What are you reading?

With Thanksgiving come and gone, it’s officially gift-buying and list-making time for the bulk of the world. Since I haven’t done a reading roundup post since April, and since I hadn’t reviewed a notable baseball book since May, we may as well give you some classic Black Friday 2-for-1 value.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap] picked up Astroball: The New Way to Win It All by Ben Reiter a while back, hoping it might offer some validation for the worst part of the rebuild — the multiple seasons of constant losing.

It’s a book Reiter deserved to write, as he was the author behind the Sports Illustrated cover story in 2014 predicting the Astros’ 2017 championship. It’s also a book that doesn’t offer a whole lot of greater lessons for White Sox fans when it comes to surviving the dark before the dawn.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Reiter. The Astros were an idiosyncratic team for the lengths they went to rewrite baseball orthodoxy, while the White Sox are hoping the same front office can get a rebuild right the second time without any great overhaul in staffing, although there is a heavier emphasis on amateur scouting this time around. Whether the Sox get it right this time or stall out, I don’t think anybody is going to be hacking into their system for their secrets.

Also, Astros fans are the primary market. They’re going to want to hear more about Jose Altuve’s origin story, not the rhythmic, brain-melting thudding of the Philip Humber years, and you can’t blame them. Altuve’s story is cool, but it just doesn’t have a lot to replicate.

That said, Reiter was able to dig into at least a few specific aspects of the Astros’ dark ages. He spends pages detailing J.D. Martinez’s epiphany after the 2013 season, which the Astros only explored for 18 sporadic spring training appearances in 2014 before letting him go for nothing. He joined the Tigers, demolished Triple-A during a tune-up, and has been a force for other teams since.

Another reminder was not to overreact to even humiliating setbacks, but to use them to evolve. When a player was adamant that he had made a change over the off-season, the Astros committed to gathering enough information to determine whether it was a meaningful one. “Nine out of ten times, when people tell you they’ve gotten better in winter ball, it turns out it’s not true,” [Astros GM Jeff] Luhnow said. “Sometimes it’s actually real. I am so happy for J.D. I give him a big hug every time I see him. I think about what could have been. And I also feel disappointed that he didn’t get more playing time to show us the new him.”

That Martinez didn’t get a chance to prove himself with the Astros was a key strike against the rebuild’s first manager, Bo Porter. The White Sox have already extended Rick Renteria to make the particular timing of this decision moot, but in case you were wondering:

The job of manager, as Luhnow envisioned it, had become very different from what it once was, and even from the one Porter had learned coaching in minor league dugouts. A skipper was in some senses the pivotal member of the organization, both the conduit and filter between its executives and players. He not only had to embrace the Astros’ process and convince their players to buy into it, but to provide feedback to the front office if elements of that process required rethinking.

He also couldn’t fail to provide someone like J.D. Martinez enough at-bats for the organization to make an informed decision about him.

Hawk Harrelson loved Bo Porter, and accused new-school organizations of overriding managerial decisions. With Harrelson retired, that’s not a battle the audience has to wage anymore, but in case you were curious:

Luhnow asked each of the 10 candidates he interviewed for the job the same question: “Are you OK with me sending down the lineup every day?” Many said they would be. That was the wrong answer.

Unless the White Sox fail to come to terms with their next draft pick as the Astros did in 2014, there’s more to gain the book if and when the White Sox get ascendant. The value of a Carlos Beltran type will eventually come into play — SI adapted an excerpt of that part — as well as the mathematical and interpersonal calculus that goes into a move like the Justin Verlander trade. Also, by the end of the book, I couldn’t quite determine if the things Luhnow was indeed deserving of the things he got slagged for early in his Astros run (reducing all decisions to numbers, even if he came off cold). Reiter doesn’t offer a specific defense for him, merely saying his methods worked. And with a few key members of the Astros’ front office heading elsewhere this winter, perhaps that suggests it still isn’t the easiest place to work.

Specific to the Sox, Astroball probably needed to be more comprehensive in order to really glean stuff from it, but it’s an easy read for those who want to catch up on the Astros model. Come to think of it, if I’m Crown Publishing, I’m pushing this book hard in Baltimore this holiday season.

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Other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed:

*Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. 

Keith Law might’ve put this book on my radar earlier in the year with his review, which goes into great detail about the selling points, both of sleep and this book. It’s a habit-changer for some, a habit-enforcer for others, and hard to ignore either way.

*The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

The Pulitzer Prize put this book on my radar, so it’s not like it needs my endorsement. As somebody who gets stuck in nonfiction ruts, it’s rewarding to be reminded of the value of fiction, even when the subject matter itself is punishing and heartbreaking.

What I’m reading now:

*The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. The combination of being a big McCullough fan, finding this on a Barnes & Noble remainder shelf for $7 and visiting Paris for the first time made it a win-win-win for me before I even opened it. So far, so good, especially about the early attempts to establish a modern medical school.

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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It’s not a new book, but I just finished “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote a few weeks ago. It was excellent. I spent equal parts being horrified by the story, appreciative of the hours of interviews and research that must have gone into it (including an assist from Harper Lee) and amazed by what a skilled writer Capote was.

