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Feeding the Monster

Review

Feeding the Monster

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 corks.

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 the Top.

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 all.

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Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on October 18, 2011

Feeding the Monster
by Seth Mnookin

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2006
  • Genres: Sports
  • Hardcover: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743286812
  • ISBN-13: 9780743286817