Monday, November 13, 2006

Book Review - Clearing the Bases, by Mike Schmidt

Okay, I guess technically the book is really called Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Monster Salaries, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball, by Mike Schmidt with Glen Waggoner. But whatever. I actually got my copy of this book several months ago -- Schmitty was doing some book signings around Philly when it first came out, so my dad went and got me a signed copy as an early birthday present.

I finally got around to reading this book this past week. It took me about eight 30-minute commuting bus rides to get through it. It's really a very good bus book, actually -- I could get through at least a chapter per bus ride, sometimes two, and there wasn't a lot of context to worry about since the subject matter jumps all over the place.

The first six chapters of this book are really awesome; they're basically the autobiography section, where Schmidt talks about his career from the time he signed out of Ohio University, to the day he retired. He just tells a lot of stories in a really fun way; there may have been a really big "oh my god! Mike Schmidt!" factor for me, given that I spent the first 12 years of my life watching him play third base for the Phillies, but I think that the stories do stand on their own just fine.

Unfortunately, just as his career ends, so does the light part of the book. The rest of it deals with his opinions on a bunch of the current issues surrounding the game, and while the tone is still light in most places, the subject matter really isn't quite so much. I think the last eight chapters could be summarized as such (no, these are not direct quotes, I'm just paraphrasing from his point of view):

7,8. "You know, I understand why guys did steroids. They were looking for an edge. I briefly thought I might have done them too if the opportunity had existed when I was a player, but now that I researched stuff for this book and found out what that crap does to your body? No way, man. No way."
9,10. "Hitters today are a lot better than they used to be. The balls and bats are lighter, too. So when you're looking at all the records set nowadays, the numbers guys are racking up, they're legit, you just have to remember to take them in context. Hank woulda hit a thousand homers if he'd played thirty years later. Hell, I might have had 700. Remember, I used to lead the league with 38 homers, after all. Context."
11. "The Hall of Fame selection process kind of sucks. Writers can be jerks. And personally, I'd vote McGwire in, regardless of the controversy."
12. "Oh, for the love of god, will you guys forgive Pete Rose already? I think he knows he screwed up."
13. "Managing a minor league team is really hard. But I think I had a lot of fun. Why, though, do teams invest millions of dollars in prospects and then pay some random dude in single-A $30,000/yr to teach these kids fundamentals? Shouldn't they invest more in lower-level training?"
14. "Okay, so now that you've read my rant, let me just remind you all: Baseball rules. I may be an old-timer and I may sound bitter, and I definitely think today's stars are way overpaid and there's no team loyalty and all that stuff. But who cares, you're reading this because you love baseball as much as I do. Anyone know who's starting for the Phillies tomorrow?"

Anyway, I think this is a pretty entertaining book overall regardless, a fairly quick read, it has some very good points made within it, and it's definitely worth it for Phillies fans or for anyone who was a big Mike Schmidt fan. There'll definitely be moments when you're left shaking your head thinking, "Oh, come ON, whatever, get over it," (which he's very self-aware of and pokes fun of within the book, even), but plenty of moments of "that's awesome", or "yeah, that's a really good point," or "huh, that's an interesting idea, I wonder if it could work" as well.

If nothing else, if you read it this offseason, there'll definitely be moments when he's talking about contracts in the 1970's where you'll suddenly be struck by the amazing salary inflation since free agency -- Schmidt mentions signing a 6yr/$3.3mil contract, making him the highest-paid player in the NL in 1976 at $550k/year. Nowadays, that's not that far above the major league minimum salary. Later he'll remind you of the early 80's when Nolan Ryan was making a million dollars a year for playing baseball. Even I remember my parents saying how ridiculous that was. Funny how things have changed.

Interestingly enough, Mike has his own website now and even a blog.

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