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My Heart Bleeds Blue Borscht

April 19, 2020

THEY BLED BLUE: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen THE 1981 LOS ANGELES DODGERS by Jason Turbow. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020


Why do we read books about baseball seasons of long ago? I love them, probably more than I enjoy reading about seasons not so long ago. Most of the information about this season and last season and the one before was effectively gathered in daily and weekly journalism accounts, and not that much more emerges immediately afterwards, probably because the information that sources wanted to keep to themselves in October still remains tightly hidden there in November.

Years and decades after the facts, though, some of it inevitably bleeds out. Don Sutton wasn’t telling anyone about the tricks he used to doctor baseballs while he was still pitching, but by 2020, he’s a little bit free-er with his secrets. In THEY BLED BLUE, a new account of the 1981 Dodgers by Jason Turbow, details about Sutton’s trickery emerge. Sutton had left the Dodgers to become a free agent just before the 1981 season, with a huge, steaming pile of ill-will between him and the team he’d labored for over the previous fifteen years, particularly between him and Tommy Lasorda, the loquacious manager of the team whose constant barrage of optimistic BS Sutton couldn’t abide.

Turbow begins his examination of the 1981 season with some long prefatory chapters, the first of which is devoted to the one play that motivated the team to buy into Lasorda’s line of motivational pep-talks: the moment during the 1978 World Series when Reggie Jackson stole a Game Four victory from Lasorda’s team by placing a strategic hip in the way of a Bill Russell throw, turning a potential 3-1 Dodgers lead in the Series into a 2-2 tie.  For years afterwards, the Dodgers’ players felt cheated by Jackson’s smart/lucky/clever/underhanded move, and Lasorda stoked the flames of their resentment. It might seem peculiar for a ballclub to dwell on one play for years afterward. After all, there are thousands of breaks over the course of a season, some of which favor one team, others favoring another. It’s hard to imagine that a professional ballclub could stick their heads so far up Lasorda’s capacious hindquarters that they lose sight of this axiomatic truth, "the breaks all even out," but that was Lasorda’s quintessential skill, to make his gigantic ass a warm and welcoming place for his players to gather themselves in.

Turbow traces out Lasorda’s twisted path to the Dodgers’ leadership that he held for over twenty years, much of that path built out of falsehoods, bombast, distortions of the truth, and an almost clinically insane belligerence towards any person, team, or other entity that stood between the Dodgers and success. Lasorda would literally start fights on a regular schedule when he was a player, a coach, and a manager, and it didn’t matter much who fought, as long as he could throw punches at someone and thereby motivate his own team into an oppositional frame of mind. Some of this pugnaciousness might simply be natural to Lasorda, of course, but much of it seems cunningly manipulative of players who might otherwise have taken a less belligerent stance towards their opponents.

That’s how Turbow’s book begins, with a prologue about what got under the Dodgers’ skin in the seasons leading up to 1981, and with a first chapter describing the devious aims behind Lasorda’s rah-rah, Us vs. Them motivational persona. In other words, THEY BLED BLUE isn’t so much a daily log of a long-past season but Turbow’s attempt to put that season into perspective, trace out where it and the players on that team fit into baseball history. Lasorda’s hands-on managerial style, for example, simply would not fly with today’s players, today’s reporters, today’s umpires, but it worked in the 1980s, using techniques that went back to the 1950s, when Lasorda’s career as a marginal player in the Dodgers’ organization began, with some participation by one of his stars, Steve Garvey, who’d worked in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ training camp as a young batboy.

It was in that training camp that Branch Rickey’s far-seeing education of hundreds of Dodger farmhands took place, and Turbow acknowledges the part that "the Dodger Way" played in these players’ mindset. The Yankees, the Cardinals, the Orioles, and several other teams I can think also have their own organizational "way" of playing baseball, and I’m sure that less successful franchises have an absence of a "way" that leads to their lack of success—the specifics of each successful tradition would be a fascinating subject for an in-depth study: does each successful team merely preach a daily sermon on sound fundamental play, and then practice the particulars it preaches, or do teams vary widely in their emphases? Do teams recruit their leaders to enforce an already existing set of principles, or do individuals impose their own meaningful variations on the organizations that they join?

It’s dicey to state formulaically what exactly the "Dodger way" entails. Its roots go back at least as far as post-war Brooklyn, where Lasorda’s career began, and the Boys of Summer integrating baseball under Branch Rickey’s patient leadership, but even going that far back, the principles of Dodgerhood are hazy. Is it a generous spirit, as Turbow says here, citing the extensive training every Dodger got at the eight batting cages in spring training when other teams were willing to spring for only one? Or was it a spirit of parsimony, as typified by Rickey’s tightfisted policy against paying his players a fair living wage? Was it founded on unusual camaraderie, as seen in the close bonds formed between Dodgers of all races and religions on those early integrated teams, or more accurately reflected in the squabbling and personal resentments that Turbow details here between longtime Dodger stars Garvey and Sutton, among many others who openly loathed each other? Is Dodger leadership more in the tradition of profane vulgarians like Leo Durocher and Tommy Lasorda or in the straitlaced, soft-spoken style of Burt Shotton and Walter Alston? Is the Dodger way of winning games built on the raw power of Snider-Hodges-Campanella-Furillo and Baker-Smith-Garvey-Cey or on the speed and pitching of Wills-Lopes-Koufax-Drysdale-Sutton-Valenzuela?

