Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager

Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager

by Buzz Bissinger, H. G. Bissinger


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618710539
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/04/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 496,425
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Buzz Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller 3 Nights in August and Friday Night Lights, which has sold two million copies and inspired a film and TV franchise. He is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and a sports columnist for The Daily Beast. He has written for the New York Times, The New Republic, Time and many other publications.

Date of Birth:

November 1, 1954

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; Nieman Fellow, Harvard University, 1985-1986

Read an Excerpt


The face made me do it. It left an indelible image with its eternal glower from the dark corner that it occupied. I had always admired intensity in others, but the face of Tony La Russa entered a new dimension, nothing quite like it in all of sports.
I first saw the face in the early 1980s, when La Russa came out of nowhere at the age of thirty-four to manage the Chicago White Sox and took them to a division championship in his third full year of managing. The face simply smoldered; it could have been used as a welding tool or rented out to a tanning salon. A few years later, when he managed the Oakland A’s to the World Series three times in a row, the face was a regular fixture on network television and raised even more questions in my mind. Did it ever crack a smile? Did it ever relax? Did it ever loosen up and let down the guard a little bit, even in the orgy of victory? As far I could tell, the answer was no.
I was hooked on the face. I continued to observe it as he stayed with the Oakland A’s through 1995. I followed it when he became the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals the following season. Along the way, I became aware of his reputation as a manager, with a polarity of opinion over him such that when Sports Illustrated polled players on the game’s best five managers and its worst five managers, La Russa appeared on both lists. But I liked seeing that because it meant to me that this was a manager who didn’t hold back, who ran his club with a distinct style regardless of the critics’ chorus. Had he been any different, surely the face would have broken into a smile at least once.
After La Russa came to the Cardinals, I did see moments when the face changed. I saw fatherly pride and self-effacement spread over it when Mark McGwire hit his record-breaking sixty-second home run in 1998. I also saw the face overcome with grief when he and his coaches and his players mourned the passing of the soul of the St. Louis Cardinals, broadcast announcer Jack Buck, followed four days later by the death of beloved pitcher Darryl Kile in his hotel room during a road trip in Chicago. Later that season of 2002, I saw the intensity return, all the features on a collision course to the same hard line across the lips during the National League Championship series that the Cardinals painfully lost to the Giants four games to one.
As a lifelong baseball fan, I found myself more curious about La Russa than about anybody else in the game. Which is why, when out of nowhere, I received a call from La Russa’s agent at the end of November 2002 asking whether I might be interested in collaborating on a book with La Russa, my answer was an immediate yes. I jumped at the opportunity, although I also knew that collaborations can be a tricky business. I had been offered them before by the likes of Rudy Giuliani and legendary television producer Roone Arledge, and I had turned them down. But this was different, or at least I told myself it was different, because—at the risk of sounding like some field-of-dreams idiot—my love of baseball has been perhaps the greatest single constant of my life. I knew the game as a fan, which is a wonderful way to know it. But the opportunity to know it through the mind of La Russa—to excavate deep into the game and try to capture the odd and lonely corner of the dugout that he and all managers occupy by virtue of the natural isolation of their craft—was simply too good to pass up.
In the beginning, this was a typical collaboration. I brought along my little mini–cassette recorder to where La Russa lived in northern California. I turned it on and interviewed him at length, thinking that I would listen to the tapes and transcribe them and try to fashion what he said into his own voice. As is common in collaborations, we also have a business arrangement, a split of the proceeds, although the entirety of La Russa’s share is going to the Animal Rescue Foundation, known as Tony La Russa’s ARF, that he cofounded with his wife, Elaine, in northern California.
The more we talked about the book, the more agreement there was about trying to do something different from the typical as-told-to. La Russa’s interest in me as a writer had been on the basis of Friday Night Lights, a book I had written about high school football in Texas. He was struck by the voice and observational qualities of the book, and we wondered whether there was a way to fashion that here. We also wondered whether there was a way to write the book with a narrative structure different from tthe usual season-in-the-life trajectory, a book that would have lasting and universal application no matter what season it took place in.
It was during those conversations that we came up with the idea of crafting the book around the timeless unit ooooof baseball, the three-game series. The one we settled on, against the eternal rival Chicago Cubs, took place in the 2003 season. Had the goal of the book been different—to write about a particular season—it would have made sense to switch gears and write about the Cardinals’ magnificent ride of 2004. But that wasn’t the goal.
