Split Season REVIEWS
"100 books for your summer reading list" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
"Split Season: 1981 — Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball" (Thomas Dunne Books), by Jeff Katz. A fun and often infuriating (for the stupidity it reveals, not the book itself) recounting of the year when a players strike sliced a chunk out of the season that saw, among other amazing things, the rise of pitching phenom Fernando Valenzuela and the Milwaukee Brewers' first postseason appearance.
Kirkus Starred Review (1/22/2015)
Most books on a baseball year concentrate on a single legendary team (1927 Yankees, 1954 Giants). Katz, mayor of Cooperstown, New York (The Kansas City A's and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s, 2007), gives multiple teams equal time while devoting half of this delightful, opinionated history to the strike that upset everyone but enshrined the free agent system that has produced spectacular salaries for even mediocre players.
The 1981 season also produced an oddball split season, the first since 1892. With the 1975 demise of the reserve clause, player salaries skyrocketed. By 1980, elite players earned over $1 million per year, minuscule compared to the numbers today but alarming to owners at the time. Katz brilliantly describes the bitter, fruitless, yearlong negotiations aimed at determining a team’s compensation for the loss of a free agent player. Despite the book’s title, the seven-week 1981 strike did not save baseball but produced a complex compensation package that has long since been superseded by even more complex packages. The author shows little sympathy for the rich but mostly clueless owners who underestimated the intelligence of their players. Readers will enjoy Katz’s account of their antics as much as his traditional chronicle of the 1981 season(s). It was the year when a portly Mexican rookie Los Angeles Dodger, Fernando Valenzuela, debuted with eight straight complete game victories. Nolan Ryan broke the all-time no-hit record by pitching his fifth, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner continued his abusive treatment of players and coaches, which was not improved by the team’s loss in the last Yankee-Dodger World Series.
A superior addition to the venerable genre of baseball season accounts.
Jonathan Eig – author The Birth of the Pill, Opening Day, Luckiest Man and Get Capone
With charm and affection, Jeff Katz has documented one of the wildest and most important baseball seasons in recent history. Split Season is a wonderful look back at a fascinating moment in the evolution of baseball.
Michael D’Antonio – author Mortal Sins, Forever Blue, Hershey, The State Boys Rebellion
In Split Season, Jeff Katz brings us into the war for the future of baseball waged by the players, represented by Marvin Miller, and the owners led by the “commish” Bowie Kuhn. Katz’s vivid prose glows with his love of the game, and he places the strike that split the 1981 season in context, showing us what was lost, what was gained, and why sport would never be the same. If you love the great American pastime you will love this book.
Steve Wynn – musician The Baseball Project, The Dream Syndicate
In 1981 I had just turned 21 and had saved up enough money to buy a Greyhound bus ticket across the country. My goal was to see as many new cities, catch as many cool gigs and most certainly see as much baseball as possible. I succeeded at the first two but that summer's strike kept me from seeing even a single game on my 3 week trip. Jeff Katz's fascinating and gripping book lets me know who was to blame and how it all went down with humor, attention to detail and an almost a horror film's inevitability. I knew what was going to happen, I knew how it was going to end but Katz kept me captive and turning pages until that frustrating year was over.
Paul Lukas – Uniwatch, ESPN.com
For most baseball fans, the summer of 1981 is a void, an absence, a black hole. Jeff Katz has finally illuminated that dark space, showing us what we going on behind the scenes of the sports world's most prolonged labor action.
By going behind the scenes to reveal the game-changing labor negotiations of 1981, and also bringing to life the thrills on the field—the unforgettable Fernando Valenzuela, and the last Yankees-Dodgers World Series among them—Jeff Katz has delivered a worthy book about a crucial season. Three cheers.
Rick Telander - Senior Sports Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times
The game of baseball has always been about the business of baseball, and why not? The owners want money, the players want money, and the fans want to see their team win—which comes down to money. In Split Season, Jeff Katz makes the business of baseball as fascinating as the game afield, as the contentious 1981 season and the stunning changes it brought to Major League Baseball come to life all these years later.
The monumental figures of Bowie Kuhn, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner march across the stage, battling like ferrets in a cage. And the great players who appear again—Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Steve Garvey, Tom Seaver, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, on and on—make this a sporting delight from start to end. The mustard on the hotdog, if you will, is that at its heart Split Season is about American history and its prime movers, capitalism and the battle for wealth. When the last pitch of 1981 is thrown, and the wrappers and beer cups swept up and the game changed forever, you will be far wiser than you were before. And not just about baseball.
Howard Bryant - author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
Split Season is my favorite kind of book: informative, historical, retelling the story of one of the most pivotal baseball seasons over the last half-century on and off the field, but also funny. In an age of endless statistics, it reminds us the game is played by human beings whose feats and antics are far more interesting than on-base percentage. Writing such a book sounds easy. Jeff Katz has made it look easy. But trust me, it isn’t.
Paul Dickson - author, Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers
In Split Season Jeff Katz has brought life to the events of 1981 when 713 Major League baseball games were cancelled because of a player’s strike. The great strength of this fast-moving narrative is Katz’s ability to bring the same tension and insight to both fields of play—the one at the ballpark and the other at the bargaining table.
Library Journal - (2/15/2015)
Katz (mayor, Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) here tells the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the 1981 Major League Baseball season. This unusual season was abruptly cut short owing to a player strike that resulted in 712 canceled games, millions of dollars in lost salaries and revenue, and a split season with first-half and second-half champions making the playoffs from each division. The strike ultimately led to a victory for players’ rights that has since reverberated across all professional sports. Katz marvelously examines both the on- and off-the-field dramas as they unfolded. On the field, the cast of characters included Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, and Fernando Valenzuela and culminated in a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. Off the field, a similarly colorful company took center stage, including commissioner Bowie Kuhn, administrator Marvin Miller, and negotiator Ray Grebey. In both settings, Katz is an exceptional narrator who paints fully human portraits of those involved and purposefully sprinkles a wide range of cultural and political references that set the events in their 1981 context. VERDICT This book is highly recommended for baseball fans with an interest in the business side of the game.
Chicago Tribune (Allen Barra) - (4/2/2015)
A new baseball season promises a fresh crop of published diamond gems. Here are five books that caught our eye.
Baseball is probably the only sport that could turn a near disaster into literature. Jeff Katz, the mayor of Cooperstown, has picked a terrific subject with "Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball." The season saw a strike that resulted in the cancellation of more than 700 games. It started with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn making a terrible decision when he advised the owners into a work stoppage, and the players' response was to strike. On the surface the issue was compensation for teams that lost players to free agency, but in retrospect it seems likely that management's intent was to weaken the union.
But the Players Association, which had been forged by Marvin Miller, stood firm, and after frantic negotiations the season finally resumed. Among the casualties, though, were the Cincinnati Reds, who ended up with the best overall record but were denied a playoff berth under the hastily-put-together playoff format.
Nonetheless, the baseball was sensational: Pete Rose was hot on Stan Musial's record for career hits by a National Leaguer, Nolan Ryan kicked off the second half with a no-hitter, and fans were consumed by the mania surrounding the Dodgers' stocky, high-kicking, screwball-throwing Mexican southpaw, Fernando Valenzuela. (I saw him stifle the Cubs before a packed and frenetic crowd at Wrigley Field.)
The season ended with an exciting six-game World Series win for the Dodgers over Reggie Jackson's Yankees in New York. "Ten thousand fans waited at LAX for the Dodgers to land. For five hours they cheered, danced, and sang in delirious joy for their comeback kids. ... The split season was over, unloved by some, unforgettable to all."