February 21, 2014

Book Review -- The Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is a poor man’s Ball Four. The books share many attributes, yet the key difference is that Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is a much better memoir than Sparky Lyle’s Bronx Zoo.

Obligatory comparisons between Bronx Zoo and Ball Four are essentially unavoidable because of the abundant similarities: Both authors adopted a season-long diary format. Both authors were former New York Yankees relief pitchers. Both authors clung to less-than-ideal roles on their respective pitching staffs. In both cases, the books proved inflammatory and reached the New York Times best-seller list.

The best moments of The Bronx Zoo occur when Sparky Lyle neglects to pull his punches. In fact, in what seems like a calculated move, Lyle fires a huge shot over the bow on page one: “No one can blow his own horn like Jim Palmer can”. Later, in regards to Reggie Jackson:

Reggie has always said, “If Reggie Jackson doesn’t hit, the Yankees don’t win.” Well, no kidding. When he’s in the f---ing number four spot and he’s striking out all the time, that’s the truth...

In fact, my inspiration to read The Bronx Zoo came not from Ball Four, but instead from 2010’s Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball. In the latter, I took an almost strange delight in reading Bill Madden’s account of the dysfunctional, late 1970s Yankees. The next book I turned to was Bronx Zoo. At the end of it, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.

Overall, Bronx Zoo is an overrated memoir about Sparky Lyle losing his closer role over the course of the season. If the book succeeds, it’s because the subject matter -- Reggie, Billy and George -- is so rich. Looking back, it turns out that Lyle was the superior pitcher and Bouton was the superior author.

Favorite Line
Ted Williams was a coach there, and it was he who changed my life. He watched me pitch one afternoon, and afterward he asked me what I thought was the best pitch in baseball. I told him I didn’t know. “The slider. You know why?” I said no. He said, “Because it was the only pitch I couldn’t hit consistently even when I knew it was coming.” I was in awe of Williams.

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