Unlike any book before it, Play Ball takes on a national pasttime—and baseball will never be the same again.
Baseball is the greatest of all American games. No other sport has the tradition, the mythology, the heroes, and the heroics. Yet baseball is also in the midst of an upheaval unprecedented in its glorious history. Many of its traditions have been discarded, much of its mythology has been disproved, and too many of its heroes have entered drug clinics or let greed triumph over team spirit.
What makes baseball what it is—the good as well as the bad? Who are the game’s heroes, and who its villains? What roles do managers play, and umpires and announcers and mascots and the media? What is the game’s future? These are the questions that John Feinstein—bestselling author and sports journalist extraordinaire—examines in Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball.
As he did in his classic books on professional tennis (Hard Courts) and college basketball (A Season Inside), Feinstein spent one entire season examining the game from the inside. He had access to general managers, who gave him never-before-revealed information on trades and the maneuverings behind these trades. He looks at managers Tony LaRussa and Jim Leyland to examine strategy and the psychology of success; he puts Tommy Lasorda under the microscope, showing the frustrating decline of a once-great franchise and the pain resulting from the tragic death of Lasorda’s son. Feinstein answers questions about escalating salaries, reveals the identities of the real controlling forces in the game, explains why the owners so totally despised commissioner Fay Vincent, and graphically illustrates the financial state of the game as well as the pressures, the politics, and the joys that come with playing, managing, negotiating, and simply surviving a 162-game season.
Above all are still the players, and this is what makes Feinstein’s book so special. He gives us intimate portraits of such longtime superstars as Cal Ripken, Jr. and George Brett, as well as revealing glimpses—some flattering, some not so flattering—of such newer stars as Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonds, and Ken Griffye, Jr. Beyond the obsession with money and salaries, Feinstein knows it’s the players who make and break the game. In Play Ball, we hear stories of how they were shaped; see how stardom—or lack of stardom—further shapes them; we finally understand what it means to be a major league baseball player, in every possible sense.