Sunday, June 18, 2017

Former Pitcher John D'Acquisto's Book "Fastball John" Chronicles His Intriguing Career and is an Excellent Read

Back in the summer of 2012 I came across an article forwarded to Baseball Think Factory written by former pitcher John D'Acquisto for the website Instream Sports.  The article focused on D'Acquisto's trade to the Montreal Expos during the 1980 NL East Division race.  Over the next couple of years, D'Acquisto wrote several more articles for Instream Sports, each one recounting experiences from the retired hurler's career.  The articles were lengthy, as D'Acquisto's stories were rich and detailed, but always well worth the read and in my opinion, the finest collection of stories by a former baseball player.  Then one day, to my dismay I noticed most of D'Acquisto's articles had been removed from Instream's website.  Fortunately, the owner of Instream Sports, Dave Jordan, was a regular poster on Baseball Think Factory and he informed me the missing articles would appear in a new book that he and D'Acquisto were working on.  On September 7, 2016, Instream Books released D'Acquisto's book, "Fastball John."

D'Acquisto was selected by the San Francisco Giants with the seventeenth overall pick in the first round of the 1970 amateur draft.  D'Acquisto's major league career spanned ten seasons, from 1973-1982.  Aside from the Giants and Expos, the right-handed D'Acquisto also pitched for his hometown San Diego Padres as well as the St. Louis Cardinals, California Angels, and Oakland Athletics.  He was known by two nicknames during his career--"Johnny D" and "Fastball John"--the latter of which D'Acquisto earned for his ability to throw over 100 miles per hour.

Prior to reading D'Acquisto's stories on Instream Sports, my knowledge of him was very limited as I was becoming a baseball fan just as the righty's career was wrapping up.  When I started collecting baseball cards as a young child, D'Acquisto's 1983 Fleer was in one of the first packs I opened.  D'Acquisto's Fleer, which featured the flame-throwing righty clad in an Oakland A's hat and jersey, was one of my favorite cards during my initial years collecting.  I loved the unique green and yellow A's colors which were wonderfully displayed on the card and was amused by his stiff, upright pose and squint-eyed grin.  Coincidentally, D'Acquisto mentions the moment the picture for his 1983 Fleer was taken in the chapter about his time in Oakland.  While I was collecting cards throughout the '80's, miscellaneous packs would often include cards from the late '70's.  Surprisingly, I never came across another one of D'Acquisto's cards aside from his '83 Fleer.  And because I did not delve into '70's baseball history much until I reached adulthood, my other main memory of D'Acquisto was that he had post-career legal issues in the '90's.  To his credit, "Johnny D" does not shy away from discussing this subject--in fact, the start of the book as well as the final chapters go into detail about that difficult segment of his life and how he was able to clear his name and rebuild his reputation.

"Fastball John" takes the reader through the twists and turns, as well as the ups and downs of the fireballing righty's career in which he was both a top prospect and a fringe player fighting for a roster spot; toed the rubber as part of starting rotation and pitched out of the bullpen; battled back from Tommy John surgery; and experienced the differing emotions of being traded, sent down to the minor leagues, signed as a free agent, and even released.  At the onset of his professional career, D'Acquisto joins a Giants organization in the waning days of an excellent run which included Hall of Fame and All-Star players such as Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, and Bobby Bonds.  The young hurler watches as one by one, these players are traded away from the financially strapped franchise.  The book provides particularly interesting insights into the departures of Marichal and Bonds.  As a rookie call up, D'Acquisto comes face to face with the realization that he is replacing the struggling Marichal in the rotation and describes the mentoring he receives from the classy veteran.  D'Acquisto gives a look into the personal side of Bonds and his strong father-son relationship with his child, Barry, while also exploring the difficulty Bobby faced being saddled with the unenviable task of inheriting the team leadership role from the legendary Mays.  Further detailed is Bobby's trade to the New York Yankees for Bobby Murcer--who like Bonds had been weighed down by following in the footsteps of his own team’s icon, Mickey Mantle.

After his trade from the Giants, D'Acquisto became somewhat of a baseball vagabond, moving from franchise to franchise.  As a well-traveled pitcher, he came in contact with many of the prominent players of the time.  D'Acquisto does a great job highlighting the personalities of these players:  Joe Torre makes a few appearances in the book and is just as professional as you would imagine.  Keith Hernandez exudes a cool intelligence.  Gary Carter's generosity is on display as is Pete Rose's love of the game.  "Johnny D" finds good company with Rollie Fingers and Randy Jones in San Diego and even manages to bring out the character of "Silent" George Hendrick.  Perhaps the most interesting part of "Fastball John" is D'Acquisto's pitching duel and toe-to-toe confrontation off the field with his idol Bob Gibson, which is worth the price of the book alone.  D'Acquisto doesn't just focus on interactions with Hall of Famers and All-Stars of his era, but also spends time on lesser known players such as Skip James, Steve Ontiveros, Clay Kirby, Eric Rasmussen, and John Montefusco.

D'Acquisto played for several different managers during his career including Billy Martin, Dick Williams, and Gene Mauch.  "Fastball John" gives readers an in-depth look at the pitcher's relationship with each of his managers, which range from the fatherly (Martin and Charlie Fox) to the productive (Roger Craig), to the complicated (Williams), to the difficult (Vern Rapp), as well as the non-existent (Gene Mauch).  D'Acquisto also expands on his experiences with the ownerships and front offices of each franchise he played for.  The positive tones with which "Johnny D" recounts his baseball journey makes "Fastball John" an easy read but he does not shy away from showing the darker side of the game and gives the reader a look into the pettiness and vindictiveness of some of the owners and front offices in the years surrounding the toppling of the reserve clause and the 1981 Player's Strike, as ownership tried desperately to maintain its control over the players.  D'Acquisto details the repercussions he and other players suffered as a result of getting involved in labor affairs as union representatives.  These troubling stories are balanced by his interactions with union leader Marvin Miller.  D'Acquisto's recollections of conversations with Miller--particularly the first time he met the union leader--are some of the finest pages of the book.

Another main theme of "Fastball John" is D'Acquisto's use of song lyrics in his writing.  D'Acquisto's love of music is visible throughout the book as most of the chapters are named after songs from the era.  D'Acquisto cleverly intertwines the lyrics of these songs into his story telling to take you through the soundtrack of his life.  For myself, many of the songs D'Acquisto references have taken on more meaning, as when I hear "Miracles" by Jefferson Starship and "Mahogany" by Diana Ross I visualize "Johnny D" with his career at a crossroad, working hard to come back from arm surgery.

"Fastball John" gives readers a front row seat to many notable moments in baseball history including the break-up of a great veteran team in San Francisco, a clubhouse full of discontent over facial hair and other draconian policies in St Louis, the Padres first winning season in San Diego, a nail-biting division race in Montreal, the 1981 Player's Strike, the last days of "Billy Ball" in Oakland, and even the short lived Senior Professional Baseball Association.  D'Acquisto takes readers through his journey and gives them an up close and personal look at his triumphs, his failures, and ultimately his renaissance.  "Johnny D's" ability to tell a story makes "Fastball John" not just an excellent read but the finest book I have read by a baseball player.

----by John Tuberty

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Link to “Fastball John” on Amazon & Google Books

Photo credit:  1983 Fleer John D’Acquisto, 1976 Topps John D’Acquisto, 1979 Topps John D’Acquisto

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