The book: “Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again”
The author: Jim Gullo
The vital stats: Da Capo Publishing, 272 pages, $23
The pitch: The premise seems to have hit home for a lot of us guys with kids: How does a sportswriter father explain to his son that steroids in baseball are prevelant, but it probably cheats the game and the fans, yet few will address it?
Jim Gullo, a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest and current contributor to the Bleacher Report (linked here), continues to hear his young son, Joe, ask about players who keep getting outed for using steroids, starting in 2007.
Joe even sorts his baseball cards into stacks of who does it, and who probably isn’t. All along, he also continues to ask: When will the hometown Mariners make a trade with the Red Sox and get Manny Ramirez? After all, he has a poster up of Ramirez on his wall.
On page 12: “I was happy to let Manny be Joe’s role model. In retrospect, this was perhaps not my brightest parenting decision of the last decade.”
Then on page 29: “The last thing I wanted to do was lie to my son to protect a ballplayer, but as it turned out, I wound up doing just that over and over as the steroids scandal washed over our little baseball-loving household. … I had a little boy who was practically tugging on my sleeve and asking for values and guidance. … (He forced me) to finally take off my blinders and face the truth.”
If you go by the bookjacket blurb, this then becomes “the moving story of how a father and his young son recaptured their love of baseball — a winning testament to why the game matters and how it can still bring us together in spite of itself.”
Moving, in what way? Moving away from something that could be compelling and ends up being pretty generic.
Nice attempt by Gullo to find out why baseball doesn’t want to face what happened, for the sake of himself and his son. But too often, Gullo gets himself into good situations to seek answers, but himself admits to chickening out.
Page 58: “I kept hoping baseball would issue a communique of some sort — a full-color, tri-fold advosory brochure: ‘What to Do When Your Favorite Ballplayer Turns Out to Be a Lying Sack of Shit’ — that would assist fans with the coping process. But, of course, they never did.”
Gullo keeps looking for teachable moments. At one point, Joe realizes his glove is an Eric Gagne model. Gagne, the former Dodgers reliever, was just mentioned in the Mitchell Report. “Should we throw my glove out?” Joe asked. “No, we can’t afford to get a new one,” dad says. “We’ll just have to figure out a way to live with this glove.”
In my house, sorry, the glove would have been tossed if you really wanted to make a point. Unless you enjoy sending mixed messages.
Gullo is almost star-struck in his approach to receiving credentials that get him on the field for Mariners games in his pursuit of the truth, but then again, that might make him more human to all other every-day dads.
The result is a journey where he decides there are other ways to reconnect with the game, through biographies of old-time players, trips to spring training and then to Jackie Robinson’s grave in New York. All the while, Joe’s Gagne glove gets autographed by those along the way who try to reassure him and his dad that drugs are wrong, and the game can get past this.
On page 110, when the Red Sox traded Ramirez to the Dodgers: “I felt like an ass. And like a lousy father. Once again, Ihad been clueless about what was really going on in baseball, and had been feeding my son a line of pap that had in turn been fed to me by MLB and the sportswriters who cover the game. … I was disgusted with the whole thing. I had enough.”
On page 158, Joe’s letter to Manny Ramirez: “Hi, my name is Joe. I am nine years old. I live with my dad and my mom. Why did you take drugs? Manny, before you took drugs you were great. You were one of the top players in the history of baseball. Well, anyway, bye. Sincerely, Joe Gullo. P.S. I think you shouldn’t take drugs because they are bad for your body. And they are cheating. Bye.”
On page 204, in a letter to Selig: “Yes I know that Manny Ramirez missed fifth games (in 2009) due to suspension, but to me it seemed like a slap on the wrist. And to Joe it was utterly bewildering. Bud, Joe still askes me, his little face screwed up in consternation, ‘Why did Manny take drugs?’ Can you answer him?”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Trying to stretch a single into a home run but getting caught in a rundown for an easy out.
Is it a “manifesto that has both raw honesty and fatherly tenderness,” as ESPN analyst and author Doug Glanville says? Is it “required reading for anybody associated with Major League Baseball, including players, managers, trainers, GM’s, union leaders and, especially, the Commissioner,” as “Game of Shadows” co-author Mark Fainaru-Wada writes.
We’ll grant there has to be a bushel of Little League dads who are as frustrated as Gullo, but don’t have as much access as he does. They can do what Gullo did, and write an open letter to commissioner Bud Selig, and then not be surprised when he gets no reply.
If anything, this exposes how baseball has tried to move forward without admitting much guilt or damage control, and continues to ignore its hard-core fan base that just wants some kind of apology and explanation.
Do it for the kids, Gullo asks. And for their dads who can’t figure out how to keep defending their irresponsible actions.
We’ll admit that most interesting part comes with Gullo’s encounters with minor-league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, who in the process of writing what would be his 2010 hit book, “The Bullpen Gospel.” Hayhurst is open in some ways, but seems to be led to trying to answer questions for Joe that really can’t be a black-and-white response, but he’s not really adult enough to handle the truths of why a player could justify talking steroids if it improved his career.
Give the Gullos some credit for following through with this somewhat contrived idea, and uses a big-time name to attract attention to it. There are many of times when the story gets sidetracked and rambles in different directions when it doesn’t need to. We just think there could have been more attempts to get much bigger names involved in this scandal to admit things. Given the circumstances, they did it the best they could. But it just leaves too many things hanging.
Also: Gullo’s story in the April, 2009 issue of Seattle Metropolitian Magazine entitled “The House That Juice Built” on the 10-year anniversary of Safeco Field in Seattle (linked here)