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Reporter's book provides fascinating inside look

Ichiro Suzuki is a great hitter, but he is also the man behind an iron façade. Few know much about him other than the fact he has been a hit machine in his 12 years in the Major Leagues.

Former beat reporter and long-time baseball writer Jim Street offers readers insights into the personality of Suzuki -- and other players, coaches, managers and executives -- in his entertaining and recently published memoir, "Life From the Press Box."

This baseball book is completely different from most of the sports memoirs to be found on shelves, mainly for one simple reason. It was written by a person who spent four decades covering Major League Baseball and professional football on the West Coast.

If an East Coast writer had written the same book about covering the Red Sox and the NFL's New York Giants, the Madison Avenue executives would be lining up trying to win publishing rights. Instead, much of what is documented in this book took place 3,000 miles away, on the opposite end of the continent.

Street's remarkable career can be divided into two parts. The first half was spent covering the A's, Giants, 49ers and Raiders for the San Jose Mercury News, and included one fine day when the warm and cuddly John Madden threatened to blackball Street for learning information that the Raiders did not want to see in print. That came after mercurial Raiders owner Al Davis asked Street who he "had to kill" to get his job in the first place, and another day when Catfish Hunter got everybody kicked out of a Chicago watering hole because ...

The second half of Street's career was spent in the Pacific Northwest covering the Mariners -- a team that was unspeakably bad in the beginning, then became one of the best in baseball over a 10-year period because of its many great players and interesting personalities, among them Suzuki, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Bret Boone, Alex Rodriguez and Lou Piniella.

Oh, yes: Ken Griffey Jr., too. Street was on the Mariners beat for from 2001-10, and during that final year he covered Junior's retirement and the start of a Hall of Fame countdown. The pair's long-standing relationship is one of the centerpieces of this book.

That is one of many reasons why Mariners fans should be highly interested to read a book written about the glory years of the franchise. And if they are wondering what happened to those glory years, Street doesn't hold back in pointing the blame at one person in particular.

It must be pointed out that the book is not a history of the Mariners or any other team. Street does not cover every little incident in minute detail and back them with complicated statistical data.

His is an entertaining anecdotal memoir that reads like Hunter S. Thompson slashing his way through a Super Bowl or political convention more than the revisionist glow of the "Boys of Summer." The greatest book ever written about Seattle baseball was "Ball Four" and Jim Bouton's year with the 1969 expansion Pilots. While Street's memoir isn't quite on that lofty plane -- what book is? -- it is definitely written in the same irreverent, honest and straightforward style.

Plus, those who believe all writers do is watch games, eat hot dogs and bask in the glow of the great athletes they cover will realize it is not quite such a luxurious life up in the press box.

Street also writes about the many shortcomings of the newspaper business, including the time when his boss at a Seattle newspaper forced him to play tabloid reporter and ask someone a worst possible question.

Street, a U.S. Army veteran who spent 11 months in Vietnam, delves into perceived pettiness and competitiveness among the Mariners beat writers, including one of his closest rivals. But in that regard, he disappoints in belaboring a few mean-spirited observations.

Beat writers forever clash because of the close proximity of the working environment and the competitive nature of the business. Seattle is no different.

Nor is Seattle different than any other city in having many compelling athletes, great moments, high drama and inexplicable acts of absurdity parade through its sports scene.

Street had a front-row seat to it at the Kingdome and Safeco Field, and through his new book it is refreshing to read about what happened on another side of the continent.