Obviously the answer here is "Yes." All of the above, which leaves wide-open what exactly the Dodger way might be.  THEY BLED BLUE seeks to characterize one team at the height of their success by citing all the diverse influences that brought twenty-five players and their manager to the World’s Championship, which means at least twenty-six different paths must be traced out in some detail.

There are a lot of great reasons to choose this team’s story to tell, none of them personal to Jason Turbow. He’s not a Dodger fan, for one thing, by his own rooting interests or by his inclination—he grew up a San Francisco Giant fan, which makes curious his choice of subjects for this book or his previous book on the crosstown Oakland A’s (which I reviewed here last month), the two natural rivals of his hometown Giants. But a writer goes where his story lies, not necessarily where his own interests take him, and both those A’s and these Dodgers have their own stories to tell. The Dodgers’ 1981 season was strikingly peculiar, not least because of the long strike that interrupted their pennant race. It also had the breaking up of a persistent core of teammates, most famously MLB’s longest-ever four-man infield whose final inning of their eight-year run together was the final inning of the 1981 World Series, and perhaps the single most unusual and dominating rookie in a franchise famous for its Rookies-of-the-Year, Fernando Valenzuela, who singlehandedly can claim responsibility for drawing decades of LA’s Mexican-American community into Dodger Stadium.

Turbow tells those many strands of the Dodgers’ 1981 season in an unusual and at first fragmented structure and in his own quirky style. The structure of THEY BLED BLUE delays the accounts of the actual baseball games for almost half the book: after opening with close portraits of the 1978 team’s mentality forming via Reggie Jackson’s hip-thrust and Tommy Lasorda’s personality forming through various fist-fights, Turbow devotes a chapter to the Dodger franchise’s most singular trait, one that Branch Rickey referred to as "Coconut Snatching," from a tall tale the Mahatma would spin about noticing how a pair of tropical coconut pickers would switch their jobs: when one native got tired climbing trees to shake the coconuts down to his partner, who would catch them, he would descend and become the catcher and his partner would becomes the tree-climber.  The Dodgers would switch young players freely to positions they had never attempted before, and this trait was especially pronounced with the 1981 squad: Garvey came up to the majors as a third-baseman but became a first-baseman, both the second baseman, Davey Lopes, and the shortstop, Bill Russell, played the outfield in the high minors, and so on. In the course of explaining how extensive the team’s Coconut Snatching was, Turbow introduces all of these players’ backgrounds, their signings, and their personalities.

The Davey Lopes passage has a relevance for long-time readers of Bill James, who once used Lopes’ background growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, to explain how lazy journalists had stereotyped Lopes into a ghetto kid, when actually (I vaguely remember that Bill’s assistant Paul Izzo provided this information) Lopes had grown up in a stable, comfortable middle-class household, had never wanted for anything growing up, and all that ghetto stuff was just the reporters’ assumptions based on Lopes’ swarthy coloring. But Turbow interviewed many Dodgers, and researched the interviews others had done with them, including Lopes, whom he quotes early in chapter 2 on his upbringing: "the usual ghetto thing, the typical environment -- roaches, rats, poor living conditions, drugs as prevalent as candy, tenement houses with six to a room, welfare, food stamps," adding that Lopes’ "mother was a housekeeper, his father absent…..Crime was prevalent in Lopes’s neighborhood, and Davey was no exception when it came to perpetrators."

After summarizing the early careers of infielders Lopes, Russell, Garvey, Ron Cey, and then the complicated etiology of the Dodgers’ catching staff of Steve Yeager, who split the job with Joe Ferguson and then Mike Scioscia, Turbow runs down Lasorda’s prime problem entering the 1981 campaign: star pitchers Don Sutton and Tommy John had left the team, mostly acrimoniously, especially Sutton whose tenure dated back to the Koufax-Drysdale days and who resented Lasorda’s use of his talents, so the manager was now struggling to find adequate starting pitching.

At this point, having introduced the team’s veteran stars, its manager, its "Way," and its current pitching staff, you might suppose the book’s introductory matter was concluded, and the description of their season was about to begin, but no.  Not hardly. The most fascinating chapter, "Mania," describes the instant promotion of Fernando Valenzuela from a chubby 19-year-old nobody who spoke not a syllable of English to Lasorda’s Opening Day starter and, suddenly, the fulfillment of his wildest fantasies.

Valenzuela’s first eight starts beat Roy Hobbs and Joe Hardy put together: eight games of nine innings apiece, all victories, five shutouts, an E.R.A. of 0.50—plus a batting average of .360 in those eight games. In the course of describing these games, "Mania" also delivers an account of Valenzuela’s origins in Etchohuaquila, Mexico, his signing, his minor league experience, and a thorough examination of his quirky personality, including his unusual confidence and his even more unusual screwball. But the most unusual aspect of the Valenzuela chapter is not what it contains, but what it leads up to: the solidification of the Dodgers’ fan base.

Ever since they arrived in California, the Dodgers had been wildly, phenomenally popular with the citizens of Los Angeles, setting attendance records that other teams could only aspire to, but they had never drawn fans from Los Angeles’ huge Mexican-American population. In fact, the team was distinctly unpopular with them, and for a very sound reason: Dodger Stadium was built on the site of a poor but vibrant Mexican neighborhood that was effectively wiped out to make way for a housing project that never got built and then for the Stadium itself. The details are told at length here, and at further length in Shameful Victory: The Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Scare, and the Hidden History of Chavez Ravine by John H. M. Laslett, a book Turbow relied on heavily for his background on the Chavez Ravine neighborhood. (Even further length, I understand, is provided by the brand-new book on the subject, Stealing Home by Eric Nusbaum, which I haven’t read yet but which Rob Neyer and Turbow had each been reading--and admiring-- when they did a podcast last month.)  

