Synopses & Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize-winning author captures baseballs strategic and emotional essences through a point-blank account of one three-game series viewed through the keen eyes of legendary manager Tony La Russa. Drawing on unprecedented access to a manager and his team, Bissinger brings the same revelatory intimacy to major-league baseball that he did to high school football in his classic besteller, Friday Night Lights.
Three Nights in August shows thrillingly that human nature -- not statistics -- can often dictate the outcome of a ballgame. We watch from the dugout as the St. Louis Cardinals battle their archrival Chicago Cubs for first place, and we uncover delicious surprises about the psychology of the clutch, the eccentricities of pitchers, the rise of video, and the complex art of retaliation when a batter is hit by a pitch. Through the lens of these games, Bissinger examines the dramatic changes that have overtaken baseball: from the decline of base stealing to the difficulty of motivating players to the rise of steroid use. More tellingly, he distills from these twenty-seven innings baseball's constants -- its tactical nuances, its emotional pull.
During his twenty-six years of managing, La Russa won more games than any other current manager and ranks sixth all-time. He has been named Manager of the Year a record five times and is considered by many to be the shrewdest mind in the game today. For all his intellectual attainments, hes also an antidote to the number-crunching mentality that has become so modish in baseball. As this book proves, he's built his success on the conviction that ballgames are won not only by the numbers but also by the hearts and minds of those who play.
"Tony La Russa is one of the best minds in baseball. In Three Nights in August, he and Buzz Bissinger offer unprecedented insights on the game, revealing the hidden decisions that affect each play. This book proves that baseball is so much more than statistics, and clearly demonstrates how instincts, logic, and emotion impact every game." Cal Ripken, Jr.
"Great writing alters the familiar. Just when you think nothing more could be written about baseball, Three Nights in August reveals the sport like no book before. Buzz Bissinger is a master of focus, zeroing in on the battle than unfolds minute-by-minute beneath the deceptively placid surface of the game. It is a masterpiece of reporting and writing, and flat-out one of the best books on the subject ever." Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo
"The Cubs against the Cardinals in the heat of August and a pennant race this is baseball at its best. What is the best way to watch it? Through the eyes of Tony La Russa. Readers of this finely focused study of the everyday drama of the sport of the longest season will be both exhausted and exhilarated. Exhausted by the grinding attention to detail required for the incessant decisions that managers must make. And exhilarated by La Russa's no-wasted-motion professionalism as he practices what many people preach respect for the game." George F. Will, author of Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball
"Tony La Russa is one of baseball's most intriguing figures. Buzz Bissinger is one of our most respected writers. Together, they provide a unique and compelling view inside the game that for so long has fascinated, rewarded, and tortured the Cardinals manager." Bob Costas
Three Nights in August
shows thrillingly that human nature not statistics dictates ballgames outcomes. We watch from the dugout as a spectacular series unfolds between the Cardinals and their archrivals, the Cubs, and we uncover surprising truths about the pathology of slumps, the psychology of the clutch, the complex art of beanball retaliation, the rise of video, and the innumerable eccentricities of pitchers. The greatest players of our time grace the lineup: Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Scott Rolen, Mark Prior, and more.
Through twenty-five years of managing, Tony La Russa has won more games than any current manager. He's the most strategically adept, and arguably the smartest, man in a baseball uniform. For all his intellectual attainments, he's also an antidote to the number-crunching mentality that has become so modish in baseball. As this book proves, he has built his success on the conviction that ballgames are won not by the numbers but by the hearts and minds of those who play.
Three Nights in August is underpinned by La Russa's forty years in baseball and by Bissinger's swinging prose and laser-beam focus. Drawing on unprecedented access to a manager and his team, Bissinger brings the same revelatory intimacy to major league baseball that he did to high school football in the classic Friday Night Lights.
Showing that human nature--not statistics--dictates the outcome of ballgames, the author watches from the dugout as a spectacular series unfolds between the Cardinals and their archrivals, the Cubs.
Three Nights in August captures the strategic and emotional complexities of baseball's quintessential form, the three-game series. As the St. Louis Cardinals battle their archrival Chicago Cubs, we watch from the dugout through the eyes of legendary manager Tony La Russa, considered by many to be the shrewdest mind in the game today. In his twenty-seven years of managing, La Russa has been named Manager of the Year a record-making five times and now stands as the third-winningest baseball manager of all time. A great leader, he's built his success on the conviction that ball games are won not only by the numbers but also by the hearts and minds of those who play.
Drawing on unprecedented access to a major league manager and his team, Buzz Bissinger brings a revelatory intimacy to baseball and offers some surprising observations. Bissinger also furthers the debate on major league managerial style and strategy in his provocative new afterword.
About the Author
Buzz Bissinger is the best-selling author of Friday Night Lights, which was named the best sports book of the past twenty-five years by ESPN and was recently made into a hit movie. He also wrote A Prayer for the City. He has won the Pulitzer Prize and the Livingston Award for his journalism and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
During his twenty-five years as a manager of the Oakland Athletics, the Chicago White Sox, and now the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa has won more games than any current manager and ranks sixth for all time. He has been named Manager of the Year a record five times.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Tony La Russa xvii
1 Fear Factor 17
2 Locked In 26
3 Im Gonna Kill You! 41
4 The Peeker 53
5 The Pitchers Tale 67
6 Praying for Change 85
7 Gonzalez Must Pay 105
8 Light My Fire 121
9 Whodunit 138
10 Being There 156
11 Under Pressure 175
12 D.K. 199
13 Thing of Beauty 216
14 Kiss My Ass 224
15 Three Nights in August 240
A Note on Sources 269
A Conversation with Buzz Bissinger about Three Nights in August
Three Nights in August is the first sports-related book you have written since Friday Night Lights was published in 1990. Why the fifteen-year wait?
