I read quite a bit, and end up reading a lot of baseball books. I just finished with Hi, Anybody and thought I’d share my impressions. Please let me know in the comments if anyone finds this at all interesting, and would want reviews of subsequent baseball books that read/have read.
I’m a big Denny Matthews fan. For some one who doesn’t have/want cable and doesn’t watch the Royals on TV at all, Denny’s voice is the Royals to me. I like that he is even tempered and doesn’t wet himself over routine fly balls. I like that he has good stories and insight, but doesn’t insist on sharing every little nugget of information he has about everything. So, keeping in mind how much I like Denny Matthews, I really wanted to like this book.
Denny’s last book, Tales from the Royals Dugout, was mostly a compilation of stories, tidbits, and anecdotes about various games and players over the years. That book is what this book was not. Here, Denny attempts to talk about baseball more generally, though using the Royals team/players as the lens through which to do so. For example, almost half of the text of the book is from other players, executives, the owner, etc. If you ever wanted to know what Mark Gubicza thinks about the DH rule, this is the book to read.
At many times while reading through the choppy, awkward prose of this book, I thought to myself, “Man, Denny needs a ghostwriter.” Then I remembered that he has one, Matt Fulks. I’m not sure if Fulks tried to keep the tone of the text as similar as possible to Denny’s announcing style, if he was more of a glorified editor than a writer, or if he’s simply in the wrong profession. Either way, the combination of rough prose and half of the text being contributed by athletes/non-writers makes the style of this book very much jock-speak. Lots of “the best thing about player x was that he could really play,” and “those teams just refused to lose.” [Note, the players forgot whose turn it was to refuse 70 nights per year.]
Keeping in mind that the writing’s a little rough around the edges, let’s get into the heart of the content:
The book begins with an unfortunate fascination with the St. Louis Cardinals. First, Mr. Glass contributes the book’s introduction. Rather than chiming in with what Denny means to the team he owns, he talks about how awesome it is that he and Denny are both Cardinals fans...for several pages. Denny moves on to the broadcasters that he likes...and some more Cardinal-worship goes on here.
Next, we get into Denny’s thoughts about various components of a baseball organization, including but not limited to: the hitter, the starting pitcher, the everyday player, the owner, the scout, the relief pitcher, etc. Much of this section is dominated by excerpts from other players/executives discussing the nature of the role. Willie Wilson on how Mr. K was a good owner, Art Stewart on why Brett was good, etc. I found myself skipping over large chunks of this section. There’s only so much I can read of Dayton Moore praising Mr. Glass as an owner.
The next big section involves Denny’s trip to the Hall of Fame, and this stuff is quite a bit more interesting. On the advice of George Brett, Denny was told that the HOF experience can be overwhelming. So Denny kept something of a HOF weekend diary/journal, relating his experiences. This section is pretty neat, discussing the behind the scenes aspect of an induction. For example, Denny talks about how he had to ride a shuttle bus kind of thing from the hotel to the induction ceremony site, and sat behind Sandy Koufax and next to Willie Mays on the bus. This section ends with a transcript of Denny’s HOF speech.
The last section of the book is probably the most important. The book’s full title is Hi, Anybody! Why I love baseball and What I’d do to Fix It. This section is the ‘what I’d do to fix it’ part. This is mostly Denny, but there is still a lot of contribution from former players. Here are some of his proposals:
Call a larger/true rulebook strike zone. Anyone who has listened to Denny’s broadcasts knows that he is a big proponent of having a quickly-paced game. Calling a larger strike zone will keep the game moving, result in more balls in play, keep the defense on its toes, etc. According to Denny, this means ‘better baseball will be played.’ He also makes the argument that calling a bigger strike zone is better for the health of pitchers, since they won’t have to throw as many pitches, and means pitchers can throw deeper into games.
Second, abolish the DH. Denny says he was pretty excited about the DH rule when it first was instituted, basically just because it was something different, but he doesn’t like it now. He thinks that when there’s no DH, there’s more substitutions, more pinch hitters, less of a power game and more of a national league style game. The fact that pitchers can’t hit for shit isn’t really discussed. The fact that a national league style game is better is taken as a given.
