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Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Topby Sean Mnookin
Synopses & Reviews
When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series on October 27, 2004, they made history. Their stunning comeback against the New York Yankees and their four-game annihilation of the St. Louis Cardinals capped one of the most thrilling postseason runs ever. The World Series victory — Boston's first in 86 years — came less than three years after John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team from the Yawkey Trust and forever changed the way the Red Sox operated on and off the field.
Seth Mnookin was given access never before granted to a reporter in the history of organized sports. He had a key to Fenway Park and a desk in the team's front office. He spent weekends talking business with John Henry and afternoons in the clubhouse with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. He learned never-before-told details of the team's Thanksgiving Day wooing of Curt Schilling, the jealousy Nomar Garciaparra felt toward better-paid teammates, and the anxiety that impelled Pedro Martinez to insist that the Red Sox guarantee his future. He was there when general manager Theo Epstein's frustration over the organization's ceaseless drive for more media coverage and new revenue streams collided with his fracturing relationship with CEO Larry Lucchino. The resulting narrative — juicy, gripping, and overflowing with thrilling detail — reveals how a savvy sports organization tries to stay on top while under the relentless scrutiny of the country's most voracious sportswriters and baseball's most demanding fans.
Drawn from hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews and a year with the team, Feeding the Monster shows as no book ever has before what it means to buy, sell, run, and be part of a major league sports team in America.
"Not so many years ago Boston was, or liked to think of itself as, the Athens of America. The people it most venerated, or claimed to venerate, were the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Dean Howells and Isabella Stewart Gardner: men and women of cultural distinction and accomplishment. Across the Charles River from the center city stood two of America's greatest universities, Harvard and the Massachusetts... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Institute of Technology, and on Beacon Hill lived the city's great aristocrats, who so loomed above the common folk that an otherwise deservedly unknown poet named John Collins Bossidy was inspired to declaim these immortal lines at a dinner in 1910: And this is good old Boston, The home of the bean and the cod, Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots And the Cabots talk only to God. That was then. Now, nearly a century later, Boston is a very different place. Its standing in the galaxy of great American cities, once beyond dispute, has changed dramatically. Not merely is it lost in the shadows of New York, Washington and Los Angeles, as Seth Mnookin points out in 'Feeding the Monster,' but other cities to which it once condescended — Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Tampa — now wield far greater economic and political influence. Boston remains, as always, a place of great beauty and charm with which it is very easy to fall in love, but its importance is largely limited to New England. Except, that is, in the world of sport. However improbable it may be, this comparatively small city, which for much of the year has absolutely appalling weather and which occupies a relatively remote location, is the sports capital of the United States, or so at least it can be argued. No doubt this is appalling to those superannuated Beacon Hill aristos who retreat behind the walls of their clubs so as to look down on the rest of the world, but that world now knows Boston not for the high-powered eggheads of Harvard and MIT but for Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. Nowhere in the country — not even in Texas — does the passion for spectator sports run so irrationally high as in Boston and its environs. America's Athens is now its Rome, with coliseums to which the multitudes flock. The most famous of those coliseums is Fenway Park. Four and a half decades ago a young writer named John Updike described it to perfection: 'Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a park. Everything is painted green and is in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg.' That too was then, and this is now: Fenway Park still retains its lyric essence, but it has become a big, booming business, every single game a sellout, every crowd raucous and explosive and hyperventilated. The tiny crowd that saw Ted Williams play his last game there in 1960 — the occasion that inspired Updike's great essay 'Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu' — and the tiny ones of which I was occasionally a member in the late 1960s, are distant memories now. Fenway Park is hotter than hot, and so too are the Red Sox, known universally in New England simply as 'the Sawx.' How this came to pass is the subject of 'Feeding the Monster.' Mnookin, previously the author of a book about the various difficulties experienced by the New York Times in the early years of this decade, wrote an article for Vanity Fair about the Red Sox' incredible postseason run to the 2004 World Championship and apparently impressed the powers that be at the team, for they granted him 'access to all levels of the organization' during the 2005 season and neither demanded nor received any editorial control over this book. The result is a detailed, knowledgeable account of how a successful sports franchise operates, how it deals with failure and success, how hard it is to turn a profit in a business that seems, at least from the outside, to be swimming in money. 