The book: “Change Up: How to Make the Great Game of Baseball Even Better”
The author: Buck Martinez, with Dan Robson
The vital statistics: Harper Collins Canada, 320 pages, $27.99. Released March 15
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at the publisher’s website.
The pitch: Where you been, Buck?
John “Buck” Martinez is a voice that needs to be heard, but lately, you need to live in Toronto to do so.
Seventeen years as a big-league catcher (Kansas City, Milwaukee, Toronto), 28 years as a broadcaster (an analyst at ESPN and TBS, also with the Blue Jays, but now doing play-by-play for the Blue Jays on Rogers SportsNet, along with Dan Shulman), and a little more than a season as a Blue Jays manager (2001-June of 2002). That’s enough of a resume to resume interest in what his take might be on today’s game.
Old school? All the way. But in a good way.
From page 227: “We have learned so much about this game. We have found so many new ways to analyze it. So many new ways to evaluate and judge talent. We have, in many ways, come a long way. But if you really think about it, for all this talk about how the game has changed, the formula for winning has stayed the same: homegrown talent, pitching, defense and a team that knows how to play together. Sometimes a clear view forward requires a good, long look back. And that’s how you change up.”
That’s the message he leaves the reader with after the previous 21 chapters reinforce his beliefs that “teams” today have been lost to “individual brands,” too much time is spent on hitting instead of fielding, and there’s not enough “feel of the game” is taken into account when decisions are made.
As the 67-year-old Martinez explains his upbringing, we’re humbled to read that, as someone growing up in the Redding and Sacramento areas, he embraced his Sears’ Ted Williams model glove that his parents gave him as a high school graduation present.
“I want you to know why I love the game … and why it bothers me so much has changed. It’s important … I want you to remember why you first loved the game, too,” he writes.
In his attempt to “marry the past with the present,” Martinez reviews lessons learned from people like Mel Didier, Harry Dalton, Don Baylor, Branch Rickey, Ewing Kauffman, Pat Gillick, John Schurholtz, Dayton Moore, Charlie Lau, Buck Rogers and Frank Howard.
Attitude is important.
Quality coaches on the big-league staff, and in the minor leagues, are essential investments for franchises.
And for as much as he knew about the game going into his short managerial stint, he blames himself for not being assertive enough to make him a successful skipper.
“We aren’t as demanding from our players as we used to be,” he laments. “We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Once Blue Jays GM Gord Ash was replaced by J.P. Ricciardi, Martinez knew he wasn’t on the same page as upper management, and that’s another essential lesson.
“I was deeply embarrassed” about getting fired. “I didn’t complete the job.”
But on these pages, he does – even if the book can be somewhat difficult to find based on its Canadian distribution and frequent “out of stock” website accessibility.
Martinez always seems to see teachable moments. He’s about stressing “accountability, reliability and consistency.” Those are three traits he brings to this book.
From his vantage point, the former catcher may not be in the crouched position as he watches the game today, but it’s also not the grouch position. Yet knowing how so many former baseball players in the broadcasting fraternity love to sit around after games and talk about today’s plight, we wonder what kind of material was left on the editing floor.
== We seem to think Martinez would enjoy this story posted on ESPN.com this week about his old K.C. Royals.