REVIEWS for FEEDING THE MONSTER
Christian Science Monitor
Baseball fanatics will relish the access writer Seth Mnookin had for Feeding the Monster, the story behind the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Watch from the inside as the team’s brain trust cobbles together castoffs, including David Ortiz, now an MVP candidate; trade fan fave Nomar Garciaparra; and butt heads, leading to the departure (and eventual return) of wunderkind GM Theo Epstein. Monstrously good.
The New York Times Book Review
Not the least of the many trials inflicted upon the Boston Red Sox has been a torrent of verbiage. Surely no team in recent memory has been so scrutinized, complained about, and then elegized. … All this yakking might be forgivable if it hadn’t actually hurt the team’s performance on the field. But as Seth Mnookin points out in “Feeding the Monster,” Sox players now live and work in such a hothouse of speculation and rumor-mongering that they sometimes beg to be traded. The “monster” in Mnookin’s title refers less to Fenway’s fabled left field wall, the Green Monster, than to the frenzy of attention that the Sox excite — a ravenous maw, inflamed by mingled love and doubt, that even the aftermath of the team’s now legendary drought-ending World Series victory in 2004 came close to devouring the Sox yet again. Kevin Millar, we learn, the team cheerleader whose war cry was “Cowboy Up!,” turned selfish and bitter the next season, pining for more media attention, and it was a press-driven wedge between the general manager, Theo Epstein, and the team president, Larry Lucchino, that last fall caused the peevish resignation of Epstein, the wunderkind who was largely responsible for the team’s success in the first place. Epstein’s departure, which was announced on Halloween, caused such a stir that the only way he could escape his Fenway office was in a borrowed gorilla costume.
Mnookin knows all about institutional meltdown. Though a lifelong Sox rooter, he is not a scribe but, rather, a former senior writer for Newsweek and now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, whose last book was “Hard News,” an account of the upheavals at The New York Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. John Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox, was an admirer of that book, and in the flush of the 2004 victory he granted Mnookin virtually unlimited access both to the team and to the front office. …
If there ever was a case to be made for the suits, this book is it. The evidence speaks for itself: 80 years of Red Sox wandering the wilderness, years of tragic bas luck on the field and more than occasional foolishness and ineptitude in the dugout and front office, and then Henry and his partners, Lucchino and Tom Werner, buy the team and hire Epstein, then just 28, and less than three years later the Bosox were wearing World Series rings. …
That Henry, who used to own the Florida Marlins, wound up with the Sox at all is the result of a happy chain of coincidences that Mnookin describes in some detail, pretty much demolishing the paranoid theory, held by Bostonians who would have preferred hometown ownership, that the sale of the Sox was a bag job arranged by the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, who had his own reasons for preferring Henry. Actually, Werner, a TV producer and former owner of the San Diego Padres, was the deal’s catalyst, recruiting Henry when he and Lucchino and their partner, a New England ski entrepreneur named Les Otten, who had made and lost a fortune in the ski business, proved to have insufficiently deep pockets. …
Lucchino, on the other hand, combative and hard-charging, is as close as the book comes to a bad guy. Lucchino was originally Epstein’s mentor in San Diego, and though Mnookin doesn’t go in for excessive Freudianism, they clearly ran into father-son problems, which, after the two men were barely speaking to each other, got played out in the pages of The Boston Globe, with each thinking he was the victim of bad publicity and malicious leaks. Lucchino felt that Epstein had hung him out to dry after the REd Sox attempt to sign Alex Rodriguez hit the rocks, while Epstein felt that he took excessive heat for trading Nomar Garciaparra and not re-signing Pedro. Epstein is now back with the team and the rift seems to be at least partly healded, but the lesson for baseball execs should be the same one that Andy Card used to preach in the Bush White House: no blabbing to the press.
Included in the magazine’s “6 Guilt-Free Pleasures to Read at the Beach: You won’t want to put these books down, and you won’t need to hide them”
Not to spoil it or anything, but the 2004 Boston Red Sox had a pretty good year. Yup. Their first in a while. The surprise is what came before it: the youngest general manager in baseball looked at a bunch of underrated players (like power hitter David Ortiz), fussy eccentrics (Nomar Garciaparra, he of the glove-tugging ritual) and petulant superstars (Manny Ramirez) and saw champs. It’s both a Moneyball-style triumph of smart management over conventional wisdom and a redemptive story of athletic success as an expression of inner strength.
