Originally posted on The Platoon Advantage  |  Last updated 6/11/12

When I got the offer from Henry Holt of a review copy of "an extremely readable page-turner that is part biography and part in-depth reporting on the way Ozzie [Guillen] approaches baseball and life inside the dugout and out," by Rick Morrissey, well, how do you say no to that? I don't know, maybe I should have.

Let's evaluate some of the claims made in the advertising copy:

  • extremely readable? Very much so. It feels like a newspaper column, and newspaper columns are not known for their daring experiments in style and form. The book is mainly made up of quotes, many from Ozzie (as the book calls him, not "Guillen") himself, and many from certain players, from Kenny Williams, the White Sox GM, and occasionally from other writers.

    The thing is, I'm not sure "extremely readable" is a virtue for me. I like to be challenged a little bit more than Morrissey did in this book. That's a personal view, though. Maybe when you're reading baseball non-fiction, you want it to go down easy, to get at the information the book is conveying more than the experience of reading it. If so, then I'd chalk "extremely readable" up in the plus column.
  • page-turner? I have to disagree. When I think "page-turner," I think of a book with a strong forward momentum, usually driven by plot. The Hunger Games books are page-turners. The Harry Potter books. George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. (I'm a nerd. Sue me.) None of these books features award-winning prose, and while the Martin books have pretensions of being About Things (the nature of power, the hell of war, etc.), all three series are essentially about meeting some characters and then being thrown into their world deep enough that we always want to find out what's happening next.

    This isn't the only model of a page-turner. I'd call Moneyball a page-turner, for instance, despite it being a non-fiction book that uses stories and anecdotes to illustrate ideas. Michael Lewis still found a way to be propulsive in his prose and structure. Morrissey was unable to discover Lewis's secret, whatever it is. The book wanders, and despite clocking in at just 244 pages in my copy, with big margins, I hardly sped through it. I never felt compelled to turn the page one more time, to take the phrase literally. If anything, I felt the urge to skim over Ozzie ranting about the same thing he'd ranted about ten pages earlier so I could get to the end faster and get to writing this review.

    That repetitiveness was perhaps the issue that bugged me most. There were sections of the book that felt like filler, like they were padded out to turn what could/should have been a long magazine profile into a book. By the fourth time that Ozzie yells about how his family is the only thing that's important to him, you start to wonder whether Morrissey's point is emphasis or simply to meet a word quota. (It's not nice of me to impugn his motives, I guess. And really, I'm not. I believe he probably was trying for emphasis. That's just not what came across.)
  • part biography? True enough. Morrissey briefly discusses Ozzie's past and his family, though it is not clear to me that this adds much. I did not feel a strong connection between Ozzie's upbringing in Venezuela and his approach to managing or life -- many players and people have come from very similar circumstances and turned into very different people. If Morrissey's goal with the biographical sections was to illuminate the "why" of Ozzie, I'm not sure he succeeded.
  • part in-depth reporting? This is true in terms of the number of hours Morrissey clearly put in on this book, interviewing Ozzie and other relevant figures, being part of media scrums and press conferences, reading stories about Ozzie, and so on.

    The problem is that the depth (or at least number of hours) of Morrissey's reporting doesn't match the depth of the final product. We learn that Ozzie cusses a lot, that he believes the motivational and emotional parts of managing are more important than the on-field tactics, that he honestly believes that all his running-of-the-mouth is a valid "protecting my players" tactic, and that he contradicts himself at every step. We do learn a few detailed beliefs, too, like Ozzie's view on team meetings (pointless). If you're a Marlins fan, maybe this is information you'd be curious to learn, but I don't think I can say it's worth the other 220 pages.

    The contradictions of Ozzie (not in any profound way -- I just mean the fact that he's constantly saying something new without any apparent care that he said something entirely different the week before) are perhaps the most interesting part of his character and his public persona, and while Morrissey did devote some time to pointing out this particular issue, I don't think he made much effort to explain it. Does Ozzie just shoot his mouth off and whatever happens happens? Does his mind legitimately change from situation to situation? Does he actually, despite all appearances, say what he thinks will make him look best? (Given a basic assumption, that is, that "what looks best" in his mind is his rebel self-image, the devil-may-care attitude that he feels is his calling card.)
  • This breaks the structure of this post, but I was surprised to see in the Acknowledgments that Morrissey apparently believes his book was written "using a Ten Commandments format you might find in a business self-help book." This was news to me. There are ten chapters, and each is titled with some core belief of Ozzie's, but at best, each provides a loose common theme for the collection of anecdotes contained within. The chapters don't seem to have any structure that allows Morrissey to build to any final point. They feel like they're just there because it's a book and books have chapters.

Having written nearly 1000 words complaining about this aspect or that of Morrissey's book, I should note that I don't think it's horrendous. It's not a disaster. If you want to read Ozzie Guillen's quotes on every topic under the sun (except Fidel Castro), read the book. If you're not a White Sox fan and thus don't really know much about the Guillen-Williams feud toward the end of Ozzie's tenure in Chicago, read the last chapter -- there's a fair amount of information there. For everyone else? For people who already read Ozzie's quotes daily in the local newspaper because they're White Sox fans? I can't imagine they'll get much out of this. For people who don't find Ozzie all that interesting as a person and manager? I can't imagine they'll get much out of this. But hey, for the ten of you in the middle who haven't already burned out on Ozzie because of his Fidel Castro comments: dive right in.

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