Monthly Archives: April 2008

Anatomy of Baseball – edited by Lee Gutkind and Andrew Blauner

Anatomy of Baseball

A while back I wrote about It Takes More Than Balls by Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney, otherwise known as The Savvy Girls. While I wasn’t totally a fan of the book – the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m a fan of what they’re trying to do, which is get people to love and appreciate what a great game baseball is.

With no disrespect to the above mentioned work, I think I’ve found a book that accomplishes that mission.

Anatomy of Baseball is a collection of 20 essays, 17 previously unpublished and three classics from Roger Angell, Frank Deford and George Plimpton, all about why the writer loves baseball. From the popularity of the baseball cap beyond those who wear it on the field, to playing baseball and its derivatives in Slovenia or Finland, this is the book that I think would get the casual fan who likes to baseball to understand why so many people love it.

It’s tough to pick a favorite — so I won’t. But it’s sure easy to find the ones I can identify with — the love of the first glove you ever had…catching pop-ups until the sun went down…or that immaculate feeling that comes when you pick up a baseball. It’s all there — and it will encourage you to find what you love about the game.

This is a book that definitely has a place on your bookshelf, but I think even more importantly, it has a place in conversation between you and your friends. Not that I think you’ll spend a lot of time discussing the book, but I think that it will serve as a jump off point for some really good discussions.

What did you think about Anatomy of Baseball? What’s you favorite baseball memory? Post your comments!

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Vindicated by Jose Canseco

Vindicated

It should be no surprise that this was one of the books that I eagerly dove into — from the minute I found out that it would be published, to the original publisher dropping it and the book moving to a new publisher, to the early leaks from the book — all of it made me really want to get my hands on it.

And maybe that was mistake number one — I’ve learned not to get my hopes up more than once…but like Speed 2 or Caddyshack 2, we all make mistakes.

Think back to how you felt when you read Juiced – assuming you read it, of course. I’ve heard people say they’d never read it because it was full of lies, they didn’t want to believe Canseco, or they just didn’t like the guy. But when I read it – it was a mix of page turning suspense with a dose of disbelief and disgust.

I didn’t get the same emotions when I read Juiced however. The first chunk — seemingly almost half the book — is Canseco saying “I told you so!” in one form or another. I can see why he’d do that – especially after the Mitchell Report came out between his two books. Canseco throws out polygraph tests that he took as proof of his testimony – yet there is never anything official referenced by the people who administered the tests. Would it be too much to get a scan of a certified letter of performance? While I think Canseco should treat his books like sworn testimony, he certainly does not.

As Rob Neyer of ESPN.com points out in his Big Book of Baseball Legends, Canseco wasn’t accurate about  the information he put in the book about his playing time with the Yankees…when you can’t be accurate about the little things, you have to wonder about the big things.

Unless you really don’t. I think Canseco would be more accurate when he says he injected other players with steroids. Look at it this way — I remember most of the girls I ever went out with…but I don’t remember what we did, what they were wearing, what I was wearing, or their phone number. Some things you remember, some you don’t.

And that’s really the crux of the argument — do you believe Canseco? Personally, I do – but I think there’s a lot of muck in the water to sift through before we’ll really know what lies on the ocean floor. There’s a lot of my word versus his word going on…and I think that the majority of evidence needed to convict one side or the other probably doesn’t exist. You’d like to think that the guys who did use steroids wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave a paper trail – but as we saw in the Mitchell Report, that’s not the case.

Canseco does manage some interesting points in the latter half of the book…he creates a pretty interesting conspiracy theory about what Major League Baseball did to cover their own backsides, which is likely a whole different mess that will need to be untangled, and could really be the most damaging of them all. It’s one thing when members of an organization break the rules – it’s another when the organization condones and even encourages it, as Canseco suggests MLB did.

He also decides to share his theories about Roger Clemens — which are pretty far-fetched if you stop and think about them, but then again, aren’t a lot of things that happen in the world? Most of the news media wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for far-fetched things happening in the world.

