Another week further into winter, another day closer to Opening Day! What a better a way to celebrate that American dynamic than by reading yet another baseball book?
Researched and written during the height of the "Moneyball" and the tail end of the anabolic steroid eras, 3 Nights in August ventures to go inside of probable Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa's heart and head, in search of the real. Real passion and grit, as opposed to the stats obsession ushered in by the likes of Billy Beane and the "hey, I'm just an entertainer" attitude from players such as Jose Canseco. These factors are anathema to men such as Bissinger and La Russa, men who crave the beautiful "levers and pulleys" exhibited within the elegant complexity of f great baseball game.
The action of the book occurs during a three game series played between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. As Bissenger so effectively writes, it's as venerable a rivalry as Red Sox/Yankess or Giants/Dodgers. The tight divisional pennant race that was transpiring during this series only adds to the historical tension. Within this broader context, the manager's in-game life is illuminated by way of descriptions of various types of baseball player: the hard working, freakishly talented (Albert Pujols), the methodical, intelligent veteran pitcher (Woody Williamson), the coasting Star (J.D. Drew), the discipline problem (Kerry Robinson), the reliable workhorse (Matt Morris). Each player's trajectory, and La Russa's work, thoughts, feelings, and processes with them is described with honestly and objectivity. These straightforward appraisals of the good, bad, and ugly provide an excellent view into the inner workings of baseball as it is played and managed throughout a season.
As this book is now six years old, and the described games over seven years old, historical light is shed on just how short and tragic the shelf life of Major League pitching can be. The Cub's two star pitchers as described in the book, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, pitchers whose talents seemed to shine so brightly, who seemed so destined for dominating greatness, have for the most part faded away. Bissinger and La Russa do much to acknowledge the outright toughness of the Game, fate's cruelties lurking right below the "tranquil surface" of the Game.
That said, they always come back to the wondrous and magical feeling that arises within a great game. To quote Bissinger's conclusion, "Just Beautiful Baseball". That in itself makes up for all of the time spent obsessing. I could not agree more.