24 April 2014

Reviewing Up, Up, & Away

Jonah Keri's Up, Up, & Away is a memoir about love for the Montreal Expos.  The book weaves in Keri's own nostalgia while anchoring it to well researched moments in time.  It is more or less what one could call a hybrid baseball book in that it deals with bits and pieces of baseball trivia and events while also communicating a person's journey through those events.  The result is a work where baseball is merely a vehicle about obsession and adoration over a beautiful, yet flawed, entity and a wishfulness that such a love can be found again.

For those who want the nitty gritty of the of the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the club.  Most of the story is here.  The Expos began as an abstract idea that was shoehorned into reality in a slap dash way resulting in difficult early seasons and a greatly misguided stadium that should have been replaced as soon as it was built.  The team continued on with poor management and dwindling funds even as a rock solid farm system churned out star after star and made the Expos perhaps the most underrated team of the early 80s.  The book then, humanely, draws the franchise to its end and softly blames the local businesses, Jeffrey Loria, and Major League Baseball.  Softly.

Memory is one of those interesting things and three aspects of this book jump out at me.  One, how baseball has been concerned about parity for decades now, but has never ever been truly committed to parity for incoming franchises.  MLB wants new franchises to suffer.  With the Expos, they had one year to pull an organization together and was punished for being new by having draft picks withheld from them.  Two, how in the early eighties, the Expos were considered by some to be the best team in baseball and were an amazing draw in Montreal, putting more fans in the seats than the Yankees did.  Three, Jeffrey Loria as presented in the press may have a kernel of truth, but was largely an exaggerated heel concocted by the media and his fellow owners after they did something similar to the man he essentially replaced.

For the Oriole fan, a few recognizable players flash through the pages.  A few pages are used to talk about Ken Singleton and him being dealt to the Orioles after being underappreciated by the Expo front office.  An interesting section includes the story of El Presidente Dennis Martinez whose career was derailed in Baltimore with alcohol, was resurrected in Montreal, and whose perfect game resulted with him being doused in beer by Larry Walker and toasting (but not drinking) champagne.  Dan Duquette gave an interview for the book as well and discussed putting some finishing touches on the team before heading off to his home turf in Boston.  Randy Milligan even makes and appearance.

All in all, Up Up & Away is a nostalgic look on the Expos franchise from a somewhat data science aware writer.  You will not be bombarded with advanced metrics.  You will be handed short game plays and those events being placed in a larger emotional perspective of the game, of the Expos, of Montreal.  Where this book probably fits best is as a strong showing to dispel many of the myths laid out upon the city (e.g., that Montreal cannot support a team) as well as delivering hard truths (e.g., local businesses saw the team more as a charity than as an organization in need of spending money).


Up, Up, & Away by Jonah Keri
416 pages
Random House Canada

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