Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review of "Long Shot"

As a baseball fan who was a big fan of Mike Piazza while he was playing and also a fan of the New York Mets (they are #2 behind the Twins, of course) I was very interested in what he had to say in this book.  It made for some great reading and some head-shaking comments but it certainly is one that readers should add to the list of baseball books to read.  Here is my review of "Long Shot." 

“Long Shot” by Mike Piazza with Lonnie Wheeler

Baseball, autobiography, Dodgers, Mets

February 12, 2013

386 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Baseball fans have heard the story: 62nd round draft pick, who was chosen by a well-known major league manager as a favor to the player’s father. Worked his way up to the big leagues where he became one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Mike Piazza shares his thoughts on these topics and a lot more in this memoir of his life and career that was fun to read, and at the same time it evoked a lot of reaction for his comments and viewpoints on many issues and people that affected him personally.

The first impression I had when reading this book, no matter at what point in his life or career he was describing, was that he was being himself and honest.  It didn’t seem to matter to him if someone would be upset or offended by his comments; he wrote what he felt about the topic.  This was especially telling when he talked about his bitter contract negotiations and subsequent trade from the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He blamed many others for the situation, including broadcaster Vin Scully, a beloved icon in Los Angeles. He blamed the Dodgers’ ownership, fans, and anyone else that he could except himself.  He had the on-field statistics to back him up for his position in the negotiations, but even to this day, it doesn’t seem that he fully understood why some people would not look upon this situation favorably. 

While this was the most notable example of Piazza being critical about others, it wasn’t the only one.  When he ended up in New York playing for the Mets he was critical of many of their moves as well.  Whether the reader believes the criticism is justified or not, Piazza’s style of writing and the items he chooses to discuss can rub many readers the wrong way. However, it is also obvious that he is being honest with his opinion and because of that I thought the book was one to enjoy, even if the reader disagrees or will react with anger to some of the comments.

The tone he sets also comes across as defensive, especially when addressing topics such as performance enhancing drugs, the feud between himself and Roger Clemens and the aforementioned departure from Los Angeles.  Whether he was explaining why he was taking “andro” (a legal substance at the time and the one that was famously found in Mark McGuire’s locker in 1998), telling why he would not react differently to Clemens beaning him and then throwing a broken bat piece at him in the World Series, or even when trying to explain the rumors in New York that he was a homosexual, he comes across as overly defensive.  He is honest, he doesn’t pull punches, but it felt like he was trying too hard to win over the reader’s mind.   That wasn’t necessary in my opinion.  The honesty was refreshing – that was all that was needed.

Some of his stories can be quite touching. One in which I thought was really good was also my favorite one in the book and that was when Ted Williams came to his house and watched Piazza takes some cuts in the backyard.  Williams, who always had a keen eye for hitting, felt that Piazza would be a great hitter someday. That prediction did turn out to be true.

So given all this, I still felt the book was an enjoyable read even if by the end of it, the aura he left in my mind of his career was a little tarnished because of his attitudes. That doesn’t take away his on-field accomplishments, nor does it take away from my opinion of the book, which certainly is one to read if you are interested in learning more about him.  It was an enjoyable and entertaining read, and one that will surely leaving you wanting to talk about it with anyone else who read it or follows baseball.

Did I skim?

Pace of the book: 
It reads fairly quickly as Piazza takes the reader throughout all the important events and stories of his life and career, from childhood to the end of his playing career. There isn’t a lot after that except for his opinion on a few baseball topics in the epilogue.

Do I recommend? 
Fans of Piazza and the Mets will enjoy this book.  Dodger fans may not take kindly to some of his remarks, however.  If the reader was not a fan of Piazza or looks poorly upon any player who is controversial, this is not a book for him or her. Otherwise, I do recommend it to all baseball fans, regardless of team loyalty.

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