Fruits of the Commutes – “The Red Sox Years” and Other Sounds

With the Red Sox travelling to Denver and Baltimore to finish up the regular season, Gary Geiger Counter touches on a few favorites for passing the time on the road, including a tome by a certain wild-card chasing former Boston manager.

More Tell-Some Than Tell-All (npr.org)

More Tell-Some Than Tell-All (npr.org)

One of my favorite ways of enjoying baseball over the years was getting in my car and driving down the road with the game on the radio. I think I got this from my dad. I distinctly recall riding around looking at early foliage in 1978 as Luis Tiant won a game and forced a playoff with the Yankees.

I’ve had a long commute this past year and, as an antidote to music or sports talk on the radio, I’ve started listening to audio books that I’ve borrowed from libraries. The problem I find with audio books is that they are sometimes difficult to listen to while driving. It is easy to lose your place if you hit a bit of traffic or are otherwise distracted.

Some books work in the audio format, though. Land of Lincoln by Andrew Ferguson was one that I would recommend. History cum travel seems to be a genre suited for, well, travel. You know who else transitions well to audio books? Malcolm Gladwell. I’m not his hugest fan (and recently there’s been some criticism of his book Outliers vis a vis The Sports Gene), but he is easy enough to follow. The Devil and Sherlock Homes by another magazine writer, David Grann, was roadworthy. It was mainly true crime, but it even had a piece on Rickey Henderson. Another one that worked was NPR’s Driveway Moments Baseball CD. It was a compilation of stories about or featuring folks such as Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams, as well as ordinary fans. But it flowed better than the typical audio CD because it was originally oral and not text.

Some books that sparked my interest were not easy to follow while driving. The Education of Henry Adams is supposed to be a classic, but I got halfway through before giving up. Another book I listened to was Howie Carr’s Hit Man. I didn’t finish it as it started getting confusing; the gangsters all blended together. But I did hear one story about Earl Wilson’s no-hitter from 51 years ago and his previous night’s bacchanalia that matched David Wells’ and Don Larsen’s. The excerpt is online and I’ll present it with one comment that popped into my head when I heard it: wouldn’t a gangster be familiar with greenies?

This month, I was able to finally grab a copy of Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy. As I recall, Jose read it on his Kindle when it first came out. I forget who it was read by, but the guy wasn’t a Red Sox fan. He mispronounced some names like Leskanic. That one stands out, but he flubbed some easier ones too.

I’m not sure why the book was viewed as controversial when it came out this spring, unless it was for marketing purposes. Senior management wasn’t always portrayed in a particularly flattering light, especially Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner, but they weren’t excessively pilloried. It wasn’t a tell-all, but I wasn’t looking for a tell-all. I was interested to see how Francona managed the players and the book did give me a lot of that. Basically, players don’t like surprises and want the roles they think they deserve. I think we all know that, but the book confirms it. That and it seems pretty tough to find veteran role players. (For what it’s worth, between this book and his own writings for WEEI and Baseball Prospectus, I’ve come to really respect Gabe Kapler.)

One of the most interesting baseball writers out there. Seriously. (kingofjewishbaseball.wordpress.com)

One of the most interesting baseball writers out there. Seriously. (kingofjewishbaseball.wordpress.com)

Quick aside regarding Werner: isn’t he basically the NESN guy? NESN sometimes shows Pawtucket games, but does anyone here know if they go out of their way to promote prospects as much as they could? Yeah, sure, I was anticipating the Xander Bogaerts Experience, but that was because he was a hot topic here. Did the average fan know much about him before he came up? I do recall Jackie Bradley Jr. hype before the season, but that’s because the preseason seemed relatively newsless for the guys on the beat.

For what it’s worth, I think The Red Sox Years worked in the audio format because I already knew most of the story. But I did enjoy hearing it all again in one shot, especially the earlier parts. I cried while listening to tales of the 2004 ALCS. The book does limp to its conclusion; the last disc was anti-climactic. The 2011 season was already over, and it talked about Tito’s departure and (a lot) about who leaked personal info to Bob Hoelher. I’d recommend the book, and I’ll bet it is better than the Tony Massoratti and Michael Holley books on the Sox during the Francona era. (Just a hunch. I haven’t read those.) I liked it better than Mnookin’s Feeding The Monster mainly because it was a lot more about baseball.

25 thoughts on “Fruits of the Commutes – “The Red Sox Years” and Other Sounds

  1. Matt Post author

    Totally agree on Kapler, GGC. He has some really interesting things to say and is a good (if overly verbose) writer. And I mean genuinely good, not “runs well for a catcher” good.

    I enjoyed Seth Mnookin’s book on the Sox, so I’m tempted to check out Tito’s. But, you know, Shaughnessy. Ugh.

  2. Jose

    I’m not sure why the book was viewed as controversial when it came out this spring, unless it was for marketing purposes.

    Nice piece. This was my take too. The publishers made sure every little dig got out there in advance to build hype but really it was what you’d expect from the type of guy Tito seems to be. He was funny and while he was humble it wasn’t excessive, his pride comes through.

    To Matt’s point about Shaughnessy I had that concern too. I noted when the book came out that I didn’t like that it was written in the third person, I wanted it to be first person. However I thought Francona was quoted much more extensively than Torre was in his book with Verducci and if you are at all familiar with the people involved it is clear when it’s Tito’s voice and when it’s Shaughnessy.

    One other thought on Shaughnessy. The thing that makes him so frustrating to me is that he is a very talented writer. Every now and then he writes a human interest story for the Globe and KILLS it. When he’s not just being a lazy jackass he can be a great writer. Enough of that comes through in this book too offset the occasional dig at Carl Crawford.

    I don’t remember anything specific about the Mazz or Holley books but I read both. That jibes with my memory that they were just happy little “Hey we won again, let’s make some money” jaunts through the literary world.

  3. Gary Geiger Counter

    Shank or CHB, if you prefer, used to be responsive to email back in the day. Not sure if he still is these days or moved to Twitter. I emailed him a couple of times when I was researching some stuff on the Sox and he got right back to me. That said, I would much rather hang out with Leigh Montville or Peter Gammons.

  4. Gary Geiger Counter

    PS – I like Holley’s personality on the radio and I think that he, like me, is a late bloomer, but I can’t recall a word he’s written and I’m pretty sure I read Patriot Reign. I figured that Idiotsycrancy was probably a better book than he or Mazz could come up with. Faithful, the O’Nan King book, was definitely better.

  5. Matt Post author

    @Jose:

    One other thought on Shaughnessy. The thing that makes him so frustrating to me is that he is a very talented writer.

    Bingo. That he’s chosen to waste his talent on trafficking in miserable jerkitude for the most part is immensely frustrating.

  6. Matt Post author

    @Gary Geiger Counter:

    Faithful, the O’Nan King book, was definitely better.

    Yeah, I really enjoyed that one. Those two really caught lightning in a bottle by picking 2004 as the year to write a book like that.

    “Just like RLRS did by picking 2013 as the year to start a blog?”, Dr. Jinxtable wondered.

  7. Nasty Nate

    It was annoying how Shank tried to shoehorn a rift between Francona and Theo and the “stats guys” but it just wasn’t there. In fact, a big takeaway from the book was the surprisingly close working relationship of Theo and Francona.

    I had forgot about the O’Nan/King book. I vastly preferred the King sections, as O’Nan seemed more interested in wrestling foul balls from little kids than saying anything interesting about the team.

  8. Jose

    I didn’t care for the King/O’Nan book much. They spent an inordinate amount of time complaining about the absences of Brian Daubach on the field and Jaime Parker off it for me.

    I liked Bill Simmons’ book a lot. It was just a rehash of old columns but the footnotes (done in the style now used at Grantland) really added a lot. It was a fun look back at the previous half decade or so which was of course a pretty eventful period for the club both on and off the field.

  9. Jose

    @Nasty Nate: Nice!

    The Sox are highly likely to have home field in the LDS. The magic number to ensure that is 2 with the Tigers. Worst case they’ll play the Tigers in the LDS starting at Fenway.

  10. Gary Geiger Counter

    @Nasty Nate:

    I think Tito and Theo got along famously. Sure, sometimes Ops would suggest something that Francona didn’t like (sitting a regular versus keeping him happy,) but for the most part Francona was on board with the overall vision of a homegrown team. It was the higher-ups who disagreed.

  11. Matt Post author

    @Jose:

    I liked Bill Simmons’ book a lot. It was just a rehash of old columns but the footnotes (done in the style now used at Grantland) really added a lot. It was a fun look back at the previous half decade or so which was of course a pretty eventful period for the club both on and off the field.

    That book is on my shelf and has been for a while now. My parents bought it for me several Christmases ago. I haven’t read Simmons regularly in years and years, but I was an avid reader of his during the period from which those columns are drawn. I had not considered the footnotes aspect, so maybe I’ll give it a shot one of these days.

  12. Bubba

    Would you like some audiobook recommendations?
    If you won’t consider it too kiddy lit, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has been produced with a fantastic full cast recording, not a single narrator doing all the characters like every other audiobook I ever seen.

    Charleton Heston did a great reading of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea

    If you like non-fiction, The Teaching Company produces many lecture courses which are much easier to listen to than regular audiobooks because each lecture is a self-contained 30 minute piece and they hire very talented lecturers.

  13. Gary Geiger Counter

    Bubba, I’m almost exclusively a non-fiction guy, but I’ll see if I can track down that version of Hemingway. I’ve read some of is short stories (“Hills Like White Elephants” and “The Killers” come to mind), but I don’t recall ever tackling one of his novels.

  14. Gary Geiger Counter

    I’m also reading a physical book right now. It isn’t Red Sox related, but it is about baseball. It is Allen Barra’s “Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age.” I checked it out becuase I was curious about the appendix. In it, he makes his case for why he thought that Mantle was better than Mays. I think Barra’s an intelligent guy and a smart writer. He did a football book along with George Ignatin that was similar to Bill James’s Baseball Abstracts, but his comparison disappointed me. One of the measures he used was TPR (Total Player Rating, a Pete Palmer stat that is outdated mainly because of how it treats fielding) and I think Barra downplays how much better the NL was during the post-WWII years. I do like the biography chapters so far, but there could be more about baseball in them. Some seasons go by in only a handful of pages.

