Mychael Urban's book Aces: The Last Season on the Mound with the Oakland A's Big Three: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito is not Moneyball. There, I said it. I needed to get that out of the way upfront.
So don't compare and contrast because it's the proverbial apples versus oranges. Moneyball is ultimately a business book that featured the Oakland Athletics. Aces is a very personal story of three Athletics.
Urban's book is more about the humanity of baseball, and more specifically the fallibility of even the most seemingly infallible people. It's well-written, features an interesting foreword by Billy Beane (obviously penned before the deals) and a great epilogue. Urban does go heavy on the analogies periodically, but many of them made me laugh out loud, particularly the description of Barry Zito wielding a bat.
Aces walks us through the 2004 season as seen through the eyes of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Zito. Three very different men, but three men who share the common bond of wearing a franchise on their backs. It's sad that those backs cracked under the enormous pressure, but it also makes the book tragically real for many of us. We've all buckled at one time or another under enormous pressure (granted not big league-type pressure).
The book reads much like a memorial for our famous "Big Three" pitchers and captures the essence of each of these men. Zito, the man obsessed with Zen and the art of pitching; Hudson, the smallish, scrappy stud pitcher who finally cracks after multiple seasons of bullpen failures and free agency fleeing; and Mulder, the cool, calm, cocky talent who waltzes through life only to find he suddenly can't remember his dance moves.
There are parts of locker room banter that make the book cool and very insider, something fans will enjoy. Like the A's saying, "Wear it," which refers to encouragement to walk tall despite an embarrassing moment or a letdown. That could become the popular new saying around AN.
I know many A's fans will likely identify with Hudson in the book, but the most compelling part of the entire book is the Mulder meltdown at the end of the season. Urban's ability to get Mulder to admit he's seemingly "lost it" is remarkable as no one else dug into the psyche of the suddenly, inexplicably fragile pitcher.
What's amazing is that Mulder seems impenetrable throughout the start of the book, which is what makes the unraveling so much more fascinating (and painful for green and gold fans).
By contrast, Zito is always examining, cross-examining and cross-cross-examining his efforts. Zito admittedly thinks too much, and at one point he asserts that pitchers need 100 percent self-confidence on the mound in order to succeed. That's what makes me very confident about Zito this year. Since Zito really believes it's a mindwar, I believe he's fully reloading and equipped himself to win. And on a personal note, I identify greatly with Barry Zito because my tendency is always to overthink rather than go with my gut. You wouldn't believe how many times I've labored and reread some AN posts prior to putting them up, often changing the verbiage multiple times.
A lot of what you'll read in Aces is not new to you, since the majority of the fans who read AN are hardcore fans and remember a good portion of the many bullpen meltdowns, but there are revelations in the book that deal with Hudson's night in Boston prior to his start in the 2003 ALDS. Without giving anything away (Urban would kill me), to me, Hudson's excuse sounds flimsy at best, but that's a personal judgment. Hopefully, at least Zito learned his lesson from that night.
Hudson also reiterates in multiple parts of the book his frustration with the A's ownership and its failure to resign any of the stars that abandoned ship in recent years.
Urban's ability to get Hudson to show this human side and vocalize his frustrations about the bullpen and the ownership situation is, in part, another piece of Aces that makes the book very human. On one hand, you can hear Hudson want to have that unflappable faith in Billy Beane, but his frustration spills over regardless.
But back to what makes Aces a must-read in my eyes. While both Hudson and Zito remain forthcoming and share intimate feelings and thoughts, it's the anticipation of Mulder's pitching troubles that makes Aces a can't miss. To see someone who has such an easy time in life go from top of the heap to overwhelming self-doubt is fascinating. It's also a bonus to hear Mulder chide Rick Peterson for his publicity-seeking exploits.
Since I feel forced to give it a score, I'd give it an 8 out of 10. It's an excellent book that's well-written (unlike that former A's player's book that's largely responsible for today's hearings) and is a fitting tribute to what will someday likely be considered a renaissance age of Oakland A's baseball. Too bad the ending wasn't the bang we all wanted, but a rather ill-fated whimper with Hudson's last game as an Athletic rendered meaningless.
How tragically human.
(Note, I will be putting tomorrow's open game thread underneath this review, in case you are looking for it)