“Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess”
The publishing info:
368 pages; $32
Released Feb. 14, 2023
The publishers website
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books
The review in 90 feet or less
Another fine mess the Houston Astros put themselves in after winning the 2022 World Series.
Expecting some sort of redemption and adoration of how it all happened with manager Dusty Baker tasting the fruits of victory – especially after all the baggage attached to that 2017 World Series title over the Dodgers may have helped the city heal from a horrible flood situation of Hurricane Harvey – the Astros’ six-game series win over the Phillies (yes, the Phillies), a year after they came up short in the finale to the Atlanta Braves, couldn’t even fully enjoyed during the first full week of November, 2022 without more controversy.
They let go of general manager James Click for declining a one-year contract, along with assistant GM Scott Powers.
So now the question on the table: Would owner Jim Crane be brave enough to hire back Jeff Luhnow as the GM?
You know, that guy who had so much fun as a fantasy baseball owner he somehow put his MBA to use and created the rosters of ’17 and ’22, after several years of tanking games to get draft picks, and was then cut loose in early 2020 in the froth of the franchise cheating scandal?
Maybe the stink is gone from him and people have short memories. But, hey, his MLB suspension is over. He’s cleared through TSA.
But he did sue the team for breach of contract.
A a Sports Illustrated feature explains: “Luhnow seems to see the sign-stealing scandal as a black swan event: shocking, earth-shaking and impossible to have foreseen because he wasn’t involved in it.Does he believe the scandal tarnishes the 2017 title? “I think that the Astros built a powerhouse,” he says. “And it’s unfortunate for our fans that going through ’17 and winning that World Series and then two years later having to have people question that—it’s unfortunate, and I wish that had never happened.”
The story continues:
Luhnow believes that was the cost of trying to shake up such a tradition-bound industry. “That’s unfortunately the curse of being an innovator,” he says. His adamance that he knew nothing of the sign-stealing only brought more scorn.
“The unapologetic I didn’t do anything wrong part is why he’s polarizing,” says one of the people who worked with him. As the boss, he adds, you have to take the heat. “Aren’t you responsible for it all anyway?”
Luhnow, who has since been involved in soccer, purchasing two different professional clubs, Cancún F.C. in Mexico and CD Leganés in Spain, was held responsible for creating a toxic workplace environment and failure to inform the team players of a 2017 memo from the commissioner’s office reminding all clubs it was illegal to use electronic equipment to steal signs, in effect allowing it all to fester.
Why would he even considered to be brought back? He wasn’t.
In January, the Astros hired Atlanta Braves scouting executive Dana Brown as their new GM. That made Brown the only Black GM in Major League Baseball. Click had joined the Astros after Crane fired Luhnow, and stabilized the roster that Luhnow created.
In the jacket blurb for “Winning Fixes Everything,” the publishers state that Luhnow “helped revolutionize the game” with his decision-making process once he was hired in 2011 following time in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization doing talent evaluation and scouting.
Now, writer Evan Drellich was here to lay it all out, the one who was part of the team at The Athletic with Ken Rosenthal to expose this whole cheating scandal, explain the major players involved, and how it was all allowed to happen because of “a collision of subcultures” that went on the cheap and quick fix that left everyone with dirty hands.
“Not even a World Series title could cover up the rot,” says the jacket.
In the process of the book’s release, the Dodgers caught wind of some of it while in spring training, and it became somewhat newsworthy. Unnamed sources were now saying the Dodgers were “the biggest cheaters in the whole (bleeping) industry.”
“I want to know who that anonymous person is,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said at the time when asked about the accusations.
He added that he hadn’t read the book, was aware of the excerpts released, and tied it up with: “To be honest, I haven’t thought too much about it. I’m not going to go there with (defending his team). All the things that went down, punishments and all that stuff, MLB did a great job of being thorough. That’s not my job to be the judge and jury.”
But in the court of public opinion, were the Dodgers now suspect again? MLB investigated the Dodgers for sign-stealing after the 2018 season found nothing. Especially nothing like what went down with the Astros, and continues to be a festering topic of conversation and even suspect pitch selection even after most of the key players have moved onto other teams.
(Breaking news: Singling out Pederson as a bleeping idiot doesn’t deserve a headline.)
So now we have even more character background on someone like Luhnow, who once had the personalized license plate “GM 111” to remind him of how the franchise was allowed to lose that many games in 2013 (after dropping 106 in 2011 and 107 in 2012 as part of his strategy of recovering to hit rock bottom and scoop up draft picks) and ended up changing the plate to read “OCTBB” to boast about his team’s regular appearances in the playoffs.
Then there’s the reference on page 234, after winning the ’17 World Series and visiting the White House, that Luhnow was definitely a top Trump supporter and relished the moment. Of course he did.
“When Jeff Luhnow was winning, it was easy for some to jump to the conclusion he was doing everything right,” Drellich writes in the introduction. “When he was fired, it was easy to dismiss him and everything he built as the result of foul play. The reality is much more complicated … (and the book) is the cruel, number-crunching, dollar-focused, sometimes amusing and oft-maddening reality of how really smart and successful people run a ballclub. It’s what happens when corporate America meets America’s pastime.”
And when corporate American (a book seller) wants to “explain it all” to the audience in hopes of generating some income out of it, we have more reader fatigue. What’s the intent of a book like this again? To find some teachable moments? It almost comes off again as a “how-to” manual on how to avoid the pitfalls of ego.
How it goes in the scorebook
In her new book, “Fool Me Once: Scams, Stories and Secrets from the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry,” Kelly Richmond Pope writes about how perps like Elizabeth Holmes, Bernie Madoff and other scumbags ruined so many lives. One of the blurbs invites the reader: “By the time you finish this book, you’ll have a better understanding of—and perhaps even compassion for—perpetrators, a renewed connection to victims, and an appreciation for those who blow the whistle.”
We didn’t really come away with that same feeling about the Astros of Houston after rifling through this.
If you’re idea of an enjoyable read is having your bookshelf lined up with stuff like “Black Edge,” Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street,” by Sheelah Kolhatkar (from 2018, about the current New York Mets owner Steven Cohen and his hedge fund dealings), or “Den of Thieves” back in the 1990s about the Wall Street insider trading of Michael Milken and the like (and now see Milken try to rehabilitate his career with altruistic Father’s Day visits to the baseball broadcast booth to encourage men to do prostate exams), or “Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street” that Michael Lewis wrote about the 1980s financial scene on Wall Street before digging into his “Moneyball” exploits on the Oakland A’s he did in 2003, or even Robert Reich’s “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It” from recent years, then maybe go for this one as well.
Just have a long hot shower waiting for you when you’re done.
You can look it up: More to ponder
== The defending-champion Astros, teetering at .500 so far this year after a couple weeks in, visit the Angels in Anaheim for three games in May (8-10) and July (14-16), then are at Dodger Stadium for three in June (23-25). Let’s see how that goes.
== An excerpt from the book as posted on The Athletic website in early February entitled: “How The Athletic broke the Houston Astros cheating scandal.” Drellich also does a Q&A with another writer at The Athletic about how the book came about. Let’s not get torn rotator cuffs from too much self back-patting here. And maybe someone can better explain why Ken Rosenthal wasn’t involved in writing this book again? Too busy, or just wanted to put this in his past and not compromise his ability to work at Fox Sports any further?