  15. Gary Geiger Counter

    My next driving companion is The Yankee Years. I may do a comparison of the two books if time permits. We shall see.

  16. Gary Geiger Counter

    I’m 40 to 50% thru TYY. Verducci is more sabemetrically savvy than Shaughnessy (it was weird when a game situation was described and Win Expectancy was dropped in there. I didn’t see that coming.) But the main diifference in the books so far is that the book talks about macrobaseball not just the Yankees. This makes sense. Verducci is a baseball guy wheras Shaughnessy is a generalist and mainly focuses on Boston sports.

    Also, Exhibit Z in the People vs Bobby Valentine: The Yankees weren’t invisible in September of 2001. They did visit some of the important sites during the post 9-11 recovery process. They also helped the city’s morale by winning; something the Mets aren’t always good at.

  17. Gary Geiger Counter

    I’m also reading Allen Barra’s Mickey and Willie right now. It is an interesting book, but not in the way I expected. Its strength is the story off the field for those two and busting some myths I believed about Mays. Barra is sort of sabersavvy and I thought that would be a strength. But he still uses Pete Palmer’s TPR. I’m not a huge fan of the defensive component of WAR, but I do know that Fielding Runs are very flawed. He does also use Win Shares, FWIW. I can see making an argument that Mantle was better than Mays, but I don’t think Barra’s argument was convincing. I think that Barra thinks the AL was closer in strength to the NL of that era than most baseball historians think was the case.

  18. Gary Geiger Counter

    I may as well consolidate all my book reading/listening comments here:

    I finally finished “The Catcher Was A Spy” this year. I’ve had the book for ages, but I never got around to finishing the chapter about Moe Berg’s post-war career until my vacation this year. I think took me so long because Davidoff gets a little too fancy with his vocabulary. This blog focuses more on between the lines goings on and I know the readers are more concerned with that than what happens off the field. Rightly so. The average modern athlete does nothing remarkable other than play sports. Berg, however, was a fascinating character; even if he was a legend in his own mind (which he was.) I recommend looking him up either by reading this book or online or something. Any guy who crosses paths with Ted Williams, Clifton Fadiman, and Werner Heisenberg is worth looking up.

    Jose read this one too a while back and thought that Berg was a pitiful character. I think Moe missed WWII and that he had a Mitty-esque streak and thought that he was still a spy. I’m a vet and while I’m proud of that, I don’t think about those days all that often. I wrote up something about those days for my wife, but I don’t revisit it that often. Occasionally I get an email from one of my Army buddies, but that’s maybe once or twice a year. With Moe, those were more like his Glory Days (Springsteen capitalization fully intended.)

  19. Gary Geiger Counter

    I finished Mickey and Willie this morning. Another aspect of the book I wanted to mention was Barra injecting himelf into the bio. For example he’d something write “I met with Willie in the food court of a Teaneck mall for background for an Inside Sports article in 1985.” Stuff like that is the staple of New Journalism since the days of Gay Talese, but I’m more used to seeing it in magazines than books. Not sure if it is a bug or a feature.

  20. Gary Geiger Counter

    I’m getting further into The Yankee Years. The book really rips into Kevin Brown. I can see why he didn’t get more HOF support if that book is indicative of the press’s view of him. I think there are enough pitchers from the era who are better than Brown that I would’ve voted for. But he should’ve hung around the ballot longer. It seems like Verducci was crediting Brown with Negative Wins during his Yankee career.

  21. Gary Geiger Counter

    Finished TYY and on to Allen Barra’s book on Yogi Berra. Random House: when you pick a reader for a book, pick one that knows the subject. In the appendix where catchers are ranked, Carlton Fisk became Canton Fisk. Ivan Rodriguez’s name was pronounced like he were a Russion. It isn’t EYE-van. It is eee-VON. Any baseball fan would know how to pronounce names of HOFers and stars. If you got this wrong, what else is wrong? I’ll read these books for you. I’ve never done voicework, but I have a pleasing baritone.

  22. Jose

    Have you read Hayhurst’s book? I”m heading on vacation in a few weeks and I’m wondering if it’s worth it. My general book of choice is the Tom Clancy (RIP), John Grisham, David Baldacci type of generic stuff and I like to slip in the occasional sports book to shake it up and that’s one I’m considering. I already have a soccer book (“Inverting the Pyramid”) so a baseball book would help shake up the week. I tend to plow through books on vacation and read 9-10 over the 15 days.

  23. Gary Geiger Counter

    No, I haven’t read it yet. But I’m tempted to check it out. I’ve heard good things about it with nary a discouraging word. It should be up my alley. I’ve written some stuff about my army years and the period after that. And I did read one memoir recently, Townie by Andre Dubus III.

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