“The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” by Molly Knight (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

The Best Team Money Can Buy

As a long-time, die-hard San Francisco Giants fan — the Los Angeles Dodgers’ biggest rival — wanting to read a book about the nemesis team would seem unlikely and somewhat disingenuous, since I may be planning to “pretend” to read it and then seek to lambaste it, being a book about those evil LA Dodgers. But no, my thinking was, the Giants and Dodgers face each other many times over the course of the 162-game season and this book seemed like a great way to get know this team I watch a significant amount of the time from April to September each year.

The Best Team Money Can Buy is a fascinating book about the Los Angeles Dodgers, not just as a sports team, but as a franchise and business. Molly Knight tells the fraught story of the Dodgers last few seasons, beginning with 2012 when owner Frank McCourt through an ongoing series of cost-cutting measures, gutted the team and brought the franchise to bankruptcy so he could line his pockets and make sure he and his wife had the best mansions to live in. Enter the Guggenheim group featuring iconic Magic Johnson and a few billionaires who snatched up the franchise before anyone else could as the highest bidder and then set out to win the team a World Series ring.

The book opens with a fascinating interview between Molly Knight and multiple Cy Young Award winner and star starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. Just as they began the interview in his native Texas, Kershaw learned he had just gotten a new contract with the Dodgers for a record seven-year $215 million deal. But he still did the interview, even though his phone was vibrating nonstop. Knight then takes readers through the next two years, how the franchise acquired the many expensive players such as Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke and one Yasiel Puig to name a few.

The book is a captivating read as Knight isn’t setting out to show the Dodgers as this perfectly polished team where everyone gets along and all they do is play great baseball. She gives each player their back story, talking about where they grew up, how they came to be on the Dodgers, and how they then worked out for the team. It’s common sense that when you put a bunch of competitive millionaires together, some in the same position, tensions will flair. Knight doesn’t hold back in discussing this, but also the many good things the owners have done since the bankruptcy days to make the Los Angeles Dodgers the high achieving, highly-respected baseball team it has been known to be since it left New York. They want to be known as the Yankees of the West.

But readers also see how the Dodgers got only so far in the postseasons of 2013 and 2014 before they were eliminated. Kershaw both times wasn’t able to be the ace he has come to be known for the team, and blames himself for letting the team down, and then how he picks himself up and tries again next year. It is a story of trying to get players who are paid millions of dollars whether they win or lose to want to work as a team and win. Kershaw has won a lot of awards in his short time as a major league pitcher, but it is the elusive World Series ring that he truly cares about adding to his trophy collection.

Originally written on August 3rd, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Best Team Money Can Buy from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball” by John Feinstein (Doubleday, 2014)

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

It is a place and time relatively unknown, shrouded in mystery. Some players spend a couple of years there, others spend almost or equal to a decade, and certain phenoms are there for the blink of an eye and then find themselves in the Major Leagues. The Minor League system of baseball is a complex well oiled machine whose one goal is not to win games for the team, but to make its players the best they can be.

In Where Nobody Knows Your Name, bestselling author John Feinstein takes the reader on a tour of an area of baseball many know little-to-nothing about. As baseball fans, we all have our favorite players and learn of how quickly they made it through the minor leagues and got brought up to the majors to become the highly-paid skilled athletes they are today. Feinstein focuses on a number of specific minor league players, including a manager for the Tampa Bay Rays AAA minor league team, and even a minor league umpire. Some of these players are young guys drafted at a young age looking to get brought up to the big leagues real soon, only to have their hopes dashed and their confidence threatened. Others are former major leaguers still playing in the game that keep getting sent down and spending more time in the minor leagues. As for the lives of the coaches and umpires, much like the regular players, they also yearn for a chance to be brought up to the major leagues to do what they believe they do best.

Feinstein doesn’t hold back on the details, showing the low pay for players, managers and even umpires that jump to shocking amounts once they spend some time in the major leagues. There are also stories of players being sent up and down, released and picked up by teams, and yo-yoed around the country as they go from minor league team to minor league team, just wanting a chance at the Show.

The first two thirds of the book are filled with these gritty stories and fascinating details, though the reader can become a little lost at times with the sometimes long and sometimes short chapters on specific players that they may not remember or know too well from earlier chapters, and yet are just thrown into their life story again. Something that may have been easy for Feinstein to recognize may prove tricky for the average reader. The final third of the book seems to present more calls ups and send downs and releases and pick-ups that the reader has already read about, which slows the book down considerably, but ends with a satisfying epilogue that brings all the players’, managers’ and umpire’s minor league stories to a satisfying end.

Originally written on March 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Where Nobody Knows Your Name from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Blockade Billy” by Stephen King (Cemetery Dance, 2010)

Blockade Billystarstarstar

It’s a known fact that Stephen King is a big baseball fan, and possibly one of the biggest Red Sox fans (if you doubt this, just read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon).  After the mighty tome of Under the Dome and with a four-novella book called Full Dark, No Stars due out in November, there’s another little story King is releasing to keep fans occupied.  Blockade Billy is a short, little book – just over a hundred pages – about baseball that is a perfect read for the start of summer and America’s favorite sport.

Way back when, in the early days of baseball when the players weren’t making much money and it was all about the rule and the game and the sport, the Titans of New Jersey had a bad start to the new season.  Their everyday catcher, while driving drunk, killed a woman and is in prison, while their scrawny beanpole of a backup catcher is mowed down in a play at the plate and ends up in the hospital.  Then the Titans find a young rookie from Iowa, William Blakely.

Blakely is strange character – in that great Stephen King way – who does an impressive job catching and hitting to boot.  At his first big play at the plate, Billy tags the runner out as the man flies over the catcher and is left with a sliced Achilles heel, never play properly again.  But Blakely wins the team and the fans over in that first game, as well as others to come.  He starts hitting balls out of the park, doing a great job of catching, and making some great plays at the plate.  The nickname – Blockade Billy – sticks and a legend is born.

The season continues and while the Titans don’t win every game, they do well and Blockade Billy continues to wow the crowds and the team.  Then a terrible secret is discovered.  About Blakely.  His career is over; the Titan’s games are stricken from the record, and every effort is made to eradicate the name of William Blakely from history.

The story is told in third person to King from the former third-base coach, now in his old age, who remembers this high time of baseball and the infamous memory that was Blockade Billy.  King writes it in his colloquial, easy to read style, slowly giving out the details and keeping the reader completely hooked, needing to know what the story is behind Blockade Billy.  But I’m not going to give that away here; you’ll have to read the book to find out.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on May 18 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.


Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.