Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fifty Years, Two Styles

It’s sacrilege to admit such a thing, but I’m not much of a baseball book reader. To be totally honest, I’m not much of a book reader, period. Even in a household with kids just entering their second decade of life, I’m quite sure I’m the least proficient reader in the household, and probably by an order of magnitude.

So it is always with some guilt that I receive books to review. I know I’m not likely to read them all, and without a vacation or long flight coming up, I’m just as likely to not read them at all. But I didn’t let those misgivings stop me from requesting a copy of the StarTribune’s Minnesota Twins: The Complete Illustrated History by Dennis Brackin and Patrick Reusse or We’re Gonna Win Twins: 50 Years of Minnesota’s Hometown Team by Doug Grow. I’m glad I didn’t. They’re both excellent, and while they cover the same topic, they’re very different books, and that’s by design.

The Strib’s effort is trying to be an illustrated history that can be displayed on a coffee table or used as a reference book, and it succeeds. It’s big, it’s got lots of pictures from the Strib’s massive archives, and lots of fun lists like the Top 50 Twins that are distributed throughout it as sidebars. It is by far the more thorough of the two books when it comes to what happened on the field each season.

It should go without saying that both books are well-written in a concise, informative and accurate manner. Brackin, Reusse and Grow should need no introductions due to their tenure as journalists in the area, and I’m not likely to do them justice in trying to recap their careers.

That writing style is especially important in the Strib’s book. It is as extensive and informative as a textbook, and could have easily become a dry as one. Instead, it’s clean, and that neatness allows generous doses of Reusse’s pepper to spice it up. Thus it does double-duty as both something you can show off and actually enjoy reading.

By comparison, Grow’s book is smaller, plainer and with a significantly different goal. It has photos, but they are black and white, and a couple per chapter as opposed to the full scale graphics that the Strib’s book sports. Each year is a chapter, but each chapter might have only a couple of sentences recapping the Twins year, and the rest might be a story or a player that Grow wants to talk about.

And that’s the different goal - to tell a story. Grow’s is the book that I kept finding myself picking up, almost compulsively, the way one picks up a good novel. The chapters build on each other, foreshadow each other, drive one to keep reading. That’s a remarkable achievement considering that most of the readers know how this particular story proceeds.

He gets away with this by mostly ignoring those seasons begging to be ignored. 1985 is almost completely about Andy McPhail. 1986 is almost entirely about Tom Kelly. 2000 is about bobbleheads and I was shocked to find that 2005 was about blogs, including a somewhat bitter Twins Geek.

That’s why I didn’t like one feature that I suspect will be universally mentioned (and more than likely admired) by other reviews. At the start of each chapter there is a short paragraph of what on in each of the following: the world, the nation, the state, pop culture and the season. It’s somewhat interesting, but that belonged in the more structured Strib’s book. In this page-turner, it just got in the way. Get me back to the stories, dammit.

Neither book is cheap (the Strib’s is $30 and Grow’s is $25) but I’ve become a fan of paying for content that I like and is rare. Still, if I had to pick just one to buy…

I’d probably pick both. The Strib’s is probably the more essential guide, one that I’ll pull off the bookshelf when I want to research something. But to me, Grow’s was more fun, and the one that is going to have a longer life on my nightstand.

***

If you want to hear more about Doug Grow’s book, stop by the Townball Tavern in Target Field on Saturday afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00. He’s having a talk and book signing with Clyde Doepner, the curator for the Twins. It says that you’ll need to enter at the 5th street gate entrance, which I think is Gate 3 (or else Gate 6) near the LRT. That sounds exactly like the kind of event I would love, but I’m afraid I’ll be out of town that weekend, so I’ll need to get him to sign my book some other time.

***

I had the volume down on the broadcast during the ninth inning last night so I need someone to tell me – did Bert grouch about Francisco Liriano not pitching the ninth inning?

For the record, I wouldn’t have had any problem with sending Liriano out there after throwing 102 pitches. A common misperception is that there is this large body of evidence that teams are taking risks with their pitchers’ health at anything over 100 pitches. But the truth is that there is really only a small body of evidence (just one study that I know of) that suggests any kind of effect - and that’s mostly an effect in performance, and it starts at 120 pitches. So if Gardenhire felt like the bullpen could use the break or that getting the shutout would’ve helped Liriano’s confidence, I say go for it.

Not that I had any problem with throwing Crain out there either. He needed the work.

****

Thanks to MLB.com’s At-Bat iPhone App, I’ve been listening pretty regularly to opposing team’s radio announcers. Last night’s Cleveland announcers, by the bottom of the second inning, had awarded the 2010 AL Central title to the Twins. Good times.

***

For more good times, you might want to follow me on Twitter this weekend. It could be especially interesting/embarrassing/non-existent as I’ll spend some time in Vegas. You’ve been warned.

3 comments:

J. Lichty said...

the Doug Grow book is on Amazon for around 17 with free prime shipping for you bargain shoppers out there.

DomeDog said...

Nice article, John - I'm thinking about picking up one of these for my next read. Also, and this is a little off topic but I don't know where else to put it, have you been noticing or hearing any comments about the Gameday links not updating correctly? I still see Charley Walters' post about Thome from a few weeks ago at the top of the Twins column. Just curious if something is jacked with my computer or if you've seen this anywhere else. Thanks!

Jack Ungerleider said...

For those of you who want to hear from Doug Grow about the Twins and the book, he was on MPR's Midday program on April 2. The link should take you to the page with the archived copy of the hour.