Although they were never actually worst that year.
Title: From Worst to First: The Toronto Blue Jays in 1985
Published: 1985, Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Availability: out of print, but available online used. I'm tempted to stop including this category, because the information is always the same, but I think it's important. Besides, sometimes I review books elsewhere with the same format.
# Pages: 158. Is that all? They must be thick pages because it looks like more.
Author: Buck Martinez. Usually, books by ballplayers are ghostwritten with some sportswriter or are otherwise collaborations. If that's true in this case, I can't detect any evidence of it on the page where you get all the publication info on the book. It seems like Buck wrote it all by himself.
Who Is: Buck Martinez is a Renaissance man. He wasn't the best hitter in the world, but he nevertheless had a seventeen-year major-league career, including six years as a platoon catcher with the Blue Jays (and some years with some really good ballclubs in Kansas City). After his playing career, he became a broadcaster, and is one of the best colour men in the game. He's written two books. He's been a major league manager. He's even been a game show host. Name another person who's done all those things. (Garagiola's pretty comparable, so that's one.)
What the Book's About: It's about the parts of the Jays' 1985 season that Martinez was there for.
How's the Writing: It's not great, but, as I said, it looks like Martinez wrote it himself. And he certainly didn't embarrass himself. (Although a strong editor would have done the book some good.) In fact, there's one little flourish of writing as Martinez leads up to the division-clinching game that works really well and is probably the most inspiring thing in any of these books I'm covering here.
One problem with the book is that it's more Martinez's story than the Blue Jays' story. So we get a lot of detail about the game against Detroit in which Buck hit a big home run, but nothing at all about two months of the pennant race between Martinez's injury and the series against the Yankees in mid-September. Did nothing important happen in all that time?
There's a chapter about Dave Stieb. This is a recurring theme for books about the Jays of the mid-'80s. There's a lot of attention paid to Stieb and his personality and his talent and whether he's a jerk or not. It was a subject that demanded a lot of attention, and got it. There's really no contemporary Blue Jays figure who compares well to Stieb. Halladay has about as much talent, but isn't a controversial personality at all. Barry Bonds would probably be a decent comparison, although Stieb wasn't quite a Hall-of-Famer the way Bonds is.
Anyway, Martinez writes about Stieb as if to say that he hadn't reached his potential yet, that he was a good pitcher but not yet a great one. It's odd from our perspective: we know that Stieb had some good years and some highlights still ahead of him, but that in the early '80s he was already about as good as he'd ever be, and better than anyone else of his era. Was Buck just thinking that Stieb hadn't won 20 games in a season?
I'll probably read it again. Not the greatest book, but it is what you call your basic primary source.
Sabremetric Corner: Nothing to speak of.
Anecdotes: The key event in a book about the '85 season by Buck Martinez is the play in which he was injured. It was a remarkable play and it would have been nice to get Martinez's description of exactly what happened. But he doesn't really describe it. If you read Martinez's account of the events, it's hard to tell just how the play worked. If I hadn't read about it in Alison Gordon's book, I wouldn't be able to follow it at all.