Book Review: Frantic Frank Lane:  Baseball’s Ultimate Wheeler-Dealer
Author: Bob Vanderberg with a forward by Billy Pierce
Pages: 189

Many of the best books written about baseball aren’t about players but about the guys who have the jobs that get the players onto the field, be they managers, general managers and even agents.   Some of baseball’s most colorful characters have had these roles and Frantic Frank Lane certainly fits that mold.

Lane was one of baseball’s characters.  He was a man who lived to trade, executing more than 500 deals over his four-decade long career as general manager of the Cardinals, Indians, White Sox, Kansas City A’s and Milwaukee Brewers.  He traded at the major league level, the minor league level and even once traded Joe Gordon his manager for Tigers manager Jimmy Dykes.
Critics claim that Lane traded for the sake of trading -- and sometimes he probably did just to keep the headlines focused on his team and his management -- but mostly he traded to create winning teams.  Of all the teams he worked with he left most of them far better than those he started with.

That didn’t mean he didn’t have some big duds and even a few trades that the fans reviled him for (they almost ran him out of Cleveland when he traded away Rocky Colavito), but as he said if he was successful in improving his team 65% of the time he’d consider himself a success.

And in general he was.  He often didn’t make friends via trading as he had no qualms about trading away just about anyone, including fan favorites, personal favorites.  Many think he would have traded away his family if it would have helped the teams he was managing.  Yet he had quite a few fans, even among players who he traded, some even two or three times.

But the huge number of trades he made and the turnover on teams often didn’t keep him as a management favorite either.  Because of that he regularly left teams that were ready to contend, but he never was there to really enjoy the success.  

And the challenges weren’t just baseball; he was the GM for Chicago’s first NBA team too.  But that wasn’t what he loved.  His passion was baseball and that's where he spent most of his career, working into his 80s and spending his final years working as a scout for the Orioles, Rangers and Angels.   It was a testament to his ability to judge talent and put together teams that he pretty much was never unemployed in the baseball world except at times he wanted to be.

This book is the story of a quintessential baseball man, one who lived for the game and for the deal in a time when baseball itself was far more colorful.  He was one of the characters in the game ranking up there with Casey Stengal, Yogi Berra and Bill Veeck.  And this really is his story.

Because of the shear volume of trades he made and the names of all the guys who never really made it big, the book gets a little wearing if you are trying to keep track and that hurts the readability factor.  But it certainly gives you some idea about what Frank Lane really did, what his philosophy was and almost manages to explain how he put together the framework of some championship teams.

This definitely isn’t a book for everyone.  It’s aimed at a crowd that appreciates a bit more of baseball’s history and the character of a man who was almost as loved as he was hated, just by different people.   Still it’s a solid read but one that will appeal far more to older fans and academics than the modern fan, especially those born in the 70’s or later. 

Unfortunately I did feel this book missed the mark in conveying just how much of a character Frank Lane was.  For that reason I’ll give it just 1.5 Balls.  It’s still a worthwhile read, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:

Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.