Split Season: Fernandomania, The Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball
“[A] delightful, opinionated history… Katz brilliantly describes the bitter, fruitless, yearlong negotiations aimed at determining a team's compensation for the loss of a free agent player… A superior addition to the venerable genre of baseball season accounts.” ― Kirkus Reviews starred review
Split Season: Fernandomania, BillyBall and the Fight for the Future of Baseball is the never-before-told story of the baseball strike of 1981, the year that players took control over their careers and fought for the right to seek higher compensation. The strike came in the midst of one of baseball’s greatest seasons — the rise of left-handed rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, a symbol to the burgeoning Mexican-Hispanic population of Southern California, the ageless Pete Rose making his run at the all time National League hit record, George Steinbrenner busting baseball’s financial structure with the signing of Dave Winfield and waging war against his reigning superstar Reggie Jackson — and the run of wild and wily Billy Martin who led an upstart Oakland A’s to a playoff matchup against the Yankees, the team that fired him twice.
It was a season that almost wasn’t. Provoked by the owners, the players went on strike, cutting baseball out of the heart of the American summer. It was a fight for the future of the sport. Behind the leadership of Marvin Miller, the Executive Director, the players fought a hard, principled battle for their rights, cementing their free agency and changing baseball forever.
The season resumed after an absence of 712 games, picking up with dramatic, now legendary, highlights — Fernandomania, Rose, a Nolan Ryan no-hitter and a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, the last classic match-up of those two storied rivals. Split Season brings back the on-field and off-field drama of an unforgettable baseball year.
Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He is the author of the book The Kansas City A’s & The Wrong Half of the Yankees and was a contributor to Play It Again: Baseball Experts on What Might Have Been. Katz is also the author of two blogs, Maybe Baby, a series of 52 historical fiction pieces on the near-misses, accidental deaths and roads not taken in rock and roll history; and Mission of Complex, about raising his autistic son.
Published by Thomas Dunne Books at St. Martins in 2015.
More praise for Split Season:
“A crisply written, entertaining and informative book...This book brings that crazy season back into focus, and Katz shines a new light on 1981 that provides a unique perspective.” ―The Tampa Tribune
“In 1981, major league baseball suffered through its first-ever mid-season strike, and for a time, player union rep Marvin Miller and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn became more important to the game than any slugger or hurler. As they fought, a nation deprived of its pastime prayed for the return of greats like Reggie Jackson, Fernando Valenzuela, Pete Rose, and Nolan Ryan. Here a gifted writer, who just happens to be the mayor of the baseball mecca of Cooperstown, N.Y., tells the inside story of that split season when baseball ceased to be a kingdom ruled by royal owners and players won recognition for their central role in the grand old game. This is a ‘must read' tale for anyone who ever sat in the bleachers or flipped through the sports page.”
― Michael D'Antonio, author of Forever Blue, The True Story of Walter O'Malley and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles
“In 1981 I had just turned 21 and had saved up enough money to buy a Greyhound bus ticket across the country. My goal was to see as many new cities, catch as many cool gigs and most certainly see as much baseball as possible. I succeeded at the first two but that summer's strike kept me from seeing even a single game on my 3 week trip. Jeff Katz's fascinating and gripping book lets me know who was to blame and how it all went down with humor, attention to detail and an almost a horror film's inevitability. I knew what was going to happen, I knew how it was going to end but Katz kept me captive and turning pages until that frustrating year was over.” ― Steve Wynn, musician, The Baseball Project and The Dream Syndicate
“With charm and affection, Jeff Katz has documented one of the wildest and most important baseball seasons in recent history. Split Season is a wonderful look back at a fascinating moment in the evolution of baseball.” ― Jonathan Eig, author of The Birth of the Pill, Opening Day, Luckiest Man and Get Capone
“For most baseball fans, the summer of 1981 is a void, an absence, a black hole. Jeff Katz has finally illuminated that dark space, showing us what we going on behind the scenes of the sports world's most prolonged labor action.” ― Paul Lukas, ESPN.com and Uniwatch
“This book is highly recommended for baseball fans with an interest in the business side of the game.” ― Library Journal
“By going behind the scenes to reveal the game-changing labor negotiations of 1981, and also bringing to life the thrills on the field—he unforgettable Fernando Valenzuela, and the last Yankees-Dodgers World Series among them--Jeff Katz has delivered a worthy book about a crucial season. Three cheers.” ― Kostya Kennedy
“In Split Season Jeff Katz makes the business of baseball as fascinating as the game afield, as the contentious 1981 season and the stunning changes it brought to Major League Baseball come to life all these years later… at its heart Split Season is about American history and its prime movers, capitalism and the battle for wealth. When the last pitch of 1981 is thrown, and the wrappers and beer cups swept up and the game changed forever, you will be far wiser than you were before. And not just about baseball.” ― Rick Telander, Senior Sports Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times
“Split Season is my favorite kind of book: informative, historical, retelling the story of one of the most pivotal baseball seasons over the last half-century on and off the field, but also funny. In an age of endless statistics, it reminds us the game is played by human beings whose feats and antics are far more interesting than on-base percentage stats. Writing such a book sounds easy. Jeff Katz has made it look easy. But trust me, it isn't.”
― Howard Bryant, author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron
“In Split Season Jeff Katz has brought life to the events of 1981 when 713 Major League baseball games were cancelled because of a player's strike. The great strength of this fast-moving narrative is Katz's ability to bring the same tension and insight to both fields of play--the one at the ballpark and the other at the bargaining table.” ― Paul Dickson
“Carefully crafted, painstakingly researched, Katz gives us Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo and as the book's sub title notes - the strike that saved baseball.” ― Harvey Frommer, Sportsology
“Katz, the mayor of Cooperstown, New York, revisits this turbulent time with a crisply written, entertaining and informative book.”
― The Tampa Tribune
“One of the more intriguing baseball books of 2015.” ― Detroit Atlantic
“Baseball is probably the only sport that could turn a near disaster into literature. Jeff Katz, the mayor of Cooperstown, has picked a terrific subject with Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball.” ―Allen Barra, The Chicago Tribune