Much of what we do on this site is analyzing the sport and the team we all love in real-time. We try to stay up-to-date on the latest games, transactions, news, and statistics as they relate to our Tampa Bay Rays.
However, in this segment, we wanted to pursue a narrative angle; to step back and look through a wide lens at the sport of baseball and, more specifically, it's recent history.
There are tons of books out there about the great American pastime, chronicling everything from baseball's unwritten code of conduct to its well-documented achievements and controversies. We here at DRaysBay want to bring a few of these books to light for our readers to pick up.
Our next pursuit is The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball's Power Brokers, penned by Jon Pessah.
The book is a chronological telling of the events that occurred in Major League Baseball from the late 1980's through 2014.
This tale of modern baseball history is told from the biographical and anecdotal perspectives of the three most powerful men in baseball at the time: Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and MLB Commissioner from 1992 (when he assumed the acting-commissioner role) to 2015; Don Fehr, Then-Director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association (MLBPA); and George Steinbrenner, the deep-pocketed, outspoken owner of the New York Yankees.
In his work, Pessah tells a story that is equal parts history lesson and political docudrama, cultivating an entertaining read.
Bud Selig for President
Selig's story arc takes him from the owner's suite in Milwaukee to the Commissioner's Office in New York, and all the political chess moves he had to make in order to get there.
For those out there that enjoyed Netflix's House of Cards, you'll be able to draw some parallels to the dealings of Francis J. Underwood (you know, minus the whole murdering aspect of his character).
Selig's tale crosses some avenues that we as Rays' fans are all too familiar with: pining for a new stadium, low payrolls, seeking ways to make the game more equitable for teams in all markets, etc. . .
As we watch the stadium and relocation fight unfold here in the Tampa Bay area, the book offers some greatly interesting perspective on the why's and how's regarding these decisions. The politics, grandstanding, and late night deal-brokering strike a familiar tone among the Rays' current state of affairs.
Of course, this era of baseball experienced a number of dark chapters, spanning from the stadium-funding debates and the luxury tax debacles, to the near-constant labor disputes that culminated in the shortened 1994 season and cancelled World Series, as well as the infamous Steroids Era. While Pessah touches on all of these facets in excellent detail, the focal points were most certainly the ones that dealt with labor and PEDs.
Enter Donald Fehr.
Fehr and Balanced
Fehr represented the antithesis to Bud Selig, and yet I struggled to come up with a solid "Good Guy vs. Bad Guy" analogy to describe this relationship. If we're being honest, both of these guys were pretty underhanded in their dealings.
While they both fought to do their jobs, namely to represent the their respective groups' interests, they both made decisions that led to the years of turmoil in Major League Baseball, while still generating year-after-year of league-wide profit growth. Talk about inverse relationships.
And while it is made clear that each man played his own role in the "two steps forward, one step back" story that was the Selig Era in baseball, one could make the argument that Pessah favors one party over the other.
One man is made out to be more of a self-interest serving individual, entirely consumed by building his legacy.
Of course, this idea is purely left to conjecture and open to interpretation, but my opinion is this character is the one that moved his operations from a small office in Milwaukee to downtown New York City.
Bringing it home
It's the storyline of George Steinbrenner that brings the tale to Tampa Bay.
We all know plenty of tales of The Boss, but this book goes into some of the stories that didn't make SportsCenter or the New York Times throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s.
Parts of the story take place at Steinbrenner's favorite Tampa Bay hangout, Malio's Italian Restaurant near Curtis Hixon Park. Others are featured at his offices in the now-named George M. Steinbrenner Field Baseball Complex.
Without a doubt, it's the tales of Steinbrenner and his fiery, overstepping, near-manic dealings with his own team and the league at large that provide the most entertainment in the book. They are also some of the most insightful. I had no idea how close Steinbrenner came to trading a certain Yankees' prospective shortstop before his career began.
However, some of the most human stories come from the multi-billionaire. The book details a lot of the reasons for the impassioned, overbearing persona George Steinbrenner was during his reign over the Evil Empire. It discusses the shrewd business sense The Boss possessed and the way he always tried to out-think (and out-spend) those around him.
As a Rays fan and a lifelong Yankees Basher, it's tough to say it, but the book creates a level of respect for the man who bought seven championships for the Bronx.
Remarkably, there is so much depth to this story, and it's well represented in this book.
Pessah's work is an eye-opening account of how the current era of baseball was made and who, for better or worse, led it to where it is now.
For someone like me, who was a kid throughout the ‘90s and remembers only the bits and pieces of baseball's history from that time, my journey starts with Rays' first season and was slowly accumulating. I did not have much exposure to the Steroid Era, which really kicked off while I was in middle school. This book serves as an interesting vehicle to the parts of sports history that I was too young to appreciate and understand.
I fully recommend any baseball fan who is passionate about the sport as a whole -- both past, present, and future -- to pick up The Game, by Jon Pessah.