What I’m Reading: “The Phenomenon” by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown

Rick Ankiel’s story may be one of the most fascinating in baseball history.

In The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, Ankiel writes a very personal autobiography alongside sportswriter Tim Brown. Like everyone else who competed at the highest level and suddenly found themselves stricken by Steve Blass disease, or the yips, or the monster, or whatever you choose to call it, Ankiel doesn’t really have any answers as to why he lost the ability to throw strikes, or why he forced poor Carlos Hernandez to chase baseballs all over Busch Stadium during Game 1 of the 2000 National League Division Series. But that doesn’t mean that Ankiel doesn’t dive deep into his childhood, the game itself, and his long, desperate bid to regain his previous comfort on a mound.

The Phenomenon is something of a spiritual successor to Darrell Porter’s 1984 autobiography Snap Me Perfect!, in which Porter describes his prolonged descent into drug and alcohol abuse. Just like Porter, Ankiel goes into great detail regarding his childhood, focusing particularly upon his father, whose anger and violence dominated Ankiel’s youth. Ankiel’s father comes in and out of Ankiel’s life but can never be relied upon, and in fact when Ankiel is melting down during his playoff debut, Ankiel’s father is in prison on drug charges.

Ankiel comes across as a pretty regular guy who imagined one life for himself and suddenly, inexplicably found that taken away. He makes for a very relatable narrator and it’s easy to see why his teammates like him so much.

After spending more than 200 pages inside Ankiel’s head as he battled to become the next Sandy Koufax, as had been predicted throughout his minor-league career, it was cathartic to see him embrace the opportunity to play the outfield and eventually make the major leagues.

For some Cardinals fans, The Phenomenon will bring back memories of Ankiel’s cringe-inducing difficulties in the 2000 playoffs. Others will recall his first game back in 2007, when he hit a three-run home run to break open a 5-0 Cardinals victory over the Padres, or the game in 2008 when he threw out two Rockies baserunners from right field.

Hopefully, many Cardinals fans will remember both, and can appreciate Ankiel’s incredible physical gifts and his long journey back to the major leagues.

What I’m Reading: “3 Nights in August” by Tony La Russa and Buzz Bissinger

In some ways, H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger is the perfect author to write 3 Nights in August. In other ways, he’s the worst. In the end, this book ends up being a book that provides a fascinating insight into Tony La Russa’s managerial style and provides plenty of fodder for his fans and critics alike.

3 Nights in August details a three-game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs from La Russa’s perspective. It’s a great idea for a book, and I really enjoyed the way that Bissinger dives into all the smaller battles within a game – the way the count can radically change an at-bat, the thinking behind each decision to steal a base, call a pitch, or hit-and-run. The description of those moments and of La Russa’s decision-making process separate this book from most any other book about baseball.

Bissinger also does a good job of diving into the personalities of the “baseball men” in the Cardinals’ orbit. The description of Darryl Kile’s final days before his death in 2002 is particularly heart-breaking, as he details Kile’s frustrations in returning from injury and the aftermath of his passing. Bissinger also shines a light on Cal Eldred’s comeback story with the Cardinals and on Rick Ankiel’s meltdown in the 2000 playoffs. These stories all make for compelling reading, and are high points for the book.

Bissinger also provides an unflinching glimpse of the way La Russa’s intensity, which he waxes poetically about in the preface, has impacted his family. Unable to leave the game at the ballpark, La Russa lives apart from his family throughout the baseball season, meaning that for eight months each year he is almost entirely absent from his family’s life, with the exception of phone calls and brief visits when his team is on the West Coast and has an off day. It’s a description that makes La Russa feel like a tragic character.

On the flip side of those examples, Bissinger and La Russa have very little – if any – patience for those they deem not to be “baseball men.” By their definition of the phrase, you need to understand and appreciate the intricacies of the game in a way that some players on the Cardinals roster fail to meet. As a result, players like Garrett Stephenson and Kerry Robinson are a constant source of frustration to La Russa.

On the one hand, the book needed players like Stephenson and Robinson to show what makes smart, veteran players like Woody Williams so successful. By showing the way that Stephenson’s inability to execute the game plan Dave Duncan developed cost the Cardinals the first game in the series, and by describing how Robinson’s inability to advance the runner changed the complexion of the game, Bissinger shows that the game isn’t easy, even for major leaguers. Guys like Stephenson and Robinson, who don’t execute the game plan or don’t understand what is needed from them in each situation, don’t last long in the big leagues.

