Spitballs, corked bats, sign stealing and, yes, even steroids – they’re all part of baseball, and they’re all part of Derek Zumsteg’s new book – The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball.
Checking in at just over 250 pages, it’s amazing how people have tried to get the upper hand throughout the history of baseball. From hard slides with your spikes up to shaving grooves in a bat – it seems like almost every trick in the book has been turned.
But The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball is more than just a chronicle of how people have tried to beat the rules of baseball – it’s an interesting study of how the game used to be played and how the rules have changed because of what people tried to get away with. Imagine if when a pitcher threw to first to get a runner back on the base, the first baseman could push him off the bag and tag him out…it used to be legal!
It’s a bit longer than I think it should have been – it seems a lot of time got spent on the Black Sox scandal, which even though it’s one of the most famous examples of cheating in baseball history, it seemed like it got more pages than other aspects of the book. Nevertheless, The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball by Derek Zumsteg is an interesting look at how baseball has changed because those that have tried to cheat their way to the top. It makes up for its length with some humor that keeps the book from getting too serious.
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If you read Mychael Lewis’ Moneyball, you probably felt pretty smart afterwards. At the time, it was charting some new waters of baseball writing – a first hand look inside the mind of a major league general manager and what he looks for when scouting talent. Factor in that it had to be done on a relatively small budget, and in one of baseball’s smaller markets, and it established a benchmark when it came out.
However, it’s been three and a half years since Moneyball was published – and a new player has stepped to the plate with a detailed look into how teams acquire, budget and spend their money.
Diamond Dollar$ by Vince Gennaro is a college level textbook when compared to the eighth-grade level of Moneyball – it brings in factors that most fans seem to know about but probably couldn’t begin to quantify.
The book revolves around how to build a Major League roster – breaking it up into four overriding areas, which he then subdivides into 11 total chapters. Gennaro starts by looking at the power of winning – just how much more money does a team make for each win? More importantly, he shows how and why that revenue curve is different for every team in baseball – and it’s probably not why you think it is.
He then moves onto player dollar value – how do you determine a value for a player? Again – it’s much more complicated than how many homeruns or strikeouts a player racked up the year before. Genarro illustrates his point beautifully with an illustration of some top-level shortstops and where they fall on his four-pronged Player Value grid.
The book then moves into player development systems and building team brands – both of which factor into how your favorite ballclub both makes and spends its money.
You need to be either a pretty serious baseball fan to really get your teeth into this one, and some background in economics would probably come in handy – while not a requirement, Genarro goes into some more advanced mathematics to show how his models work.
If you’re up for a challenging read that will leave you much more informed about how ballclubs are built, Diamond Dollar$ is the book for you. It’s made it’s way to the top of my bookshelf so far this season – and I think it’ll probably do the same on yours.
Taking someone to their first baseball game can be a pretty fun experience. You get to reignite your passion for the game by showing someone all the intricacies of baseball – the hit and run, stealing a base, and the magic that is baseball. But inevitably the time comes when the newbie asks you: “so, what do all those numbers on the scoreboard mean?”
Now you have two options – tell them about all those stats on the screen, or whip out a copy of The New Ballgame by Glenn Guzzo, a sportswriter and seamhead who has broken down baseball statistics so that the first time fan can understand them.
As he states in Chapter One, “statistics are the language of baseball. That language is becoming harder to understand every year.” With the rise in sabermetrics, the language has added several new levels beyond what just shows up on the scoreboard – and Guzzo does a really nice job breaking it all down. He teaches you how to read a box score, how to understand what the radio announcer is talking about, and even how to keep score at a ballgame.
The New Ballgame kinds of reminds you of the “For Dummies” books that dominated bookstores a while back – but it feels like it was written at just a bit of a higher level. Guzzo uses lots of current, real world examples to show why statistics matter in baseball and why they cause such a fuss. He explains why the team that wins the World Series isn’t always the team that had the best regular season record, and why even with all the vast information that teams have in front of them, there is still plenty of human influence in how a game is played.
So whether you’re found a new love for the game, or you’ve found a new love who’s new to the game, The New Ballgame is an easy read that is a great introduction to the language of baseball statistics. It’s also a great refresher for the more seasoned fan, as it helps bring you up to speed with the current evolution of this complicated language. While it may not make you fully versed in every statistic, it’ll certainly make you more than able to hold your own at the next game.