The last change, and the biggest, is his plan for realignment. Denny’s plan, which he calls regional realignment, calls for a few things: Abolition of the DH rule, abolition of the two separate leagues, expanding to thirty-two teams, abolition of the wild card, slightly shortening the schedule.
His plan calls for four divisions based on location. Each division will have eight teams. If I recall correctly, the Royals division would have Us, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Houston, Chicago, Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit. The playoff format would be that the team that wins each division goes to the playoffs. The four teams are seeded 1-4. 4 meets 1, 3 meets 2. The winner of 4-1 and 3-2 meet in the World Series.
The system is set up to create ‘natural rivalries’ based on geography. The format would be pretty similar to football, playing each team in your division sixteen times, eight at home, eight away. You would then play each team in ONE of the other divisions six times, three at home, three away. That comes out to a 160 game schedule. Also similar to the NFL, the playing each team in one other division would rotate every year. So for example, one year we’d play every team in the west, but no one in the east or northeast. The next year we’d play every team in the east, but no one in the northeast or west. You’d play all of your geographical rivals a bunch each year, and you’d get to see every team in baseball once every three years.
Other benefits of the plan cited by Denny are decreased travel expenses to teams, shorter travel for players who will be better rested and play at a higher level, having the majority of games taking place in the same time zone is better for fans, fans will get to know the players of other teams better which will foster rivalries, easier for fans to travel to away games if more of the games are in the region.
Supposedly, Mr. Glass proposed Denny’s realignment plan to the commissioner and promoted it quite a bit, but it was, obviously, not adopted. Getting rid of two games per year plus two playoff series would be tons of revenue lost by MLB. Additionally, in the current format, thirty teams compete for eight playoff spots, meaning 26.6% of teams make it every year. In Denny’s format, the reduced playoffs plus expansion means only four of thirty-two teams make it, so 12.5% get in. It’s not difficult to understand why this format wasn’t supported – teams are less than half as likely to get into the playoffs in exchange for millions in lost revenue? Having the Mets, Red Sox, and Yankees in the same division, where only one team from the division makes the postseason? Being one of the other five teams (including one of Denny’s expansion teams) in a division with the three richest teams in baseball? I just can’t imagine many of the power brokers in MLB who would get behind this plan. Or many of the fans, for that matter.
From a non-financial perspective, I think a lot of people would be horrified at the possibility of no more American League and National League, especially National Leaguers. The concept of the regional rivalry doesn’t necessarily work either. I think that if the Royals and Cardinals played a lot more, a rivalry would develop there, but based in large part on the teams’ shared past. But others not so much. For example, the Royals currently play Cleveland, what, eighteen times per year? Are we regional rivals with them? Well, either we are and Denny’s plan would eliminate existing rivalries, or we aren’t and rivalries can’t be forced upon you. Also, perhaps the Royals greatest rivalry was with the Yankees, who aren’t exactly in our region. The Chiefs’ greatest rivalry is Oakland, also not in our region. Cowboys-Redskins, Celtics-Lakers, etc. Obviously there are some great regional rivalries, but proximity alone doesn’t create rivalries. I can’t really remember the last Phillies/Pirates Pennsylvania Massacre and they’ve played in the same league/state for decades.
His arguments seemed to lack reasoning, and just be presented as fact. For any former debaters out there, you’ll understand my saying that his arguments were un-warranted assertions. In the end, this book was pretty disappointing, but not an altogether terrible read. It seemed like it was thrown together quickly with a lot of recycled material. Denny’s HOF diary was posted on metro sports’s website, the HOF induction speech was a transcript, and all of the excerpts from other players were from interviews that happened in the past. If the exact same book had appeared word for word but was authored by some random guy, I can’t imagine it even gets published. It was like Denny was cashing in on his name, but I just don’t see him doing something like that. I’ll give it 6 out of 10 Professors.