Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager

ISBN: 0618710531
ISBN 13: 9780618710539
By: H.G. Bissinger

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About this book

Three Nights in August captures the strategic and emotional complexities of baseball's quintessential form, the three-game series. As the St. Louis Cardinals battle their archrival Chicago Cubs, we watch from the dugout through the eyes of legendary manager Tony La Russa, considered by many to be the shrewdest mind in the game today. In his twenty-seven years of managing, La Russa has been named Manager of the Year a record-making five times and now stands as the third-winningest baseball manager of all time. A great leader, he's built his success on the conviction that ball games are won not only by the numbers but also by the hearts and minds of those who play.Drawing on unprecedented access to a major league manager and his team, Buzz Bissinger brings a revelatory intimacy to baseball and offers some surprising observations. Bissinger also furthers the debate on major league managerial style and strategy in his provocative new afterword.

Reader's Thoughts

Matt Fitz

I've grown up a Cardinals fan since the 70s and my fondest memories of the sport all center around the Cardinals, through the Whitey Herzog era, the Torre Era and the LaRussa years. All great eras in baseball for different reasons.That's my bias on this book. If you are not a Cards fan, you'll have wished it was another team. If you want to learn some of the "inside baseball" aspects of actual inside baseball, this is a great look into the mind of one of it's greatest...a true baseball man who revived baseball as it ought to be in the great STL Cards tradition.


I've always been a Cardinals fan, dating back to when my dad took me to games when I was still in my single digits. I lost interest in college and only started wearing a Cardinals hat because I had moved to Chicago after college. I figured that I'd have to know my stuff if I was going to parade around in THE rivals' cap. This book not only got me back into baseball, it taught me about the intricacies of the game, the countless decisions that need to be made in a game, and the unique, computer-like mind of Tony LaRussa. It's a must-read for baseball fans, but for Cardinals fans especially.


I'm a lifelong Cubs fan, which means that I can't really be objective here, but that clearly didn't stop Bissinger, so why should I let it stop me? He's obviously in the bag for LaRussa, which ... well, it is LaRussa's book, so I can't really fault him too much. And yet. It's almost as though Bissinger is throwing his bias in the reader's face, daring us to call him on it. The players he doesn't like, be they Cubs, or just lazy slacker spoiled athletes, are drawn with all the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash. LaRussa's managerial choices are all brilliant, regardless of whether or not they work. When a Cardinal player manages to get a hit off of a great pitch, it's a magnificent piece of hitting, but with the roles reversed fifty pages later, it's just a cruel twist of fate. Frankly, the problem here isn't that Bissinger is an unabashed Tony LaRussa fan; the man is a great and interesting manager, well deserving of Bissinger's praise. The problem is that Bissinger, granted the great opportunity of unfettered access to a major league ball club, showed up with his story all but written. His conclusions precede his evidence. Steroids bad; big contracts bad; LaRussa good; old-school humble ball players good. Honestly, if you're trying to write the story of the Cardinals' 2003 series, why focus on a relatively meaningless series against the Cubs in August, when the two teams would play a far more pivotal five-game series in September? If you want to write about LaRussa's genius, why focus on one series -- a limitation that Bissinger fights against throughout the book?The truth is that I don't much care about Bissinger's anti-Cubs bias (well, maybe a little). Mostly, I'm tired of the sanctimony surrounding baseball. There's a certain amount of charm to baseball writers' love of nostalgia, but after a while it turns into a creepy S&M thing; nostalgia, after all, is a form of pain. The fact that some players use performance-enhancing drugs, while others are overpaid and under-performing, doesn't really bother me. Baseball had never been the idealized version of itself that everyone remembers from their childhood. Sure, when we were kids, the ballparks were cathedrals, the players were giants, and the game was holy writ, but I also believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I cherish my memories of the baseball of my youth, but I also recognize that they lack the insight granted by age and experience. Bissinger and LaRussa don't seem to have the same recognition, instead misremembering the history of baseball to suit their own needs and desires. Also, why is "hit-and-run" always italicized?All of that aside, I did like (but not love) the book. Baseball always manages to have a real sense of drama, and Bissinger captures that. None of his insight is really revolutionary, but it is put forth clearly and eloquently. His section about the death of Darryl Kile, especially, captured the emotion and the shock of his death. I'm not sure that I really feel as though I were getting an unobstructed view into the mind of a baseball man, but this comes relatively close, albeit in a sanitized fashion.


