The biggest problem with “Built To Win” is that John Schuerholz struggles at staying with one point. He assumes you, the reader, can see his train of thought and will go down the tracks with him. In many cases, that simply does not happen. As such, reading each chapter is like a hodgepodge of information. The chapters themselves are too long, but even ignoring that, it reads more like an old LiveJournal than a book. It’s as if one day, Schuerholz wants to talk about how agents are ruining baseball. The next day, it’s owners. The following day, he shows some love for Ted Turner.
While I’ll review the remaining chapters of this book shortly, I just wanted to touch on my overall observations of this book. The book itself is old now. Over a decade, in fact. The game has changed radically since then. But there was a reason I struggled with this book from the beginning. Quite simply, Schuerholz’s book fails to really grab the reader. That is, unless, you are looking for both some baseball inside stories and some potential advice on being a leader. That niche market probably enjoys this book a bit more. The rest of us are struggling not to skim through the “leadership strategies” as we look for inside information on players and situations involving the Braves and/or Royals under Schuerholz
Part of the problem is simply that Schuerholz isn’t a gifted writer and he often struggles to be concise with his points, which turns away many readers (and yes, I can do the same). Worse – the stories are often bland and forgetful. The whole book just drones on – especially after you get past the Barry Bonds and Tom Glavine sections.
The book is currently nearly $20 at Amazon for the hardcover or the paperback ($9.99 for the Kindle). I’ve gone over much of what I feel is interesting about the book, but if you would like to give it a shot, it definitely lives up to his current 3-star (out of 5) rating. There’s just enough good here. But not nearly enough to make me want to read through it again.
With that in mind, let’s move through the final chapters.
Chapter 8 – Coping With Baseball Economics and Agents
John Schuerholz doesn’t like agents all that much. Reading this book makes that point pretty clear, but this chapter really hammers that point home. The funny thing is that he also touches on owners that make their money outside of baseball and think they can throw money at a team and a winner will magically appear. That’s ironic because he had an owner in Atlanta who thought that for many years.
One of the best little tidbits in this entire book comes on page 198 of the hardcover version. Schuerholz is trying to decide whether or not they should give Jeff Blauser a contract extension. In an interview, Schuerholz mentions that while they would like to keep Blauser, it has to make sense with their budget. The next evening, this exchange happens:
Ted Turner: “Hey John! This is Ted. How are you doing John?”
Schuerholz: “Great, Ted. How are you?”
Turner: “Hey, great! Way to go. Keep doing a good job. (Pause) John, what’s this s*** I read about a budget? You wanna sign Jeff Blauser, sign him!”
You can say a lot about Ted Turner, but it’s hard not to miss having him as an owner.
Like I said, this chapter focuses more on the economic system and agents – of which he hates. Schuerholz admits that he’s grown “more cynical and mother bothered” by the way baseball’s economic system was moving. However, this seems rather hollow. Schuerholz oversaw a team that routinely was in the Top 5 in payroll each and every season from the mid-90’s until the early 2000’s. They helped to drive player salaries. Schuerholz’s “cynism” seems more a product of having the wallet tightened after Turner was forced out of the picture by AOL Time Warner.
Schuerholz does provide some interesting stories about players. He again touches on Chipper Jones publicly suggesting he’d defer some of his salary to sign Tim Hudson long-term. He also goes over a few examples with John Smoltz and the leadership he showed, but his biggest inside story is of Andruw Jones. If you don’t recall, Andruw went around his agent, Scott Boras, to sign a long-term extension rather than test free agency. Andruw took some heat from Boras the MLB Player’s Association for doing so.
Oddly in this chapter is a section of how the Braves got into the Alex Rodriguez free agency bonanza after 2000. This would have been a fun time to expand on what the team would have looked like had they signed the best player in baseball and all that. Unfortunately, Schuerholz doesn’t do that. The Braves offered Rodriguez half of what he’d later get from the Rangers. For Schuerholz, this is a reason to again go after the agents and the dumb owners.
Chapter 9 – Crisis Management: Rocker, Furcal, et al.
