Saturday, August 06, 2005

Book Review: You've Got To Have Balls To Make It In This League, by Pam Postema

Last night, I finished writing what will undoubtedly be the opening number in "Mariners! The Musical". It's too long to post here, so if you're a fan of recent Broadway comedies, I highly recommend you go read What Do You Do With A Major League Contract? / It Sucks To Be Us, a parody of the opening songs from the musical "Avenue Q", "What Do You Do With A B.A. in English? / It Sucks To Be Me".

On another note, it always seems like Joel Pineiro comes through for us when you least expect it. If you think about it, maybe he's just setting us all up like a pitcher sets up his batters -- fastball, curveball, change-up... so you're watching for the slider, and BAM! a fastball straight down the middle gets by you. Here, our setup is 5 IP 5 ER, 6 IP 5 ER, 5.1 IP 4 ER, 5 IP 7 ER... so he's faked out Freddy Garcia into thinking, sure, we can go out partying all night -- I have nothing to worry about from my old buddy Joel, eh? Let's take my fanboy Felix out for a couple drinks and have a good old time, and tomorrow I'll pitch your asses off even if I'm drunk. And then BAM! Joel goes out there and wins the game against those first-place White Sox. Ha ha, Freddy. Loser buys, right?

In the news, Plunk Rockers Millwood and Riske suspended for the antics in last week's game. Shiggy was fined, not suspended, for whatever reason.

And, since I have nothing better to write about right now, I'm going to talk about a great book I just finished reading. (I should really review more books on here.)

You've Got To Have Balls To Make It In This League, by Pam Postema

I have to admit that I've never read any of Ron Luciano's books, so I'm not really sure what a book about umpires is supposed to be like. But this one was really good. She takes you all the way from her first idea of "I should be an umpire", to convincing her way into Al Somers's umpiring school, to breaking in with low A ball, all the way up to Triple A, and even umpiring some big games like the Hall of Fame game and spring trainings for MLB and whatnot.

To some extent, part of the fun of this book is the name-dropping in ways you wouldn't expect, mostly talking about guys who became major leaguers, but who she dealt with when they were scrubs in the minors. She calls Lenny Dykstra "that miserable little puke", or tells stories of Keith Hernandez and Carmelo Martinez and such hitting on her at the plate. She calls Orel Hershiser an absolute angel (gosh, what a surprise there), and talks about Larry Bowa when he was first breaking in as a minor league manager (with about as much fondness as you'd expect). She even saw a totally different side of Jose Canseco than what we're used to thinking of now, of course. And there's even a hats off to the A's organization for its way of improving people, ten years before Moneyball.

It's even kinda wacky how I've heard of several of the umpires she mentions working with, like Tim Welke or Dana DeMuth or Gary Darling or Tim Tschida or whoever. I mean, in general, how many people really pay attention to who the umpires are? Do you? How many umpires can you name? (To be fair, the only ump I notice on a regular basis in Seattle is the one named Jeff Nelson, for obvious reasons.) Well, apparently if there's a female umpire, people make a really big deal about it, since half of the book is probably spent on Pam talking about how she wished people would just stop treating her like she was something special, stop putting her on Good Morning America or the cover of Sports Illustrated or whatever; she just wanted to be an umpire, not a woman, dammit.

As a woman reading this, too, I really kind of felt her pain as she talks about the blatantly chauvinist way she got treated by a lot of her fellow umpires, and the baseball players around her; sort of like the way I used to get treated in my computer science classes back in highschool and college. Though there are pretty funny moments to that, too:

    Sometimes, a player would surprise me with a trace of originality. Once, I dumped Steve Sax, who plays for the New York Yankees these days, after he bitched one time too many. He stormed back to the dugout pissed as could be.

    "She's a whore," said Sax as he headed for the clubhouse and an early shower.

    "Nah," said a teammate, "she can't even work the corners."

    Not bad. For a ballplayer.

I guess any autobiography by an umpire would make you realize how they also go through a struggle to make it through the minor leagues to get to the majors, like a ballplayer does, but this one seems even moreso because of how she was repeatedly told, "To be a major league umpire, you'll have to be twice as good as the guys you're fighting against," and in the end she admits that "No man is ever going to say that a woman is twice as good as a guy, even if she is." In the storytelling vein, it feels like she moves up to Triple A fairly quickly; actually, she gets to the PCL about 20-25% of the way through the book, even though it's halfway through her career. (It makes sense. The more interesting developments are once she's in Triple A, just like any baseball career.) It is a shame when reading that you already know she never actually makes it past Triple A, though, if you've bothered to read the back cover of the book.

Something that I thought was sort of weird about the book also was that they didn't include a lot of pictures in it. Most baseball books have one or two pictures sections, since usually the pictures are a pretty neat part of the book, and also a nice "intermission" when you reach the middle. It sort of goes along with Postema's general manner, though, that she didn't want people putting her face all over magazine covers and on TV and whatever else. At the same time, I was sort of disappointed by it, because I want to *see* moments like her standing behind the plate for the Hall of Fame game, or ejecting Lee Elia's batboy in Portland. (No, I am not making the latter thing up. I didn't even know you could eject batboys.) I'd love to see her staring down Larry Bowa, or telling off The Chicken. If nothing else, I'm most interested in just getting a better mental picture of what a 23-year-old farm girl from Ohio looked like in umpire's gear, standing behind home plate.

But I digress. Anyway, this is a pretty entertaining book. I read most of it on the bus going to/from work, and it had me laughing out loud on the bus several times. Infact, I'll just leave you with one last excerpt, which somewhat sums up a lot of the tone of the book:

    The Philadelphia Phanatic is the mascot I would most like to see permanently banned from any ballpark. He used to do gigs at minor league fields, and he would constantly mimic the umpires.

    One time, I was having a bad game and he started walking toward me between innings. That's when we had a little chat.

    "Get the fuck away from me," I said.

    "Fuck you," said the sweet-looking Philly Phanatic.

    I thought about throwing him out, but what the hell. It wouldn't have been worth the trouble.

    Other than all this, I love the game.

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