Book Review: Try Not to Suck

He’s one of the most successful managers of his generation. To Cubs fans, he’s the savior who ended the team’s century-plus long championship drought. Joe Maddon is becoming a baseball legend, not only because of his success, but also because of his unconventional personality and style of managing. Renowned sports writer Bill Chastain and ESPN’s Chicago Cubs beat writer Jesse Rogers recently released their biography of Maddon, Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon.

The book’s title is a reference to one of Maddon’s mantras during the Cubs’ 2016 championship season. I was intrigued by this book, largely because I’m a Cubs fan, but also because I wanted to learn more about what has made Maddon a success. Unfortunately, the book failed to deliver on both accounts.

Right away, I suspected the book would be subpar when the first chapter, which is only four pages long, contained at least three errors that any Cubs fan should have been able to spot easily:

  • When the Indians tied Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, the score was 7-7. (It was actually 6-6.)
  • When discussing the 10th inning of that Game 7, “The Cubs took their final lead of 2017 in that 10th inning.”
  • As the Cubs were letting that game slip away, “108 years without a championship was on the verge of turning into 109.” 2016 actually would have been the 108th year without a title, not the 109th.

Okay, maybe I am nitpicking on that last one. But the errors continued throughout the book. For example, the book reported that the Cubs won their division by 3.5 games in 2017. (It was actually six games.) The book also claimed – multiple times – that the Angels play in the American League East. (They play in the West.) It is almost unfathomable that two writers with the credentials that Chastain and Rogers have could be so careless.

The quality of writing was not up to standard, either. There were enough typos to make me wonder whether the authors even hired an editor. The book also contained a number of oddly-phrased sentences, such as, “[James Shields] and his future wife on minor league money, already had a child and they’d survived in the minor leagues on minor league money while raising their child,” and, “The 2001 Angels had been ineffective at producing productive outs.”

The book is not without rewards. It did provide a decent overview of Maddon’s life, with some interesting anecdotes along the way. Yet much of the content was simply a rehashing of old newspaper stories and online articles, frequently quoted at length and sometimes getting off-topic. You would expect such high-profile journalists to put in more effort. I feel that any average fan could have written most of this book just by making a few trips to the public library. The last page did cite several player/coach interviews used; however, only three Maddon interviews were listed, all taking place in 2008 or earlier. That’s unacceptable.

The book simply lacked enough new information or insight to be of much value. Even those Cubs fans who can’t relive the drama of 2016 enough are likely to walk away disappointed. I was shocked that besides the short first chapter mentioned above, this nearly 300-page book contained a mere ten-page chapter on the 2016 postseason, giving a brief overview of Games 6 and 7 of the World Series – with one sentence about the 10th inning of Game 7. (By contrast, the book spent about 20 pages describing Maddon’s first season managing the Devil Rays in 2006.)

Fans hoping to learn more about the success both of Maddon and the Cubs in recent years would be better served reading The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci. Joe Maddon’s story deserves a better telling than the one offered in Try Not to Suck. Especially from two well-established sports writers, one of which covers the team on a daily basis for one of the world’s biggest names in sports journalism, I would have expected more.

Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.