Since Michael Lewis's MONEYBALL --- the behind-the-scenes story of
how general manager Billy Beane assembled the Oakland Athletics---
hit the bookstores in 2003, several authors have attempted to copy
the behind-the-scenes formula.
Since the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 --- their
first such victory in more than 85 years --- several authors have
sought to recapture that happy occasion. Writing about the triumphs
of the Sox, together and in individual biographies, became a
cottage industry in the months subsequent to popping the champagne
A few writers have even tried to combine both genres.
Few, however, have done a better overall job than Seth Mnookin in
FEEDING THE MONSTER: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to
After the obligatory recap of the century-plus of Red Sox highs
(few: Ted Williams, the 1967 and 1975 pennants) and lows (many:
Babe Ruth, Harry Frazee, the 1978 playoff loss to the hated Yankees
and the 1986 gut-wrenching World Series loss to the Mets), the
author picks up the Sox story as a new ownership team was about to
purchase the perennial disappointments.
In detail that sometimes bogs down the telling, Mnookin profiles
the key players in the acquisition and preparation of the Red Sox
in 2001, including owners John Henry and Tom Werner, boy
genius/general manager Theo Epstein, and CEO and nominal bad guy
Larry Lucchino. Then comes the real story: putting together the
bits and pieces over the next few seasons like a gourmet chef,
adding, subtracting and mixing until everything was just right.
This is where FEEDING THE MONSTER picks up steam.
Sure, there were stumbling blocks along the way. Professional
athletes, after all, are still young men, still human, and
sometimes display unpleasant qualities such as immaturity,
jealousy, egotism and pettiness. Still, we're left wondering at
times. Was Nomar Garciaparra really an insecure negative influence,
or was that just the way he was portrayed by the team's management
as an excuse to cast off the newest "face of the Red Sox?" Mnookin
raises similar questions about other popular players such as Manny
Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Others, like Johnny
Damon, receive relatively little ink.
Not everyone has to be best buddies to make a winning team, and
after another disappointing (if seemingly inevitable) loss to the
Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series, the Red
Sox had their signature moment in 2004, coming from a
three-games-to-none deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS to
capture the pennant; that they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the
fall classic was practically anti-climactic.
Of course, getting to the top and staying there are two different
things, and the Sox came back down to earth in 2005. And having
recently lost five consecutive games to the first-place Yankees,
they are in danger of falling out of the chase for postseason glory
this year as well.
Mnookin clearly wants to cast a wide net for readers. In doing so,
his desire to explain the (semi-)obvious to serious students of the
national pastime could work to the detriment. His footnotes, while
quite descriptive of the finer points of the game (like how to
figure out batting averages or waiver rules), would seem to be out
of place in a book that appeals to the type of aficionados who
would be interested in the subject matter.
Despite some minor quibbles, FEEDING THE MONSTER is a fascinating
dissection of what it takes to put together a winner, warts and
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 21, 2011