Unfortunately, however, Bissinger’s prose has a tendency to get smarmy, and it’s not a good look, especially for La Russa, whose critics often accuse him of believing that he’s the smartest guy in every room.

When writing about Eldred’s history of elbow injuries, Bissinger writes, “Arm troubles are to pitchers what girl troubles are to country singers.” It’s a great line.

At other times, however, he just can’t get out of his own way, as though he’s trying to impress you with how great an author he is. Midway through the book, he describes La Russa as “smiling as broadly as the kid who got the train set for Christmas and the lifetime subscription to Penthouse.” That was probably the worst offender of the bunch, but there were several such lines in which I came away with the feeling that Bissinger was trying way too hard to show me how clever a writer he could be.

Bissinger also wages war against sabermetrics, and at times appears to be writing this book as a direct response to Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, even referring to it in several places in the book.  In the preface, Bissinger writes:

It’s wrong to say that the new breed doesn’t care about baseball. But it’s not wrong to say that there is no way they could possibly love it, and so much of baseball is about love. They don’t have the same sense of history, which to the thirtysomethings is largely bunk. They don’t have the bus trips or the plane trips. They don’t carry along the tradition, because they couldn’t care less about the tradition. They have no use for the lore of the game – the poetry of its stories – because it can’t be broken down and crunched into a computer.

Later, he writes:

La Russa is familiar with the theory, promoted to gospel by Moneyball, that the most important hitting statistic today is on-base percentage. He doesn’t dispute the value of players who can work walks in any situation and have a diamond merchant’s eye for the strike zone. But he also sees it as akin to the latest fashion fad – oversaturated, everybody doing it, everybody wearing it, until you find out the hard way that stretch Banlon isn’t quite as cool as originally perceived. And he tries to teach his players that the better decision is to play the scoreboard.

The first quote is offensive, suggesting that people who appreciate the game in a different way can’t appreciate it at all, and the second creates a false straw man that he still can’t quite manage to knock down. Reading the book in 2020, it’s pretty clear that getting on base and not making outs still helps teams score runs. Obviously, there are specific situations where a walk isn’t particularly helpful to that goal, but by and large, the concept holds true, as does the true point of Moneyball, which is that teams that can’t outspend their competitors need to identify and exploit a market inefficiency.

Getting on base clearly is not a fad.

Gathering information and incorporating it into your decision-making is not a fad.

Bissinger goes to great lengths to describe the way Dave Duncan charts pitches and the match-up data that La Russa fiddles with throughout the game. In many ways, the information they painstakingly collect and incorporate into their strategizing is a form of sabermetrics. In reading the book, I couldn’t help but think that if La Russa had a front office compiling that data and more for him, perhaps he could have streamlined his decision-making and spent more time with his family. If nothing else, a greater appreciation for analytics couldn’t have hurt his tenure as the Chief Baseball Officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

History also isn’t kind to this book – or La Russa – on the topic of steroids. While La Russa says he could see the signs of Canseco’s steroid use, Bissinger writes that La Russa doesn’t believe Mark McGwire ever used anything other than androstenedione, pointing to the fact that McGwire lost weight in the early ‘90s to compensate for a heel injury and that he didn’t have the same “bloated” appearance Canseco had. McGwire later admitted to steroid use.

Ultimately, 3 Nights in August ends up being a book that feels like an honest reflection of the man it depicts: passionate about baseball strategy, humanized by his faults, and almost always fascinating. There are times when the book is frustrating, but arguably its greatest trait is that it shows a great joy for the small moments that make baseball so compelling and the people who dedicate their lives to it. That alone makes this a really good baseball book.

June 9, 1980: Whitey Herzog manages his first game for the St. Louis Cardinals

On the day of Whitey Herzog’s first game as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, he found himself, somewhat baffled, in Marietta, Georgia, trying to get to the team hotel in nearby Atlanta.

His misadventure began when he was given the wrong departure time for his flight. Then, after catching a later plane to Atlanta, he hopped into a cab and asked the driver to take him to the Marriott. Mistaking Herzog’s request, the driver took him to Marietta. Later, Herzog would cut himself shaving and required first-hand experience with trainer Gene Gieselmann’s ministrations.[1]

Despite the challenges, Herzog, whom August A. Busch Jr. had introduced as the Cardinals’ new manager the day previous at a sprawling estate that once belonged to Ulysses S. Grant, was convivial during pre-game batting practice.

