The book: “Donnie Baseball: The Definitive Biography of Don Mattingly”
The author: Mike Shalin
The vital stats: Triumph Books, 224 pages, $24.95
The pitch: You stick your credibility out there claiming anything to be “definitive.”
Definitely, this isn’t. Disappointingly.
There are many things to pick over about just how this is anything but the classic biography of the newest Dodger manager — for starters, it reads like an expanded Google search, supplimented with interviews (too many from Yankee broadcasters who love to hear their own voices) and maybe a brief explanation of how someone gets a nickname that’s related to the sport he plays.
Wait, does it even explain the nickname? Honestly, we didn’t make it very far past page 130 before giving up and going into a power skim just to make sure we weren’t overlooking something of import.
The idea for the book apparently came months before the Dodgers officially announced Mattingly would replace Joe Torre as the field manager, but the timing of the release smells of something that’s trying to be a bit opportunistic.
In fact, it reads more of trying to build an argument as to why Mattingly would make a decent big-league manager, despite his lack of experience in the role. It’s based on his approach to the game, his dedication, work ethic … all those things that may translate in some ways as a way to lead by example. But will it work?
With some of the interviews, we get a brief peek at what could happen. But not so much with Mattingly’s blessing.
Shalin, an East Coast baseball writer who barely crossed over Mattingly’s career when the later was coming up, explains that while Mattingly doesn’t fully participate in the book project, he relented to two “extended interviews” that gave Shalin enough material to fill some chapters, and then go ask others about him.
We’re left with more questions that didn’t really get answered: What makes Mattingly so humble? What was his family like life growing up in Indiana? Any way to compare him to a baseball version of Larry Bird?
“When writing a biography about any subject,” Shalin starts Chapter 4, “the author looks for both sides of the story. … The funny thing, though, is that Don Mattingly comes as close to beloved as you are going to get … That’s why so many people are rooting for Mattingly to succeed in his new endeavor.”
And that, really, is how it reads. Clear and simple.
Hoping to at least salvage something of the time we did spend trying to find some nuggets of information, we’ll focus on just a couple of things.
Such as something said by former Dodgers coach Larry Bowa, on page 100, about Mattingly: “I think sometimes he watches today’s game and shakes his head a little bit because it’s about effort, going out there and grinding everything out. It’s about not giving at-bats away. (He) never gave away at-bats. You could see his determination when he got up to the plate. he was an outstanding hitter and great first baseman.”
Is that called foreshadowing? It sure seemed like the kind of things that Torre said about the game when he was heading out the door. But then again, Bowa isn’t back on Mattingly’s team of coaches, and there’s probably a reason.
On page 77, Mattingly says something about what can get him kicked out of a game:
“Every once and a while I’d get a little crazy during a game. I got tossed probably five or six times in my entire career. A lot of times I’d get tossed late in the game when i just didn’t want to be there anymore.”
File that one away, too.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Like a walk to the mound, where you’re not sure if you should turn back and add offer one more piece of information, then forgetting to see where the grass ends and dirt starts. And getting no help from your coaching staff as to how to fix the problem once the umps screwed things up.
We’ll also give you this, from a reader review on Amazon.com: “Let me begin by saying I’m a life long Yankees fan and Mattingly is one of my favorites. But I found this book to be very disappointing. It can be summed up as Don Mattingly was a great baseball player but is an even better person. There was nothing in it that I already didn’t know. I read mostly biographies and this one was sophomoric. It was mostly quotes from former teammates, coaches, and opposing players, but the sheer volume of quotes was over the top. Better editing would have served this book well. Some quotes were repeated word for word in later chapters and a few were even repeated on succeeding pages. This book could have been (and should have been) much, much shorter. It was basically an ESPN magazine article stretched out to 200 pages. Donnie deserves better.”
So do Dodger fans interested in trying to get to know the real man.