'Feeding the Monster' is scarcely as surprising or revelatory as its author and publisher believe it to be, and Mnookin's prose infrequently rises above cliche, but no doubt residents of Red Sox Nation will gobble it up, as may others who are interested in the inner workings of professional sports. Hardly a man or woman is now alive who doesn't know that in October 2004 the Red Sox ended more than eight decades of highly publicized frustration and won their first World Series since 1918. They did so in astonishing fashion, losing the first three games of the American League championship to the New York Yankees, roaring back to win the next four, then polishing off the St. Louis Cardinals — by most accounts the best team in baseball that year — in four games that bordered on laughers. It was a triumph that made just about everybody happy, except possibly the Yankees and the Cardinals, and it produced enough feel-good prose to drown the reading public in adjectives. The season of 2004 was the third in which the team had been owned by a group headed by John Henry, who had made a bundle managing futures funds, Tom Werner, a prominent media and entertainment executive, and Larry Lucchino, a lawyer-turned-sports-executive who had previous success running the Baltimore Orioles (he was a protege of Edward Bennett Williams, who owned the Orioles from 1980 to 1988) and the San Diego Padres. They took over a team that had been mismanaged for decades — the long reign of the ostensibly saintly Tom Yawkey was, Mnookin correctly writes, in almost every respect a disaster — by an 'organization that had been infected from top to bottom with ... paranoia and divisiveness' in the Yawkey years and thereafter. With remarkable alacrity they formed 'one of the youngest baseball operations offices in major league history,' headed by the 28-year-old general manager, Theo Epstein, and, as the subsequent record makes plain, one of the best. Thus it is possible to read 'Feeding the Monster' as yet another case study in successful business management, but it really is just one long soap opera. First there is the tale of the sale of the Red Sox to John Henry et al.; Mnookin is satisfied, rumors in Boston to the contrary, that the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, did not set up a 'bag job' designed to keep the team away from local owners, as 'alleged by so many of the city's media provocateurs,' though it's hard to imagine that this will interest many except those immediately involved and members of the Boston press. There are the continuing soap operas centered on Manny Ramirez, the gifted hitter and chronic complainer; Curt Schilling, the 'big-game pitcher' also known 'as a blowhard and an attention hog'; Pedro Martinez, the nonpareil pitcher; and Nomar Garciaparra, the beloved shortstop, both of whom carried hypersensitivity to extremes of excess. Then there is the 'sizable rift' between Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein. Only in Boston could relations between a baseball team's president and general manager become front-page news day after day, and only in a book about the Red Sox could page after page be devoted to such a stupendously inconsequential matter. That both Lucchino and Epstein are smart and accomplished is a given, but that doesn't make their little sandbox feud anything worth reading about. Interestingly, the one inside-baseball aspect of 'Feeding the Monster' that really is worth reading is the insidious way that victory can turn into defeat. Bob Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, told John Henry that success — of which the Patriots have had a lot during the early 2000s — can turn an organization inside out, creating rivalries and jealousies and bruised feelings. That's just what happened to the Red Sox, in the front offices and on the field. Both Lucchino and Epstein thought the other was trying to take credit while casting blame, and the happy-go-lucky team turned into a bunch of selfish malcontents. 'They became the biggest bunch of prima donnas ever assembled,' according to a person close to the team. 'It's a problem with a veteran team, especially one that's had some success. And winning the World Series makes it worse.' So there are at least two monsters in this story. One is the Green Monster, the left-field wall in Fenway that shapes the course of play as does no feature of any other ballpark in the United States. The other is better known as the Bitch-Goddess, Success. She has been around these parts for a long time, and the Boston Red Sox are scarcely the first to discover the true meaning of her sexy smile. Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at)washpost.com." Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] detailed, knowledgeable account of how a successful sports franchise operates, how it deals with failure and success, how hard it is to turn a profit in a business that seems...to be swimming in money." Washington Post
"[I]f you're at all interested in the inner workings of the team as it planned and schemed to a world championship, you'll find this recitation more interesting than The Da Vinci Code." St. Petersburg Times
"A lot of people who read Feeding the Monster may come away from the experience wishing they'd remained simple, ignorant fans..." Boston Globe
"The book is basically highbrow Red Sox porn....Sox fans will adore "Monster" because it documents so lavishly the team's recent soap operas..." Los Angeles Times
The acclaimed author of "Hard News" presents the in-depth, inside story of the new Boston Red Sox, told with the full cooperation of the owners, management, and players who brought a World Series championship to Boston after 86 years. of photos.
About the Author
Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former senior writer for Newsweek, where he covered media, politics, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, New York magazine, and many other publications. He is the author of Hard News, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice.
Seth Mnookin grew up in the suburbs of Boston and graduated from Harvard College. Although he now lives in New York City, he continues to root for the Red Sox.
Table of Contents
PART I: A CENTURY OF BOSTON BASEBALL
1 From the Beaneaters to the Babe
2 Tom Yawkey's Team, Ted Williams's Town
3 The Impossible Dream and the Sixth Game
4 The Gerbil, the Spaceman, the Rocket, and the Curse
5 The Yawkey Trust
PART II: FOR SALE
6 Selling Boston's Salvation
7 The Producer
8 The Baseball Visionary
9 From Soybeans to Stadiums
10 Putting Together the Team
11 A Surreal Process
12 December 20, 2001
13 Boston's Second Favorite Sport: Revenge
PART III: A FRESH START: 2002
14 "Sweep Out the Duke"
15 "Getting Ready to Have a Good Ride"
16 The Love Affair Begins
17 Enter Bill James
18 Red Sox General Manager Billy Beane
19 Introducing the Boy Wonder
PART IV: THE BEST HITTING TEAM EVER ASSEMBLED: 2003
20 Shopping at Wal-Mart for David Ortiz
21 Kim and the Committee
22 "You Want Me to Hit Like a Little Bitch?"
23 The Manny Sagas, Part 1
24 Gumped: A Cautionary Tale
25 Not Again
26 Nomar Wants to Know Where He Fits in
27 The Epic Offseason Begins
28 "This Is About Winning the World Series"
29 The A-Rod Chronicles
PART V: THE WORLD CHAMPION BOSTON RED SOX: 2004
30 Welcome to the Jungle
31 Treading Water
32 Trading an Icon
33 "We're Gonna Kick Fucking Ass Starting Today"
34 "Can You Believe It?"
PART VI: FEEDING THE MONSTER: 2005
35 The Morning After
36 Goodbye to No. 45
37 Theo Epstein Looks to the Future
38 The Defending Champs
39 The Manny Sagas, Part 2
40 The Rift Widens
41 The End of an Era
42 Apocalypse Now, Redux
43 Putting It All Back Together Again
44 Reversing the Curse
A Note on Sources and Methodology
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