Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again by Jim Gullo (Da Capo Press, $23.00, 272 pages)
“May you grow up to be righteous/ May you grow to be true/ May you always know the truth/ And see the lights surrounding you…” Bob Dylan (Forever Young)
In Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again, Jim Gullo has a big problem. His seven-year-old son, Joe, suffers from two afflictions: he loves baseball, and he is terminally honest. At first, neither would seem to be a problem. Many boys love baseball, and there are certainly worse worries for fathers than a son with a very well-developed conscience. However, the publication of the Mitchell Report in 2007 changes everything for both of them.
For the record, the Mitchell Report is the infamous document chronicling widespread steroid abuse in professional baseball. It is then that Jim is flooded with questions from his son that he feels he cannot adequately answer, such as: “Aren’t drugs bad for you?” and, “If someone cheated shouldn’t they be punished?”, etc., etc.
Befuddled by baseball’s apparent unwillingness to either address the issue or respond, the players’ blatant refusal to discuss anything related to steroids, and his own inability to respond adequately to his son’s confusion, Jim goes on his own personal quest for answers. Meanwhile, his son separates his precious baseball card collection into cheaters and non-cheaters.
The title of this book comes from his son’s incessant belief that his favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, should trade for Manny Ramirez, only to later learn that, he too, was a steroid user.
On their joint journey, father and son become friends with Dirk Hayhurst, a marginal left-handed pitching prospect, who eventually makes a couple of brief appearances in “the show” after years of watching the users pass him by. This sets up the reality that cheating was so common and the financial stakes so high, some reluctant users simply felt that their choices were to use or face an early end to their career.
This reviewer, a Milwaukee Brewers season ticket holder, recently faced a similar situation, when two of his sons yanked their Ryan Braun posters off the wall and refused to go to baseball workouts following Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs. Though the suspension was later overturned, none of us will ever seem to know the real truth, and the emotional damage had already been done.
With that as the backdrop, I read the book expecting a more visceral, emotional reaction to the story, one which I did not experience. Trading Manny is a good book, and the ending is satisfactory, but apparently I have become numb to the whole thing myself. It was either that or have my heart ripped out, and I decided that not being able to live without baseball – like the players themselves – I would have to pretend that none of it ever happened. Baseball can have its statistical lists, and I can have mine.