Book Review: Bash Brothers

As faithful readers of this space will know, I interviewed Jose Canseco in April 2008 on his promotional tour for his book, Vindicated. While researching Canseco in the days leading up to our meeting, I came across a notice for a forthcoming book on the former Oakland Athletics slugger and his teammate, Mark McGwire. The book was titled Bash Brothers, with the subhead, A Legacy Subpoenaed.

After contacting the publisher, Potomac Books, I interviewed the author, Dale Tafoya. However, my story wound up focusing on the signing, and I felt like Tafoya’s quotes would take away from the narrative, so I decided not to mention him. Tafoya accused me of using him for information, which would have been more ludicrous if he’d known me; in a sense, I’ve been researching Canseco since I was six. Most of what we discussed was stuff I already knew.

I subsequently received a review copy of Bash Brothers and was unsure what to do with it. My editor at the East Bay Express declined a review, since he’d just published my Canseco story. I contacted an acquaintance at the San Francisco Chronicle, they passed as well and the book thus sat unread. Eventually, it fell behind my bookcase, along with my unread review copy of Vindicated.

I always felt guilty about this and at times wanted to read the book but since that would have necessitated moving my bookcase, which would have necessitated getting all my books off of it first, I did not. However, I moved apartments this summer and finally recovered Bash Brothers. After finishing reading The Boys of Summer this fall, it was time to review Tafoya’s work.

I read Bash Brothers and all in all, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I rather liked certain parts, including the chapter that talked about an old Reggie Jackson spending a final season in Oakland to tutor Canseco and McGwire. Tafoya also commendably did four years of research putting together the book. He takes two pages at the end to list 112 people he interviewed, including former A’s players Dave Parker, Bob Welch, Dave Henderson and Dennis Eckersley and one-time baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who wrote the foreword for the book.

Missing from this group, though, are McGwire and Canseco. In fact, the book gives no mention to whether they were even contacted (Canseco was happy to talk with me; he arrived at his signing an hour early for our interview.) The book never produces a smoking gun, either, for McGwire or Canseco having used steroids, only quoting excerpts from Canseco’s bestseller, Juiced, offering vague quotes from McGwire’s former strength coach, Curt Wenzlaff, and saying McGwire had a younger brother who got into bodybuilding and probably did steroids.

Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts got Alex Rodriguez to admit to using steroids by alleging this in a book; two San Francisco Chronicle reporters obtained grand jury testimony that confirmed Barry Bonds juiced as well. Somehow, it doesn’t feel that Tafoya went deep enough in his research, though he has a great bit from former outfielder Ben Grieve, retired and angry at all the juicers who prospered while he stayed clean and struggled.

Tafoya himself came in something of an unknown, with the book flap saying he studied journalism at a community college. The front of the book lists a slew of other titles from the publisher that I’ve never heard of. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would love to have a baseball book with my name on it, even if few read it.

Tafoya’s writing itself is nothing special. “The game of baseball was out of its element, it seemed,” Tafoya writes of the Congressional hearings Canseco and McGwire appeared at in March 2005. “As compelling as each opening statement appeared, more riveting moments seemed ahead. Feeling like scattered chunks of bread surrounded by a swarm of starving seagulls, Canseco and McGwire threatened to evoke the Fifth Amendment when cornered with a self-incriminating inquiry.” The book is filled with writing of this sort that always seems just a little off, stilted, reaching.

Even the title is awkward. How exactly does one subpoena a legacy? Then again, I may have been a bit biased coming off The Boys of Summer. Very few sports books are that poetic or well-written. I’m not any worse for having read Bash Brothers. I found it interesting enough, though I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a non-sports fan. I say this as someone who insisted my mom read The Boys of Summer.

Now all I need to do is read Vindicated.

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