Baseball Book Review: Taking the Field by Howard Megdal

Saturday June 18, 2011

TAKING THE FIELD (A FAN’S QUEST TO RUN THE TEAM HE LOVES)  BY:  HOWARD MEGDAL

(Bloomsbury:  2011)

MLB reports:  You will find on MLB reports a page dedicated solely to baseball book reviews.  We created a baseball books review section to encourage readership, thought and analysis on the books written about the greatest game in the world.  While baseball fans enjoy watching games as they happen, books are a very important component of baseball fandom as well.  Reading baseball books fosters understanding and advancing one’s baseball knowledge.  Baseball books can be an adventure through time, recapping games and players of years gone by.  Other books educate and train on specific components of the game.  Some are devoted exclusively to statics.  The possibilities are endless.

Then there are those baseball books that deliver information and insights into the many components of the game.  Those special books, when completed, leave an impact on you as a baseball fan and person.  You walk away with a wealth of baseball knowledge to further discussions with other fans.  In watching games from there, you will have a better appreciation for the sport and understanding of the “game within the game.”  While I have read many great baseball books in my day, I have found few authors that have been able to speak to me and truly leave me wanting more after completing their literary works.  Today I can say with confidence that I have found such an author.  His name is Howard Megdal and his recently published book is titled “Taking the Field:  A Fan’s Quest to Run the Team He Loves.”

Taking the Field is Megdal’s second baseball book, with “The Baseball Talmud” representing his initial leap into the baseball publishing world.  Megdal has hit a home run with Taking the Field.  No sophomore jinx here.  Taking the Field is basically three books in one.  The main premise of the book is Megdal’s campaign to become the General Manger of the New York Mets.  But the book is far more than that.  Taking the Field is a historical review and analysis of the history of the New York Mets baseball club and many of the players that have been a part of the team over the years.  It is also an autobiography of Megdal, from growing up as a Mets fan in Philadelphia to writing about the team to this day.  Taking the Field is everything a baseball book should be.  I read it page-by-page and simply could not put it down.  After completing Taking the Field, I was left with many ideas and thoughts on the Mets and baseball.  I was left craving more.  A sign of a talented author that excels at his craft.

Let’s make this point clear.  Howard Megdal is first and foremost a fan of the New York Mets.  He does not try to hide his eternal devotion to his favorite team.  Megdal lives for every game, every pitch and every at-bat of the Mets.  Rather than try to mask his bias, Megdal embraces his love for the Mets and has turned the team into a lifestyle.  We learn in Taking the Field about Megdal watching games with his father and turning his wife, Rachel and young daughter, Mirabelle, into fellow Mets disciples.  He introduces us to the world of baseball blogging and the growth of baseball websites in recent years.  Megdal spoke to me in the book as a writer and fan of baseball, but also as a person.  He really is a “real” person and his genuineness and compassion come across in his writing.  Many books can turn off readers, when the authors choose to talk down or above its readers.  That is not the case with Howard Megdal.  Reading Taking the Field, I got the sense that Megdal is a down to earth person.  He truly appreciates being able to cover the team and sport that he loves for a living.  Megdal does not take any part of his success and journey for granted.  Reading his words, I felt like I was in the car with him in his younger days, driving to watch the Mets in Shea for the first time.  I was there at Bard College with Megdal and his roommates when they watched the Red Sox win their first of two World Series titles in recent years.  I came to care about Megdal and shared all his emotions for the Mets.  The love of the team, the successes and bitter defeats, I was there with him every step of the way.  Even though the Mets are not my team of choice, they became my team during my read of Taking the Field.  Not an easy task to accomplish, but Megdal did it.  From there, Megdal was going to graduate from fan and writer, to baseball executive and I was along for every step of the ride.

Taking the Field captures the journey of Megdal as a fan campaigning to become the General Manager of the Mets by internet and campaign promotions.  By advocating “logic”, “transparency” and “passion”, Megdal looked to turn the Mets front office into a baseball democracy, with voted leaders holding accountability to the team owners but most of all, to the fans of the team.  A humorous and tongue-in-cheek inspired effort, Megdal was successful in making a political statement as to how baseball teams are run and laying out the criteria that is necessary to turn a baseball team into a contender and eventual champion.  Every baseball executive at all levels of the game would be well advised to reading Taking the Field.  It is an autobiography of Howard Megdal on one level.  It is a baseball manual on the other.  As a “how to run a baseball team for dummies” type book, Taking the Field brings together an original concept in its pages.  Hopefully many teams adopt the Megdal mantra and create the successful organization that Megdal envisions in his preachings.

While I enjoyed learning about Howard Megdal and his path to attempting to become the General Manager of the Mets, the component of the book that I most enjoyed and appreciated was the history.  Taking the Field covers substantially the history of the Mets, from inception to the recent hiring by the team of new General Manager, Sandy Alderson.  While the book covers too many topics to list them all, some of the highlights for me were:

  • Drafting, development and trading of Nolan Ryan
  • Tom Seaver trade
  • John Rocker incident
  • The chronicles of the 1986 World Series Champions Mets
  • The Tenure of Omar Minaya as GM
  • The legend of Benny Agbayani

The list literally goes on and on.  Megdal in Taking the Field has armed me with as much Mets history and information as I ever imagined possible.  After reading this book, I feel confident that I can enter a discussion/debate/argument with any fan bleeding blue and orange and not miss a beat.  All Mets fans have to buy this book.  That is a no-doubter.  It is literally impossible to love the Mets and not enjoy this book.  But even the most casual baseball fan can appreciate what Taking the Field has to offer.  Anyone starting off in baseball would appreciate Megdal’s take on the game and will advance to an intermediate level after completing the book.  On the flip side, even the most advanced baseball junkie will enjoy the book.  There are tidbits of information spread throughout the book that many “experts” likely never knew or forgot long ago.  Taking the Field will work for anyone who enjoys baseball.

The ironic component of this book is the amount of news surrounding the Mets since Megdal completed Taking the Field.  Bernie Madoff.  The Wilpon interview with the New Yorker.  David Einhorn being introduced as minority owner of the Mets.  Much has happened in New York in very recent times.  But even with the amount of  Mets news and changes, Taking the Field has not become outdated or irrelevant.  Far from it.  To fully understand what the Mets are going through today, one needs to understand the history of the Mets up till now.  This history is recounted eloquently by Megdal in his book.  All the recent happenings of the Mets shows that time never stands still and the history of tomorrow takes place in the present.  The New York Mets of today are proving that Megdal’s preachings in Taking the Field were bang on correct.  After completing Taking the Field, I look forward to Howard Megdal’s next literary works.  Stick with baseball Howard.  The baseball community is lucky to have you as a member.  Theo Epstein made his mark in the game.  With Taking the Field, you have now made yours.

*** To learn more about “Taking the Field” and Howard Megdal, you can follow Howard on Twitter and click here for Howard’s website.***

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Posted on June 18, 2011, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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