THEY BLED BLUE raises all sorts of ideas that are outside of the purview of most baseball books, such as the whole concept of unknown players like Fernando Valenzuela stirring up crazes almost instantly. A city like Detroit every so often finds itself in the grips of Bird-mania, and I remember well how the blasé city of Denver was affected by Tebow-mania, and how Madison Square Garden shook in the throes of Lin-mania a few years ago. These stories of sudden, unexpected (and sometimes short-lived) success all involve a rookie, usually unknown or under-valued, blowing the doors off players far more celebrated and experienced. I remember wondering "Why didn’t the Mets bring up Jose Reyes sooner?", when Reyes broke in at the age of 19 and played like an All-Star from the start. The Dodgers’ GM, Al Campanis, reported a similar reaction to Valenzuela’s instant stardom: angry fans gave him sheer "hell for not bringing this kid up earlier." It’s a little reductive: when an unknown teenager succeeds, the team that gave him a break obviously brought him up at the precise moment he was ready, all appearances to the contrary, but it’s a legitimate question to ask if he might not have had the same success if he’d been brought up a day earlier, especially if his presence in the lineup, like Valenzuela’s, was mostly accidental. Logic then demands to know whether he could have succeeded if he’d been brought up a week sooner, or a month, or a full season? We’ll never know, but it’s tempting to understand the real question is not IF the teenager could have succeeded earlier but simply HOW MUCH earlier could he have played with the big boys.

This sociological diversion, explaining how Valenzuela overcame that deep-seated prejudice and turned LA’s Mexican-American community into permanent Fernandomaniacs, takes us almost halfway through the book, and apart from the descriptions of his first eight starts, there is scarcely any mention of the season the book is ostensibly describing. And just when you expect it to take up that central subject—the 1981 baseball season suddenly shuts down, and for 35 pages THEY BLED BLUE turns into a dense, detail-packed account of the underlying labor and management issues, the key arguments of both sides, and the major personalities involved in the strike, few of whom have anything whatsoever to do with the story of the 1981 Dodgers. Like the other 25 teams, the Dodgers played minor parts in the strike saga (Steve Garvey’s contract, for example, called for him to continue getting his paycheck in the event of a strike, which caused some strife among his paycheck-deprived teammates, and Peter O’Malley was involved in negotiations, alongside other owners) but the story of the strike bears direct relevance to  the story of the Dodgers mainly through the fiery personality of Davey Lopes, who spoke out loudly in opposition to the owners and sometimes to his own union.

Again, this diversion from the pennant race is entertaining and intriguing. The resolution of the race, once the strike was settled, is telling of the disorganization and the improvisational nature of MLB’s leadership: a series of nutty and counter-productive schemes for resuming a pennant race in progress were proposed, with the one that was finally being no less nutty and counter-productive than any other. In essence, there were incentives for teams to improve their post-season chances by deliberately losing games, and the entire process seems as carefully thought out as your average cat-and-dog squabble. (The wrong turns of this loopy decision-making procedure might be looked at carefully as MLB attempts this year to resume—or to start—the 2020 season in a way that respects teams getting a fair shot at the post-season. We certainly can’t do worse than the process used in the chaotic split-season of 1981 that makes as clear a logical case as a bowl of split-pea soup.) Turbow illustrates the mis-steps MLB made, and the ones they considered making, and the puddles they stepped into and those they stepped over. It doesn’t really have all that much to do with the 1981 Dodgers, directly, except that resolving the split-season did get them into the post-season.

Following that diversionary section, THEY BLED BLUE describes thoroughly in its second half the actual game-by-game story of the resumed pennant race, and of the post-season. This story is well-told in fine detail, though the style of this part of the story is a bit anti-climactic after all the novel diversions and side-stories of the first half of the book. (I haven’t mentioned them all by any means—I omitted the weird tale of Tommy Lasorda’s gay son, and one of his gay players, and his hands-off, hands-on relationship with each of them, among numerous other omissions.) The structure is charmingly strange, but I promised a few pages back to discuss the strangeness of Turbow’s writing style as well: he has a few quirks I made notes of, one of which concerns what I think is his use of his own notes, and the effect that has on the book’s style.

Every writer I’ve ever known has a pile of notes (from interviews, from research, from false starts of his own work) that simply do not fit smoothly into the narrative of the manuscript he’s just written. "I could almost make a book out of all the stuff I DIDN’T use," is a writer’s complaint so common that they won’t actually utter it to another writer, at least not while sober, but sometimes they try to shoehorn some of it back into the manuscript, either for purposes of padding or just from an ecological sense of guilt about wasting their efforts if they were to relegate this stuff to the circular file. What Turbow did with some material he gathered but couldn’t find a place for in his book was to put into footnotes.

