Book Review #1: “Homegrown” by Alex Speier

Note: This is the first installment of a hopefully lengthy series of book reviews for every book that I have on my bookshelf. My collection includes every book I’ve read for personal enjoyment since high school in addition to a few books I was forced to read (see: school) that I found worth keeping.

The captivating inside story of the historic 2018 Boston Red Sox, as told through the assembly and ascendancy of their talented young core — the culmination of nearly a decade of reporting from one of the most respected baseball writings in the country.

1 — Can’t believe I bought it

2 — Not worth revisiting

3 — A fine addition to my collection

4 — A personal favorite

5 — Reading this should be mandatory

“It was unbelievable,” remembered Bradley. “You would think he was going to quit the next day. That’s how much confidence he had in himself. ‘Man, I just don’t know. Baseball might not be it for me. I’m going to go play some basketball.”

Jackie Bradley Jr. talking about playing with Mookie Betts and his lack of confidence early in his minor league career.

Sale had learned to shrug off the rumors. Teams had been asking the White Sox about him for years, and still he had remained in Chicago. He didn’t use social media platforms, so it had become natural to ignore swirls of speculation, particularly when he was in the cocoon of family time in his southwest Florida home.

Chris Sale’s lack of social media in a hyper focused work environment.

“Ben had a plan. He made some missteps, and was the first one to say that, but keeping this young core together was the primary part of his plan,” said Zack Scott. “He’d joke about it. He’d joke about all these articles that he never trades his prospects. He’d say, ‘“The next GM is going to really enjoy these guys.’”

Zack Scott on Ben predicting the future of the Red Sox organization in addition to his own.

“It just tells you sometimes why guys are prospects,” said Dombrowski.

Dave Dombrowski on trading four prospects for Craig Kimbrel and not regretting it.

The 16–1 victory was punctuated when Brock Holt, already in possession of a single, double, and triple, laced a homer down the right-field line in the ninth to become the first player ever to hit for the cycle in the postseason. Holt, who had one hit in fifteen career at-bats against Severino entering the game, hadn’t even expected to be in the lineup before he got a text from Cora the night before.

“Are you sure?” Holt replied.

The decision highlighted how Cora, in tandem with Red Sox’ analytics staff, employed data to inform decision-making. Fifteen at-bats simply didn’t constitute a meaningful sample size. Instead, Cora focused on career-long patterns for Severino and how Holt’s left-handed swing matched up with the right-handed pitcher’ slider. Cora took some amusement in the success of his logic.

“Play the Powerball tomorrow, and hopefully I can get it,” he said.

Alex Speier depicting Alex Cora’s decision and logic to start Brock Holt in game 3 of the ALDS against the Yankees.

My first thought after I finished reading was that my assumptions going in were completely wrong. While I thought it would mostly depict and follow their core players from the time they were acquired to the 2018 World Series, instead, and to my delight, it actually read as a Red Sox modern history book.

One of the easier reads I’ve experienced; the writing never felt rushed or too slow.

Ben Cherington is either a massively underrated or overrated general manager. From the book’s depiction, his firing appeared to be just bad timing and unavoidable underperformance. Initially, I agreed with this assessment. Dombrowski was given a very talented roster and loaded farm system and really just had the assignment of not messing it up. The trades he made at the time seemed bold but in hindsight weren’t too daring, and it’s probably not too bold to say that any decent general manager would have made similar decisions. All this is to say that Cherington just drew the short end of the stick and deserves more credit than Dombrowski for the 2018 season. However, Cherington’s time in Boston was also highlighted by two very poor seasons and a series of poor trades. One has to wonder if he dug his own hole there. His work in Pittsburg will probably define his legacy. Regardless, he should be given more credit for the core that Boston had.

Mookie Betts has an amazing story. Benintendi is probably underrated today. One has to wondering what Dombrowski’s legacy in Boston was thought of in 2018 compared to today.

Alex Cora’s line about Brock Holt that I highlighted above is something that I had never considered or even read about before and would definitely be worth exploring more.

In addition to being very in the wrong for some things, Alex Cora also did a ton of things right. Gained just a bit of respect back from me after reading his part of the story. Elite leader, besides the obvious.

Any business leader would learn a ton from the stories of Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski on building teams, having a process, being decisive, and countless other lessons that transcend baseball front offices. Current players and young dreamers would also benefit greatly from gaining a deep understanding of how front offices think and evaluate players.

Thanks for reading. ~Mark

Gibault ’19 | McKendree ’22 | Instagram & Twitter: @mbranz7 | “Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” — Michael Jordan