Just a quick note to explain my absence from the blog — I’m taking a week of vacation. Last chance for some family time before school starts on Tuesday.
The time off has given me a chance to read “Major League Encounters,” a new book by Larry LaRue, the long-time Mariners beat writer for the Tacoma News-Tribune.
It’s superb, and I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend. I genuinely think any Mariners fan — any baseball fan — will love this book. It’s simple in format: 100 vignettes about players that LaRue has encountered in his 30-plus years as a baseball reporter in Southern California and Seattle. There’s a heavy emphasis on Mariners players, of course, with all the biggies covered, such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Lou Piniella, Ichiro and Alex Rodriguez, (except one, Randy Johnson, but he turns up many times, not always flatteringly). LaRue’s account of how his close relationship with Ken Griffey Jr. was torn asunder by his soon-to-be-viral blog post about Junior napping in the clubhouse, is riveting reading. And a good insight (as occurs often throughout the book) into the delicate player-reporter dynamic.
Some of the best and most poignant chapters are about players who weren’t stars, but had compelling and sometimes heart-rending stories to tell — the likes of Willie Bloomquist, Jeff Schaefer, Ken Cloude and Rich Amaral. Most of the vignettes are warm and affectionate, but LaRue lets you know, gently, who he didn’t like so much, and why. He cuts down players like A-Rod and Casey Kotchman with a velvet touch.
Many familiar names not associated with the Mariners, but with whom LaRue crossed paths in his career, show up, the likes of Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Sparky Anderson, Bo Jackson, Willie Mays, Dennis Eckersley, Tony La Russa, Rod Carew, Dwight Gooden, Kirk Gibson, even Tiger Woods.
After reading this book, you will have a greater insight into all of them.