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Book Reviews
Written by John Helyar   
Sunday, 27 August 2006 14:58

Purchase on Amazon.com.By John Helyar
Published by Ballantine Books (640 pgs)
Review by Larry Pratt

Lords of the Realm is basically a history of Baseball labor relations up to the 1993 Fay Vincent resignation, including a history of the reserve clause and the Ueberroth/owners' collusion scam. The Pete Rose scandal is thrown in for good measure.

This is BB history with an attitude and it's funny. Although I think that overall, LOTR is objective, most readers would consider this view moot--depending which side of the owner/player "war" you're on. It's packed with interesting historical factoids and anecdotes.

A few that really struck me were learning that after Danny Gardella jumped to the Mexican League in 1946 and sued; challenging the reserve clause, following his blacklisting upon his return. When a Federal Court ruled that his case merited trial. Baseball immediately settled out of court.

As for the objectivity of the baseball press, I was surprised to learn that The Sporting News, the baseball bible, received a subsidy from the commissioner's office. I wonder why TSN was so anti-union???? "Salaries amounted to a scant 25% of revenues in the early 70s." "The average salary (in 1967) was $19,000."

A former union steward myself, it's not easy to read this without tilting toward the players. Despite the effort to be objective, the owners, collectively, are impossible to like. Exceptions being Edward Bennett Williams (EBW) and both Ted Turner and Charlie Finley are likeable as characters--not as humans. Other interesting characters are Branch Rickey, Larry MacPhail, "Whalebelly" O'Malley and Roy Hofheinz.

LOTR reads so well that it's almost like reading a novel, except the characters are all too real. Few come off well. Exceptions being Bill Veeck, EBW, Bart Giamatti, John Gaherin (owners' labor rep) and Marvin Miller. Before reading LOTR I knew little about Marvin Miller (MM). Although not the easiest man to like, he's now one of my heroes. As a sometime chess player myself, I was most impressed by MM's tactics and strategy--his building-block strategy to both overcome the reserve system and the near reversal of the master-slave mentality long prevalent in baseball. "But semantics wasn't the key to Miller's winning the players' hearts and minds. It was action. He listened to them. He educated them. And slowly he radicalized them.""His genius wasn't in dictating to the players but in involving them. . . .Miller wasn't a czar but a professor, teaching by the Socratic method."

For this reader, the most entertaining and interesting parts of the book were the quotes. It really is possible for adult-age men to behave like this!!! Too many to list but among my favorites were:

  • "Why was the grace of the game between the lines so precisely matched by the gracelessness of its off-field conduct?"
  • "It is sometimes said that there are only two emotions in business: greed and fear."
  • "Wrigley (Phil) was an odd duck, equal parts progressive and paleolithic."
  • "O'Malley walked the grounds (of the future Chavez Ravine stadium site) like Columbus wading ashore in the New World."
  • "Weiss (George) was a prototype of the GM, just a bit more Prussian than most."
  • "Roy Hofheinz. . .was six feet tall and looked, . . . like he'd swallowed nine bowling balls."
  • " . . .having seen the enemy (the owners) up close, they (the players union reps) would never again be intimidated. They could tell, with the visceral instinct of athletes, that it was the other side that was scared."
  • "Howsam wasn't a skinflint, like a lot of the conservatives. (The joke in baseball was that swimming was invented when Calvin Griffith first came to a toll bridge.")
  • "Charlie (Finley) has such a high regard for the truth that he uses it sparingly."
  • "He (Finley) was the equivalent of a Lawyers' Full-Employment Act."
  • "Whole hillsides are being decimated of standing timber for the exhibits in this case," . . .cutting off further exhibits on "environmental grounds."-- Peter Seitz during the Messersmith arbitration.
  • "The news swept through baseball like the first reports of Pearl Harbor."(news about the Seitz/Messersmith decision)
  • "His (Ted Turner) thoughts arrive just in time to be spoken."
  • "One thing, however, was very clear: the owners had met the enemy and it was themselves."
  • "Howsam's other great ally was Gussie Busch. He was in his eighties now, but he could still rage at the players, like King Lear on the moor."
  • ". . .he (Ken Moffet) admits to a 'fastball that should have been arrested for loitering.' "
  • "Gentlemen, " he (Ted Turner) once said, 'we have the only legal monopoly in the country and we're @#$%^&*(*ing it up.'"
  • "Steinbrenner's quest for a speed merchant also led to Omar Moreno, whose greatest asset as a player was having Tom Reich as an agent."
  • "Wherever he was, Fay Vincent seemed to feel he was the smartest person in the room."
  • " 'Does he (George W. Bush) know that he doesn't really run this team?" a writer once asked a Rangers official. 'No, no,' said the official, 'and don't you dare tell him.' "
  • " 'Comiskey is a baseball emporium for the 90s,' . . . a baseball mall, a place where you can root, root, root for the home team while the home team roots through your pockets, searching for the treasure it needs to pay $5 million for a pitcher.' "
  • "The new PRC chief had been hired . . .at $750,000; the commissioner was making $650,000. Vincent fell into a funk worthy of Ricky Henderson."
  • "(Bud) Selig was considered a lightweight. 'Couldn't piss straight without a roadmap,' " as one insider tartly put it."
  • "Some peers declared him (Bud) the 'best crier in baseball.' "
  • "To some there was no statement more damning about the baseball business than the fact that Bud Selig was a leader. Detractors called him Bud Light."
  • "Selig was a poll-taker really, taking soundings as he worked the phones and sensing when a body of opinion had reached critical mass. Only then did he jump out in front of it."
  • "Vincent's greatest friend and ally was Fred Wilpon, who would rather sacrifice his firstborn than surrender another dime of Mets revenue." "He (Fay Vincent) had the serene self-confidence of a man about to be blindsided."

"An agent was out taking a walk one day when God came up alongside him.
The two started a chat about baseball.
'God, when will we ever see another .400 hitter?' the agent asked.
'Not in your lifetime,' answered God.
'What about a 30-game winner. When will that happen again?'
'Not in your lifetime,' answered God.
'What about revenue-sharing? When will the big-city owners agree to revenue-sharing to help the teams in smaller cities?'
God smiled and said, 'Not in my lifetime.' "

Whatever side of the owner/player issue you're on, I highly recommend LOTR as an interesting, informative and entertaining read. A rare combination. I don't know whether it's still in print or has been updated, but most used bookstores would have it.

Republished by permission


 
 
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