“I feel great,” Herzog said. “Why? Because I haven’t lost a game in this uniform yet.”[2]

Thanks to a three-run, 10th-inning home run from center fielder George Hendrick, Herzog could still say the same at day’s end.

Herzog had inherited a St. Louis team from previous manager Ken Boyer that had won just five of its past 26 games and at 18-34 held the worst record in baseball. The Cardinals’ struggles had come despite an offense that led the league with a .275 batting average. In fact, entering that day’s game Keith Hernandez (.343), Ken Reitz (.335), Ted Simmons (.297), Hendrick (.296), and Garry Templeton (.288) each ranked among the league’s batting leaders.

“I certainly like the averages on this team but the main concern is the pitching,” Herzog said. “There is no guarantee that I can do any more with it than Kenny did, but we’ll try to get the injuries healed up and then see where we stand.”[3]

The Cardinals’ beleaguered pitching staff was anchored by right-handers Pete Vuckovich and Bob Forsch. 41-year-old left-hander Jim Kaat, whom the Cardinal had purchased from the New York Yankees on April 30, provided leadership and depth, but injuries and ineffectiveness had plagued the rest of the pitching staff.

John Fulgham, who had gone 10-6 with a 2.53 ERA in 1979, had a 3.04 ERA but was just 2-3 on the year and had lasted just three innings in his last start against the Montreal Expos. Silvio Martinez, who won 15 games the previous season, had a 4.50 ERA when he went to the disabled list at the beginning of June with an elbow injury. A former player of Herzog’s in Kansas City, closer Mark Littell, also was on the disabled list with an elbow injury that would require season-ending surgery.

Altogether, the Cardinals had combined for a 4.28 ERA – the worst in the league – heading into Herzog’s debut.

In a 10-minute meeting prior to the game, Herzog would lay out the ground rules for his new club. There would be no curfew on the road, though players would be permitted to drink in the hotel bar, reversing a rule Boyer had instituted just a few days prior. If players wanted to listen to music while traveling with the team they had to use headphones, and there would be no music in the clubhouse after a loss. Most importantly, Herzog said, everyone was required to show up on time and anyone who failed to hustle could expect a fine.[4]

“He was saying things that really made sense to people,” second baseman Tom Herr said.[5]

That task complete, Herzog handed the umpires a lineup that had been selected by his brother Butzy (pronounced “bootsy”[6]) – a devoted, lifelong Cardinals fan who still lived in Herzog’s hometown of New Athens, Illinois.[7]

As they had much of the season, the Cardinals produced early, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. Templeton opened the game with a single to center field, then stole second base before Hendrick hit a two-out RBI single to put the Cardinals on the scoreboard. Templeton singled home Reitz in the second inning and Simmons hit a solo home run to right field in the third.

The Cardinals tacked on two more runs in the sixth as Simmons and Hendrick led off the inning with back-to-back doubles, and Hendrick scored on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Bonds. However, just as Herzog got his first glimpse of the Cardinals’ offensive firepower, he also saw why the team was at the bottom of the National League.

Kaat had cruised through five innings before Dale Murphy and Chris Chambliss hit consecutive doubles in the sixth inning to put Atlanta on the scoreboard. In the seventh, Kaat would do himself no favors, walking Bruce Benedict to lead off the inning before Charlie Spikes doubled to left field. Benedict scored on a wild pitch, and with one out, Spikes scored on an error by Templeton at shortstop. After Chambliss hit an RBI single to make the score 5-4, Herzog made the first pitching change of his Cardinals career.

John Littlefield, a rookie right-hander whom Herzog would mistakenly refer to as “Littlejohn” after the game,[8] got St. Louis out of the seventh and retired the side in order in the eighth – all on ground balls – before a ninth-inning RBI single by Glenn Hubbard tied the game, 5-5.

“I thought after that, we’d surely win the game,” Hubbard said. “Especially on a team that’s been losing so much. I didn’t think they’d come back, but they did.”[9]

With one out in the 10th, Hernandez drew a walk and Simmons singled to center, prompting Braves manager Bobby Cox to turn to veteran reliever Gene Garber to face Hendrick.

Hendrick was not fooled by Garber’s twisting, sidearm delivery or the pitch (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would report that Hendrick indicated it was a change-up, the Atlanta Constitution quoted Simmons as saying Hendrick called it “some kind of slider”) as he deposited his 12th home run of the season over the left-field wall.

Even then, the Braves refused to allow Herzog’s first Cardinals win to come easily. Herzog removed his third pitcher of the evening, Kim Seaman, after he allowed a leadoff single to start the 10th.

