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Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland Paperback – June 1, 1996
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
This saga of a six-team independent league in the North Central U.S. and Canada will delight diamond fans. Fatsis, a former AP reporter, here covers the 1994 season (the second) of the Northern League of Professional Baseball, begun by Miles Wolff, owner of the minor league Durham Bulls. The new league has teams in St. Paul, Duluth, Sioux Falls and Sioux City on this side of the border, plus Thunder Bay and Winnipeg in Canada. In its second year, the league drew almost a million fans, nearly 4000 a game. The team salary cap is $72,000, to insure that the people on the field will be motivated by their love of play. How the league will weather being raided by the majors remains to be seen, but Fatsis's affectionate story is an affirmation that the national pastime still has a strong hold on the heartland. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Baseball's minor-league renaissance and the bitter, recently settled major-league strike fomented a rash of books this spring extolling the virtues of minor-league ball. This may be the best of the lot. Journalist Fatsis profiles the independent Northern League. Brainchild of onetime minor-league whiz-kid Miles Wolff, the Northern is made up of teams with no major-league affiliation. Typically, the big club contracts players, pays them, and assigns them to their minor-league affiliates. Not so in the Northern League, which relies on players overlooked or released by major-league organizations. (Occasionally, one of these rejects, such as Oil Can Boyd or Pedro Guerrero, even makes the Big Show.) What differentiates Fatsis' look at the minors from similar treatments is his objective presentation of his subject. He doesn't mythologize the Northern: sure the owners love baseball, but they are also business folk who want to turn a profit. The players aren't presented as fuzzy-focus field-of-dreamers, either, the book jacket to the contrary. Some just like to play; some want a shot at the bigs; a few are exorcising their baseball demons; and a few are the baseball equivalent of ski bums. And then there's Ed Nottle, a career minor leaguer and now Sioux City manager. He made the decision long ago that baseball was his life. He stuck with it and has few regrets. It's worth reading this fine book if only to get to know Nottle, someone whose "just do it" credo led to satisfaction if not wealth. Wes Lukowsky --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I grew up in a minor league (Triple A) city and going to the ballpark was something more there. Maybe it is the smaller, more intimate parks; maybe it is the extra sense of urgency in the players trying to get, or get back, to the majors. Maybe it is the sense that the owners and organization care more about what the fan gets out of it. Or some combination of those. In any case, a minor league game feels more alive, more elemental. It feels like it matters that you are there.
Wild and Outside is a look at the attempt of a bunch of guys who love baseball to create an independent minor league. It follows the ups and downs of the owners, managers and players as they negotiate the 1994 Northern League season. It looks at the teams and the league from financial and logistical perspectives, but it is really a love letter to elemental baseball - baseball that connects to the people who love it without regard to the biggest names, the highest salaries, the longest held records or the biggest TV markets. It is really about the fun of going to the ball park and being part of the game, even from the grandstand. It reminds of the feeling that it matters if you are there or not.
The Northern League is still up and running, though a number of the teams are now in the American Association (and thanks for keeping the AA alive!). In a couple of weeks the AA season opens and I intend to cheer the Gary South Shore Rail Cats in person several times this season, along with my daughters. Wild and Outside reminds me of why.
Anyway, about the book: Fatsis does a nice job profiling some of the owners/operators, managers and players in the NL along the way, updating the year through their eyes as well as his. I'm with another reviewer here in finding Duluth owner Ted Cushmore the most sympathetic figure. Owning a team is tough enough when you're a neophyte, impossible when your manager rarely listens or talks to you as he assembles a badly overmatched group of players. What's interesting is how St. Paul's overwhelming success at the box office and power in the league office caused distrust and even resentment among other teams in the league, not the ripple effect you want if you're running the league.
One other reviewer notes the steady drumbeat of Major League Baseball bashing, not surprising since 1994 was also the year players walked off the job and MLB cancelled the World Series. It's not really a distraction and it's hard to argue the logic, since MLB owners are anything but sympathetic figures, but it seems almost gratuitous at times. Fatsis DOES a very good job depicting the maverick spirit among NL players and owners, and that's the real heart of the book. At the time, these guys were creating something in spite of MLB and doing well. The NL eventually collapsed in 2010 after the usual over-expansion and folding/defecting franchises you get in most independent sports leagues, but they were still fresh when this book was written and the early success is well-chronicled.
If you're looking for a book on baseball as UNusual, this is worth reading. It's fun.