Monday, May 25, 2015

Review of "The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball's Power Brokers"

When I saw an email in my inbox about the upcoming publication of this book earlier this month, I couldn't believe my eyes.  The author is a well-respected journalist from ESPN and he wrote about some of the most powerful men in baseball and all of the hot-button topics.  To think that the publisher thought of alerting a blogger like me about this book was flattering.  I immediately accepted the offer of the book and while it took awhile to complete, this book was worth every minute I spent reading it. After reading the review, be sure to add this to your list of books to read if you care even a little bit about the game of baseball. 

“The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers” by Jon Pessah

Baseball, history, politics, business, Yankees

Publish date:
May 5, 2015

646 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

The last two decades has seen many events occur in Major League Baseball, both on and off the field.  From home run records being broken to players being tested for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and from a player’s strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series to the threat of contracting two teams, the era was defined by a quest for power.

Three men were the central characters of this quest – Commissioner Bud Selig, player’s union director Don Fehr and New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner – and how their battles ultimately shaped the game are reported in this well-researched book by Jon Pessah.  Drawn upon hundreds of hours of interviews from numerous sources, people and teams, the reporting on the issues of the last twenty years is written in a narrative that is both entertaining and compelling.

The back cover states that the book was five years in the making, and given the extensive coverage of the game’s finances and later its response to allegations of the use of PEDs, that doesn’t sound like a stretch at all. How these three men affected these issues will grab the reader’s interest and won’t let go.  “Power” is an appropriate word to use for the goals of these three men, as all three are portrayed as men who believe they know what is best for the game and his constituents.  Whether it’s Selig wanting to force the owners into a revenue sharing agreement, Fehr insisting on getting the truth about labor negotiations or Steinbrenner spending more on one player he thinks the Yankees need for another championship than what some teams spend on the entire payroll, this book covers all the major issues.

The sections and passages on Selig might be considered the most damning, mainly because Pessah portrays him as a man who is primarily concerned about what his legacy on the game will be.  Several times, this is mentioned, including from the point of view for Selig.  For example, during the tumultuous labor negotiations that lead to the 1994 strike, Selig implemented a salary cap plan and believed that “when history is written, they will look back on this day and realize it was Bud Selig who saved Major League Baseball.”  That, of course, did not last as it was struck down later in court.  Selig’s plan to contract the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins in late 2001 was similarly struck down and that is covered in detail as well with Selig again believing he was doing the right thing with the blessing of other owners.  While Fehr and Steinbrenner do not escape scrutiny from Pessah, the most critical passages are saved for Selig.

The book, while containing critical parts, does not editorialize or offer suggestions or solutions.  It is an investigative report first and foremost and reads like one. This report is one that while lengthy, is one that is must reading for every person who cares about the game of baseball.

I wish to thank Mr. Pessah and the publisher for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
While very detailed and at times the subject matter may be considered dry, this was a good paced book.  The breaks in each chapter when Pessah switches the main character to one of the other three men helps keep the book moving along.

Do I recommend? 
This is a must read for anyone interested in the recent history of baseball, especially for the labor issues and the matter of performance enhancing drug use and testing.  This book is important for learning about why the game is in the current state it finds itself today.

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