Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic – Jason Turbow
I teased this one awhile back when I mentioned I was roaring through an awesome book. I started it on a Monday afternoon and wrapped it up before lunch on Wednesday. It was that good!
Turbow looks at one of the iconic dynasties in baseball: the Swingin’ Oakland A’s of the early 1970s. The team, which featured Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Ken Holtzman, Rollie Fingers, and primary manager Dick Williams, was one of the great collections of both talent and personalities in big league history. They also were the first team to win three-straight World Series since the Yankees of the 1940s and 1950s.
Turbow dives into how the team came together, how they learned to become winners, and how they battled each other as often as their opponents. Most notably, after clinching their first pennant in 1972, Vida Blue and Blue Moon Odom had a full-on fistfight in the locker room as their teammates celebrated and the media looked on. That was par for the course for the A’s. He also highlights how all the teams they beat over the years – the Orioles, the Reds, the Mets, the Dodgers – refused to give the A’s credit, adding to the attitude the team played with.
But the book isn’t just about the players or the games. A huge focus is on the team’s owner, Charles O. Finley, the man who took the team from Kansas City to Oakland and turned them into winners. Finley loved the spotlight, loved drinking, and loved battling baseball’s orthodoxy. He was also loathe to accept responsibility for his failings, looked for scapegoats at every opportunity, and loved to litigate. He was a brilliant yet exceptionally flawed man. Moving to Kansas City in 1980 I followed the local media’s gleeful coverage as a desperate Finley sought to sell his A’s when he could no longer afford to own the team. I still think he was a jackass – more because of how he treated people and his Trump-like qualities of never accepting blame – but can also appreciate the positive changes he brought to the game.
This is a top-notch baseball book. Expertly researched and well written.
The Harder They Come – T.C. Boyle.
Here is a tougher book to nail down.
It begins with a retired American couple – the Stensons from California – vacationing in Costa Rica. While taking an excursion into the country’s interior, their tour group is accosted by armed thieves. Sten Stenson, a former Marine, kills one of the attackers and saves the group. He returns to the states a hero, but quickly grows weary of all the attention.
Back in Northern California, Stenson’s son, Adam, is a self-styled, modern mountain man and meets a Sara, a woman who doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the US government. Both Sara and Adam are soon pulled into conflicts with local government officials, which soon spin into much larger conflicts due to Adam’s mental illness.
The story is loosely based on that of Aaron Bassler, who led law enforcement on month-long manhunt through Northern California in 2011.
At it’s core, the book is about how we perceive and desire freedom, and how there is an inevitable clash between the freedoms of individuals and those of society as a whole. It is taught, veers off in unexpected angles, and has wonderfully flawed characters. All that said, it’s not a book I loved. I don’t know why, but I kept waiting for there to be a slice of humor or irreverence injected into the story. When it never came, I grew a little frustrated with the book. But that’s on me, not the book itself. And I think this is a book I may look back upon more fondly after I think about it for a bit longer.