This book is not really so much about "the mind of a manager" - in fact, the biggest disappointment for me was that it didn't really get into interesting social/cultural or personal backgrounds like his other two books that I've read, Friday Night Lights and A Prayer for the City. It is sort of like a very long radio play-by-play of a three-game series (Cardinals vs. Cubs), with asides and backtracks in between that are mostly about individual players and nuances of the game (e.g., hit-and-run).The book definitely requires a fairly good working knowledge of baseball entering in. There are box scores listed in the middle of chapters. I learned a ton, though: I got a much better understanding of the nuances of the game - what kind of hits you want when batters are on different bases or there are different numbers of outs, what goes into decisions to take out pitchers, pinch hit, steal, etc. It just was not what I expected - I thought it was going to be about a person, and really it was about the game. The writing was sometimes fairly cheesy/bad too though (poor transitions, cheesy statements, etc.).The cultural pieces of baseball that he did touch on that I found interesting were how the mentality of some players has changed w/the onset/increase of huge salaries (they can phone it in), and, actually in the afterword, the "theological" debate between using emotion, heart, motivation, etc. w/your players (LaRussa's style) vs. the Moneyball theory of basing it all on stats. The book had a little suspense in terms of which team was going to win each game and the overall 3-game series, and looking above at my comments I guess I did take a lot from it. It's still pretty dense w/facts though, so I read it over a long period of time. All in all, an interesting book. Just don't expect a page-turner.

William Johnson

This one is a weird one. It took me well over a month to finish this and I took about two long 'not even touching this' breaks during the process to read other things but not because of a lack of interest.The book isn't exactly long (not even 300 pages), nor is it tedious. Compared to John Feinstein's atrociously dull 'Living on the Black' (of which I read 310 pages and had to stop), Three Nights in August is very fun and quick paced.But those expecting a page-turning, focused masterpiece like Bissinger's own Friday Night Lights (one of the greatest books ever written in my opinion), you'll be sad to know that Bissinger has the right ideas in place but not the plans to put those ideas in motion.On the surface, 3 Nights seems like a delicious idea: break down, almost pitch for pitch, a three game series between deadly rivals Chicago and St. Louis. And Bissinger actually starts off by doing this. But you can see the gears start to jam up in Bissinger's brain as he continues to write: 'even if Game 1 goes to 15 innings, I'm going to run out of things to talk about'.So Bissinger decides to provide EPIC backstories for the 'characters' in the book by examining, almost down to their conception, their origins and current status up to the game day. This is fine, and often very enlightening, but also frustrating because, in the end, you have two books at work: a biography and a game analysis. One can't function without the other, in terms of Bissinger's style, but they also don't belong together.Before we figure out if a relief pitcher will go into a game (and he doesn't, by the way), we get 15 pages on how he got to the current game. These immense and in-depth vignettes are written well but totally derail the main crux of the story. It doesn't add to the drama of the story but, much like someone hijacking a remote control, causes the channel to be changed.Things get weirder as the book ends. After Game 3 of 3 ends, Bissinger concludes the book by making absolutely no observations of the season, game, and people he just examined for 240 pages and instead focuses on a completely different season (2004, and not 2003 when the three game series between the Cubs and Cardinals took place).And in his afterword, he does nothing but bash Moneyball supporters while, as if forgetting the entire point of his book, or, at least, its subject, thanks Tony La Russa! See, I just did it! This book is about Tony La Russa! I forgot to mention it because, well, I'm still deciding what this book is about! It is all over the place.This doesn't take away the great way it is written nor the enjoyment I received from it. But since it was such an episodic piece, I felt like I could take long breaks and leave it behind for a bit while I read something, if not better, then more coherently put together.In the end, we learn a lot about La Russa, the supposed focus of the book. But we learn it intermittently, as La Russa will disappear entirely for entire chapters. We learn a lot about players but not as a whole but in vignettes. I learned a lot about Albert Pujols but only on pages 43 and 44. . .and, with the exception of his at-bats during the Game sections, will never hear from him again.There is a rather devastating chapter dedicated to the tragically deceased Darryl Kile, a Cardinals pitcher who died of a heart-attack at the age of 33, leaving behind a wife and three daughters. The tragic nature of his death and its effect on the team has little to do with the main crux of the story, which is the three game series between the Cubs/Cardinals which takes place, by the way, in a different season then Kile's death.Am I saying there can't be drama, emotion, or backstory? No. It is necessary but not at the expense of the story promised to me. Kile's story, alone, is worth reading. . .but does it belong in a book about something else? Maybe is the best answer I can come up with. Even though Bissinger makes some connections to the players playing in, if memory serves, Game 3 of the three game series, it is fleeting and likely unnecessary. It doesn't make the players more important and the story doesn't become more relevant with it's telling. . .just more dense.But I'm still giving this three stars because I learned so much about baseball and about so many players and organizations. But these are almost encyclopedia entries, not facets to one coherent story. I wasn't given the book I was promised and it's schizophrenic nature made the proceedings more of a chore then a treat.