Ted Mulvey

On the non-fiction front: The Dark Valley: a panorama of the 1930s, by Piers Brendon. The author does a great job looking at the various events around the world which led to war, broken down by geography.

Fiction: Jerusalem, by Alan Moore. A lot of intertwining stories and characters, just an enjoyable read thus far (have not yet finished it).

GrinnellSteve

I’m re-reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I don’t often revisit books, but I love Twain, and this is one of my favorites from him.

stevev

Hi all – don’t post here so much but always a sucker for commenting on books. Just finished Rachel Cusk ‘Outline’ which was excellent though not very sports-related. On a slightly baseball-related note, I just picked up a new one from Michael Lewis, “The Fifth Risk”. Anyone else gotten through it?

Ted Mulvey

Yep, I finished it a couple of weeks ago. I’ll say this: horrifying though also fascinating.

stevev

Thanks – to the top of my pile of unreads it goes!

stevev

Just looked that up – *that* would be a good one. Good lord, what a creepy crew that outfit was. Or at least those at the top.

Jeff

Three great baseball books.
The Last Innocents chronicles the LA Dodgers against the backdrop of the racial turbulence of the 60’s.  Great  features of Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, Wille Davis and Lou Johnson.
Clemente by David Marannis- amazing bio of a phenomenal player and man.
Big Dsta Baseball by Travis Sawchik – good intro to stats and how the Pirates used them to overcome their financial constraints.  Tug and pull of new age vs traditional scouting.

Non-baseball – A Shattered Peace – WWI history.

dickschr

Thanks, just picked up the Last Innocents.

Lurker Laura

I am re-reading all of Harry Potter. Long story how that came about.

As Cirensica

Never a boring reread. I have reread the series, at least 5 times. I have this thing that I love rereading books. I think mostly because I hate when we forget them. It happens, I guess, when we get older. Same thing with movies. I see a movie or book title, and I know I read it, but can remember just glimpses. It does not happen all the time, just with few books or movies. When it happens, I find that frustrating.

fustercluck

Reading them with our 8yo at bedtime. I got to read the climactic chapter in Half-Blood Prince last night. Wife just read the penultimate chapter, and the boy got pretty sad when Harry was processing his loss.

asinwreck

Reasonably new: Melanie Kiechle’s Smell Detectives.

Revisiting: Armistad Maupin’s first Tales of the City book.

soxygen

I’ve been reading Jill Lepore’s new book, These Truths. It is a fantastic and ambitious one-volume history of the U.S. and our (sometimes) shared values. I always look forward to her pieces in the New Yorker, and have not been disappointed by this book.

Willardmarshall

Money Rock: A Family’s Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South by Pam Kelley… Bio of former Charlotte crack dealer, deftly interwoven with analysis of social forces that swept him into the criminal justice system….

As Cirensica

A few months ago, I read Smart Baseball by K. Law. Great book. I like how easy Law explains what many seems to think it’s “rocket science” in Sabermetrics.

I also read Ken Follet’s “A Night Over Water”…an entertaining and easy reading fantasy novel based on the last flight of the Boeing 314 Clipper which I find a fascinating airplane. More of it here:

I am currently, re-reading Agatha Christie’s “They Came To Baghdad”

Patrick Nolan

I’m reading a free United States history text. I’m going to be moving on to World History after. I have so much room to go in trivia improvement.

Literature is one of my very weakest subjects because I don’t read enough actual books. The thing I probably want to read most right now is Alan Sepinwall’s book on The Sopranos.

fustercluck

Currently reading A Storm of Swords. Racing through the books before the final season of Game of Thrones starts in April. I’m tired of giving book readers the stinkeye when I could be getting the stinkeye instead.

HakunaMoncada

I’m in the middle of A Dance with Dragons. As much as I love the show, the books are better (as is often the case). I enjoy the differences in characters and storyline and also wanted to be among the ‘bookreaders’. Blood and Fire came out the other day which is about the Targaeryan dynasty prior to the GoT story and I’ll be diving into that next. Everyone else’s reading material has me feeling quite uncultured lol.

As Cirensica

Rarely the movie is better than the book. One exception is Jaws by Benchley, which I found the movie better than the book…another notable example is Da Vinci Code where both the movie and the book are shit.

lastof12

I finished reading “Burying the Black Sox.” I enjoyed it very much. It colorized the strong connections organized crime had with baseball for years before (and a few years after) the 1919 scandal.

Currently reading, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I love it, but it’s hard to relate some of Frankl’s theories to everyday life. Still, some very interesting stuff to carry forward with me.

Next up: “The Happiness Advantage,” and “The Death of Expertise.”

hazymania

I’m with you at the McCullough table, Jim, as I’m currently working through Mornings on Horseback.

If I’m being honest, I’m not enjoying it as much as I’d hoped I would. As it turns out, there isn’t much interesting to me about reading about rich white people in the 19th century. To be fair, TR hasn’t started his political career yet, so I’m hoping it gets a touch more intriguing once I’m done reading about mostly summer homes and debutante balls.

beachpig

Reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio, so far an excellent read. Just finished “Fifth Risk” by Lewis. Also about to simultaneously start “Baseball Cop” by Eddie Dominguez & “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel