Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: The Best Team Money Can Buy (2015)

By Molly Knight

When a hockey team was in the midst of all sorts of turmoil several years ago, a member of that squad said that it all reminded him of a soap opera that he watched to kill time during the afternoons before games.

That player would have loved the Los Angeles Dodgers of the first part of the decade.

The Dodgers' story involved front office and ownership drama, big money contracts, stars and lesser lights. Plus, few happy endings. Shakespeare would be proud.

It's a natural story for a book, and Molly Knight writes it all down in "The Best Team Money Can Buy," the head-shaking story of the Dodgers' unfulfilled attempt at glory.

Knight wisely starts off the story with former owner Frank McCourt. He had taken one of the flagship teams in baseball and run it into the ground. There were enough odd details in his personal story to keep everyone from the Los Angeles Times to TMZ entertained. Eventually, the team was put up for sale and snapped up early in 2012 for a mere $2.15 billion.

If that price didn't show that the Dodgers meant business, a trade later in that first year was an even bigger signal. Los Angeles completed a huge trade with Boston - picking up Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford for a few relatively minor players. The key point was that the Dodgers were willing to pay the contracts of these high priced players. Suddenly, money was no object.

The Dodgers were determined to do better the next year, and were willing to spend their way to do so. Zack Greinke was added to the roster as a free agent, giving the Dodgers a powerful combination with Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation. One of their biggest additions was Yasiel Puig, a Cuban defector who had immense talent but who was rough around the edges. Very rough. After a slow start, the Dodges found an extra gear and had an amazing run to take charge of the National League West. They came within two games of making it to the World Series.

It was more of the same in 2014. The Dodgers kept spending money, and enjoyed another division-winning year. But playoff losses aren't particularly accepted well when the payroll is above $200 million.

Knight found out plenty of interesting stories along the way here. Puig is a centerpiece, a young man whose behavior often was excused because of his talent. His numbers have gone down since a sensational rookie year, and we'll see how he reacts to that in the near future. Hanley Ramirez comes off as something of enigma. His immense talent at hitting a baseball is still present, but a series of injuries have hampered his ability to field one. Kershaw comes off as one of the good guys, dedicated to his craft and to the idea that his career won't be complete without a World Series championship.

What's striking about reading this book is that the Dodgers never seemed to fit together as a team particularly well. For example, for most of the years described, Los Angeles had one too many starting outfielders (four players with big contracts) and not enough help in the bullpen. It's no wonder that the Dodgers in 2015 went out and signed Andrew Friedman from Tampa Bay to run their baseball operations. After years of pinching pennies with the Rays and creating nickels and dimes, we'll see how he does with dollars to throw around.

It's tough to say whether interest in this Dodgers' era is large enough to captivate fans without a rooting interest in the team. "The Best Team Money Can Buy" isn't overly sensational, but it's certainly well done and a good review of the era.

Four stars

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