Vindicated doesn’t get a whole-hearted recommendation from me…there’s just not enough in there to really make it a must-read, and the amount of stuff you have to sift through to get to the really engaging parts is pretty sizable. If you’re like me, you’ll probably come to a point where you’ll want to put the book down, simply because the self-congratulating Canseco wears you down with reminding you he was right.

However…since Juiced could end up becoming a book similar in stature to Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, it would be worth skimming through this if you want to keep up with the discussion on the Steroid Era of baseball.

What do you think about Jose Canseco’s Vindicated? Post your comments!

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It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls’ Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball – by Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney

It Takes More Than Balls

If you’re not familiar with the Savvy Girls (formerly Of Summer, now just presumably savvy in general) – I have a feeling you will be.

What started as two women who met through soccer and found a common enjoyment of baseball is on the verge of becoming a brand name in the marketing of baseball towards women, and even more so towards the common fan who isn’t into stats, history, and the inner workings of a ballgame.

The Savvy Girls (or SG’s, as I’ll refer to them) have been on my radar in Seattle for a while now – hosting an event at Safeco Field last year and getting their names known through the local baseball world with word of their upcoming book. In that time, they’ve also managed to get on the radar of several other MLB clubs – so they may soon be making an appearance in your city. If you’ve been to Spring Training in the past year or two, you might have run into them collecting your thoughts.

So now that said book is out – let’s take a look at it.

Let’s get something out of the way early — I am definitely not the target demo for this book. As referenced several times throughout their work – the SG’s wrote this for people who can’t or don’t pay attention to every pitch and really don’t have a feel for the strategy and nuances of a baseball game, a group that happens to skew female. However – plenty of guys didn’t play baseball at a competitive level and therefore didn’t learn the ins and outs of the game, so it’s not totally skewed towards the fairer sex.

If anything – the book is written at a level that is by no means insulting to the average person’s intelligence. I went into it thinking of it as a Baseball for Dummies type work – but it’s really not. You won’t feel like you need a set of crayons to enjoy the book. The writing is fun without being overly cutesy. I managed to never hear a Valley Girl laugh while reading this.

The SGs are thorough — covering much more than I would have expected, given what I presumed the book to be. Almost anyone should be able to pick up something from this book  – regardless of how much you know – or think you know – about baseball.

The more I read though, the more I wondered if the Savvy GIrls had started to move over to the more serious fan side of the population. They certainly put a lot more in the book than the casual fan would know – or seemingly even care to know about. It almost seems as if they’re professional casual fans…if that makes sense.

I really couldn’t help but think “why would the average fan care about the history of the American League?” Or how Paul RIchards chose to deal with Ted Williams in the 1951 World Series. Great stories and part of the history of baseball – but something that seems trivial to those dealing with juice boxes, coloring books and runny noses.

As i let my mind race about this book — I wondered if it is ultimately contributing to an inevitable backlash by the hardcore fan who doesn’t want Stitch & Pitch night or family-friendly sections at the ballpark. I keep thinking of the articles I’ve read recently about the fast food industry and how they’ve shifted from trying to please everyone to focusing on super-serving their most frequent customers. This could veer off into a topic that needs to be discussed on another blog – probably BaseballOnMyBrain.com before you know it.

If anything – the book seems to try and mesh validation for those fans who are at a game for any reason other than to focus on the game, while creating a feel-good tie in with a baseball memory from a first-name-only female at the end of each chapter and trying to inform the reader of some of the finer parts of the game throughout it all.

There’s a lot going on – which is fine, although like a weekend full of errands, you feel like you went a whole bunch of places without having a true sense of direction.

I can’t say I had a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of the book, nor did I feel like I’d just read something I’d like to pass on to the more casual fans in my life. In the end, I’m not really sure what I was left with.

