Three Nights in August

Like a great hitter, author Buzz Bissinger uses the whole field. For readers who love baseball, 3 Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy, Inside the Mind of a Manager will affirm their faith in its endless possibilities during play. For others who dismiss the game as passive, lacking the violence of colliding bodies, there can be no disclaimer, for baseball's core appeal is cerebral, a process to be thought rather than fought through.

Bissinger's chronicle is divided into three parts—games 1, 2, and 3 of a “crucial” late-August 2003 series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs—but he frequently interrupts play for flashbacks. The most powerful is a twelve-page segment on the fatal heart attack of pitcher Darryl Kile, thirty-two, devoted husband, father, teammate, “the ultimate bonding agent.”

The focus of this book is Tony La Russa's “foxhole” in the home-team Cardinals's dugout from which the reader is privy to the strategies, conflicts, successes and failures on and off the diamond of the leader who during the 2005 season moved into third place, behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw, in games managed. Readers “watch” as St. Louis and Chicago vie for first place, and learn that La Russa regards “retaliation”—i.e., whether and how to respond when, say, the Cubs’ aggressive Kerry Wood “plunks” one of his players—as his most difficult decision; that pitchers, while the game's key figures, are prone to psychic as well as physical imperfection; that, in sum, human nature, not baseball's touted “stats,” often dictates who wins.

For some players, “the only scoreboard they’re watching is the one in their head that could be worth millions at arbitration.” The book shimmers throughout.