Before sending Seaman to the showers, Herzog looked at the infielders who had gathered around the mound. “Just like Kansas City,” he said. “Never a dull moment.” As Seaman’s teammates laughed, Herzog told the young reliever that despite the result, he’d thrown a good pitch.[10]

With that out of the way, George Frazier got a double-play ball and a strikeout to end the game.

“I don’t think we’re a last-place club and that’s no reflection on anyone, but we’ve dug ourselves a big hole and we’ve got to put some streaks together,” Herzog said. “But it’s hard to put a streak together unless you get consistent pitching. We’re going to have to straighten the pitching out.”[11]

It didn’t take Herzog long to realize that even with their potent offense, the Cardinals needed a roster upheaval. After three consecutive home losses against the Cubs, Busch asked Herzog what the team’s trouble was and Herzog didn’t mince his words.

“Well, Chief, you’ve got a bunch of prima donnas, overpaid SOBs who ain’t ever going to win a goddamned thing. You’ve got a bunch of mean people, some sorry human beings. It’s the first time I’ve ever been scared to walk through my own clubhouse. We’ve got drug problems, we’ve got ego problems, and we ain’t ever going anywhere.”

Busch seemed disappointed but not entirely surprised when he asked Herzog if it was really as bad as the skipper made it sound.

“We ain’t going to win with this sorry bunch,” Herzog said. “We’ve got to do some housecleaning.”[12]

That August, Busch fired general manager John Claiborne and installed Herzog in his place. To focus on these new duties, Herzog temporarily handed the manager’s job to Red Schoendienst.

That winter, Herzog remade the Cardinals’ roster around pitching, speed, and defense. He began by signing free agent catcher Darrell Porter and dealing Terry Kennedy, Littlefield, Al Olmsted, Mike Phillips, Seaman, Steve Swisher, and John Urrea to the San Diego Padres for Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley, Gene Tenace, and Bob Geren.

One day after the Padres trade, Herzog sent Leon Durham, Reitz, and Ty Waller to the Chicago Cubs for Bruce Sutter. He followed that exchange by trading Fingers, Simmons, and Vuckovich to the Milwaukee Brewers for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano, and Lary Sorensen. By Christmas, Herzog also had released the aging Bonds. Those moves would firmly establish the Cardinals as Herzog’s team and laid the groundwork for St. Louis’s 1982 World Series championship.

Much like his path to Fulton County Stadium for his Cardinals debut, Herzog may have taken a roundabout way of getting there, but eventually he arrived exactly where he expected.

 

This story has appeared as part of the Society for American Baseball Research Games Project at https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/june-9-1980-whitey-herzog-wins-first-game-as-cardinals-manager/.


[1] Rick Hummel, “‘New Air In Atmosphere’ For Redbirds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 10, 1980: A10.

[2] Ernest Reese, “Herzog Winner In Debut,” Atlanta Constitution, June 10, 1980: D1.

[3] Ken Picking, “Herzog Has Tough, Attractive Challenge” Atlanta Constitution, June 10, 1980: D1.

[4] Doug Feldmann, Whitey Herzog Builds a Winner: The St. Louis Cardinals, 1979-1982 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc.), 58.

[5] Hummel.

[6] Feldmann, 43.

[7] Feldmann, 57.

[8] Hummel.

[9] Reese.

[10] Hummel.

[11] Reese.

[12] Herzog, Whitey and Kevin Horrigan, White Rat: My Life in Baseball (New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins, 1988), 118.

What I’m Reading: “Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story” by Darrell Porter with William Deerfield

There were several stories, moments, and observations in Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story that made me cringe as I read them. Moments so intimate, so personal, that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable.

In some ways, that’s the point of this book. Most baseball autobiographies are designed to celebrate a player’s career or provide a glimpse into life on a major-league baseball team. Snap Me Perfect focuses upon Porter’s personal demons and his descent into drugs and alcohol, and the journey he took to bring his life back on track.

Porter starts at the very beginning – not of his own life, but his father’s. After his own rough childhood with an unloving foster family, Porter’s father adopts a hard relationship with his son, driving him to achieve more in sports while showing little if any affection. Porter believes this relationship is at the core of his need to please others and a perpetual battle against self-confidence. This lack of confidence, in turn, made Porter susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse.