He averages well over a footnote per page. Often there are two footnotes on a typical page, sometimes three, rarely none. (Actual count: 337 total footnotes in 331 pages.*) Worse, numerous of these footnotes carry over to the next page, so that you grow accustomed to interrupting the paragraph you had been engrossed in to read some asterisked or daggered note that was often only marginally relevant to the point Turbow was making, then following up the interrupted footnote onto the next page, and then having to find your place all over again at the point where the asterisk or dagger (sometimes double-dagger) first appeared. It’s like reading two books at once, and often losing your place in each of them. Much of the time, the footnoted information is of dubious use to Turbow’s narrative.

*Of course I didn’t count the goddamned things. Are you crazy? But this sort of quibbling addendum to the statement in my text just shows you what it feels like having the text interrupted about once per page to learn nothing very useful.



When I reviewed Rob Neyer’s POWER BALL last year, I remember praising his quirky profusion of footnotes, so what’s the difference here? I don’t know, except that maybe the content of Neyer’s hilariously fragmented narrative that built diversion upon diversion was as entertaining in its footnotes as the main text was? Or maybe it’s just more amusing the first time around?

Here’s an example, from page 289 of the paperback:

It  wasn’t  that  he  [Garvey] refused  to  curse,  but  that  he  made  known  his  disapproval of the practice.*

The footnote reads in full:

* Once leading Steve Yeager, out at a restaurant while the two were playing in the Dominican Winter League, to charge at him headlong.

This is material, no doubt gathered painstakingly, that belongs in the writer’s trash-bin. The text itself makes the point that Garvey’s disapproval of cursing pisses people off—we hardly need an example of pissed-off behavior in action to understand the concept, but the details—the nature of Yeager’s charge (headlong), the time of the incident (winter), the location (a restaurant in the Dominican Republic) etc.—seem more than superfluous, as does the odd construction of the footnoted sentence itself: did Garvey’s sanctimony really "lead" Yeager to attack him? Maybe "motivated"? "encouraged"?

Other footnotes follow similar patterns, so I ended up making a conscious decision whenever I encountered an asterisk partway through the text: "Do I want to bother following this one down to the bottom of the page and then finding my way back up to where I broke off reading? Or skip it?" Within the text itself, Turbow’s construction of sentences is also at times a little too convoluted for my taste (and, as a rule, I like long, complicated sentences).  He interrupts his own train of thought and then, after a long clause on a completely different subject (such as the clause that you are now reading, for example), returns to it.

This isn’t a terrible stylistic sin, but there were points I thought could have been presented more simply, for instance:

Then Gullickson made one of his only mistakes on the day, feeding Steve Garvey  --who on the bench only moments earlier had told Jay Johnstone, "If he throws me a slider on the first pitch, I'm going to drive it"--a slider.

(Let us leave aside one of my least favored constructions, from a copy-editing perspective, the phrase "one of the only." If it’s Gullickson’s only mistake, then say just that, but if it’s one of his few mistakes, say that. "One of the only" really makes no sense at all, and I’ve often drawn a red line through it when I’ve seen it in a manuscript.)  The syntax is the more confusing issue here: the entire phrase enclosed within dashes leaves suspended the incomplete thought of what exactly Bill Gullickson fed Steve Garvey. A spoonful of Gerber’s baby-food? A knuckle sandwich? A smoother construction might have been to write:

Then Gullickson made one of his few mistakes on the day, feeding  a slider to Steve  Garvey, who on the bench only moments earlier had  told  Jay  Johnstone,  "If he throws me a slider on the first pitch , I’m going to drive it."

Or, if the writer wants to obey time-sequence and causality more closely:

Soon after telling Jay Johnstone on the bench, "If he throws me a slider on the first pitch, I’m going to drive it," Steve Garvey drove one of Gullickson’s few mistakes on the day, a slider, into centerfield.

The complication of such sentences strikes me as typical of Turbow’s syntactic sense and his larger, organizational one—he seems constantly to want to pack just a leeeetle bit extra into his sentences, his pages, his chapters than they absolutely need. One last example, from page 299 of the paperback, of needless sentence-stuffing:

In the dugout, a visibly uneasy Lemon began to relax when Davis put the next batter, Russell, into a 1-2 hole, but he tensed right back up when the shortstop slapped a single to left, scoring the jacket-clad Hooton.

Why is Bob Lemon, whom Turbow hadn’t written about in any of the preceding four sentences, the subject of this sentence at all, and why is it focused on his state of internal tension and relaxation, which Turbow could only be speculating about here? Or are we meant to believe that Turbow has closely scrutinized game film of the Yankee manager’s face as Russell stepped into the batter’s box, observing its wrinkles and furrows and correctly assessing them as unusually "uneasy" but then observed them beginning to unwrinkle and unfurrow as the first three pitches put Russell at a disadvantage, and finally, to seize up again in a riot of tension when Russell hit the fourth pitch?  I never thought of Bob Lemon’s face (nor Sir Laurence Olivier’s, for that matter) as being so emotionally expressive. It’s a far simpler sentence, if a slightly less dramatic one, if Lemon is removed from this largely fictional scenario in the first place: "With a 1-2 count, Davis got ahead of Russell, who then slapped a single to left, scoring the jacket-clad Hooton." We can safely assume that Bob Lemon responded emotionally at all points more or less exactly as a few million other Yankee rooters had.

Turbow messes up here and there with some imprecise wording, sometimes amusingly, as when he comments on Dusty Baker’s use of "sentence fragments" in describing a fistfight he got into with some Expos’ fans (on p. 225):

Baker limited his account of the fight to sentence fragments. How long did it last? he was asked. "It didn’t last very long." Who won? "We did."

