Monday, August 15, 2011

Augie Garrido's "Life is Yours to Win"

Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in Division 1 college baseball, has written a book that is part biography and part treatise on the game of baseball.

I went into the task of reading this book forcing myself to have an open mind. Coach Garrido has not always done a lot to endear himself to Tiger fans, myself included. But I wanted to judge the book on its own merits, not as a partisan fan.

Just four pages into the book, Garrido states his intentions:
Baseball has been fairly beaten to death as a metaphor for life so I'll try not to add to the carnage. Still, I'll share a few lessons if you don't mind, most of them gleaned from my sport and my life in it.
Whereupon he devotes most of the first 100 pages to beating baseball to death as the key to the meaning of life. For example, the opening paragraph of chapter 4 (The Game of Failure):
When a pitcher releases the ball and sends it on a four one-hundredths of a second journey toward the batter's box, he simultaneously destroys the past and creates the future. In that moment when the batter sees the ball coming and reacts, that's life. That's everything. That's the moment of performance that teaches us how to live all the other moments of our lives.
I heartily agree with his point in regard to baseball - the game is all about each individual pitcher-batter confrontation, and the key to success to is to focus on that moment, not on what came before or what will happen after. But then, like he does repeatedly throughout the book, Augie slathers on a heaping does of psycho-babble self-help philosophy and almost makes us miss the point about the game.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, with a title like Life is Yours to Win.

During those first 100 pages or so, Augie rambles. A lot. And repeats himself. A lot. The beginning of the book would have been much better (and easier to read) if he had boiled down his philosophy of life into a single 20-page chapter toward the end of the book, and made a separate 15-page chapter about his experiences as an adviser and actor on the movie "For the Love of the Game" (an interesting 12-page digression in the middle of the ramblings).

Fortunately, though, starting in Chapter 4, Garrido begins to get his thoughts more organized and focuses more on the topic at hand: College Baseball. And from that point on, I found the book much easier to read, and at times fascinating.

Although I didn't always buy into everything he said, one thing comes through clearly in this book: Augie Garrido is a coach who is intimately familiar with the game of baseball. My respect for Garrido, which has always been a bit iffy, went up several notches as a result of reading this book. He has a great knowledge of and respect for The Game.
No matter who is on the mound or no matter what team you are playing, you are always playing the game of baseball, you are never playing an opponent.
Augie makes it clear that if you don't respect the game,then no matter how many hits you get or plays you make, Baseball will humble you.

In Chapter 4, Garrido talks about how baseball is a game of failure. Not only is this chapter a good read for coaches and players who need some perspective, but I know a lot of baseball fans and other Mizzou sports fans who could do with an attitude adjustment about Winning with a capital W.
Some claim that winning is everything, but if that were true, why do winners keep coming back for more? They must know they risk becoming losers, right? So winning must not be everything. Testing ourselves and defining ourselves is the "everything" of competition.
In chapter 5, Be a Player, Not a Prospect, Garrido draws a distinction between the ballplayer who is marketing himself as a big league prospect vs. one who devotes his energy and attention to playing the game. I like his advice to one dad who asked what he could to to develop his sons' baseball skills:
"Should I get them personal trainers and coaches?"

I could tell my response caught this dad by surprise.

"Enroll them in karate classes or some other demannding martial arts and yoga," I said. "They'll learn to control their breathing and to focus on the moment. It will also help their flexibility, agility, balance and emotional control."
Garrido devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 6: Small Ball/Big Game) to the importance of bunting. This makes a small-ball fan like me very happy.
I insist that our players learn to bunt because it requires commitment and mental toughness that makes them better all-around athletes and better people too. I see it with every team. Once they master bunting, it gives them confidence that carries over into all aspects of their game and even into their lives.
He closes the book by listing "Five Things I Think I Know About Baseball", adding a sixth which is probably the one that rings the most true:
Just when you think you know something, the game will make a fool of you.
I recommend this book to anyone who cares about college baseball: fans, players, parents and coaches.

■ Other reviews of the book:
  • Garrido's book is an easy read that may attract non-veteran readers of nonfiction . . .A stale rendition of a self-help trope that may appeal to college-baseball fans. (Kirkus Reviews)

  • This is a book by a beloved college coach but it is packed with Major League insights and anecdotes featuring many of baseball’s greatest players and most inspiring spirits. Life Is Yours to Win will appeal to anyone who appreciates the wisdom of a proven winner in sports and in life. (

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