Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos
Author: Jonah Keri
Release Date: March 2014
“Up, Up and Away” is the latest entry in a series of books which I’ve been reading based on the shared former employer of their authors. For a few years, I’d check the website Grantland every day on my lunch break and basically click on anything non-Football related under the (usually correct) assumption that whatever the article was about I’d either learn something, or be kept entertained for its duration. Around this same time, I discovered Twitter which further allowed me to follow authors and reporters that I enjoyed and not only become aware the instant they wrote a new article, but also their humor and interests outside of their writing. With Grantland having closed up shop, several of the writers have relocated to The Ringer, while still others are easy enough to track in their new writing gigs through Twitter. Several of my favorite authors from the website have since (or previously) published full novels, which I’ve tracked down. That’s a long way of explaining why I read a book about the Montreal Expos, a baseball franchise that I never cared about or had any interest in.
To be clear, I love baseball. Along with basketball, it’s my favorite sport. While definitely a Cubs fan, with the exception of the Cardinals and Yankees I don’t really dislike any franchises and have a pretty solid knowledge of all the teams and their best players throughout history. This includes trips to both Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame and Museum and Kansas City for the Negro Leagues Museum, and trips to ballparks in cities from Florida to Arizona and most everywhere in between. So, why did I not appreciate this book more, when it’s about a sport I love, by a talented and knowledgeable author that I have read and enjoyed before this? I have several theories, and a few personal reasons that detracted from the overall enjoyment.
My biggest theory regarding why the book didn’t work was its scope. Telling the history of a franchise, from creation to relocation in 400 pages means some things will get glossed over and every instance the author chooses to focus on becomes paramount. Here, Keri did tons of interviews with former players and personnel but in most all instances the resulting inclusion is just a line or two of supplementary material that left few moments a reader would be sure to remember long after reading the book. Where a long conversation with Felipe Alou was referenced in the acknowledgment section, I can’t help but think the reader would have benefitted (and preferred) more of that conversation framed together at once than several one sentence comments sprinkled throughout the book. Likewise, Keri’s inclusion of stories of several game recaps from games he personally attended with friends serves the purpose of bringing a fan element to the book, but could have (should have) been replaced with expanded information on player and personnel trades/departures and additional financial information to support or refute his position on the importance of the team in the community.
Perhaps narrowing the scope of the book to just the playoff team or just the exodus of the Expos would have been more enthralling for the reader. While there is a lot of information covered here, the relatively small amount of time spent on each era ends up making this a resource somewhat comparable to Wikipedia (which is a great resource, but not what I’m looking for when purchasing a new book).
Another possibility for why this book didn’t work as well as it could have was the inherent dichotomy between the subject matter and the author’s attitude. Keri obviously loved the Expos and the new afterward on the book was tacked on to show all the other Montreal citizens who felt the same way. A book just highlighting something worthy of that admiration would have made sense, but here a complete history of the team leaves Keri unable to excuse the awful facilities, the rampant drug use, the multiple losing seasons, and final exile of the franchise. The warts and all approach is historically accurate, however a non-Expo fan is not likely to come away from the book with a new appreciation for the former franchise. The closest I came to changing perspectives on the team for the better was in reading Pedro Martinez’s comments following his World Series victory. Again, more focus on the individuals and their recollections of the legacy of the team might have improved the read as opposed to an overly brief complete history that we are left with.
Finally, as much as I enjoy Jonah Keri’s writing, as a disciple of the Bill Simmons school of writing he is likely to alienate some of his readers with his own personal beliefs coming through in his writing. With a column online, or his twitter account, you kind of know what you’re getting, but for the random reader picking up his book it can be a bit objectionable. At times I was reminded of the individual at work who begins telling you their political views in hushed tones with the expectation that you must surely agree with them. I’m used to ignoring Keri’s views on legalization of drugs, PED’s and discounting lucky hits from MVP candidates online, but while reading his book more of the same prejudices came out. It’s clear he sides with the players on labor issues, hates Bud Selig, and believes small ball strategies are inherently wrong. In an article putting forth those views he can defend them and put forth an argument the reader can accept or reject. Here though, the views were usually included with either no supplementary information, or just enough to give the worst facts against his target with no balance or attempt at objectivity for the other side. Just one more hazard of writing about a very broad topic in a short amount of space.
So I didn’t care for this book. Keri’s still a talented columnist and seems like a good guy online. I’m sure I’ll also check out his other book about the Tampa Bay Rays as soon as I track down a copy of it.