It Takes More Than Balls is a solid first effort for a pair that I’m sure has a good amount to contribute to the baseball landscape. Most Major League teams have embraced the idea of marketing more to women and families, and there is still a lot of unchartered territory to navigate, which I think the baseball world will find the SG’s to be a valuable asset for. If you poke around their blog, I think you’ll get a much better idea what these two have to offer. The post titled “Pink It and Shrink It” was particularly insightful and enjoyable – and worth a read.

But getting back to the book – would I recommend it? I’d like to, but I’m not sure to who and why. Maybe it’s because I’m not the person who would read this on my own. If you are that person – post a comment and share what you enjoyed from the book.

Keep your eyes and ears open for the Savvy Girls though — they seem to have a good amount to offer, and I think their best contributions are yet to come.

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The Bill James Goldmine 2008 – by Bill James

The Bill James Goldmine 2008

Still basking in the new-season smell of Opening Day 2008, I thought it best to start with a book that certainly has the power to affect how you look at baseball past, present and future: The Bill James Goldmine 2008.
If you’re not familiar with Bill James, well, shame on you. OK, enough with the chastising.

James – currently the Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Boston Red Sox, and who some consider to be the architect of the Red Sox’ two World Series victories – has been in the baseball numbers game since the late 1970s. (Not that numbers game…the stat numbers game.)

He first began by doubting the numbers that the baseball establishment had considered to be indicators of talent — win-loss records, ERA, batting average and so forth. While he passed time as the night watchman for a food manufacturing plant in Kansas, he crunched numbers and looked for trends that other people weren’t seeing.

Fast forward to 2008, and James has kept at the number crunching, revisiting topics and exploring new ones – which thus has produced The Bill James Goldmine 2008, a 317-page volume that will definitely give you something to think about.

For instance – which team had the best batting average in games that they lost? Or which team had the worst batting average when they won? James will tell you – and he’ll also share what he thinks it means – which is of course subject to change with more research and analysis.

There are lots of topics that James discusses – which are interspersed among team-by-team analysis, which bring James’ work home to your favorite club. Sometimes he’ll confirm your suspicions, sometimes he’ll deny them, but most times he’ll give you new things to be suspicious about. Or at least some fodder for the next rain delay you find yourself sitting through.

Did you ever find yourself wondering if players try and reach certain numerical plateaus? For instance, hitting .300, driving in 100 runs, or striking out 200 batters? Are there certain ones that matter more than others? So has Bill James – and the answers are in the book.

Likewise — which players accumulated the most “Cigar Points” in history — an unofficial award given to the player that comes “close, but no cigar” to as many significant statistical numbers in a season.

The information in the book is not only thought provoking, but it’s insightful and for the first-time Bill James reader, will expose you to a new way at looking at the game with an eye for statistical analysis.

This is definitely not something that will appeal to the casual fan. If you don’t know what the score is without having to looking at the scoreboard when you’re at a game – most of James’ writing will be met with a “huh” or “so what?” And that’s fine — there’s nothing wrong with that. But if after reading some of the questions above and you don’t find yourself interested in the answers, this isn’t the book for you.

However, if you are interested in the answers — you’ll get a thoroughly enjoyable read out of The Bill James Goldmine. As like most of James’ work – this will appeal to the seamheads and stat freaks that want to delve into the numbers and look at trends potential relationships between the way players perform and ultimately their team’s results on the field.

If you lean towards the casual fan end of the spectrum, I’m challenging you to at least take a look through the book and see what you think and if it interests you. Some, maybe even most of the book won’t make sense right out of the gate – and that’s fine. But maybe one of the articles will peak your interest, and you’ll delve into the topic a little deeper. I think you’ll find that if you’re ultimately interested in determining why teams win ballgames and what each individual does to contribute to those wins, you’ll enjoy this book at one level or another.

For the stats fans – this is a definite addition to the bookshelf. For the casual fan who isn’t afraid of some numbers and analysis, it’s my hope that you’ll pick it up and peruse the pages.

Jump in and join the discussion!

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