Baker’s two responses quoted here are, of course, grammatically complete sentences, not fragments at all. (The fragmented versions would have been "Not long" and "Us"—for some reason, the more correct fragment, "We," doesn’t sound right, though it is.) But since I’ve now been reduced to finding small faults in a mostly admirable, well-written, thoroughly researched work of considerable artistry, I will leave the remainder of the task at hand here, namely finding similar faults in the structure and style of this review, to you, my faithful readers. Thanks, as always, for your time and attention.










COMMENTS (48 Comments, most recent shown first)

Marc Schneider
Brock Hanke,

The Dodgers, like all the big city teams, seem to be involved in a lot of conspiracy theories like that. I remember in Curt Flood's book, "The Way It Is", he essentially blamed Walter O'Malley for Flood missing the fly ball that turned around Game 7 of the World Series because the schedule, designed to help O'Malley's team, was so onerous that Flood was tired and that caused him to miss the ball. Dubious at best, but Flood did tend toward the paranoid a bit. But part of this theory is mentioned in a book called "The Year of the Pitcher," ie, that other teams in the NL had to play a ton of games with no days off to help O'Malley's Dodgers.

You can't really discount totally the potential influence by powerful owners, but, as in most conspiracy theories, I tend to blame incompetence and stupidity more than some nefarious plot.
8:56 AM May 6th
Brock Hanke
It took me a week to realize this, but the subject matter - the 1981 Dodgers - has a VERY weird interpretation among the conspiracy theorists in St. Louis. So, here's what WE get told in STL if we're too young to remember (I am old enough to remember, but this is a conspiracy theory; I can't "prove" any of it).

Everyone knows the basics - there was a mid-season stoppage in 1981, leading to a "three winner" problem that Bowie Kuhn had to rule on. There was the "winner" of the first half, the "winner" of the second half, and the overall winner for the season. Kuhn ruled the the first-half winners and the second-half winners would make the playoffs, no matter whether their full-season standings would get them in.

This got heat, because it seemed that the first-half winners, who, when they sopped play, did not know that they had been playing that half for a postseason slot, should have a claim over the second-half winner, and the full season winner should have the strongest claim of all.

Kuhn probably figured the this exact run of "winners" would never happen; that the full-season winner would have had to have won one of the halves. Kuhn got burned bad. BOTH St. Louis AND Cincinnati got screwed. Both teams had the best full-season records for their divisions, but neither had won either half, so they weren't in the postseason.

The STL and CIN owners weren't pleased. And it only took five owner votes to remove a commissioner. Well, there had always been one vote against Kuhn for anything - some guy who just hated Kuhn. CIN and STL convinced another owner to join them (don't know who). So, they only needed one more vote to get rid of Bowie as revenge. Then, Gussie Busch had an idea. George The Boss of NYY had been taking a lot of heat for losing Willie McGee in exchange for a 4th starter, Bob Sykes (IIRC). So, Gussie offered to send George a player, who would be retroactively called the "player to be announced" in the McGee trade. The player was Bobby Meachum, a 1st round draft pick shortstop buried in St. Louis. Meachum wasn't half bad, for a "to be named later" player. And it got some of the heat off of George. So, George became the crucial 5th vote.

But wait, I'm not done! A big part of the conspiracy theory goes like this: Bowie Kuhn was Peter O'Malley's "boy." His primary loyalty was to the Dodgers. And the Dodgers had won the first half. So, Bowie instituted a system where, no matter how badly they played in the second half, the Dodgers would make the postseason. And would not change it, because any serious change would involved removing the first-half teams, who hadn't known what they were playing for in the first half. And that's how Bowie Kuhn got fired.

As I said, this came to me as an urban legend. I can't prove any of the various accusations. But it does seem to be an essay that belongs on this thread. So, here I am.
5:25 AM May 3rd
Marc Schneider
Fyi,. I started reading Turbow's book on the 1970s Oakland A's, "Dynamic, Bombastic, Fantastic" and it is quite good.
10:34 AM Apr 29th
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks, Maris. (As if I--or anyone--has the slightest clue what you mean by "it" or "the other." But now we don't need to devote any more effort into deciphering your meaning.)
1:46 PM Apr 26th
Marc Schneider
Steven, MarisFan,

I apologize for the mistake. Sometimes I don't read closely enough.
12:59 PM Apr 26th
Yes -- thanks for clarifying.
And, I have to say, I had thought from the previous discussion that most likely it was the other. I do think it's worth 'defending' anyone on a thing that might just be sloppy language, but the reason I persisted as I did was that I thought it was in fact most likely the other.
10:20 AM Apr 26th
Steven Goldleaf
Yeah, that's the edition I've got. For people who want some context, the larger passage reads like this:

By the end of training camp, Smith’s surgically repaired shoulder was still in no shape to throw a baseball, despite twice-daily stretching exercises to tear built-up adhesions, a regimen aimed at muscle growth. When the temperature dropped, the shoulder seized, forcing Smith to dial back his program. By the end of March, Smith, once in possession of among the strongest outfield arms in the sport, was hoping merely to regain 80 percent of what he’d once had. He even envisioned a scenario in which Davey Lopes would race toward right field from second base to handle his truncated tosses.If anything, Smith’s infirmity exacerbated his long-standing surliness....

