Monday, July 28, 2008

Book Club - 3 Nights in August

I like to try to read at least one baseball book a summer. 3 Nights in August was released in 2005 and I'm finally getting around to it.

The book is about a 3-game series in St. Louis between the Cardinals and the Cubs in August 2003. At this point in the 2003 season, the Cubs, Cardinals and the Astros were all vying for first place in the Central and for the Wild Card spot. This 3-game series was important to both teams because the race was tight.

The book takes place almost entirely from La Russa's vantage point. The author, Buzz Bissinger, was granted unprecedented access to the Cardinals locker room, dugout, and to La Russa himself. Bissinger goes into quite a lot of detail, at times he gives a pitch-by-pitch account. He reminds us, if we need reminding, that baseball is as much a mental game as a physical game. La Russa's approach to the game, not just these individual games, but the game in general, is described. La Russa comes across as a driven person, maybe too much driven by the game. But that's what it takes to reach the levels La Russa strives for (and has attained). Bissinger takes numerous side trips from the immediate game, almost always in response to something in one of the games. For example, the Cardinal's Kerry Robinson, normally a bench player, is a started in this series. When Robinson comes to bat in the 3rd inning of the 1st game, Bissinger takes the opportunity to talk about Robinson and contrast him with J. D. Drew, who should be starting but isn't, because he's hurt, again. Robinson is a guy who has all the drive in the world but not a great deal of talent. And for most of this series, he builds for himself an elaborate doghouse for failing to produce and for failing to practice baseball fundamentals (at lease the fundamentals according to La Russa). Drew is a guy who has all the talent in the world, but not much drive. La Russa sees him as a guy who should be better than he's shown but doesn't because he doesn't have to. And since this is baseball, Robinson hits a walk-off home run in the 3rd game to give the Cardinals the series.

The Cards win 2 games of the series and take over 1st place in the NL Central. But it doesn't last. The Cardinals finish 3rd behind the Astros and Cubs. The Cubs beat the Braves in the Division Series but then run into the buzz saw that was the 2003 World Series Marlins and that's the end of them.

If you're like me and mainly follow baseball games by listening to them on the radio while you're doing something else, this book will remind you of how complex, entertaining, and perverse baseball can be.

1 comment:

deal said...

Although, I have always been a bit irked by LaRussa I did enjoy the framework of the book. I have read books on seasons and single games but never a series. That works in this book. Bissinger gets involved in a little too much hero-worship of LaRussa for my tastes. The passage on Rick Ankiel is particular interesting. And Ankiel's recent success as an OF is a nice addendum to the story.