We move on from Schuerholz railing against a system he helped become what it is to dealing with some public relation disasters – John Rocker‘s mouth and Rafael Furcal‘s DUIs. Before that, he focuses in on Darrell Porter, a catcher who became one of the victims of baseball’s issues with cocaine during the 80’s. Schuerholz mentions that during Family Week, families of addicts sit in on classes and attend services during the final week of rehab. Schuerholz, who was an assistant to the GM at the time in KC, joined Darrell for this.
It’s actually a touching moment in this book. Porter would later win a World Series MVP after getting straight. Unfortunately, nearly 20 years later, he would relapse and fall victim to another addiction (alcohol). He passed away of a heart problem, brought on by years of stress from drugs and alcohol. Nevertheless, this is an inciteful story from Schuerholz even if it’s an odd way to address crisis management right before getting into John Rocker.
If you would like some great added context on Rocker, there’s a follow-up story by Jeff Pearlman at Bleacher Report. If you don’t recall, Pearlman penned the story on Rocker in which he provided a litany of quotes to hate the southpaw for. For instance, I didn’t know that the original story on Rocker was of the misunderstood reliever. The profile was supposed to be about a local kid who made it good – largely through grit and determination. Had the Braves not been smacked around in the 1999 World Series, that profile would have run. Instead, they did and Pearlman was tasked with freshening up the profile with some more added information. That additional information became the article that would derail whatever momentum Rocker had.
Schuerholz talks about how they tried to deal with this crisis. How they pushed Rocker to see the errors of his words and actions. Instead, Rocker felt he was betrayed by a reporter. You know the old rule – always assume you are on the record unless you absolutely know you’re not. Rocker failed at that. The biggest problem for Rocker – as Schuerholz tells it – is that he didn’t feel remorse. He was not contrite for the words he said. In general, people can spot a fake. In cases like this, people already assume you are a fake trying to do some PR. Rocker’s lack of commitment just made that easier to see.
Schuerholz compares that with Furcal, who was arrested after a second DUI in four years during the final month of the 2004 season. Schuerholz wants to make it clear that because of the collective bargaining agreement, the team has no latitude to discipline Furcal – short of releasing him. Like with Rocker, Schuerholz wants the reader to not blame the team for failing to release or otherwise act on a player’s misdeeds. That’s fair to a point, but Schuerholz spends too much time with it. As far as his shortstop goes, Furcal was contrite. Schuerholz felt Furcal’s guilt was genuine for his actions.
Randomly, Schuerholz moves on to steroids. He blames the union for not wanting to address testing before the steroids problem became public knowledge. It’s fair, though shifting all the blame away from the owners and general managers who were quite willing to enjoy the rising popularity (and home-run rates) is a bit absurd. Schuerholz does mention the Braves were concerned that an unnamed player was using steroids. The player suggested he didn’t, using his skinny arms as a sign that he didn’t. But Schuerholz felt it was still possible to irrational behavior. He, unfortunately, doesn’t pinpoint a season that this occurred, though we can take some guesses. I’m going to go with Pete Orr. Hey, all I heard was “skinny arms.”
Chapter 10 – Giving Back
There’s not much to say about this chapter. Schuerholz needed a finisher to his book and we got this chapter that tries to sum up everything. It’s just kind of – blah. I feel like Schuerholz would have been better off dropping one last interesting story. This seems more like filler to either get to a tenth chapter or avoid having the ninth chapter be the last chapter of the book.
Of course, the Afterword that follows makes that irrelevant. The Afterword is a blow-by-blow story of the Baby Braves. It’s pretty dry outside of a few nuggets here-and-there. There’s also an Appendix, which is essentially a year-by-year recap of The Streak with the “Key Schuerholz Move” of each season.
And that’s a wrap on Built to Win. We’ll put that on the shelf next to Tomahawked and in April, we’ll start our third book of this series. Next Sunday is Easter so I may skip the first Sunday of April. I am scheduled to receive both “Ballplayer” by Chipper Jones and “Never Say Die: The 1914 Braves” by Matthew Mcconkey on Tuesday. I haven’t decided which book is next in this series, though. I’ll probably ask for some responses on Twitter. Thanks for reading along!
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