ejected, and then three more runs scored. Joel Pineiro gave up nine hits, but he doesn't walk anyone, like ever, so he got away with it.
Tigers 8, Twins 7: Newly acquired starter Jarrod Washburn got beat around for the the second time in two starts since the trade (6 IP, 10 H, 5 ER), but Twins' starter Scott Baker was beat up worse (4.1 IP. 9 H, 6 ER). Michael Cuddyer had two homers. Curtis Granderson swiped a base and is now in the 20-20 club for the second time. The Twins have lost seven of nine and are now 5.5 back of Detroit.
Nationals 9, Diamondbacks 2: And that's eight in a row for the Nats. It's really been the offense doing it for them, as their run totals on this streak are 5-8-6-5-12-7-5-9.
Astros 2, Brewers 0: Wandy Rodriguez continues his fantasticness (7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER). Houston is now tied with the Brewers for third in the division, six back of St. Louis, though I don't think that either they or Milwaukee looks like they have the oomph to hold on and make this a three or four team race.
Indians 8, White Sox 4: Cleveland has won 12 of 18. I guess they should have ejected the core earlier. Jamey Carroll -- Jamey Carroll?! -- went 2-5 with a double, a homer and three RBI.