Buck Martinez thinks baseball is broken. That, of course, doesn’t mean the veteran player and current Toronto Blue Jays play-by-play announcer doesn’t love the game dearly – only that he has some recommendations to make it great again.
In his latest book, Martinez outlines what he believes are the game’s flaws, then diligently offers countless suggestions for fixing them. He does so either by drawing on experiences garnered through a rich and storied career (he spent two decades as a catcher for the Kansas City Royals, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Jays, before going on to manage the Toronto team in 2001 and part of 2002), or with historical examples of teams that, in his opinion, got it right. The result is a thorough overview of baseball’s best methods for building a winning team, all punctuated with charming personal anecdotes and nostalgic snapshots of the game’s simpler, less money-driven days.
It’s clear that Martinez believes in the romance of long gone, team-oriented baseball, but more importantly he believes it can be brought back. He chastises the free agency system, individual brands, celebrity and blockbuster sponsorship deals, and the league’s hyper focus on analytics and superstar power hitting. In his view, the overall culture has pulled away from the importance of attitude and team chemistry, and is now failing to achieve a holistic vision of what makes a winner. There is, of course, an old-school, “back in my day” feel to many of his arguments, but each one is reasonable and sound, and laid out in the interest of not only best practices, but also satisfying fans who deserve the consideration of both players and management.
At times, it can be hard to figure out who exactly the intended audience for this book really is. The hardcore or casual fan? Owners or others in baseball who hold the reins of structural power? Players looking to change and improve their overall approach? In trying to serve everyone, Martinez runs the risk of not reaching anyone at all. There is certainly a great deal of intriguing insider information here, and a wealth of historical knowledge, but sometimes the messaging gets lost in a delivery that’s a little too “inside baseball.”
Martinez is at his best when he’s working in a memoir style, conveying tales of his life to relay larger truths about the game. We get to know that his starting MLB salary (in 1967) was a measly $10,000 ($65,000 today), a far cry from the virtually inconceivable megadeals we’re presently confronted with. We get to hear his tales of Caribbean winter ball and his time training (and playing) with the National Guard during the Vietnam War. One particular narrative almost feels too absurd to be true: Buck gets shot in the eye with buckshot while bird hunting with teammate Doug Bird. (On the same day his wife discovers she’s pregnant, no less.) Martinez is an engaging storyteller who is in his element when he’s chatting about his own experiences.
Overall, Change Up is a fun and fascinating look back at what made baseball great, and how that former glory might be recaptured. Martinez has lived a life that makes his opinion on the subject worthwhile, even if not everyone will agree with his proposals. Those who don’t will certainly relish in his countless stories regardless, and will appreciate his limitless love for the game.