Monday, June 13, 2005

Idiot - Johnny Damon's guide to a year in the life of Johnny Damon

As I continue to try and get full value out of my trip to Norfolk last week - a book review.

I am a big baseball book fan - I will literally read anything about baseball - have a look on Amazon for Screwball by David Ferrell, the novel (fiction... strange, strange fiction) of the Red Sox pitching prospect, whom murder follows, as he makes his way through the big leagues, proves my point (and if anyone has read it and wants to tell me the end... one other admission, life is too short to finish terrible writing... hey come back... don't stop here...). On the more serious side of baseball writing, I am a big fan of Jane Leavy's biography of Sandy Koufax, Leigh Montville's biography of Ted Williams, David Halberstam's poignant 'The Team Mates', Jim Bouton's autobiography, Ball Four, as well as the Kinsella novels.

This past nine months have brought a new curse on my baseball library - books detailing the Sox triumphant march to the World Series - Reversing the Curse, Faithful and numerous other lookbacks - if you have written a book about the Red Sox in 2004 and I haven't parted with hard earned dollars - just drop a note in the comments section and I will send a check!

So at the airport last week I had finished the book I was reading, and spied Johnny's effort (written with / by Peter Golenbock) lurking in the airport bookstore. It is a pretty formulaic and tame effort - Johnny tells of the despair caused by 2003, backs Grady's decision to leave in Pedro (though criticizes Tito's decision to bring in Pedro in Game 6 2004) in that game, and then gives us a very, very quick charge through his youth, sports development, time in the minors, Kansas City and Oakland before arriving in Boston. Like many (sports) stars, Johnny would never under estimate his own ability - he frequently refers to his own ability to mentally decide to carry the team on his back at appropriate points - Johnny could you not do that 162 games a year?

The one thing that made this book stand out for me are the glaring factual errors - isn't that why Johnny paid a (presumably) healthy cut of his takings for a writer and an editorial process? Two stand out - simply because I was at the games concerned, so as soon as I read the particular passages I thought, huh?
  • In Chapter 6, "93 wins", Johnny states "The next day, July 5 2002, Ted Williams passed away. We were in Detroit, and that day I hit a home run"

    Well, the date is right - it was a cooler day, after a July 4th week of brutal heat in Boston, but the city is wrong, the Sox played Detroit at Fenway that day, and the Sox organization presented a wonderful, touching tribute to Ted that night (followed by a more formal memorial the following week I think), though the team itself couldn't deliver a win, despite Johnny's HR.

    I guess what jarred about that section, was the Red Sox book formula's need to create a connection between Williams and 'insert Sox player here' - there really isn't that need, a book about Damon that never mentioned Williams would have been perfectly understandable.
  • In Chapter 18, "The Curse is Broken", Johnny states "Mark Bellhorn batted against reliever Julian Tavarez, a hard thrower who didn't allow many home runs. He got two strikes on Mark, but then threw him a pitch that Mark crushed high and deep off the Pesky foul pole in right field for two runs and a 9-7 victory."

    9-7 victory... the game had to be relatively fresh in Damon's mind, or Golenbock's, or an editors, or a proof readers... but still, a win is a win right?
I guess the more interesting thing from the book is the more casual information that Johnny drops in - his stated ability to learn to be more patient and take pitches for the team following his trade to the A's, and his repeated insistence that he doesn't get any value at looking at opposing pitchers prior to games / series, and his desire not to know a pitchers tendencies... good stuff for a guy that wants a 5 / 6 year extension from a team that values a more measured approach.

Does anyone know of any work that has been done on how 'see the ball, hit the ball' hitters fare as they age, against guys that are willing to develop every advantage they can in the game?

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