The book: “In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball”
The authors: Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 458 pages, $34.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: “Everybody thinks they can be a GM or president of baseball operations,” Theo Epstein, currently doing so as the supposed savior of the Chicago Cubs after leaving as the savior of the Boston Red Sox, is quoted as saying to start Chapter 12. “It comes with the territory.”
It’s easy to see how someone in his position could get territorial.
Historically, he’s correct. Just as history tells us there are all kinds of ways to successfully build a big-league baseball franchise.
Some, like the Cubs, haven’t really had to do much in that regard. They sell “hope” and “despair” as some kind toxin that’s good for the baseball soul. As long as Wrigley Field is in good shape — and right now, it isn’t — then they don’t really have to worry much, right?
So here’s your textbook example of what it takes to build a winner.
But then again, how pleasurable can it be to plow through a textbook while you’re standing in line to use a porta-potty on the Wrigley concourse while you’re concerned a piece of concrete is going to come down and hit you on the head?
Maybe we got off on the wrong foot here.
We don’t wish to diminish all the months and years of labor these two poured into research and parceling chapters about the game’s greatest architects. But if you’re looking for some fantasy-owner insight and inspiration in how to build your own faux roster into some kind of pretend dynasty, this is way more of a graduate-level college course that you’ve stumbled into probably by accident..
It ain’t heavy. It’s just not a light read.
In the end, the goal seems to be the same for both those who do it for real and do it for boasting: Make money by collecting the right players.
And we can appreciate the example of “The Dodger Way” that is documented from pages 97-119, when Larry MacPhail, Branch Rickey and Buzzie Bavasi were the masterminds of whatever success the franchise had from 1938 to 1967. Funny, but it was organizational scout-turned-GM Al Campanis who took that branding to the next level in the late ‘60s right up to his dismissal in 1987, all while the O’Malley family continued to run the business end.
“O’Malley ran a family-orientated franchise and would host a big retreat for his employees and their families – part work, part vacation – a at the end of each season,” the authors note. “The Dodgers had their own luxury airplane, housed the players in first-class hotels, and generally developed a reputation for treating their players and other employees with class. Other organizations would later develop sophisticated, effective front offices and scouting bureaus, often underneath an all-powerful general manager. The teams that most smartly managed the transition to this new structural paradigm would be the most successful on the field for the next several decades.”
That’s not the way things are run in the Ravine these days, which leads to new chapters reflecting newer times and philosophies, and realities.
To that point, we thank the authors for uncovering all kinds of previously written info about the men who deserve recognition – from Barney Dreyfuss, John McGraw, Jacob Ruppert, Auggie Busch, Harry Dalton, Bob Howsam, the MacPhails, Ewing Kauffman, Pat Gillick and Billy Beane. The authors were also wise to pick the minds of Tal Smith, John Schuerholz, Roland Hemond and Peter Bavasi for more direction.
But in covering so much interesting territory between these two covers, each of these people here could warrant a book just about them – as has been done by some – to really understand their deeper thinking. And maybe add a little levity.
(And maybe they are trying to do that on the book’s official blogsite — pursuitofpennants.wordpress.com/ where there is a better constructed breakdown of some of the heavy hitters covered here. In fact, they’ve got a ranking started up, naming Bavasi as the seventh-greatest baseball exec of all time, with Rickey sitting at the top and one of our favorites, Gillick, at No. 2.)
After all this, the stat that is most telling to us, maybe because it’s a recent phenomenon, is how the authors examine the San Francisco Giants’ hierarchy over the last 30-some years, which shows that “running a baseball team has come a long way from the cozy days of a general manager and a small handpicked staff.”
In 1983, the team had six operations executive positions. In 2002, when they went to the World Series to face the Angels, they had 18.
By 2014, “the Giants Way” was up to 35 under owner William Neukom.
And how many World Series have they won since 2010?
It must be paying off.
More to know:
== The book’s official website is here
== As we looked for someone who might have had a similar thought than us about this book, we came upon something at the AllSportsBooks blogspot, which summarized: “(This book) obviously is designed with the good-sized baseball fan in mind. In other words, members of the Society of American Baseball Research will thoroughly enjoy this. Others might not open this volume, but it’s nice that such a smart work about an important aspect of the sport is there for the reading by those who wish to get an advanced education on the subject.” Well said.
== A piece we did on Pat Gillick upon his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.
== For more in depth about how one man relates to building a team, take a longer look at “Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets” by Steve Kettmann. Here’s also a recent Q-and-A done with Kettmann by Ron Kaplan.
== Another late add: “More Than A Season: Building a Championship Culture,” by Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, coming off the improbable AL championship run (Triumph Books, 204 pages, $16.95)