I rarely give 5 start ratings and the one's I give are usually for outstanding examples of Historical research. Feinstein has once again done a masterful job of describing his subjects. His focus is AAA baseball, one (big) step below the majors. We see players with years in the majors trying to get one more shot and minor league "lifers" trying for a taste before they retire. We also hear from managers, umpires and even league executives. Fienstein is such a smooth writer he gives the reader a wealth of hard data and personal insights while making it all look easy. The book is facinating from beginning to end. Remember everyone there is a phone call from thje big time or a phone call away from being released or sent down a level. The tension is built into every player's life. Even if you aren't a big baseball fan you might like the book as a study of how men react under pressure and deal with success but mostly failure. Buy the book.
on February 7, 2014
Triple A baseball serves a lot of functions: training for young players to ready them for the majors; warehouse for a few extra guys who might make a difference at the end of the season; place for struggling players to rehab themselves and get a chance at the bigs; place for players who can't make the show but love the game too much to stop; entertainment for fans in second-string cities. Managers and umpires also get trained, warehoused, and disappointed in Triple A ball - and managers have a tough job because they never know from one day to the next who will be part of their squads.
Still, these players are better than all but a few hundred other people at playing professional ball.
John Feinstein spent a long season following a few players at different points in theire baseball trajectories, along with a few managers and an umpire. A lot of the stories are similar, with ups and downs and some happy and some less happy conclusions. The book is clearly pasted together from essays and articles, so there is repetition and overlap. Some of the through-lines are hard to follow as we jump around.
I would have liked more general information about Triple A life and a bit less about individual trajectories. But that's not the book Feinstein wrote. What he produced does give a good flavor of Triple A life and how guys get to the majors...or don't.
Not Feinstein's best, but his not-best is still worth a read.
I grew up in Chicago and attended occasional Cubs games (Comiskey Park was no place for a father to take his daughter). In my thirties, I lived in Baltimore, and went to many ball games during a glorious era for the Orioles at Memorial Stadium, with Cal Ripkin,Jr., Jim Palmer, and my favorite, catcher Rick Dempsey. I also played Rotisserie (fantasy) baseball in the early days of USAStats, the owner of which was a co-worker at my law office. But, until reading Feinstein's book, I knew little about the minor leagues, and gave them little thought. So, I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is the chronicle of a year in Triple A ball, following the (literal) ups and downs of the player, managers, and umps who live in, or frequently pass through, the top minor league teams. I learned a lot about the role that MLB plays in overseeing what goes on in Triple A, and how the players there must be willing to change plans on a dime, because they can be playing in Allentown one minute, and on a plane to the Show the next, and back in Allentown hours or days later. Triple A is full of ambition, disappointment and heartbreak, and no one ever fully understands why certain players get called up and others rarely, or never, do. I loved this book, and will watch spring training and the upcoming baseball season with more attention to the movement of players to and from the majors, and more empathy for what they experience when coming up and going back down. I thank John Feinstein for this book. It has deepened my understanding of and appreciation for America's game considerably. Highly recommend for those who love the game and would like to learn more about what goes into making a major league player.
Author John Feinstein focuses on eight Triple A individuals--Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo, Norfolk Tides manager Ron Johnson, pitchers Chris Schwinden, Brett Tomko and Scott Elarton, outfielder Nate McLouth, designated hitter John Lindsey and umpire Mark Lollo--during the 2012 season in Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball.
Feinstein describes his book as being about "a handful of men who run the gamut of life in Triple A; men who have been stars and have fallen; men who have been rich and then far from rich; and men who have aspired to those heights and never reached them."
Feinstein writes that no one dreams of playing in Triple A, and virtually no one wants to be there. Most everyone believes he's just "one accident away" from getting called up to the major league club. Players come and go every day and teammates compete against each other for that coveted call-up spot. The player transactions are barely noticed by the regular baseball fans, but they have a tremendous impact on those involved.
Triple A is filled with players who are pushing back the inevitable end to the playing days. They are at a point in their careers where getting to the majors or returning to the majors isn't impossible, but it isn't likely.
Life in Triple A is often an emotional roller coaster. It is filled with uncertainly, heartaches, disappointments, hope and thrills. Hope is the key.
Toledo manager Phil Nevin says, "The worst part is releasing a player because you're killing his dream. Sometimes, the biggest favor you can do is tell a player 'it's time.' They don't want to hear it, but they need to hear it."
Feinstein writes that those in Triple A all have one thing in common--a love for the game. And, as difficult as life may be in Triple A, Norfolk manager Ron Johnson says the only thing worse than playing in Triple A is not playing in Triple A.
Schwinden says, "This is a difficult life. It's that simple. The truth is if you don't like it, get better." At one point in the 2012 season, Schwinden pitched for five different teams in four different baseball organizations within five weeks.
Schwinden is just one of many interesting stories. John Lindsey played in 1,787 minor league games in 14 different cities before being called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a month in September 2010. Brett Tomko had made 25 stops in 18 years, including 10 years in the major leagues.