Thanks for clarifying, Marc. Appreciate your effort.
8:45 AM Apr 26th
Marc Schneider

I have a kindle edition. It's on page 47. I don't know if the page numbering is the same. But, after rereading it, it's clear the author thought that Smith was generally a surly person. "If anything, Smith's infirmity exacerbated his long-standing surliness . . ."

So I guess I should have read it more closely the first time. And, as I read farther in the book, it becomes clear that Smith was not just surly, but maybe a bit nuts.

Anyway, I think it's a really good book that I highly recommend and I probably would not have read it but for Steven's review. So, thanks Steven.

8:21 PM Apr 25th
Steven Goldleaf
Which page is the "surly" comment on, Marc? I'll re-read it and see what I think. Also did you get the paperback or the hardcover?
2:55 PM Apr 24th
Marc Schneider
I've probably been imprecise and I apologise. The point I was trying to get at was that I don't know if Turbow was saying Reggie Smith was generally an unpleasant guy or was just frustrated by his injury and reacting in a nasty manner. As I recall, he also used the word intense. I do see surly and difficult as being different, as MarisFan said, I think surly is a subset of difficult. You can be difficult in a lot of ways without being surly. I acknowledge that surly can be a temporary condition. You can be surly in answering the teacher's question without being surly in general. But what I couldn't figure out was if he was trying to say Smith was unpleasant in general.
2:00 PM Apr 24th
Sorry, it's me. :-)

He probably made a mistake by focusing on that part of it for you. He was doing you the favor of addressing that part of it, since you were so focused on it -- and in the process of that, he enabled you to keep thinking it was the main thing. "Surly" is sort of a subset of "difficult," difficult being the more general term; he switched momentarily to 'difficult' in that one context because in that sentence, he was talking about the issue more broadly.

The main thing was....ahh forget it. :-)

Let someone else.
12:39 PM Apr 24th
Steven Goldleaf
OK, can someone other than Maris (Please--I don't want to hear from him on this subject again) explain what Marc's talking about?

The quotation from Marc just below Maris's last comment seems to me VERY SPECIFICALLY to address the difference he finds (and I don't find) between "nasty" and "difficult."

But please--no more Maris.
11:27 AM Apr 24th
Steven, you're having some kind of odd block on this.

The main issue isn't whatever different between "surly" and "difficult." That's relatively incidental. Somehow you've gotten fixated on that and you're missing by far the main thing, which both Marc and I have noted and so I won't repeat.
11:05 AM Apr 24th
Steven Goldleaf
"To me (and maybe only to me), surly implies a much more nasty character flaw than does difficult. Someone can be "difficult" in a wide variety of ways, while being surly, to me at least, implies a more aggressive and potentially violent person."

I think this is where we disagree. To you (and to Maris?) "surly" is much nastier and long-lasting than "difficult." To me (and to Turbow?), not so much. I 've had students who gave me surly answers, for example, or who behaved in a manner I considered surly for an entire semester, but who matured and eventually became fine, respectful, diligent students either later that semester or in a later term. I just don't see it as being radically different as you (and Maris) seem to. I considered these students surly and difficult, but never gave a second's thought to their being aggressive or violent with me, just immature and working out their personality issues.
7:31 AM Apr 24th
(I didn't think there was any issue about how you used "difficult" and "surly." It only appeared to be an issue when taken out of context.)
5:14 PM Apr 23rd
Marc Schneider
MarisFan is correctly interpreting what I was trying to say which is that, to me, surly implies a normal characteristic of that person. I don't know if the author meant to say that. You could say that Smith was reacting in a surly manner while recovering from his injury and that would, I suppose be ok. But it was unclear to me whether he was saying Smith was generally surly or just reacting due to frustration with the injury.

I agree with Maris that it is important to distinguish between the two. I also think that surly implies a general personality characteristic that is different from reacting out of frustration. But, as I said, I would be ok with saying Smith reacted in a surly manner to his injury. It's not clear to me whether Turow was saying Smith was a surly person or just being "difficult" because of the injury. I have no idea what people thought about Reggie Smith.

I think the mistake I made in writing this was conflating "difficult" with "surly." Obviously, you can be a difficult person generally or you can be difficult situationally. To me (and maybe only to me), surly implies a much more nasty character flaw than does difficult. Someone can be "difficult" in a wide variety of ways, while being surly, to me at least, implies a more aggressive and potentially violent person.

1:59 PM Apr 23rd
Steven: For sure what you're saying is so. That can be.
But you seem to be applying an odd standard, the reverse of what would seem to be the right one, which Marc was implying and which I wouldn't have thought was controversial.

I would have thought it's clear that it's ill-advised to leave any room for it to be read as suggesting the person is characteristically that way unless there's strong reason to think it is so -- and in this case, per what Marc said, it appears there was no particular reason to think it.

If you think there was, you can tell us.
If there wasn't, it was either sloppy vocabulary or huge psychological unsophistication by the writer.
1:10 PM Apr 23rd
Being surly is one way of being difficult. There are others, like being aggressive or uncommunicative or withdrawn, for example.
11:32 AM Apr 23rd
Steven Goldleaf
I think some people are surly (or difficult) people in general, and this only gets exacerbated by hardship, such as recovering from an injury. Sweet-tempered, good natured people will be somewhat cheerful, even when on crutches or in traction. I don't see a disconnect between assessing Smith as a surly, difficult person in general (if that's what Turbow thought) whose personality emerged more strongly under duress. I don't get why Marc is resisting that conclusion. Does he have inside knowledge that Smith was an upbeat, fun sort of guy to be hanging around with, normally?
5:06 AM Apr 23rd
Steven: You're misconstruing what he said.
(I know it's risky to talk about what someone else said or meant, but take this to the bank. I promise you.)

