On or about 2 November, I was minding my own business when I received an email about Bryan Burwell's book, The Best St Louis Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions For Die-Hard Fans. The publisher (Sourcebooks, Inc) was asking if I 'would be willing to review this book for your blog'.
Gotta be a joke, I thought.
Well: Sourcebooks, Inc actually exists - it's an independent publishing company based out of Illinois. When I called the number, a person answered - and the name she gave matched that on the email I received. They were serious. So I told them sure I'd read and review it. They asked that the review come out the week of 26 Nov; so it follows below.
Here's a photo of the book cover:
Now a disclaimer: I haven't written a book report since high school, so if you're expecting this to read like a New York Times book section review, you're going to be SORELY disappointed. Of course, if you think the writing on this blog approximates the New York Times writing style, either I'm in the wrong line of work or you should stop drinking. Immediately.
Bottom Line Up Front: If you're tired of slogging through the Confessions of St Augustine and want an intellectually non-threatening book to read for that 3-hour flight anywhere, this book is for you. However, I was disappointed with the book, mostly because the amount of facts used to back up any of the opinions expressed inside it are scarce to say the least, and there are no references given for the reader to review to see the veracity of his arguments.
It lists for $14.95, which I think is a bit much for 265 pages of Bryan Burwell's opinion.
Having said that, I've been kicking around how I was going to write-up this review, and all my rough drafts focused on what I thought was wrong with some of Mr. Burwell's arguments, which means he succeeded in what he was trying to do, namely, present a position as a jumping off point for you to say, 'yep, that's right' or ' that's BULLSHIT! And here's why.' So although I was disappointed in the book overall, I must admit, in all fairness, many of the positions presented got me thinking, which again, is the intent of the book.
Some specific constructive comments:
- There is one outright error, on page 95: Chris Pronger has only won 1 Stanley Cup as of the printing of the book, vice the two quoted, and that was with Anaheim in 2007. He has been to the Finals twice (last year and 2006 with Edmonton); perhaps that's what Burwell meant.
- Burwell's picks in just about every category lean heavily and almost exclusively to players and teams he watched personally or that played during his lifetime. This is understandable when you realize....
- Burwell appears to have done very little research other than talk to some sportswriting cronies and do one interview with Jim Hanifan. It's hard to say for sure, since there are no footnotes included in the discussion, no references cited, and virtually no hard facts quoted throughout the book.
- His statement that Don Denkinger can't be blamed for the 1985 World Series loss to KC is valid, but his argument is so weak that it almost forces the conclusion that Denkinger WAS to blame (pg 117).
- Same can be said about his argument for who the greatest Cardinal manager of all time is. I would have used a different metric than longevity and division titles, since the men he's trying to compare (Southworth, Herzog, and LaRussa) managed the game under different rules and in a different league (8 teams, 1 division vs 12 teams, 2 divisions vs 16 teams, 3 divisions and a wild card). Perhaps wins per year? NL titles (although a difficulty factor would have to be added - it was easier to win a league title before one or two tiers of playoffs were invented)? WS titles (which, after all, is the goal of every baseball team)?
- I think he's arguing that St Louis isn't the great baseball town its reputation says it is (pg 201-205), but his argument is a little convoluted and I couldn't tell what he was arguing for when it was over.
- Curt Flood's challenging the Reserve Clause is a significant moment in baseball history, but the most significant moment in St Louis sports history (pg 49)? I don't think so. The most significant moment in St Louis sports history is signing Branch Rickey to be team president and manager of the Cardinals in 1919. The Cardinals we all know now as the NL's marquee franchise (in terms of World Series titles)? Didn't exist until Rickey invented the farm system. Those 9 NL titles and 6 World Series titles from 1926-1946 don't happen without Rickey. He laid the foundation for success that continues to the present. If that's too esoteric, I would suggest four others that deserve mention: trading for Lou Brock (led to the El Birdos 3 WS appearances and 2 titles), trading for Mark McGwire (led to a revival of interest in Cardinal baseball and the long term signing of Jim Edmonds, a key member of 2 WS teams), trading for Brett Hull (which revived Blues hockey, not to mention bringing the Greatest Blue of them all to St Louis), or Trent Green's blown knee (letting Kurt Warner get a shot and 2 Super Bowl appearances).
Some general comments about content:
- I completely agree with his position on whether Cardinals/Cubs is a great rivalry (pg 100), on whether the Rams should bring the throw-back unis back (like the Chargers do with the powder blues - one home game a year) on page 152, and the things he says about kid and high school sports on page 263-64.
- I continue to find it amusing that a man who was an unrepentant apologist for Barry Bonds for years, and manages to include Leonard Little on his 'All St Louis Football Team' (pg. 177) without mentioning the fact that Little killed a woman with his car while driving drunk, never misses a chance to savage Mark McGwire by talking about his alleged steroid use. There is no discussion about McGwire's performance on the field, just page after page screaming "HE CHEATED!" Bryan: (a) Andro was legal when McGwire was taking it; (b) McGwire, although not as forthcoming as many sportswriters would have liked at the Senate hearings, at least was honest (unlike Palmerio); (c) McGwire has never been found to have failed a drug test or been indicted by the Feds for perjury and obstruction of justice (although if his name appears in the Mitchell report, I may have to rewrite this paragraph).
- I found one passage on page 71 to be patently offensive: "With the early 1940s National League watered-down because of both the war and the lack of black players in the majors..." (emphasis mine). Why did he feel the need to throw the second part of that comment in? Would he say the early 1940s Negro Leagues were watered-down because of both the war and the lack of white players? Saying the league was at less than it's best because of all the players in the service during the war would have been enough. But no, we've got to bring race into it, which weakens the argument, insults the reader, and discredits the author.
- I can't believe he didn't find room for Marty Marion at SS for the all-time Cardinals team (3 WS titles, 8-time All Star, NL MVP in 1944).
- I can't believe Orlando Pace continues to get the props he does even though he breaks down with injury virtually every single season.
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