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Dry Land: Winning After 20 Years at Sea with the Pittsburgh Pirates Kindle Edition
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The book analyzes the psychology of fans who spend their time and money rooting for a franchise that nearly moved due to financial setbacks, and which became so reliably bad that its sole national media attention was as a punchline for Jay Leno. The book gathers news stories, fan comments, and historical information and presents it in a well-told and very entertaining fashion.
Buy the book. We know how "Miracle on Ice" ends, but that certainly does not detract from the joy of watching the tale unfold. The same is true with "Dry Land."
The book meanders around a few different topics - history, psychology and people's personal stories. It could've used some editing to tighten up the sections. As it is, it doesn't flow very well. Chapter 11 in particular stands out as Wilmoth interviews an unnamed person whose point of view isn't particularly revealing or intriguing. That entire chapter could be chopped and the book would be just fine without it.
The psychology portions are interesting, but very surface-y and lean somewhat toward Pop Psychology 101. Especially off base is the expert that Wilmoth quotes about how we attempt to define ourselves with our sports fandom, especially 'in recent decades, as former societal pillars like good jobs and marriages and civic institutions began to crumble.' I think that ignores a couple of things, the most obvious of which is baseball fanaticism goes back more than a century (not just recent decades). For example, a primary character in the very first World Series was Boston fan Mike 'Nuf Ced' McGreevy. You can't read about the 1903 Boston/Pittsburgh match up without reading about him.
The history is also a bit lacking. While not inaccurate, I would say it is just a partial glimpse of what happened. While Wilmoth correctly lambastes Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield, no mention is given of a couple of key points that either prolonged the streak or contributed to it:
1. Catastrophic injuries to Andy Van Slyke (1993) and Jason Kendall (1999) on teams that finished within eye shot of a .500 record. These, to me, are glaring omissions. Van Slyke was out of the starting lineup for 73 games. Kendall missed the last 82 games of the season and his replacements failed to even slug .300 (while hitting less than .200)
2. Bonifay's attempts to rebuild seemed to be on track as the Pirates had four of the top 25 prospects coming into the 1998 season according John Sickels' 1998 Minor League Scouting Notebook - Aramis Ramirez, Chad Hermansen, Ron Wright & Kris Benson
Wilmoth gives fair and accurate treatment to Neal Huntington. He praises him for the success he has had while also showing willingness to criticize him for his shortcomings. He also acknowledges that coming into the 2013 season, a few bloggers - some of whom he quotes - thought Huntington should've been fired. Huntington's inability to acquire hitters is especially contrasted with Littlefield's ability to find hitting talent in this passage about Huntington signing Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay: 'Unlike many of Littlefield's annual signings of over-the-hill vets, Huntington's 2011 crop wasn't blocking any good young talent, a crucial distinction.'
Certainly worth reading if you are a long suffering Pirates fan.