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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.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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Interview with Author Howard Megdal: “Taking the Field: A Fan’s Quest to Run the Team He Loves”

Sunday June 5, 2011

MLB reports:  We are pleased to feature today our interview with baseball author Howard Megdal.  After the success of his first baseball literary work “The Baseball Talmud”, Howard has followed up with his just recently published book: “Taking the Field: A Fan’s Quest to Run the Team He Loves.”  The press release for the book by Bloomsbury USA describes it as “the true-life story of a baseball fan brave enough to try what all fans wish they could:  take over his team and turn it around.”  Howard is first and foremost a Mets fan, but loves the game of baseball as a whole.  A talented writer, Howard’s books have received great acclaim.  For all our baseball fans and aspiring writers, MLB reports is proud to present Howard Megdal. 

 

MLB reports:  Howard, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.  Taking a look at your resume, you have quite the extensive baseball writing background.  From two published books and articles for many major publications, including the New York Times, ESPN.com, New York Baseball Digest and mlbtraderumors.com.  How did you get your start in writing Howard?  What led you to writing and specifically, baseball writing?

MEGDAL:  Well, I’ve always loved to write.  When I got to college, I found that the on-campus publication only published once every 1-2 months, so I started my own.  From there, I used that experience to land a job at a daily right nearby, eventually rising to sports editor.  And whenever I had the chance to cover baseball, at any level, I just loved it.

 

MLB reports:  What was your first “big break” in your writing career?  Please provide details as to how you landed your first big role and the doors that it opened for you.

MEGDAL:  I’d have to point to a pair of moments.  One is, Mark Healey over at Gotham Baseball gave me the opportunity to cover the Mets and Yankees.  It was my first credential at each stadium, and I remember the feeling of standing on the dirt at Yankee Stadium, just awestruck.  From there, getting the chance to write for the New York Observer was critical, not only for the wider exposure, but because I work with my editor from there to this day, though now at Capital New York.

 

MLB reports:  It is the dream of all sports writers to be a published author.  Your first book was the “Baseball Talmud- The definitive position-by-position ranking of baseball’s chosen players.”  How did you score the book deal?  In addition to getting signed, how was the topic of the “Baseball Talmud” born?  Was this an original creation that you shopped around, or did you get signed first and then came up with the topic?

MEGDAL:  Regarding the deal, that was just persistence.  I had wanted to write that book since college, and so I wrote up a sample chapter and proposal, and sent it to around 200 literary agents.  That was harder even a few years ago; most required a hard copy. But my wife helped me put together the envelopes.  And I remember getting a call when I was sick with a fever, and not quite believing it.

 

MLB reports:  How long did it take you to write your first book?  Please give us an idea as to how the book writing process worked for you, from finding the topic to polishing off the final draft of the book for publishing.

MEGDAL:  Like I said, I knew what I wanted to write a Jewish Bill James-style book.  The process of writing it took around 14 months, and the process was pretty straightforward.  I made my days about writing the book, so once I ate breakfast, a cat jumped in my lap- we have two, so they took shifts and I went to work.

 

MLB reports:  How did your life change after the “Baseball Talmud” was published?  We are curious as to the work and promotions that went into effect after the book hit stores.  Did you tour much for signings and give interviews promoting the book?  How did your career change post-Baseball Talmud?

MEGDAL:  Well, I was fortunate to find a wide audience for the book, and had the pleasure of traveling all over the country to give talks and signings.  What changed, I guess, was getting to meet people who were familiar with the work and discussing it with them- instead of just sending my pieces into the void and seeing stray comments for or against them.  It was gratifying.

 

MLB reports:  What were your goals when you entered the business and how have they evolved since?

MEGDAL:  My goals have always been to figure out who I wanted to write for, and make a point of doing so.  That hasn’t really changed- I still love that I get to write what I want when I want.  It seems kind of ridiculous, actually.

 

MLB reports:  The title of your new book is absolutely captivating:  “Taking the Field- A fan’s quest to run the team that he loves.”  Please describe how you came up with the title to the book and if you can give the readers a little teaser about what the book is about in your own words.

MEGDAL:  The title came from extended brainstorming from my fantastic editor at Bloomsbury, Ben Adams. The book itself is the story of my run to become General Manager of the New York Mets, which I treated like a political campaign, and simultaneously introduced baseball to my newborn daughter, Mirabelle.  I spend time in the book dissecting how the Mets should have been run, and the effect their mismanagement through the years had on my family.

 

MLB reports:  Book #2:  Was it different to obtain a publishing deal for it in comparison to your first work?  How was the idea born and how did you go about writing such an interesting topic?

MEGDAL:  The process was a bit different this time; I met with several publishers, and we finally settled on Bloomsbury as the best fit this time around.  I knew I wanted to write something more personal this time, and I also believed the time for this idea had come.  I’d batted it around in my own mind for years, simply because I wanted to find a way to make the larger points about how the New York Mets should be run.  This struck me as the perfect marriage of opportunity and timing.

 

MLB reports:  “Taking the Field” was just published and is available for orders.  Where is the book available for purchase?  What forms are you selling the book (i.e. hard copy, digital and on tape?)  Is there a book signing tour planned?

MEGDAL:  The book is available everywhere- Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the Borders shops that haven’t yet closed… also the Kindle and Nook.  I’ll be appearing in a number of places- HowardMegdal.com is probably your best bet to find out tour dates/times.

 

MLB reports:  In comparing your two books, was it easier to write a book the second time around?  How did the process and time lines for the books compare?

MEGDAL:  Totally different.  Second time around, I was writing to a much shorter deadline, and writing about myself.  It was far more intense.

 

MLB reports:  With your second book published, what are the goals for Howard Megdal from here?  Are more books planned down the road and will they only be focused on baseball?

MEGDAL:  Ah, great question.  Still trying to figure that out with my agent.  I would be surprised if I only wrote baseball books from here, though I have so many baseball ideas alone that it could sustain me for the duration.  I love not knowing, though.

 

MLB reports:  Being an obvious baseball fan and supporter of the game, how would you best sum up the state of the sport as it stands today?  What do you love about the game and are there things you would change about it?

MEGDAL:  The game has never been better.  What I would change is simple: I’d eliminate the DH, move the Dodgers back to Brooklyn, keep the playoffs small and mandate scheduled double-headers.

 

MLB reports:  For the future baseball writer reading this interview, what recommendations can you give for them to crack this industry?  How does a person become the next Howard Megdal and write baseball columns and become a published baseball author one day?  What is the secret of your success?

MEGDAL:  Persistence.  Write as often as you can, and for anyone who will publish you.  Keep sending out pitches to editors, and gradually you will develop a following.  Really, that’s all it is; keep knocking on doors.

 

MLB reports:  Thank you for speaking with us today Howard.  We wish you the best of luck with “Taking the Field”.  It was a pleasure getting to know you and we look forward to publishing our own review of the book.  It sounds like a great read and we encourage our readers to check it out.

***A special thank you to Howard Megdal for his time and effort as part of being interviewed for this article.  You can follow Howard on Twitter and click here for Howard’s website.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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