I am fully aware that baseball season is the longest sports season in America, but that doesn't mean I handle the off-season any better with that knowledge. I don't like it. But some things make it a little more bearable, like Buzz Bissinger's book 3 Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager, which uses a three-game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs in 2003 to present an intimate look into the mind of Tony LaRussa and into baseball, itself. (Bissinger is also the author of Friday Night Lights, the popular book about football in a small Texas town, which is one of the reasons LaRussa sought him for a collaboration.)
Now, as a Cubs fan, I do have to disclose my bias against both the Cardinals and LaRussa. Before I read this book, I was definitely not a fan of either (and I'm still not going to root for the Cardinals---they're the Cubs biggest rival in the NL Central division). But after reading Bissinger's book, I have a lot more respect for LaRussa. I found out he's a strict vegetarian and has been for years. And he works really hard at what he does. If you've ever seen LaRussa in the dugout during a game, he has a poker face like no one else, and he looks almost as businesslike as a Yankee. But I learned he is very much emotionally invested in the game. And if something doesn't turn out the way it should (as often happens in baseball), LaRussa takes it personally and wonders what he could have done to change the outcome for the better.
3 Nights in August really gets into the inner workings of baseball and covers all the small details involved in shifting the defense, where to lay down a bunt, how it's easier to get a pitcher to change his mechanics than a hitter (oh, Corey Patterson, I fear you will always be swinging at those balls up high), the origins of the use of bullpen relievers and pitch count, and how the game is always changing. Plus it featured my first Cubs team, the 2003 team that almost made it to the World Series. They had Kenny Lofton, who I still love and root for no matter what team he's on (the picture above is of the Kenny bobblehead Jim got me for Christmas), "My Man Simon" (who is no longer "My Man" and is now just "Randall Simon"), Sammy Sosa before he started really sucking, and Moises Alou, who I just can't understand why anyone wouldn't like him. This was the year when Wood and Prior were (gasp!) both uninjured and consistent.
I loved this book and would recommend it to any baseball fan. It made me realize what a bad manager I would be and that there's a lot of thought behind the many decisions a baseball manager makes every day (but I'm still going to yell at the TV when I disagree!).
Next book up: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children by John Wood