Rain Man-ager

Rain Man-ager

Bissinger on La Russa: best bad baseball book ever?

I'm reading the new and amply hyped Buzz Bissinger book about Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, 3 Nights in August--and yes, you can bet the cheesy echo of Seven Days in May is wholeheartedly and unironically intended. 

I haven't seen any reviews besides the ones on the jacket, but it's just thoroughly and deliciously bad--the book reads like it was edited by a prankster and past Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest winner who hacked into Houghton Mifflin's computer system. I'd never read Bissinger before apart from the occasional Vanity Fair feature, but he may be the worst hack writing now; the main thing I learned from the book is that he's got a career because the editors at VF thoroughly rewrite everything they touch.

P. 157: "La Russa saw the old attitude on the 1983 White Sox, whom he managed to a division championship, where veterans Jerry Koosman and Greg Luzinski embraced their roles as team leaders. They relished spending money on pizza and beer for team parties at which baseball talk would fill the androgynous, interchangeable hotel rooms..."

He means "anonymous," but anybody can make an embarrassing mistake, right?

P. 199: "The lowest moment of the season for La Russa came eleven days before the Cubs series started, in the androgyny of a Hertz rental car heading south on Broad Street in Philadelphia."

Oh well. And the stuff about La Russa's tactical genius is just priceless: page after page of blather about the ethics of brushback pitches and retaliation pitches that could have been treated in a sentence--don't do it unless it's payback AND you're pretty sure the other pitcher meant to hit your guy. About 30 pages later, Kerry Wood grazes Albert Pujols's uniform with a pitch that everyone in the Cards' dugout thinks got away from him. Nonetheless Tony instructs his pitcher to plunk Sammy Sosa. Oh well.

I now understand Tony La Russa's deal a little better: He is for practical purposes a borderline autistic. His vaunted baseball thinking mostly consists of fretting for hours before games about things he can't control anyway--like whether the Cubs' number eight hitter, Damian Miller, will reach base with two outs at some point in the upcoming game and bring up the pitcher that inning, as opposed to the pitcher's leading off the following inning (because great baseball minds know that it's good for the other side's pitchers to lead off innings)--and performing tortuous, Rube Goldberg-like mental calculations about batter/pitcher matchups in which the combatants have faced each other in all of two or three at-bats over their entire careers. Bissinger clearly thinks stuff like this is proof of La Russa's intelligence and admirable intensity. I think it's proof he's a little nuts.

All in all, a ripping bad yarn, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. This is Bob Coles Bad.

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