Sam Perlin

Nights in August, by Buzz Bissinger, is a fantastic book based on a very tough series between the St Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. I’m a huge Cardinals fan, which is the main reason I loved this book, but one of the other reasons I loved this book is because it connects with me. I’m a pitcher, every pitcher wants to know how fast they’re currently throwing. Its just a common thing throughout all pitchers. Bissinger quoted, “La Russa once ordered the speed section of the scoreboard juiced up a few miles per hour because he could tell that his pitcher was paying as much attention to it as the fans were”(Bissinger 46). This quote really caught my attention because after I pitch I always try to see how fast i'm throwing also. Because of this, I really got caught into this book and really started to read this book in depth. Another thing that connected to me is a video coordinator that helps players work with their swing. In this book, there is also a video coordinator named, Blair. Bissinger stated, “Blair is the Cardinals video coordinator”(Bissinger 36). This quote shows us that Blair is a video coordinator. A video coordinator is someone who simply watches video of players and tries to improve what is wrong. This really caught my eyes because I once had a video coordinator who helped me change my swing. To sum it up, 3 Nights in August is a fantastic book because it connects with its readers.

Reid Mccormick

“Beautiful. Just beautiful baseball.”Tony La Russa is one of the most successful managers in baseball history. Every game is a lengthy epic with countless stories and numerous subplots. La Russa is meticulous, always scheming for an edge. He and his army of coaches keep detailed notes on every player and every pitcher in the league including their own. Though the season may seem long and tedious, each game counts. A whole season can change in one game. La Russa knows this and he works tirelessly to win each day. Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August is exhaustive look into the mind of Tony La Russa. Though the game has changed significantly over the years with home runs, deep bullpens, sabermetrics, and so on; nothing can replace experience. La Russa managed with an unmatched intensity though he remained stoic and poker-faced. With his retirement at the end of the 2011 season after the Cardinals magical comeback against the Texas Rangers, baseball lost one of its most respected managers. Anyone who loves baseball, who loves the nuances of the game, the joys and the heartbreaks, will love this book.

Robert James

Maybe the best baseball book I've ever read for many reasons. First, I am a lifelong Cardinal fan and can remember my first game I saw at old Busch Stadium in 1969. I am part of Cardinal Nation that lives and dies with our Cardinals every summer. Second, I am a huge fan of baseball. I follow the game every summer and have read a lot of baseball books. It's kind of appropriate that I finished this book the very day Tony La Russa goes into baseball's Hall of Fame. He was never fully accepted here in St. Louis. He was an outsider and we had just come out of the Whitey Herzog era a few years earlier and Whitey is still hugely popular. However, after 16 years of managing our Cardinal team and winning two World Series, he is one of us. I loved this book because of its passion for baseball, its look at the small details in each game and the strategy on each and every pitch.


Bissinger takes sports writing up a notch. Yes, you can see the typical sports metaphors mixed in here, but there are more erudite ones as well. I enjoyed the stories, but was a bit surprised at how Bissinger jumped around. Some at bats are described in incredible detail over the three game series, while sometimes whole innings are mentioned in a sentence. And a lot of the text is about events that happened prior to the games in focus. While I understand writing some background stories, my only complaint with the book is that the tangential anecdotes often have little or no tie to the story. Bissinger covers steriods usage and the death of Cardinal pitcher Kyle earlier in the season, but it really doesn't impact these games. While well written, it could have included some more relatable stories. I grew up in rural Illinois on the dividing line between Cubs and Cardinals territory. And I've only lived in two other places, Chicago and St. Louis. This book really plays to my personal interests and memories. I remember the "historic" matchup of Sandberg versus Sutter, which is mentioned here, and Bissinger adds another alliterative matchup during this series -- Pujols versus Prior. Harry Carry would have pointed out that alliteration, Buzz doesn't take the bait, which is like holding off on a wicked curve.On audio, the narrator sounds a bit like the deep voice of the guy who narrates those NFL films. It gets you in the sports mood, expecting a battle of titans. This was a good choice for this book.