He didn't mean that all you need to do is substitute "difficult" for "surly," which is how you're taking it.

What he said was: "difficult while recovering from an injury."
(italics added)

It would perhaps be a few percent less bad to have called him "difficult" than "surly," because it's a little less severe word, but it would be exactly the same error.
6:47 PM Apr 22nd
Steven Goldleaf
My problem is, Marc, that I don't understand your complaint. Couldn't Smith say, if he'd been called "difficult," that he wasn't a difficult person, just one going through a difficult period in his life while he was recovering from injury? How is that different from being called "surly" while recovering from injury? "Surly" seems a tad more specific to me, a particular type of "difficult." I think it's fine.
6:00 PM Apr 22nd
Marc Schneider

That's pretty much what I was thinking. From the context in the book, I couldn't tell whether he meant that Smith was a surly person in general or whether his behavior was because of the injury. As you say, it is, in my mind, a big difference. I guess you could say that Smith exhibited surly behavior when he was recovering from an injury, but the way it was written, it was confusing.

Not a major point but I do think an author should be precise with what he or she is describing.
3:21 PM Apr 22nd
......It's an example of the difference between "state" and "trait."

Here's maybe a more neutral and clearer example.
Let's say it was a leg injury he was recovering from -- no idea what it was, let's say leg.

He wouldn't be able to run.
Would it be fair to say "he's slow"?
No it wouldn't. It would be, this is how he is because he's recovering from an injury.

BTW, I know that this example could be criticized, but I like it. :-)
3:11 PM Apr 22nd
I'm with Marc. I think it's an excellent point.
Big and significant difference, especially if you're the one being characterized.
3:08 PM Apr 22nd
Marc Schneider
Maybe it's just me, but I always thought of surly as referring to an aggressively nasty personalty, while difficult or intense refers to behavior related to a particular even, ie, recovery from an injury. I don't know if that makes any sense, but that's how I saw it.
2:11 PM Apr 22nd
Or is this another case of using the right word's second cousin?
12:22 PM Apr 22nd
Steven Goldleaf
is there really a huge difference between "surly" and "difficult"? Seems to me either would apply to someone recovering from an injury who was in a constant foul mood and who responded to inquiries about his current health (for example) with "Leave me the fuck alone." Calling such a person either "surly" or "difficult" would be about equally accurate.
9:38 AM Apr 22nd
Marc Schneider
I've started reading the book and am enjoying it. But at one point, the author talks about Reggie Smith's "surliness" as he recovers from an injury and talks about his intensity. To me, this is an incorrect use of "surliness", which the dictionary (at least the online dictionary) defines as "bad-tempered and unfriendly." Maybe Smith was surly but it doesn't seem to fit the behavior that the author describes, which I interpreted to mean that he was difficult while recovering from an injury but not necessary unfriendly in general. I don't know if anyone else noticed it and I don't know if Smith has a reputation for being surly.
8:48 AM Apr 22nd
Steven Goldleaf
Who do you expect would Go Fund You? Maybe you should go fund yourself.
6:46 AM Apr 22nd
Should I start a GoFundMe page?
8:29 PM Apr 21st
I don't think it was that he needed the adverb.
However, he did need a hyphen. :-)
7:27 PM Apr 21st
Steven Goldleaf
Gfletch is notoriously typo-prone.
5:04 PM Apr 21st
In reference to “I'm not high educated” in one of the comments below, what is with adverb hatred these days? It's as if nobody can afford “ly” any more.
2:32 PM Apr 21st
Steven Goldleaf
I don't think of "a" as an article in that construction, but rather as a part of the compound adjective "pastadiving," which always makes me think of Jeter heading face-first into a bowl of fettuccine alfredo. For some reason, I enjoy that image.
6:23 AM Apr 21st
To me and I think many Yankee fans of this recent era, notwithstanding our liking for the personage (so to speak), the usage that immediately comes to mind is "....past a diving Jeter...."
3:51 AM Apr 21st
Oh, okay. So '...the article "a" implies that there are several Ribbentrops, of whom the author is choosing to discuss this particular Ribbentrop,' so I guess the proper way would be to replace 'a' with 'the?'

Eh, I'm more comfortable with the commonly used style. This is correct grammar gone mad, I tells ya.
5:09 PM Apr 20th
Well, you asked for it, so I'll indulge in a bit of fault-finding, though I usually consider this sort of thing a very minor sin. Still, this partial sentence grated on me: "he seems constantly to want to pack just a leeeetle bit extra into his sentences, his pages, his chapters than they absolutely need." "extra" is not a comparative, not to me anyway.

I get the impression from this excellent review that despite its minor faults I have to read the book, which is annoying, because not long ago I finished Jeff Katz's Split Season 1981. I'm usually put off by books which read like a series of game results, but Katz succeeds in finding a point of interest beyond the raw action in each of his accounts. And he is very good on the labor relations aspect.

