Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic by Jason Turbow




Why I Read It: I grew up thinking I was destined to play third base for the Red Sox. Baseball is in my blood.

Summary: The subtitle says it all: "Reggie, Rollie, Catfish and Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's." The book covers the early 1970s A's dynasty.

My Thoughts: If you did not live through the early 1970s baseball seasons, here is your chance.

Jason Turbow's book about the early 1970s is essentially a collection of biographies, with the keystone figure being Charlie Finley, the twenty-year owner of the A's, first in Kansas City and then in Oakland. The surrounding cast, though, is as important to the central story as the Owner (capital "O" intended): Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando and so many more. And that fact drove the Owner to ridiculously self-destructive acts that somehow never proved strong enough to take down his own team.

It's complicated.

Finley survived early health problems to build his own business empire, eventually buying the A's and creating a baseball dynasty. He played a back-and-forth game with his players, lauding them with riches when they made him look good (oftentimes taking credit right from them, claiming that the only reason they performed well was due to his foresight) and haranguing them when they did poorly (always their fault). His relationships with his managers - 18 in 20 years, including a few repeat customers - were just as difficult. He was both lavish and cheap, depending on the circumstance. And he never could see how his actions affected how people viewed him. He never got out of his own way.

His ego was met head-on by those of his players, including Reggie Jackson. Reggie's rise to stardom was meteoric, and Finley couldn't stand to share the spotlight, despite the fact that Reggie's greatness would help propel Finley's own team to amazing accomplishments. Reggie and his teammates spent most of the early 1970s fighting back against Owner-imposed injustices on the players; how they managed to win three consecutive World Series during this time is one of the greatest puzzles of baseball history.

In the end, the story is one of lost potential. With a core of young superstars and a rising cast in the minors, the A's should have contended for the next decade, but because of Finley's mismanagement - poorly mistimed with the beginning of the era of free agency - the A's fell flat on their faces for the balance of the decade. Had it been anywhere else, under any other owner (save for Steinbrenner, maybe?) the 1970's A's might have gone down as the most celebrated team in baseball history. But alas, they scattered, fleeing Finley whenever they had the opportunity, reuniting here and there, never regaining old glories.

If you don't believe me, trust in Turbow.

After reading this book, I want to re-read Jonathan Mahler's Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, as it more or less picks up the Reggie Jackson story where Turbow's reportage closes. Why not keep this train rolling?

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