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AN’s May Book Club Selection: Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic

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Athletics Nation’s recommended reading for May is Jason Turbow’s newest book: Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic which was released in March, 2017. This book is MASTERFUL. Author of The Baseball Codes, this local writer is gaining rave reviews for his tale of all things Charlie O. Finley and the Swingin’ A’s.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes:

“Carefully researched and often hilarious . . . ‘Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic’ has plenty to offer fans both serious and casual . . . Turbow has unearthed new perspectives on brief but important chapters in team history . . . This is also a very funny book, especially if you read Turbow’s many footnotes.”

I couldn’t agree more! This book marries stellar research, creative structuring, well-woven narrative and vivid writing.

Research: Turbow only uses stories that are corroborated by multiple sources. He interviewed almost every prominent figure which included coaches, players, broadcasters, journalists and front-office personnel. Although unable to interview Dick Williams as he passed in 2011, he was able to speak with Williams’ son. As he stated in a conversation with the publisher:

“I traveled to see players in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, South Dakota, Arizona and California. I spoke to Dick Green on a negative-15-degree day in the shadow of Mount Rushmore...I received guided tours of the hometowns of Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace and Bill North, and of Mike Epstein’s hitting academy near Denver.”

How does one discern what “facts” are true? Turbow did, after forty plus years, find that memories were often fuzzy in details but he “chose to go with the most thoroughly corroborated information—the details that showed up in the greatest number of stories—and that appeared to be most accurate.” Unfortunately, this meant ignoring stories that “would have made the book more lively” but they just didn’t seem true enough to use. This responsible approach to weaving this tale is one of the many aspects that make this book appealing.

Creative Structuring: One of my favorite chapters at the beginning of the book is “Vida’s Blues” which begins the tale of Vida’s contract negotiations over the years with Charlie Finley. From beginning to end, the book details Blue’s negotiation encounters with Finley that makes Vida a true tragic hero. Imagine meeting with Charlie Finley and your legal representative (mind you, after President Richard Nixon deems you “the most underpaid player in baseball”) and encountering Finley’s typical diatribe:

“I know you pitched 300 innings,” he told Blue, staring directly into the pitcher’s eyes to drive home the point. “I know you had 24 complete games and eight shutouts. I know you led the league in ERA. I know you won the Cy Young and the MVP. I don’t have to pay you.” It was as simple as that. I don’t have to pay you. If Vida was to pitch in 1972, it would be on Finley’s terms. You need me more than I need you. “He said it with a smirk,” recalled Blue, “and, man, it made me want to slide under the table.”

Turbow continues to weave Vida’s contract struggles throughout the book, including a deceptive signing in 1975 where he was “tricked into signing prior to his aborted sale to New York.” This left Blue bitter as the “Oakland Seven” (unsigned players) were now free to seek greener fields elsewhere. Weaving Blue’s tragic narrative throughout the book highlights Turbow’s creative structure. It also gives you details about Charlie Finley that shows just how smarmy he was as an owner as well as how keen of a business man he was. And, it painted the bitterness underlying Blue’s odd behaviors, sulking moments and angry outbursts.

Well-Woven Narrative:

One striking realization during his research was Turbow’s “newfound depth” that he was able to share of

“tales that had already been told to lesser degrees. The profound antagonism from both sides during Vida Blue’s holdout in 1972. The mind-blowing drama surrounding the attempted release of Mike Andrews during the 1973 world Series. The contract default and subsequent free-agent departure of Catfish Hunter in 1974.”

The well-woven narrative focuses upon the above three events rather than the would-be-expected chronological tale of three World Championships. By doing this, there is a magical weaving of the friendships, fights, disappointments, leadership, tenacity, and unbelievable things the players endured. The deep respect and friendship of Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando; the enmity between Bowie Kuhn—then commissioner—and Charlie Finley; the fledgling players union and players rights, even amidst the emergence of arbitration; the goading and full-on fist fights with bloody trails across the clubhouse; all of these things weave the team and individual narratives so effortlessly that you walk away feeling you truly know these players and this time in A’s history.

Vivid Writing:

This book took two years to research and write. Turbow is masterful at wielding words to describe, move, and elicit emotions. The narcissism of Finley, amidst his penny-pinching, as well as his mistreatment of players is well illustrated through conversations and recounting the stories. How Catfish Hunter got his nickname or what teammates called Rollie Fingers (Buzzard) and why—all of these facts and more emerge in detailed snippets to unfold the tale of the Swingin’ A’s.

Some sample phrases and quotes to demonstrate his excellent writing include:

• Jason Turbow: “Blue, wunder-kind award-winner-turned-underachieving-outcast...”

• Blue Moon Odom: “You have to pass the crazy test. You fill out that application—are you crazy? If the answer is no, we don’t want you.”

• Jason Turbow: “Upon crossing home plate, Jackson removed his batting helmet, glowered toward Finley, shook his fist, and shouted something that nobody could hear above the din.”

So join AN this month and experience Jason Turbow’s newest book Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic and leave your comments below of your own review, favorite story, surprising fact, or anything else that hits you in this book. And, if you can put your finger on any other reasons why Turbow is such a fantastic writer, add that as well. Meanwhile, consider buying his book at one of the following book signings:

UPCOMING TURBOW BOOK SIGNINGS

May 18, 7 p.m.
Books Inc.
855 El Camino Real, #74
Palo Alto, CA

25 May 7 p.m.
Q&A with Glenn Schwarz
Lafayette Library
3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd.,
Lafayette, CA

29 May 7 p.m.
Nerd Nite East Bay
Club 21
2111 Franklin St., Oakland

11 June
2:30 p.m.
South San Francisco Library
840 West Orange Ave.
South San Francisco, CA

Footnote:

To hear an interview with Jason Turbow on NPR, listen here:

http://www.npr.org/2017/03/04/518461977/the-1970s-oakland-as-were-dynastic-bombastic-fantastic