Really interesting study of a manager's mind during a baseball game (or rather, a three game series). Bissinger takes us slowly through three games, every batter, every pinch hit opportunity, pitching change, hit and run, and any other minor decision that must be made by Tony La Russa as he tries to get the Cards past the Cubs late in the 2003 season. Lots of these moments lead to chapter long digressions as Bissinger tries to explain what is going on in La Russa's mind by taking us back into the last few seasons of a particular player's performance so we can understand exactly why La Russa does what he does. Lots of this is fascinating, and I have to admit, I was surprised at how open La Russa was willing to be about how he felt about the players. It's one thing for a relief pitcher to write a book about all the baseball details the fans might want to know; it's another thing entirely for a manager to do the same. I would have thought a book like this could really poison relationships. Some of this stuff you would think would be just between a player and a coach, and I would expect players to get mad when it is all exposed in print. But hey, what do I know, the Cards won the pennant the following year and the World Series a few years later, so clearly this book didn't do any harm. This book has a little bonus for Red Sox fans, as it goes into loving detail about what a pain J.D. Drew is. An entire chapter is devoted to La Russa bemoaning Drew's lack of energy and passion, and Drew's willingness to always give a little less than 100%. I wish Theo Epstein had had a talk with Buzz Bissinger before the Sox decided to spend all kinds of money on that guy.

Matt Mccutchan

I found the book 3 Nights in August, by Buzz Bissinger to be very good. Buzz Bissinger was the perfect person to write this book about the manager of the St. Louis, Tony La Russa. He has written books about different people and La Russa called Bissinger because he wanted him to write the book. They based the book on a three game series in August, but also had a lot more background. Bissinger had permission to go in the club house and talk with all the players during this three game series. He got to see everything for himself, so he got a good feeling about how it is to be in the clubhouse for the game. It gave him a great perspective to write the book. The book is based on a three game series against the St. Louis Cardinals division rivals, the Chicago Cubs. It is meant to be based around La Russa and all the crazy decisions he has to make. It starts out by talking about La Russa’s background, “No one else had won the Manager of the Year Award five times… The White Sox in 1983 when he was still in his Wonder Boy thirties, twice with the Oakland A’s in 1988 and 1992 in his forties, and then with the Cardinals in 1996 and 2002” (3). He was one of the best coaches of all time and he was one of the greatest at strategizing. La Russa prepared for every series the same way, “He is managing out of fear, preparing as if he had never managed before, striving to prove to the world that he possesses the combination of skills and essentials to the trade: part tactician, part psychologist, and part riverboat gambler” (17). He was scared going into every series and had to prepare for ever series like it was his last. He never wanted to lose and would make bold moves to help his team win. La Russa had a ton of strategic moves to make like when to bunt, when to hit and run, things like that. La Russa also had to decide when a pitcher intentionally hit one of his guys, “And then he told him to throw what is standard in situation like this, throw a breaking ball away so it looks like he’s having a little control problem, then hit Gonzalez in the ribs with the next pitch” (119). La Russa always stood up for his players. So if one of his players got hit, he would determine if the pitcher was trying to do it on purpose and if he thought he was, La Russa would hit one of their players back. This was not a bad thing; he was just standing up for his players. La Russa has a lot of things to overcome when managing a team, “And then came a different sound altogether, the sound of ball against bone” (217). The Cardinals best pitcher, who was scheduled to make the most important starts of the year got hit in the hand will pitching. He had a slight fracture in his hand and was out for four weeks. La Russa thought this was going to be hard to get through, but with La Russa making some bold decisions in his pitching rotation, he managed to keep his team winning even though his ace was hurt. La Russa did some great things as a coach and was one of the best coaches of all time. I really liked the book because I love baseball and I am a fan of Tony La Russa. The way the book was written made in very interesting. They based the book around a three game series, but went back in time to give the reader background knowledge. I found this confusing at sometimes, but for the most part I really liked this part. It gave you a ton of details behind everything and made me really connect to the book. The book really drew me in and since I really like baseball, I connected to the book really well. I really liked seeing how hard it can be managing a major league baseball team and how hard it is being a player. All the tuff decisions coaches have to make and all the time they have to dedicate to the game, really made me appreciate the game even more. I really like the book and would recommend it to other baseball lovers.

