I swear I chose this book to write about this month before this week's news item.
Title: The Last Out: The Toronto Blue Jays in 1986
Published: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1986
Availability: Out of print, and Chapters/Indigo disavows all knowledge. Try Amazon if you're interested
# pages: 148. And a lot of those pages are pictures.
Written By: Buck Martinez
Who Is: The new Blue Jays play-by-play man on Rogers Sportsnet for the 2010 season! How's that for timely?
When I did one of these articles for Martinez's other book, From Worst to First, I noted Martinez's impressive resume. He really has done a lot of different things in his life, and one of the things I mentioned was that he seemed to have written From Worst to First all by himself. Well, I'm not so sure that that's also true of The Last Out. I mean, maybe it is. Someone named Val Francis is listed as the editor; no idea what her actual contributions were. But I look at the writing and wonder if the words are Martinez's or if someone else stuck their oar in.
What It's About: Well, that's the first problem. On one level it's about the 1986 Toronto Blue Jays. The only trouble is that there wasn't a whole lot to say about the 1986 Toronto Blue Jays. Martinez hits the high points--Damaso Garcia burning his uniform, the struggles of Dave Stieb*, the emergence of Mark Eichhorn--but is still unable to crack the 150-page mark. And that's with four chapters devoted to, respectively, an interview with Eichhorn, interviews with George Bell and Jesse Barfield, a review of the great rookies of 1986, and an interview with Tony Fernandez.
On another level, the book is about Buck Martinez coming to terms with the end of his playing career. Martinez had been a major league player since 1969 (he was mentioned in Jim Bouton's Ball Four), and a valuable one in his role, but he had been seriously injured in 1985, and in '86 was trying to make a comeback at the age of 37. It didn't go well, and he hit .181 with little power in 81 games. This kind of material might have made an interesting book, but Martinez isn't real introspective as writers go, so it doesn't come to much.
How's the Writing: It isn't great. The book was edited, which is a plus, but where there's quoted dialogue it doesn't ring true, and overall we're left with the impression that this book isn't giving us the inside story on anything. Here's an example, from the Mark Eichhorn interview chapter.
Martinez: You have a knack for reading hitters pretty accurately. You can tell how they are picking up on your pitches, and what you have to do to combat that.
Eichhorn: The first time I face a hitter, I can get a good idea of how they are thinking. A right-handed hitter, for example, may sit tight on my breaking ball, which is my basic pitch. I'll respond by forgetting about the strikeout, or even the out. Instead, I will come inside and jam him. I did that in a couple of games against Minnesota: I had faced those right-handers so many times that they just sat and waited for the breaking ball out over the plate. I switched to my fastball, the sinker in, and I doused a few of those fiery bats!
That's what he did, huh? Doused the fiery bats? Even I don't talk like that.
This is another of the first Blue Jays books I ever had. I've read it enough times that there's no point in saying that I'm not going to read it again, but I'm sure not in a hurry for the next time. There's just not enough here!
Anecdotes: One thing I found interesting is the chapter about how Dave Stieb was in the middle of a big slump and Reggie Jackson came over and gave him a pep talk about character and heart and stuff.
* Stieb is the central figure in any book about the 1980s Blue Jays. The extent to which he overshadows all other players is astonishing.