It was also during those conversations that La Russa agreed to give me virtually unlimited access to the Cardinals’ clubhouse and the coaches and players and personnel who populate it—not simply for the three- game series that forms the spine of the book but also for the virtual entirety of the 2003 season—to soak up the subculture as much as possible. La Russa understood that in granting such access, he was ceding much of the control of the book to me as its writer. In doing so, he was untying the usual constraints of a collaboration, allowing me wide latitude to report and observe and draw my own conclusions. He also knew that approaching the book in this manner required him to be revealing of not only the strategies he has come to use but also the wrenching personal compromises he has made in order to be the kind of manager he has chosen to be.
La Russa did not waver from the latitude that he promised. I was made privy to dozens of private meetings between the Cardinals coaches and their players. I was able to roam the clubhouse freely. Because of my access, I was also able to probe not only La Russa’s mind but also the minds of so many others who populate a clubhouse. La Russa has read what I have written—the place where collaborations can get odious. He has clarified, but in no place has he asked that anything be removed, no matter how candid.
I came into this book as an admirer of La Russa. I leave with even more admiration not simply because of the intellectual complexity with which he reaches his decisions but also because of the place that I believe he occupies in the changing world of baseball.
He seems like a vanishing breed to me, in the same way that Joe Torre of the New York Yankees and Bobby Cox of Atlanta and Lou Piniella of Tampa Bay also seem like the last of their kind. They so clearly love the game. They revel in the history of it.
They have values as fine as they are old- fashioned, and they have combined them with the belief that a manager’s role is to be shrewd and aggressive and intuitive, that the job is more about unlocking the hearts of players than the mere deciphering of their statistics.
In the fallout of Michael Lewis’s provocative book Moneyball, baseball front offices are increasingly being populated by thirtysomethings whose most salient qualifications are MBA degrees and who come equipped with a clinical ruthlessness: The skills of players don’t even have to be observed but instead can be diagnosed by adept statistical analysis through a computer. These thirtysomethings view players as pieces of an assembly line; the goal is to quantify the inefficiencies that are slowing down production and then to improve on it with cost-effective player parts.
In this new wave of baseball, managers are less managers than middle managers, functionaries whose strategic options during a game require muzzlement, there only to effect the marching orders coldly calculated and passed down by upper management. It is wrong to say that the new breed doesn’t care about baseball. But it’s not wrong to say that there is no way they could possibly love it, and so much of baseball is about love. They don’t have the sense of history, which to the thirtysomethings is largely bunk. They don’t have the bus trips or the plane trips. They don’t carry along the tradition, because they couldn’t care less about the tradition.
They have no use for the lore of the game—the poetry of its stories—because it can’t be broken down and crunched into a computer. Just as they have no interest in the human ingredients that make a player a player and make a game a game: heart, desire, passion, reactions to pressure. After all, these are emotions, and what point are emotions if they can’t be quantified?
La Russa is a baseball man, and he loves the appellation "baseball man.” He loves the sound of it, although the term has become increasingly pejorative today because of the very stodginess that it suggests. But La Russa is not some hidebound manager stuck in the Dark Ages. He honors statistics and respects the studies that have been written about them. He pays meticulous attention to matchups. He thinks about slugging percentage and on-base percentage, as they have become the trendy statistics in today’s game. They have a place in baseball, but he refuses to be held captive to them, because so much else has a place in baseball. Like Torre and Cox and Piniella, his history in the game makes him powerfully influenced by the very persuasions the thirtysomethings find so pointless: heart, desire, passion, reactions to pressure. After all, these are emotions, and what point is there playing baseball, or any game, if you don’t celebrate them?
This book was not conceived as a response to Moneyball. Work began months before either La Russa or I had ever heard of Lewis’s work. Nor is this book exclusively about La Russa.
Because he is the manager, he is at the hub of the wheel of Three Nights in August. But the more time I spent in the clubhouse, the more aware I became of all the various spokes that emanate from that hub and make a team that thing called a team.
La Russa represents, to my mind, the best that baseball offers, but this book doesn’t sidestep the less noble elements that have associated themselves with the game in the past few decades: the palpable decline in team spirit, the ever-escalating salaries, the burgeoning use of steroids—all are a part of what baseball has become.
The sport has a tendency to cannibalize itself, to raise the bar of self-interest just when you thought it couldn’t go any higher. The recent scandal of steroid abuse is shocking enough—with its lurid images of players lathering weird creams all over themselves—but what’s truly shocking is that this problem has festered for at least a decade. As La Russa pointed out in one of our interviews, everybody in baseball knew for years that steroid use was taking place. But the only two powers that could have done something about it—the owners and the players’ union—did nothing until 2002. It’s difficult morally to understand that, but not financially, since steroids helped fuel the home-run craze that many who run baseball were convinced was the only way to capture new fans who lacked an interest in the game’s subtleties.
It’s a cynical notion and it’s also wrong. Home runs are electrifying, but so are the dozens of smaller subplots that reveal themselves in every game, strategically and psychologically and emotionally. Three Nights in August tries to convey that very resonance, not with nostalgia, but because it is still the essence of this complex and layered game.