Bob Schmitz

I like sports but have never been a follower of baseball. It has seemed boring to me. In my one year as a 9 year old little leaguer I would sit down in the outfield because nothing was happening. Baseball lovers have contradicted me on this opinion and this book settles the question once and for all not in my favor. I had no idea how complex, complicated, subtle the game was. 3 Nights in August chronicles a 3 game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs sometimes pitch by pitch from the view point of the Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. The amount of knowledge, thinking, planning, foretelling, analysis of accumulated data of previous performances and tendencies, consideration of current emotional states, etc., etc., etc. was eye opening to me. I learned what a hit and run is, who Albert Pujos is, that La Russa is fluent in Spanish, has a law degree, is vegetarian ("I don't eat anything that had a face")and funds animal rescue efforts. I learned that what pitch is thrown is determined by the inning, the count, the score, the outs and even who might be coming to bat two batters later; that the batters know all of this too and try to predict what is coming their way(I had thought they just got up there and tried to hit whatever showed up); and that even when the managers tell the pitchers or batters to do something specific they just don't follow instructions. I learned that many well paid players don't give it their all because it's just too much trouble and the extra $2M they would earn is unneeded after the $5M base pay. One star player even complained of why his team always "had to play in the playoffs" when he would rather have the season finished.So now I will have to read "Money Ball" and go to a baseball game with my friend Jon Klein and have him explain the intricacies of what is going on. So much to do, so little time.

Zach Herman

Buzz Bissinger is a tremendously unlikable author, and Tony La Russa is an equally unlikable baseball manager. But somehow, Bissinger's book about La Russa is likable -- or, at least, entertaining enough to fill the afternoons of a chilly offseason.The buzz upon its release pegged "Three Nights" as a fawning tribute to La Russa's tactical and philosophical genius, but this is not a hagiography. Bissinger clearly admires La Russa and agrees with most of his old-school baseball principles, but he also devotes space to La Russa's troubled family life. The manager's borderline-obsessive behavior during the season is not glorified, but reported dispassionately.The book aims to deconstruct a crucial three-game series between the Cubs and Cardinals in 2003, but Bissinger seems caught in the middle a little bit. He offers some good insight into the unorthodox strategy and in-game maneuvering that made La Russa famous, but he also works hard to explain the game to readers who may be unfamiliar with it. As such, "Three Nights" may be more compelling for the novice than for the studied fan, despite its clear ambition to be an in-depth look at the game.Unfortunately, the narrative grinds to a halt whenever Bissinger chooses to interject the sanctimonious twaddle for which his writing is best known. He is an able reporter, but reading his analysis of what ails the game (You guessed it: greed!) is like listening to a child discuss "Othello." Bissinger doesn't waste a lot of space railing against high salaries and selfish players, but it is noticeable when he does. He's simply out of his depth.


Bissinger's book, "3 Nights in August," about the Cubs-Cardinals series in 2003 give some clues to his mindset after being hit in the head, using Sammy Sosa as an example:Quote: ________________________________________"When the Cards faced him in May, it was pretty clear to Duncan and Mason, watching the DVD on him, that he was going through something. He was flinching on curve balls as if he were afraid he might get hit, and he began to develop a sizable hole in his swing on pitches down and away.To (Tony) La Russa, the explanation was embedded in human nature. In May, Sosa had gotten beaned by a pitch, his batting helmet splintering like a dropped glass of water. It was clear that he had gotten tentative after that, with good reason. Few things in sports are more terrifying than a pitch hurtling at a hitter's head with no time for reflexes, the incident only reinforcing to La Russa the urgency of the commissioner's office to stop ignoring the problem and do something about it, such as an automatic three-week suspension for the pitcher involved.Sosa had become intimidated, as every hitter in the history of the game has become intimidated, after such a frightening moment."________________________________________Pitchers start throwing Sosa pitches away -- and Sosa didn't start to hit again in 2003 until he went back to a stance crowding the plate -- and that took from May until July.

Robert Ballinger

The author’s purpose of writing this book was to show how hard it is to coach and be a family person at the same time. This author wants to show how Tony La Russa saw the game through his eyes during their 3 game series against the Chicago Cubs. The author also wants to portray the strategy, heartbreak, and the joy inside the mind of a manager and show what kind of hard decisions he has to make to win baseball games. What was the theme of 3 Nights In August? The theme of this book was to show young men and women of all ages what managers like Tony La Russa and other managers have to go through. All of the Major League Managers have to make decisions like Tony.What is the style and effectiveness of the book 3 Nights In August? The theme was a narration because the author is telling of a story through a series of events that describes what happened, and is in chronological order. This is also a description because it explains particular time, place, and/or event. This book was basically talking about watching the game (baseball) through the eyes of a legendary manager named Tony La Russa. I thought this was an excellent book decently if you like baseball. I liked how they explained things, pretending I was in Tony La Russa’s shoes. I also liked when the author flashed back lots of memories or things that happened in the past. In the second section of the book I think it was devoted to game two of the Cardinals and Cubs series. In the second section of the book, author Bissinger focused more on the game than he did on Tony La Russa I don’t think I would change anything about this book because I thought he explained things excellent. If you would like to know what managers have to go through while being a manager of a major league baseball team. This book is similar to the book Three Nights in August Field of Doubts by Bissinger.

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