Porter shares a variety of stories about the dissolution of his marriage, and of he and his friends driving drunk and starting fights. Perhaps the most terrifying story in the book takes place when Porter – then with the Royals – devolves into paranoia and believes the Royals and Major League Baseball are following him. Carrying a shotgun, Porter has his brother drive him around the city at 2 a.m., following the cars they see because Porter is certain that they are part of the conspiracy. Finally, his brother talks him into returning home, but Porter says that he during this time he would spend hours each night perched at his upstairs window with the shotgun, watching for the MLB representatives that he is certain will try and storm his house.

Baseball serves as a backdrop to Porter’s personal challenges throughout the book. He talks briefly about the Royals’ three American League West championships, and is very complimentary toward Whitey Herzog, who supported him throughout their years together in Kansas City. Porter describes his frustrations following Herzog’s firing from the Royals and his excitement about rejoining Herzog in St. Louis.

However, while the book was written after the championship 1982 season in which Porter won the National League Championship Series and World Series MVP awards, he doesn’t dedicate much time to that season. In fact, in the 259-page hardcover edition, Porter doesn’t sign with the Cardinals as a free agent until page 233.

Porter does describe the challenge he faced in replacing Ted Simmons in St. Louis, and says that the Cardinals’ fans boos made him hate going to the ballpark. Even during the World Series, fans’ preference for Simmons had an impact on him. He even mentions at one point staying in the clubhouse during pre-game introductions so he wouldn’t have to hear Cardinals fans cheer Simmons.

Ultimately, though, as Porter notes in his epilogue, this book isn’t truly about baseball or Porter’s career. It’s about Porter’s personal battle with substance abuse and the feelings of inadequacy that he feels drove that substance abuse. Even as he details the way in which his faith helped him find a new lease on life, he emphasizes that it is a never-ending battle, and admits to drinking a beer during the 1981 players strike.

Though Porter ends his book on a positive note following the World Series title, his second marriage, and the birth of a daughter, it’s bittersweet for readers who know that drug abuse ultimately cost Porter his life. In 2002, Porter was found dead outside his vehicle in a Kansas City suburb. An autopsy found that he had died of a cocaine overdose at the age of 50.

Porter was unable to overcome his substance abuse problems, but that doesn’t invalidate the message behind Snap Me Perfect. If anything, it shows that even as Porter opened up and admitted his issues, sought the root cause of his dependence on drugs and alcohol, and surrounded himself with supportive friends and family, he still was unable to overcome his addiction. Perhaps the only way Porter could have overcome his addictions was to never try drugs or alcohol.

It’s a sad story, but an important one.

What I’m Reading: “Wizard” by Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains

Wizard, by Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains, was the first sports autobiography I ever read.

I got the book from the bookmobile that came by Ellisville Elementary School, which in retrospect is strange, as our school had a library. Nonetheless, I remember emerging from the bookmobile with my prize, leaning my back against the wall of the hallway, and beginning to read as other members of my class finished choosing their books.

To be honest, the fact that I still remember this, probably 30 years later, is more a reflection of the fact that I was a baseball-mad kid and that Ozzie Smith was my favorite player than the book itself. Nonetheless, Wizard created something of a stir shortly after it was published, mostly due to comments Smith makes regarding Whitey Herzog, umpires, a few former teammates, and about the Cardinals’ recent playoff opponents.

In some ways, Wizard is a very ordinary sports biography, as Smith chronologically takes the reader through his childhood, brief minor-league career, and summarizes each season. At 184 pages in the hardcover edition, this is not a long book, and Smith doesn’t linger long on any of the specific baseball moments that take place in the book. Even Smith’s home run in the 1985 NLCS against Tom Niedenfuer, arguably the most historic play of his career, receives just a couple sentences:

For the first time in my professional career, I hit a home run batting left-handed. I wasn’t trying to hit a home run; it just happened. Niedenfuer threw me a fastball inside, and it got a little more of the plate than he had intended. I was able to drive it well enough so that it just got over the wall.

While Smith’s recollections of the clubhouse and on-field events are relatively cursory and he claims to have absolutely no knowledge of his teammates’ drug use, he’s utterly unafraid to express his opinions about the game. At times, it almost reads as though he is auditioning for one of ESPN’s modern sports-talk shows, where he has to throw out as many hot takes as he can. In some cases, such as when he recommends that Major League Baseball move from separate American and National League umpiring crews or advocates for instant replay, he appears prescient. At other times, such as when he predicts that Bob Horner is going to thrive while replacing Jack Clark as the Cardinals’ first baseman in 1988 or suggests that he may retire after his contract concludes in 1989, history shows that he was significantly off the mark.

