Okay, I went on our to the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Tampa today for a 1 pm book signing by our MLBlogs.com Numero Uno lady, Lady Jane Heller. She was excited to see all the She-fans lined up waiting for to arrive, and I promised her while I was there, I would not write about her signing today. I will never steal the thunder from this smiling Yankee fan. Now there will occasions in the future where I will not promise anything, but today I took the noble approach and gave the visiting dignitary her rightful place at the top of our charts and hearts . But instead of doing a blog about her book and the signing, I am going to fulfill a promise I mad about a month ago about Kevin Kennedy’s book.
As you all might know by now, Kennedy, the former Fox Sports baseball commentator is now employed by the Tampa Bay Rays to do the television broadcast color analyst position for most of the season. Kennedy still has some past obligation, like his XM/Sirrus radio show with Rob Dibble, and will not be able to do the entire slate of games this year. But while I was researching on him for my blog about the hiring, I noticed that he had written a book with Bill Gutman entitled, ” Twice Around the Bases.” Well it took me a little extra time to read it since I also try and keep current reading my ESPN, the magazine, Sports Illustrated and Maxim magazines every week when they arrive at the refrigerator box. So last night I decided to burn the entire tall candle and read the rest of the book so I could give you a Rays Renegade rendition or review of this book.
In the past couple of years, new baseball fans people have become more and more obsessed with the statistics and the formulas of the game of baseball. There is a acknowledgment that the manager of a Major League Baseball franchise has a legitimate effect on the true outcome of the contest. Some still hold it tightly in their minds that the manager has very little input and connection with the ultimate result of the game. I disagree and feel that manager have a huge amount of information and scouting now to influence a game’s outcome. So I began reading Kevin Kennedy’s book, Twice Around the Bases: The Thinking Fan’s Look Inside Baseball, hoping I would finally find the insight and the knowledge I was looking for to finally come to an intelligent decision on this matter.
This book was about 260-odd pages. I was really excited when I picked up the book knowing the managerial success and the turmoil he had endured both in the Texas Ranger organization and during his short stint with the Boston Red Sox. I was looking forward to the random stories of making his way up from the Winter Leagues to finally winning title with both American League clubs. I really thought there would be insightful personal stories about managerial decisions and conflicts made while sitting on the bench and having to make player decision at the end of Spring Training. I did like the first section of the book, but it did ramble and slowly move, which almost led me to put it down after 100 pages. It went forward and back in his plight to get his manager skills honed and spit-polished before he finally got the reins of the downtrodden team in Texas.
I got the idea about half way through the book that Gutman had some trouble actually piecing together this book, but you can tell that 98 percent of what came out of Kennedy’s mouth made it to the page without editing a lot of copy. I did not enjoy some parts of it, but I might have been expecting more from it because of the high profile image of Kennedy. Some pieces of the book fell from its format, and Gutman tried his best to put them into some easy flowing stream, but it got stuck on the rocks.
The book is split into two huge parts of his career. The first half of the book relies totally on Kennedy’s Los Angeles Dodger minor league coaching experiences, and finally concludes with his years in Fenway Park with the Red Sox. It digs only just below the surface in his time down in the Caribbean Winter Leagues. I do have a thought here for Kennedy. There is not a great behind-the-scenes novel written on the true experiences in those Winter League environments. If you could channel more information and your personal experiences to show more insight into the real problems down in those ” finders” leagues, you might have another book that would finally piece together the type of politics and goings on behind the doors in those leagues.
You can tell you were not letting us know everything that might have been going on in that part of the world. But to really dig into that baseball sub-culture now would be a best seller waiting to happen. With American readers now looking south after the latest exploits in the Washington Nationals system, this area of baseball is ripe for some one to pick it off the vine. If I had the connections Kennedy has in baseball and in that region of the world, I would be all over writing about the conditions and ramifications of this yearly MLB-subsidized league. Just a thought Kevin, now that you have a steady job with the Rays, you even have a subject in your own locker room who went through this hostile “buscones” atmosphere in Willy Aybar.
Okay, I am sorry I got on a tangent,but I will bring that idea up to Kennedy the next time I see him outside of the Rays broadcast booth. I do like the way he did portray the differences in the game played there and here in the States. I mean where else can you find armed guards with guns on the dugouts and the gambling bookies sometimes controlling the game played inside the fences. Kennedy wrote of a personal experience where a local team almost rioted after a pitcher was removed for m a 14-strikeout appearance because of the local betting line on the starting pitcher getting 15 strikeouts that day. It gave the opinion that even in a fair play game like baseball, a criminal element can creep in and take control of a situation on the diamond, even when people are looking out for it.
Another great story on how a stadium lost its electrical power the moment the game became official and the home side was in the lead in the contest. It seems from the stories that these bookies and gamblers have the ultimate say in the results of the game, even with everyone else playing on the up-and-up. This region of the world might be the last frontier of baseball in its purest forms, but also the greed and corruption that can come without total authority was evident by Kennedy’s recollections throughout the first half of the novel.
