04 August 2015

Book Review: The Manager's Daughter

The Manager's Daughter, by Matthew Kastel (2015). Published by Moonshine Cove Publishing Company, LLC (Abbeville, South Carolina).Matthew Kastel's website is www.ThirdStrikeProductions.com.

Matthew Kastel is the Manager of Stadium Operations for the Maryland Stadium Authority (which operates Camden Yards). The Manager's Daughter is Kastel's second work of fiction, a murder mystery "set in and around the world of minor league baseball." I have been reading mysteries for over forty years and have been working in the "world of minor league baseball" for ten years, and so was eager to read this.

As a mystery, The Manager's Daughter takes a relatively typical premise - a promiscuous young woman was murdered twenty-five years in the past and a young newspaper reporter discovers evidence that the presumed victim is still alive. The victim had relationships with several players who were on the team at the time of her "death" and the story involves other characters associated with the team over the years.The hero is the long-time general manager of a minor-league baseball team.

The Manager's Daughter does its job as a mystery competently, if not brilliantly. The plot moves along steadily and hangs together well until the very end, when I rolled my eyes at a hard-to-swallow coincidence. The characters are revealed to us slowly over the course of the book; I would have preferred that they be fleshed out a bit more when they are introduced. Kastel makes a tactical blunder in giving two characters names so similar ("Snake" and "Shane") that I had a hard time keeping them straight. There is a romance aspect that I didn't buy, and I'm also getting tired of (edit by Jon Shepherd) the trend where books use sexual trauma to explain events.

From our perspective, though, the real question is how well does the book convey the world of minor-league baseball. The minor-league baseball setting isn't essential to the book; the story could just as easily have been set in a used-car lot, a shopping mall, a golf course, or a law office. So, how accurate is the description of minor-league baseball in The Manager's Daughter? I am in my tenth year as a datacaster for the AAA Norfolk Tides, and have gotten to know many of the front-office employees in that time. Based on my experience,The Manager's Daughter doesn't reflect today's minor league baseball.

Kastel never identifies the level of his fictional Poughkeepsie Pioneers. My best guess is that twenty-five years ago they were a Double-A Eastern League team but are now playing in the short-season Class A New Yoik-Penn League. There may be a huge gulf between short-season Class A and AAA, of which I have knowledge, but there are three details that may have been true thirty years ago but no longer are.

First, almost none of the minor-league staffers described in the book seem to enjoy working in minor-league ball. In my ten years with the Tides, I have met only one staffer who didn't really enjoy working in minor-league baseball. And the staffers have to enjoy it; the pay is low, the hours long, and you stay only because you really enjoy it. Unlike this book's hero, no real minor-league employee would stay in the business long enough to work his way up to general manager just because he didn't know what else to do.

Second, there is a plot twist in which a character comes out of nowhere and practically overnight buys the Pioneers. Thirty or more years ago, that was plausible; back in 1972, the El Paso Diablos (a AA team) were purchased for $100 and assumption of the team's debts. Today, any minor-league franchise is a highly-desired commodity. If there was any hint that a team was for sale, there would be review committees and out-of-town buyers looking to move the team to a greener pasture. The overall Minor League Baseball organization would be involved. Minor league baseball is now a big business, and The Manager's Daughter treats it too casually.

Third, the Pioneers' staff is simply too small for today. The staff includes a general manager, an assistant GM who gets let go midway through the book (and is unreplaced!), and a couple of salespeople. Today's staffs, even in the lower levels, include a media relations director, a community-relations manager, a ticket manager, and interns - many, many interns. I can understand why Kastel doesn't want to clutter his book with names not necessary to his plot, but there are at least two places in which the lack of staff affects the book's realism.

One element of the book that does ring true is that some of the game-day staff positions (such as the book's mascot) do go to people who know the right people, so to speak. I freely state that if I hadn't had a prior relationship with someone associated with the Tides, I wouldn't have become a datacaster. But that's the same in every business; people get jobs through networking and knowing the right people at the right time.

On the whole, The Manager's Daughter is a passable non-thriller mystery, suitable for reading on a beach or on a airline flight. However, you shouldn't believe that its description of minor-league baseball is the way things are.

1 comment:

Philip said...

Re: Baseball Books

I read a wonderfully charming story called Calico Joe by John Grisham. Good book.
Run do not walk to the bookstore and buy "Seasons in Hell: with Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin and the worst team in history"
The 72-73 Rangers weren't the worst teams(and its plural too) but the book is the funniest thing I have ever read(and I've read a lot of Wodehouse) and offers a huge expose on what baseball was like in the 70s. Google "cleveland/Texas ten cent beer night"
For example.
Boy what a hilarious book.