Molly Knight's "The Best Team Money Can Buy" is a solid book and a quick, enjoyable read. It chronicles the transition of the Los Angeles Dodgers from the ownership of Frank McCourt, who nearly wrecked the once-proud franchise and landed it in bankruptcy, to the gazillionaire Guggenheim Group (led by Mark Walter), and their efforts to turn the foundering franchise into "the Lakers on grass."
The book contains fascinating stories and all the narrative your could want as Knight profiles virtually every player and noteworthy front office figure employed by the team during the transition. Even Andrew Friedman makes an appearance. The amusing anecdotes are particularly strong in describing the tumultuous 2013 campaign, when Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig took LA and the league by storm, helping the Dodgers turn around a disastrous season with a 42-8 run.
Though Knight's trips into hyperbole and borderline hero worship (as in the case of Clayton Kershaw) can be annoying, gems like finding out that the front office checked in with Matt Kemp's mom (?!?) on whether he was having girl problems are golden. Unfortunately, the book falls short of it's potential when Knight fails to examine the engaging narratives with a critical eye.
At times writing like a beat reporter afraid of losing access, she strains to stay even-handed throughout the book, even when the situation she's describing doesn't deserve it. Her bias clouds the aforementioned Kemp situation, as well as the passages regarding the height of the 2013 tire fire when Ned Colletti emailed a "leadership survey" to half a dozen team leaders (which is Dodgerspeak for a bunch of white guys and Jerry Hairston Jr.) The cluelessness of not soliciting even one Latin voice does not warrant a mention from Knight.
The author does not realize in the text how the unforced errors made by the front office are contributing to the club's problems until the Don Mattingly affair, when the Dodgers allowed Mattingly's contract for the next season to vest without so much as a word to Donnie or a press release to anybody else. This led to an awkward press conference with Mattingly and Colletti, where Mattingly seemingly criticized the front office and said he wasn't sure if he was going to be coming back.
Even this Knight views as an exception, a one-off mistake, but anyone who was paying attention throughout the book could see that this was not a one time misstep; this was a culmination. Anyone, that is, except the writer.
But where Knight struggles most -- besides knowing what city the Rays play in (hint, it's not Tampa!) -- is in putting together the big picture.
This book coalesces around narrative, and not necessarily what makes the Best Team in baseball anything more than expensive. The book is a triumph as a wildly entertaining escape from reality, but is unlikely to satisfy the savvy reader as a roadmap to success.
Furthermore, I found it interesting that Knight views the eye rolling, barking Zack Greinke as "eccentric" while the loud, bat-flipping Puig is "immature."
Certainly Puig comes off as intensely immature at times, especially as it related to his off-the-field antics, issues with his entourage, and just plain getting to the park on time. Those criticisms are legitimate, and legion within the text. But the disparate takes on the two men's on-the-field behavior was striking to me. One gets excuses, while the other gets grief. There are times when it was as if the apparent cultural blind spot exhibited by the Dodgers front office extended to the writer herself.
There is also little criticism on the decision to keep around a GM (Colletti) from the previous ownership group for the express purpose of better evaluating him, only to repeatedly marginalize him. The problems with their 'pen and injuries were directly related to bad decisions made by ownership and the rest of the front office. Stan Kasten's refusal to cut bait with Colletti, when it was apparent he wasn't the right man for their organization, led directly to many of the Dodgers' shortcomings. The analytical perspective is absent.
But the saddest part for Rays fan is that the book wraps up too soon. As the book comes to a close, we get one chapter and an epilogue on Andrew Friedman, but that's it. The story ends in April 2015.
Personally, after reading about the dysfunction in Dodgerland, I want more. I'd love an account of how Andrew Friedman is handling it. How he might have righted the ship that had gotten so lost at sea. Who knows, maybe there will be a sequel. There certainly is enough material.
Should Knight ever publish a follow-up, however, it would need to be something with a little more critical eye. Something with a sharper focus on its race-sensitive lens. Because even for fans without a vested interest, this was an entertaining read, but it could have been so much more.