This book turns out to be a massive switch-hit: it’s a behind-the-scenes baseball book that is also about the business of success and an in-depth guide to financial rewards on the diamond. Mnookin’s superb Hard News established his prowess as an institutional biographer. His second book provides a signal description of the cold calculations undergirding business decisions while underscoring with rare acumen the emotion-laden instincts and hunches that led to the unprecedented reversal of fortune by the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 season and that herald continued success for years to come. The author’s insightful reviews of principal Red Sox owner John Henry’s ascension in soybean trading and of the intricacies of decision making under a media spotlight are particularly valuable, as are his descriptions of the travails and turmoil of Theo Epstein, the youthful general manager. Mnookin has the ability to succeed Robert Caro as America’s foremost contemporary biographer. Highly recommended for all general libraries and for advanced business studies collections. -Gilles Renaud
The front office was in turmoil. Just a season removed from its first World Series triumph in 86 years, the Boston Red Sox saw its dashing, thirtysomething general manager, Theo Epstein, resign with little explanation. As a protracted and unusually public spat continued between Epstein and Larry Lucchino, the team’s demanding CEO, Sox fans were both enthralled and aghast. What was really going on? Well, who better to tell us than a veteran reporter invited to nose around by the Red Sox lead investor himself? Seth Mnookin, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, cut just such a deal. … The result, Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top, closely tracks Sox history since 2000: business triumphs, blockbuster trades, the unlikely path to the 2004 World Series victory, and the dramas of 2005. It’s a revealing and largely flattering account that should engage even readers with little attachment to Red Sox Nation.
The St. Petersburg Times
If you’re at all interested in the inner workings of the team as it planned and schemed to a world championship, you’ll find this recitation more interesting than The Da Vinci Code.
A detailed, knowledgeable account of how a successful sports franchise operates, how it deals with failure and success, how hard it is to turn a profit in a business that seems, at least from the outside, to be swimming in money. … [R]esidents of Red Sox Nation will gobble it up, as may others who are interested in the inner workings of professional sports.
Feeding the Monster is a must read for members of Bosox nation. Vanity Fair writer Seth Mnookin’s access to GM Theo Epstein during his revolving door status on Yawkey Way last fall makes for a riveting read. Get all the back-door dirt on Larry Lucchino, John Henry and other Red Sox brass. Requisite conversation fodder at the EMC Club.
The Boston Phoenix
Gay Talese should be proud of Vanity Fair writer (and former Phoenix contributor) Seth Mnookin for taking the hardcore New Journalism to Fenway Park. You think you already know everything about the Sox? Well, was the stuff you’re reading written by a guy who spent weekends talking shop with John Henry? Red Sox Nation will have multiple heart attacks over Mnookin’s Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top. After spending a year with the unluckiest team in baseball, Mnookin explains exactly how the stars aligned for the World Series win. But this isn’t just another rundown of a historic event: there’s more juicy insider scandal in here about Nomar, Pedro, Theo, and the rest of the gang than that the Shiloh Jolie-Pitt issue of People (or, come to think of it, today’s Lance Bass edition).
Barnes & Noble
This lively, revealing book answers the oft-asked question: How did the Boston Red Sox end the longest dry spell in sports history? To resolve the dilemma, Hard News author Seth Mnookin ignored “Curse of the Bambino” tall tales and turned his attention to the owners, management, and players who made the 2004 Red Sox World Series championship possible. A behind-the-scenes, inside-the-locker-room view of a historic turnaround.
No author has ever enjoyed greater access to the inner workings of the Red Sox than did Seth Mnookin during the 2005 season. … For that reason, “Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts and Nerve Took a Team to the Top” is the most intriguing book to emerge about the Red Sox in the nearly two years since they won the World Series. Mnookin, whose “Hard News” (Random House, 2004) performed the definitive inquest into the embarrassments suffered by the New York Times earlier this decade, was permitted the access of a club official while maintaining the sensibilities of a journalist. … For every significant event that has occurred since the Red Sox were put up for sale in 2001, Mnookin offers previously unmined details that add to the perspective on the most important developments in the team’s recent history.
