Monthly Archives: February 2007

How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball – edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce

This is the third book I’ve read in the past year about Bill James – the guy credited with developing the current storm around baseball statistics – you might be familiar with the term “sabermetrics,” well that’s what Bill James is deemed the father of.

And frankly – I’m not crazy about this one. In short – it’s a tribute to James – 12 pieces about how he’s affected the lives of some fairly prominent writers and analysts of the game. You’re not going to learn a lot – if anything – about baseball from this book. Sadly, it’s a glorified tribute book. It’s not very analytical – it’s a feel good book.

And while James was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world –this book doesn’t give you enough meat to chew on to see if you agree with them.

In some ways – I’m puzzled as to why this book was published — I kept feeling like I was reading a “Congratulations on your 30th Anniversary with the Company” greeting card. While not everyone who contributes agrees with James — the basic premise is that the guy is pretty much a saint – I use the term loosely, of course.

Don’t get me wrong – James has affected the game tremendously. He fought to have detailed accounts of ballgames made available to the public – and he has challenged the commonly accepted ideas of how baseball works. While I don’t agree with everything he says – I do agree that he has had a major impact.

But do I want to read about it? Not really. There’s better options to go to if you want to learn about James – start with The Mind of Bill James or the anti-Bill James work, Covering the Bases. Or better yet – just read James’ own work.

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The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything, edited by Mark Reiter & Richard Sandomir

When a book makes you both stand up and say “What the hell was he thinking?” on one page while inducing a fist pumping “Yes!” on the next – you know it’s got something going for it.

Welcome to Bracketology — the new way of clean-cutting through decision making and opining.

You’re probably already familiar with the term as it pops up during NCAA basketball, as well as the bracket format that gets published in your newspaper and on sports websites. But instead of colleges and basketball – make the competitors what ever you want.

What is the best Elvis Costello song? Who is the best Dog for the Ages? Or my personal favorite – what is the biggest baseball myth?

In what feels like part pub quiz and part poker night guy banter – Reiter and Sandomir have compiled brackets from over 100 experts to decide what is the best of a whole bunch of topics you’d never to expect to see pitted in head to head matchups.

Some of the topics will be more relevant to you than others — that’s a given. But that’s also not the point — this is about putting two options against each other, knowing you can only pick one, to determine which is truly your favorite. Is it “Come on down!” or “Final answer” as best game show catchphrase? Or could it be what you’ll name your child if it’s a boy – as one contributor shared.

Better yet — the book invites you to come up with your own brackets, and each expert shares notes on why they made the decisions they did.

Is it literary genius? No. Is it a book that makes you think about things in a different way? Yes! Is it fun, easy to read, and enjoyable? Yes!

But I really believe that the true mark of this book is that it approaches the “best of” debate using a method that really can’t be argued with; it’s either one or the other. Sure you can disagree with the results – but that’s the fun of it. You’re bracket doesn’t have to match your buddy’s.

As my girlfriend said when I put the bracket for best cooking tools to her – “pots and pans or a knife kit? How can you make me choose? You’re killing me!” That’s the fun of it — which one is ultimately the champion…

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The Only Game In Town by Fay Vincent

This collection of personal narratives from players in the 1930s and 1940s chronicles a turbulent time in baseball and American society – post-depression, World War II and the integration of major league baseball highlight this period, and the stories players tell are reflections of their experiences.

These personal narratives are transcribed recordings of interviews that Fay Vincent – the commissioner of baseball from 1989 – 1992 – compiled as part of the Baseball Oral History Project. Ten players are featured: Elden Auker, Bob Feller, Tommy Henrich, Buck O’Neill, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Warren Spahn, Larry Doby, Ralph Kiner and Monte Irvin.

The Only Game In Town is reminiscent of Ken Burns’ Baseball series, except in book form. At times I wished an editor would have gone through and cleaned it up – we speak differently than we write, and often it’s a challenge keeping up with the player’s narrative because of that difference.

However – this is a very good work. If you remember baseball during the 30s and 40s, this will surely open up a flood of memories. If you weren’t around during that time – it’s a first hand insight into the game and America during those two decades. It provides an intimate look into the emotions that the players coming from the Negro Leagues felt as they stepped onto the major league field for the first time. It also provides insight into how some of the Caucasian players felt when those Negro Leaguers stepped onto that field for the first time.

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