Copyright © 2005 by Tony La Russa and H.G. Bissinger. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Table of Contents

CONTENTS Preface xi Foreword by Tony La Russa xvii Prologue 1 GAME ONE 1 Fear Factor 17 2 Locked In 26 3 "I’m Gonna Kill You!” 41 4 The Peeker 53 5 The Pitcher’s Tale 67 6 Praying for Change 85 GAME TWO 7 Gonzalez Must Pay 105 8 Light My Fire 121 9 Whodunit 138 10 Being There 156 11 Under Pressure 175 GAME THREE 12 D.K. 199 13 Thing of Beauty 216 14 Kiss My Ass 224 15 Three Nights in August 240 Epilogue 254 Postscript 264 A Note on Sources 269 Acknowledgments 271 Index 273

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Three Nights in August 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Tipton_Renwick on LibraryThing 29 days ago
This is probably the best baseball book I have ever read. Whereas Moneball tends to focus more on how to assemble a winning team, this book focuses on the in-game strategies used to wind individual ballgames. It is a very interesting and informative read for any baseball fan.
Boneillhawk on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Follows Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa through a 3-game series. Bissinger profiles his managing style, along with his coaches and players, in much the same style as his previous book, Friday Night Lights.
dvf1976 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Kerry Robinson wanted to be a full-time starter.La Russa didn't think he should be a full-time starter and said:"Go find somebody who's going to give you the four or five hundred at-bats, and I hope they're in our division so we can play against you."That's great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always love the personal side to stories and this story is so well told. Tony is and always will be a well respected Manager.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SlapShot62 More than 1 year ago
I was really lookinig forward to reading this book. To me, Tony LaRussa is one of the best in-game managers in baseball and this book promised to give us an inside look at his mindset and strategies throughout a 3 game series with the Cubs. Overall? Not bad and, especially early on, I was enjoying the book and the intimacy of "seeing" LaRussa's thought process in various situations. It simply didn't last throughout, or it seemed to bog down or become repetitive. I enjoyed the book as a whole, but the latter third of it became slow, almost tedious at times.
tjs83 More than 1 year ago
I'm a big baseball and sports fan and this book really gave me some insight into the thought processes of a manager. I never really thought about the game of baseball like this before. It has great insight. A must read for sports fans!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave this to my husband as a gift, and later, I also read it. It gave me a lot of insight into the manager's thought processes within a game and series - a must-read for Cardinals fans!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my very favorite books. It made me laugh and cry. This book will put you right in the dugout with the players during a post season race. You think a managers job is easy? This book reveals many insider strategies that I never knew
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best baseball strategy books I have ever read. I recommend this book for anyone who likes the Cardinals Cubs rivalry and for what goes on inside the head of a baseball manager.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for any true baseball fan not just a cardinals fan. The book really takes a good look at the great American pastime and lets you see a side to the sport that you don't witness in the stands. It shows you that this sport is not just a game but a way of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm an avid baseball fan and also Cardinals fan and bought it off a recomendation from a caller on a baseball talk show on XM radio. This is a must read for any baseball fan. It give an amazing insight to the game and all the inside details. I bought it on audio book to read in the car while commuting to work, I'm not looking forward to finishing commute will go back to miserable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A riveting inside look at baseball and men at work and play. As expected, we see the stars: Edmonds, Sosa, and - as Bissinger calls him - 'the great Pujols.' But even the minor characters are given top billing, including the Cardinals video man and the team trainer. The book covers a three-grame series between the Cardinals and Cubs, but Bissinger goes back in time more than once for wonderful background info on players and significant events, including a moving chapter on the late Card pitcher and team leader Darryl Kile. There are winners and losers here, but the reader comes out on top.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Buzz has another winner on his hands. Three Nights in August is not only an enjoyable read, but also enlightening. But what else would we expect with Bissinger and Larussa as a team?
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a life-long fan of baseball, for me the game has been watching who scores, what the count is, and who's on first. But now, La Russa and Bissinger crack the door wide open to the inner workings and strategy of the game. I've always wondered about those sunglasses Tony wears during most games. Now I know it's more than the bright lights! Great insight into the mind of a great manager. Watching a game now takes on a whole new meaning.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was truly engrossing and a must for baseball lovers. Lots of fascinating behind the scenes strategy and behind the game face emotions. Bissinger masterfully mixes action from a 3 game series of arch rivals with a lifetime of stories and insights from larussa. I couldnt put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great baseball story for all baseball fans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is outstanding if you're a Cardinals fan. If you're simply a baseball fan looking for some insight into the game, you'll be terribly disappointed. Bissinger writes this story from the vantage point of a Cards' fan, demonizing all the Chicago Cub players for no particular reason, while speaking very highly of most of the Cardinals (also for no particular reason). While this is good for St. Louis enthusiasts, it's annoying to those readers who seek an objective and interesting book about baseball strategy. Bissinger also jumps around a lot, going from a few paragraphs of game details to pages of player summaries that in some cases are only mildly interesting. This book is a disappointment. It's not so much 'inside the mind of a manager' as a misguided attempt by Bissinger to write a book about a team he likes. I understand he wrote the book from the Cardinal dugout, but he seems so desperate and reliant on having a protagonist and antagonist that he goes out of his way to create them in this book - something that spoils it in the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
never read the book but i will... GO CARDINALS i love the cards!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again Tony LaRussa has himself portrayed as the self appointed care taker of the game. In this book he adds yet more rules to his 'Unwritten Rule Book' of basbeall, a book which he seems to have the only copy of and that he is the only one allowed to amend at his leisure for his convenience. When will Congress and baseball hold his feet to the fire for being an enabler in the steroid scandal? He staunchly denied Canseco's steroid use in the late 80's and then admitted his knowledge of it in the '60 Minutes' piece in February. Then turned a blind eye when McGwire was destroying Mr. Maris' record. FOR SHAME TONY!