Although Feinstein focuses on eight individuals, one of the strengths of his book is that he interviewed many other players and managers which adds depth and perspective. He also does a nice job of pacing the book and switching back and forth from the different individuals.
This is an interesting, insightful and well-written book. It's one that should appeal to all baseball fans.
on May 19, 2014
I enjoy baseball and have always felt that fans don't appreciate what minor league players go through and the huge differences between minor and major leagues. This book could have been written by any sports writer who knows baseball a little and owns a tape recorder.
There's nothing novel here. Of the nine major characters, five are older guys MLB fans would recognize, who have played quite a bit in the "bigs". But those who have played a great deal in the majors are a minority of the minor league rosters. The players who never get a shot comprise the bulk of the teams. I wanted to understand how the players who have never gotten a sniff of the majors handle it emotionally. How do they keep going year after year? How do they and their families get by financially?
The book is obviously the product of piecing together many stories, drafts, recordings. There is repetition and overlap. Feinstein jumps from one player to another so the entire story for Scott Elarton or Brett Tomko is not in one chapter but rather spread over small snippets throughout the book. This device gets old very quickly.
The book is too long. Halfway through, you get the idea. The stories, the emotions among the players are similar. That's the problem with the minors; it's so tough to get to the top that each player undergoes similar disappointments.
I would have enjoyed more material about teaching and learning the nuances of pitching and hitting. These players must improve to reach their goal: learn to hit a curve ball or add a new pitch to their repertoire. How do they go about it? It's not just mental. There's lots of hard work on the diamond involved. Perhaps Feinstein is less interested in this area or thinks his readers would have little interest. Too bad.
I would avoid this one. I'm quite sure there are better alternatives.
on July 18, 2014
I picked up this book hoping to learn what it is like to have a job working in the minor leagues and what that life experience consists of. Instead, Feinstein seems fixed on "the show" (the majors) and implies everyone toiling in the minors is a failure. He dismisses entire minor league careers of "lifers" in a few sentences to focus on their brief stints in the majors (e.g. a few games). I wanted to hear about their other 10 or 20 years. Through the cracks, I think I learned that these folks can make maybe $50,000 per season in the minors. That's a real living for much of the population, no matter the occupation, and the story I wanted to hear about.
on May 24, 2014
Not the same caliber of good writing as his other sports books. Too many players to keep track of, he jumps all over the place and you never get a good feel for any of the players he is writing about.
on June 29, 2014
I love the subject matter, but Feinstein's writing style is just not very engaging. Also, there are many teasers throughout, giving the feel of one of those tabloid celebrity shows where it is constantly referring to what is ahead, and when you finally get there, it underwhelms.
on May 22, 2014
Mae West is reputed to have said "too much of a good thing is wonderful," but she might not have said that if she read this book. I've never read anything by Feinstein before - in fact, I don't read much sports writing, period - and he's a good writer. However, this book consists of many anecdotes about a group of Triple-A baseball players, managers and umpire and their ups and downs - literally - trying to get into the majors, with varying degrees of success (and failure). Each individual anecdote is interesting, and there's humor and pathos throughout (the aging player/manager/umpire whose career is over facing a life without baseball, e.g.). However, about halfway through this 350-page book, the stories all begin to sound alike - most likely because they are.
I suppose if one is a rabid minor-league fan (or perhaps a rabid baseball fan), the book would hold one's interest. However, for me, it was about 150 or more pages too long.
on March 10, 2016
This is a great read for someone who is thinking about leaving a career, getting into management, or likes the challenge of reading something that emotes a feeling rather than simply telling a bunch of stories. In my opinion, “Where Nobody Knows Your Name” is not so much a book about the minor leagues of baseball but rather a study in the human spirit using the sport of baseball at the minor league level as a common thread for a deeper message by the author to the reader. Many commenters have stated a discomfort or dislike for the structure of the book. I have read hundreds maybe thousands of books in my time and have never seen an author try to write in this fashion. The structure of the book instills in the reader the psyche that drives people to perform often beyond their capability or level of tolerance to meet an impossible or unlikely goal against the need of a business to sustain itself. In that way, it is the story of every person who ever held down a job they at one time loved and hated, wanted to leave but were forced to stay, were fired from for no apparent reason other than it being the last day of the work week, where the battle between perception is more important than reality, where age, sex, national origin, religion, or the amount you paid for your clothes made the difference between success and failure. The title of the book is part of the issue here in that I believe the reason for this misunderstanding is an expectation on the part of the reader of this being either a statistics laden litany of baseball history at the minor league level, a scathing documentary on the lives of the losers in the minor leagues manufacturing excuses on their inability to make or stay in the major leagues, the corrupt nature of baseball as a business, or some kind of collection of heroic stories about those few players who put up with the minors as a career choice. It is all of that and none of that. Sport is an analogy of the human condition and I believe the author used that to great affect here. When reading this book, it is that theory not the specific sport that should be in the reader’s mind at all times. If the reader does this, they will see themselves in the stories.