Mostly, though, this book provides Smith the opportunity to throw some haymakers at those who he feels have disrespected him during his career. He pulls no punches when discussing the San Diego Padres organization, criticizing the lack of instruction he says he received in the minor leagues and the firing of Alvin Dark during spring training of his rookie season. He also accuses Ed Whitson of intentionally hitting him with a pitch that broke his wrist and expresses frustration that his teammates immediately thought it was an accident.

A large portion of the book is focused on his contract negotiations, and Smith says that racism may have been involved in the team’s refusal to pay Dave Winfield or him what they were worth. According to Smith, when his agent, Ed Gottlieb, purchased an ad in the San Diego paper requesting part-time job offers on Smith’s behalf to supplement the meager income the Padres were paying him, Gottlieb did that on his own without Smith’s authorization. That incident, however, leads to Joan Kroc, the wife of the Padres’ owner, sarcastically offering Smith a job as her gardener. Smith is rightfully offended and indicates that this is when he knew he couldn’t stay with the Padres.

Smith goes after other former teammates and opponents as well. He says that Neil Allen was not mentally strong enough to deal with the scrutiny that came with becoming the Cardinals’ closer after Bruce Sutter left for Atlanta in free agency. He says that Jack Clark should have taken a cortisone shot to see if he could have played through his injury during the 1987 playoffs. He says that since he signed a larger contract, his strike zone has become larger as umpires try to humble him. He criticizes the Mets and Giants for comments they made during playoff series against the Cardinals. He says that he and his teammates were frustrated by Herzog’s repeated comments that he couldn’t believe the Cardinals reached the 1987 World Series. He even theorizes that the Twins turned the air vents in the Metrodome on and off to gain home-field advantage. Most humorously, he goes after Bob Brenly after the Giants’ catcher suggested that Smith was trying to be too flashy during their 1987 playoff series:

Bob Brenly, who in my opinion is mediocre at best, said after the game that I didn’t make the play because I was ‘styling.’ He once made four errors in the same game playing third base and he’s telling me about playing defense. I don’t tell him how to catch or say anything about all his passed balls. If you walked down the street and asked 20 people if they know who Bob Brenly is, I guarantee 19 of them wouldn’t know him.

Incredibly, Smith spends more words on what is admittedly a pretty epic takedown of Bob Brenly than he does in describing the single most important home run of his career (also, I love the idea of Smith combing through box scores looking for Bob Brenly’s worst defensive game just to include that zinger in the book).

The myriad opinions Smith shared in the book made a few days’ worth of news during 1988 spring training. To promote the book, Smith participated in an interview with Tom Boswell of GQ magazine, and Boswell used parts of Smith’s book and the interview in the article. According to a March 30, 1988, St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, the GQ article created a bit of a stir.

Herzog and Smith sat down to clear the air regarding several of Smith’s comments from the book, and Herzog arranged for a phone call between Smith and National League President Bart Giamatti to discuss Smith’s criticism of umpires. Clark responded angrily to Smith’s recommendation that he should have taken a cortisone shot and tried to play through the pain, pointing out that he participated in a simulated game and simply couldn’t compete.

“I think he did one too many backflips,” Clark said in a separate March 30 Post-Dispatch article under the headline, “Clark Lashes Out At Ozzie’s Comments.”

“Now Ozzie wants to be the manager and the doctor. I don’t know why he’s deciding right now to speak his mind. Maybe it’s because he was a .230 lifetime hitter and he suddenly got paid $2 million and it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that he feels he’s started to earn it.”

Ultimately, though, while the book may have made headlines when it was published prior to the 1988 season, I think I would only recommend it to hardcore Ozzie Smith fans. Other books do a much better job of documenting the Cardinals’ pennant-winning teams of the ’80s, and it obviously doesn’t cover the final nine years of Smith’s Hall of Fame career. Smith really doesn’t dive into any details of his personal life outside of brief stories about how he met his wife and the day his first son was born, and since the book is relatively brief, every incident outside of his contract negotiations comes and goes pretty quickly.

The biggest takeaway I gained from reading Wizard is an appreciation of Smith’s competitive nature. After reading this, I really get the feeling that he played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, determined to show the people who thought he was too small, or couldn’t hit enough, or thought he was a hot dog. For a guy who always seemed fairly polished in front of the TV cameras, Wizard shows the tremendous personal pride he had throughout his career and how he dealt with it when he felt disrespected by others.