I have never seen myself as a writer exclusively in the sports genre. My second book, A Prayer for the City, was about urban America, and little of my magazine work for Vanity Fair has had to do with sports. Writing about sports is easy, but writing about sports well is difficult, at least for me it's difficult, and I guess it took me nearly fifteen years to find a sports-related subject that appealed to me as much as Three Nights in August did.
So, what was the appeal?
I love baseball. Despite the success of Friday Night Lights, I love baseball far more than football. And the willingness of Tony La Russa to give me unprecedented access to a major league clubhouse in the form of the 2003 St. Louis Cardinals was too good to pass up.
How did you get involved with La Russa in the first place?
His agent called me out of the blue in November of 2002 asking if I might be interested in collaborating on a book with La Russa. Collaborations are tricky and usually compromising. I had been approached about them in the past by the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Roone Arledge but said no.
Why did you agree to collaborate with La Russa?
Because of my love of baseball, and also because I have been intrigued by La Russa for more than twenty years because of that unapproachable glare he throws off in the dugout. I knew he was intense to put it mildly and I was intrigued by the idea of cracking through that intensity to get into the wonderful subculture of the dugout.
By the time La Russa is through managing, he will rank third on the list of all-time wins behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. He has a place in the legacy of the game. Plus, the rules of the collaboration totally changed in this case.
In the beginning this was very much a traditional collaboration, your basic as-told-to. But the more La Russa and I talked, the more we wanted to create something timeless about baseball, or at least something we thought might be timeless. So we came up with the idea of framing the book around the microcosm of baseball, the three-game series.
At the same time, La Russa promised to give me remarkable access to the Cardinals' clubhouse during the 2003 season.
Did he follow through on the promise?
Yes. We both wanted the book to have the tone and power of observation of Friday Night Lights. It required a willingness on La Russa's part to be unflinchingly candid about various aspects of his baseball life, and he never wavered from that. The fact that he is still an active manager made his commitment all the more remarkable.
How candid is La Russa? Are there any examples that come to mind?
There is a section of the book in which both La Russa and his wife talk about the brutal rigors of the baseball life and how, to make their marriage work, they agreed that Tony would spend eight months of his life managing the Cardinals in St. Louis while Elaine took care of their two daughters in California.
In a lifetime of reporting, I can't recall such honesty. It goes to the heart not just of managing but of the regrettable mistakes that all ambitious professionals make in the name of perfecting their craft. As a young manager, Tony did things that had repercussions on his family life.
He has deep regrets about them, but he also knows he cannot take them back.
Is Three Nights in August just about La Russa?
Definitely not. The goal was to tunnel into the subculture of the dugout in a way that had never been done before: to give readers rare insight into the delicious strategy of the game and how a manager makes the decisions that he does in the "real time" setting of a game and a three-game series. But the book is as much personal as it is strategic, and it branches out to portray the various players and coaches that make up a baseball team.
It also weaves in some of the indelible personalities that La Russa has encountered during his career, including Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, and Dave Stewart, and touches on the saga of Rick Ankiel and the tragic death of pitcher Darryl Kile.
What did you find the most surprising?
I always thought that most of what a manager did was strategic. But during the season it became clear to me that much of what a manager does the greater part of it is psychological.
Motivating players today is more difficult than ever because of the massive amounts of money they all make, and to be a successful manager, you have to be equal parts Doctor Phil, Doctor Ruth, and Doctor Seuss.
It's why much of the book has to do with La Russa's interaction with players ranging from Albert Pujols to Scott Rolen to Jim Edmonds to Matt Morris to J.D. Drew.
What about the strategy of the game itself? What was most surprising?
In my journalistic life I have written about figures ranging from President Clinton to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and none of them come close to La Russa in terms of meticulous almost maniacal preparation, leaving nothing to chance.
Managers and their coaches come up with detailed game plans just like football coaches do. Everything is thought out ahead of time, whether it's executing a hit-and-run or playing the infield-in or figuring out whom to hit with a pitch in retaliation for one of your players getting hit by a pitch.
It says something obviously about La Russa's style, but it says more about the layers and complexities of baseball.
After spending the past two years of your life thinking and eating and breathing baseball, do you still love the game?
I love it even more despite all the efforts of the game to cannibalize itself, whether it's steroids or player strikes or greed. The nuance and complexity of the game is still breathtaking and Three Nights in August restored my faith.
There are several references to Michael Lewis's Moneyball in the book. Was Three Nights in August specifically written as an antidote to that book?
Absolutely not. Three Nights in August was begun months before I had ever heard of Moneyball. But since that book has been brought up, I might as well come out and say it: Lewis's book just doesn't hold up very well. He is a wonderful writer, and he's even better at taking a thesis and not letting anything get in the way of it, but the game doesn't operate on statistics alone, treating players as undervalued equities.
Are you saying that statistics and computer analysis have no place in baseball?
Tony La Russa pays as much attention to statistics as any baseball manager does. He believes that past performance is a key indicator of future performance. Much of his life as a manager is spent breaking down statistics and trying to figure out why a certain batter does better against a certain pitcher, and why a certain pitcher does better against a certain hitter.
He believes there are technical reasons, but he also believes that heart and desire and reactions to pressure are fundamental to how a player performs and doesn't perform.
He has been around long enough to understand that all players all of us actually are creatures of human nature. His goal as a manager is to tap into human nature.
No computer analysis, no matter how deft, is ever going to be a substitute for his own strategic and psychological analysis. And thank God for that, because otherwise there would be no point to playing the game at all.