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Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager Paperback – Bargain Price, April 4, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bissinger eschews the usual method of writing about baseball in the context of a season or a career, choosing instead to dissect the game by carefully watching one three-game series between the Cardinals and Cubs in late 2003. The Pulitzer-winning journalist and author of Friday Night Lights had unprecedented access to Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, as well as his staff and team, and he used that entrée to pick La Russa's formidable baseball brain about everything from how he assembles a lineup to why he uses certain relievers. As the series unfolds, Bissinger reveals La Russa's history and personality, conveying the manager's intensity and his compulsive need to be prepared for any situation that might arise during " 'the war' of each at-bat." Typical characters—the gamer, the natural, the headcase, the crafty old timer—are present, but Bissinger gives new life to their familiar stories with his insider's view and cheeky descriptions (e.g., "Martinez's response to pressure has been like a 45-rpm record, a timeless hit on one side, and the flip side maybe best forgotten"). Bissinger analyzes each team's pitch-by-pitch strategy and gets the dirt on numerous enduring baseball questions: What does it feel like to have to close your first game in Yankee Stadium? Who knew about players using steroids before the current scandal hit? Do managers tell their pitchers to throw at hitters? Mixing classic baseball stories with little-known details and an exclusive perspective, this work should appeal to any baseball fan.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Bissinger, whose "Friday Night Lights" celebrated high-school football in Texas, here explores baseball through the eyes of the St. Louis Cardinals' current manager, Tony La Russa. A three-game series against the Chicago Cubs in 2003 frames the narrative, and provides an opportunity to explore the quirks of the contemporary game; clubhouses offer four flavors of sunflower seeds, for instance, while a Cardinals' relief pitcher performs his pregame rituals in the nude. La Russa comes across as a passionate, conflicted man. He's an animal-rights activist who drives an Escalade, and an information omnivore prone to misusing baseball statistics; and, while he's the sixth-winningest manager in history, he still gets so upset about losing that he has been known to stomp off the team bus and walk in solitude back to his hotel after a defeat. Granted complete access to La Russa and the team, Bissinger has studied closely, but he betrays a weakness for platitude and for odd turns of phrase, as when he ascribes to one hitter "the slightest oregano of arrogance."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Additional nuggets on Edgar Renteria's 1997 WS-winning at-bat, JD Drew's effort and Mr. La Russa's self-imposed 24-hour gag rule are all wonderful. They flow out of Mr. La Russa himself, and Mr. Bissinger does a good job during those moments in not adding his own opinions or smarminess to them.
The parts of the book that cover stolen bases, pitchouts and hitting are a bit pedantic and are unnecessary for this audience. The major problem with this book is that Mr. Bissinger often comes across as an adolescent prep-schooler who is in love with his own smug opinions. Several times, he attempts to heighten the drama in places where it doesn't need it. His disregard (really, jealousy) of Michael Lewis is apparent in his dismissal of "Moneyball" and analytics. Some examples of Mr. Bissinger's failings in this book:
(1) In the preface, he claims that the new breed of baseball managers and fans who are analytically based could not "possibly love it" (xxii) and don't have "the sense of history." (xxiii). I couldn't disagree more. They love baseball, watch an incredible amount of it an absolutely understand and appreciate the history of the game. Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Joe Sheehan, Gary Huckabay, Jay Jaffe, Steven Goldman, Christina Kharl, Nate Silver, and myself included.
(2) "The rivalry between the Cubs and the Cardinals is probably the oldest and perhaps the best in baseball, no matter how the Red Sox and Yankees spit and spite at each other...That's a pair of bratty high-priced supermodels trying to trip each other in their stilettoson the runway. But the Cards-cubs epic is about roots and geography and territorial rights. It's entwined in the Midwestern blood and therefore refreshing and honest and even heroic." (20) You can hear pre-echoes of Sarah Palin's mis-informed "real America" comments, and writing like this brings sympathy to Bob Knight's nasty statement about sportswriters: "All of us learn to write in 2nd grade. Most of us move on to better things." (It also ignores the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, which is as significant and storied as the Yankees-Red Sox)
(3) "When La Russa came back a few minutes later, he was smiling as broadly as the kid who go the train set for Christmas and the lifetime subscription to Penthouse." (222) This is something that Matt Taibbi would proudly write in his beyond-over-the-top Rolling Stone pieces. It is ill-fitting for serious writing.
(4) The Afterword is the most offensive piece of the book. Here, Mr. Bissinger lays out a full assault on Michael Lewis, Billy Beane, "Moneyball," and analytics. It's sad. In spite of himself, he's written a pretty good baseball book. If he had gotten out of his own way, it could have been a classic.
Tony La Russa is one of the most successful managers in baseball history. Every game is a lengthy epic with countless stories and numerous subplots. La Russa is meticulous, always scheming for an edge. He and his army of coaches keep detailed notes on every player and every pitcher in the league including their own.
Though the season may seem long and tedious, each game counts. A whole season can change in one game. La Russa knows this and he works tirelessly to win each day.
Bissinger's 3 Nights in August is exhaustive look into the mind of Tony La Russa. Though the game has changed significantly over the years with home runs, deep bullpens, sabermetrics, and so on; nothing can replace experience.
La Russa managed with an unmatched intensity though he remained stoic and poker-faced. With his retirement at the end of the 2011 season after the Cardinals magical comeback against the Texas Rangers, baseball lost one of its most respected managers.
Anyone who loves baseball, who loves the nuances of the game, the joys and the heartbreaks, will love this book.