Then he turns his attention to his first MLB gig in Montreal with the Expos, and also talks about his stories while holding managerial jobs with the Rangers and Red Sox. He gets into his philosophy of the growing politics of managers jobs. In this section he also takes a shot at how awful the Red Sox were run in the 90s. That his eventual hiring by the Red Sox might be considered a bit forced because then Boston G M Dan Duquette played hard-nosed politics with the GM of the Rangers during the strike season to finally get Kennedy for his team. Kennedy replaced Butch Hobson and went on to secure the American League East title for the Red Sox, but they did not fare well in the playoffs going down to the Cleveland Indians in their first action that season.
He felt that Duquette proceeded to blow the team up and make a ton of moves without consulting him. He conveyed the idea that he was never in the loop in regards to player personnel decisions, and had to accept what the Boston front office dished out to him. The team then sucked the following year but Duquette decided to make Kennedy the scapegoat for the Red Sox floundering. That in turn gave Duquette the perfect reasoning to fire him. Kennedy was outspoken about the “good ol’ boy” network that was king at that time in the entire baseball hierarchy. He showed his frustrations that the old school of thought was being taught to the rising stars in the managerial ranks. There was a rehashing of past prejudices and mis-guided information that confused everyone in baseball. Young baseball leaders in the front offices and dugouts kept the traditions and the mannerisms of the older generations of managers and baseball men. The cycle began to repeat itself in a very vicious circle.
The second half of the book starts off with a hodge-podge collection of his personal views and scouting reports on the past, present and future stars of baseball. He takes his ramblings and forces them into 4 chapters where he debates and decides for himself who the best at their positions at this current juncture in baseball’s history. He divides them into position players, best pitchers, best hitters, best all-around players, and then shows his personal choices for best games he’s ever seen. There’s an awful lot of back chatter and wishy-washy talk about “confidence” and “swagger” and an awful lot of condemnation of players he has never seen personally play the game.
I do agree with Kennedy on one subject noted in the second half of the book. Kennedy is a huge proponent of a running game. It is well versed by SABRE members and statistics collectors who find this part of the game simply over rated. But Kennedy gets on his soapbox and makes a very valid point, that statistics won’t show you if a pitcher makes a bad pitch because he rushes the ball to the plate to prevent a steal. Also voiced loud and clear in the book is the fact that stats won’t show if the shortstop is moving to cover second and leaves a hole for a base hit or a hit that splits first and second because the first baseman is holding a runner
The only raw statistics most people see on the running game, stolen bases vs. caught stealing, doesn’t really tell the whole story of being “aggressive on the base paths.” Could there be something to that? I think the jury is still out on that subject, but the tendency is to lean more towards the side of aggressive actions. the following was taken from the book to help illustrate his point on the running game. Kennedy took over the Rangers in 1993. In 1992, the team was 74-88 with 81 stolen bases, 44 caught stealing (64% success rate), a team line of .250/.318/.393, and 682 runs scored in 162 games. Kennedy took over the same player personnel and went 86-76 with 113 stolen bases, 67 caught stealing (63%, indicates much more movement along the bases at about the same success rate), a team line of .267/.326/.431 , and 835 runs scored in 162 games.
Can you point to the fact that the opposing pitchers were rushing their throws to the plate, and that the Rangers got additional hits in the game because of this simple action. Or did it tend to pull either the second baseman or shortstop out of their position and create holes for grounders and liners to go through to increase the hit totals? I think we can say “Yes” to these ideas based on the game statistics and the results of his teams. Could the 150 extra runs be from moving more guys into scoring position? I would think by having the runners already in motion when the batter hits would increase their chances of scoring or even getting into scoring position for the additional runs.
One of the reasons that people tend to call moving on the base paths “running yourselves out of an inning” is because it’s usually practiced by some of the new aggressive base savvy managers. Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox would be a prime example. Kennedy makes the argument that with proper studying of pitcher’s tendency, via a complete scouting report, that teams can predict very accurately what a pitcher throws on each count, and how long it takes them to get to the ball to the plate. An intelligent manager can control a running game that can disrupt a defense and creates pure chaos in the infield. Kennedy shows some of the ways a manager can take control of a game by stealing signs, positioning the defense, and studying player defensive tendencies.
A top notch manager today has to be both statistician and psychologist over the course of a 162 game season. Kennedy gives us a decent look at various types of signs… even telling us different ways that guys communicate on the field. For instance, a second baseman leaning on his left foot instead of a right foot can be a sign of who’s moving to cover second. All told, the book seemed to be written in a very fast paced manner. Maybe the book editor was calling for their pages before the beginning of the baseball season, and they hap-hazardly pushed the pages of the second half of the book. The first half of the book was a great selection of interesting stories about the game of baseball both in the minor and major league level.
But in the second section, it seemed more like they just ran through the gambit of baseball websites and collected statistics and ran their personal observations quick and furious to get the book done in time. It had the pacing of a rambling mess in the second half. The second half section on managing the game was excellent, but his “best” player notations could have been deleted and the book would have been more enjoyable. It is not the best book written by a former MLB manager about the sport. There are dozens of better written and more concise books by managers that can be quoted before this one. But his adventures in the Caribbean would make an entire book worthwhile if he dove into the subject. It was a great attempt at a first book by Kennedy. If he does do a second book, hopefully he will learn from the sins of his first stab at literary works. Hey Kevin……………Think Caribbean Winter Leagues.
Photos credits today go to: www.reddawg32@Flickr.com, wwworbitcast.com, www.grandstandsports.com.