The dictionary defines juju as “an object venerated superstitiously” and “the magical power attributed to such an object.” Despite the lack of scientific evidence, scores of baseball fans swear that they have successfully used juju to impact the performance of players and teams; from their favorite to their most hated. One of the foremost adherents of this practice is journalist and New York Yankee diehard fan Hart Seely, who has written The Juju Rules: Or How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company), one of the most pleasantly surprising baseball books I have read in some time.
Despite the tongue-in-cheek title, The Juju Rules is much more than a how-to guide to alter the outcomes of baseball games. It is a narrative consisting of three primary threads; the life of Seely, the exploits of his Yankees, and the rules of juju he has accumulated over the years in trying to will his team to victory. The premise didn’t immediately thrill me, particularly due to my allegiance as a Red Sox fan, but the deeper I got into the story the more enjoyable it became.
As he freely admits, nothing about Seely especially stands out. He is a newspaper writer from Syracuse, a family man, and a passionate fan of the Yankees. He has lived and died by the Yankees since he was a child and is able to identify the many happy and visceral ways the team has impacted his life. Most memorable include his telling of how his rooting for the team helped define his relationship with his father, how he came to be with his wife Janice, and how he found and interacted with his many Yankee loving friends; particularly the one who had a daughter in one of the twin towers on 9/11.
The years of angst that Seely has experienced as a Yankee fan are also explored with some detail. Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees do not win the World Series every season, and during Seely’s lifetime have had some lengthy streaks of mediocrity and frustration. From a carefully bounced tennis ball to a perfectly timed yell, he recounts the actions he has taken through the years in an effort to do his part. Each chapter ends with another rule of juju that Seely has uncovered during his tenure as a beleaguered fan. They include making noise, not blaming or thanking God, and avoiding premature celebrations at all costs.
The rules of juju as set forth are ultimately not a manual, but are rather used as a measuring stick for the important things in Seely’s life. He makes no bones about family, friends, and the Yankees being what he holds most dear, and by the end it is clear that he is entirely aware that no attempt to influence fate and destiny is greater than surrounding yourself with the things and people that define who you are and make you most happy. Through his life Seely has always moved forward with what he has and made the best out of it; something he realizes in his middle age has been a wonderful strategy for life in which he has few regrets. It is a happy realization, as he concludes, “We don’t get to roll the dice again, do we?”
*Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.*