Wall Street Journal
The book…is stuffed with details about players’ contract negotiations, the team’s behind-the-scenes baseball strategy and blow-by-blow accounts of pivotal moments as they transpired on the field, all of it gleaned by a writer with an all-access pass to the innards of a modern American ball club.
Mnookin is an expert at dissecting the inner workings of creative organizations–just look at Hard News, his damning take on the Jayson Blair era-New York Times. Granted unparalleled access to the Red Sox front office, the longtime Boston fan sketches the definitive portrait of the suits who assembled the 2004 World Series-winning squad.
The Standard Times
Mnookin’s tremendous presentation of the team’s 2003 playoff run, and his presentation of the facts Little ignored throughout it, made me disgusted all over again, but I digress. Every party presented gets a three-dimensional treatment. Both Lucchino and Epstein take lumps as their relationship deteriorates, and when the likes of Dr. Charles Steinberg and Dan Shaughnessy are savaged, it feels warranted. … The feeling at the end is a positive one.
Both because the book is a rewarding read, and because the Red Sox have truly become one of baseball’s finest jewels.
Seth Mnookin has written a definitive account of the Red Sox from the moment John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino bought the team in 2002 through the beginning of the 2006 season. … Mnookin had open access to the Red Sox organization during the 2005 season, and it shows. The quotes and comments in the book indicate that management was very open with him, as were many of the players. … It’s a serious chronicle of what happened to the Sox during four very interesting years, and why. … The book has many things going for it, including a potential place among the all-time important baseball books. … This story, with its four-year arc covering a progressive ownership and rich, spoiled ballplayers, may serve as an account of an important transformation in baseball. Major league owners have a higher profile than ever before, and have to act more responsibly as businesspeople. Public access to financial information and player statistics is far beyond anything in the past. The stakes keep getting higher and higher, and Henry’s fan-friendly approach and openness to new perspectives could serve as a blueprint for future owners and students of baseball.
The New York Daily News
Mnookin starts with the purchase of the Sox in 2001 by an ownership group no one in town trusted. Using extended insider access, he profiles the key personalities, including boy wonder general manager Theo Epstein and his abrasive boss, Larry Lucchino, and explains how they gained that trust: by winning. … He serves up clubhouse anecdotes, and…illustrate[s] how money, brains and luck, when they work together, can beat even the Yankees.
The soap opera that is the Boston Red Sox is in full bloom in Mnookin’s (Hard News) tale about how the organization coalesced to finally bring Red Sox Nation its first world championship since 1918. After reviewing the dismal bigoted history of Boston–it was the last team to integrate, in 1959, and somehow managed to snub both Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays–Mnookin, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, explains how the sale of the Sox to a group led by John Henry resulted in changing the direction of the franchise. And like a true soap opera, this one is filled with heroes and villains. There are the ballplayers (Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Curt Schilling) and the executives (owner Henry, CEO Larry Lucchino and GM Theo Epstein). … There is enough inside stuff here to send the average Red Sox fan into baseball ecstasy. … Part Moneyball, part Ball Four…
“TBR Inside the List: Big Fan”
By Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review, July 30, 2006
Hingham Public Library Podcast
July 31, 2006
“Brains, Balls, and a Key to Fenway”
By Mike Miliard, The Boston Phoenix, July 18, 2006
ESPN.com online chat
July 13, 2006
Sons of Sam Horn online chat
July 13, 2006
WEEI Big Show appearance, Audio Link, Part 1
July 12, 2006 (Windows Media Player)
WEEI Big Show appearance, Audio Link, Part 2
July 12, 2006 (Windows Media Player)
Boston.com online chat
July 12, 2006
WashingtonPost.com online chat
July 11, 2006
“Behind-the-scenes intrigue makes Sox book a winner”
By Bill Reynolds, The Providence Journal, July 11, 2006
“New book reveals inner workings of Red Sox front office”
By Gordon Edes, The Boston Globe, July 7, 2006
“Pop Quiz: Seth Mnookin”
By Claire Zulkey, Mediabistro.com, July 7, 2006