Katz does a much better job of presenting individual games than J. Daniel, author of Phinally!, which I'm currently reading, and which obviously is about the 1980 season. It may improve in my estimation by the time I've finished it, but right now, as fondly as I remember that season, I wouldn't recommend it. Admittedly, I may be overreacting to his frequent violation of Mark Twain's admonition to "Use the right word, not its second cousin."
4:45 PM Apr 20th
Steven Goldleaf
I think (correct me if I'm mistaken) Wovenstrap is saying that the article "a" implies that there are several Ribbentrops, of whom the author is choosing to discuss this particular Ribbentrop. "At that point, one of the goddamned Ribbentrops (no one could tell which one) piped up about Goebbels...", like that.
3:03 PM Apr 20th
Those things tagged by wovenstrap...

"a visibly uneasy Lemon." "...a frenzied Ribbentrop shouted down Goebbels...."and I believe to explain his dislike..."There's only one Ribbentrop.?"

Other than perhaps being a literary caricature or cliche, I dunno (I'm not high educated), I don't see the problem. I mean Ribbentrop could also be surprised, pleased, disappointed, aroused, sweaty...Ribbentrop could be all kinds of things, one at a time or several at once. Perhaps I am just revealing my lack of sophistication?
2:51 PM Apr 20th
Steven Goldleaf
Turbow actually goes into, at some length, the mix of nationalities in Lopes' background, including the Cape Verdean stuff. It's a very thorough bit of reporting--I'm sorry if my review came across as largely negative. I enjoyed it, and tried to explain a few stylistic and structural flaws in an otherwise fine book.
11:23 AM Apr 20th
I lived in Providence for twenty years. Didn't know Lopes but he was of Cape Verdean descent. The citizens of that small island nation came to Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts in huge numbers from about 1900 to 1975. They were mostly of African and Portuguese descent, and spoke Portuguese. They certainly did not as a group have much money, but probably had more in common with the city's many white mainland Portuguese and Azorean immigrants than with African-Americans. Whatever stereotypes one might hold about African-Americans will be even less useful in understanding Cape Verdeans, although they faced some of the same prejudice. "Ghetto" would probably be a misleading term for the neighborhood he grew up in, even if raised by a single mother who was a domestic worker.

The LaSalle Academy is indeed a large and well-regarded prep school, mainly for the area's large Catholic population. Most of the city's Italian-American politicial class went through there. It probably would have been unusual for a Cape Verdean kid to have attended there in the 1960s, even if they had some money; I would assume he was a scholarship kid.
10:17 AM Apr 20th
Agree that the Lopes detail there is very useful for longtime readers of Bill's stuff.

Also a copyeditor........ I also dislike that trope of "a visibly uneasy Lemon." This usage of it works OK but IMO a majority of the time writers can't really do it and it's just dumb. "...a frenzied Ribbentrop shouted down Goebbels...." Ugh. Just stop doing that, writers. There's only one Ribbentrop.​
9:19 AM Apr 20th
Steven Goldleaf
Actual footnotes.
9:15 AM Apr 20th
Marc Schneider
This sounds like a great book despite the flaws that Stephen discusses. I enjoy digressions like the ones he does more than I do game-by-game analysis. In any event, even if it's not, I bought it for 74 cents on my Kindle. Don't ask me how these things are priced.

This was a great review, Steven. Thanks. One question. Were these actual footnotes or endnotes as most books have these days?

8:52 AM Apr 20th
Steven Goldleaf
Sorry if I made it sound like Turbow was slagging on people he didn't like--probably, it more like he was slagging on people I don't like. He was actually pretty circumspect in describing Tommy LaSorda's unpleasant attitude, certainly more polite than I was being in describing his description. As to Lopes, I think it's still wide open as to the "ghetto/middle-class" question. Probably his situation changed over the years, with both extremes being slightly exaggerated. Maybe he overstated it when he gave that "ghetto" quote early in his career (I think 1974) or maybe he did get a scholarship to a cushy prep school in his late teens.

Gfletch--you nailed it. In an interview with Eric Nusbaum, this week, Turbow explains the footnotes as a work-around for turning in a manuscript that was "too long" for his publisher. If he jammed stuff into footnotes, it wouldn't show up in his official "word count" which seems to me a pretty cheesy way of avoiding an editorial conference that you don't want to have. Your solution there works for me, but so does cutting the whole Yeager thing entirely.
6:48 AM Apr 20th
About the footnote interrupted account of Garvey vs Yeager, why a footnote at all?

Why not just:

"It wasn’t that Garvey refused to curse, but that he made known his disapproval of the practice, once leading Steve Yeager, out at a restaurant while the two were playing in the Dominican Winter League, to charge at him headlong."

If done that way, there would be no risk of annoying the reader while serving to emphasize how damned irritating Garvey's holier than thou attitude was.

11:08 PM Apr 19th
I don't know about his young years, but Lopes attended LaSalle College Preparatory. It looks like a rich school but he could have attended on a scholarship. For College he attended Iowa Wesleyan University, which is a liberal arts college. I had a boss who said he was a teammate of Lopes there.
10:31 PM Apr 19th
Thanks for the review. It sounds like Turbow write books to rap on people he doesn't like, which make me not interested in either book. There were other things you mentioned that I wouldn't really like about the book also.

I remember Fernandonania and it enjoyed it. I could tell he was tired at the end of the year. One of the highlights of the 1981 World Series was his gutsy 5-4 complete game victory. How he pitched 9 innings I will never know.
10:13 PM Apr 19th
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