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The Most Subtle Game

Steve Shoup

Of all the major sports played around the world, none has generated the volume of books that baseball has generated.  This is the case despite the fact that baseball is popular in only a handful of countries.  Football or soccer is by far the most popular sport but generates far fewer books, not to mention scientific studies.

One reason why baseball is so conducive to book-length analysis is that it is the most measurable of all sports.  In soccer we can measure foot speed or kicking power but in baseball there are an endless number of measurable parameters.  Additionally and ironically, baseball may be the subtlest game of all.  Each pitch requires quick decisions as to which pitch to throw, where to try to locate it, how to position defenders, and many other decision that have to make with split second quickness.

Analyzing and understanding baseball requires a great deal of experience.  You have to see so many subtle things in every facet of the game.  Compare this with the bonuses you get with online casino free spins.  The only thing you may have to decide there is whether you want more free spins with a lower multiplier or fewer free spins with a higher multiplier.

Here are five of the best books on baseball.  They may not be the all-time best books but they are an eclectic collection that will demonstrate just how rich baseball is.

The Long Season by Jim Brosnan

There are times when athletes keep a journal of a season and discover that for them personally the season was the best or most productive of their entire career.  Frank Beard Jr. wrote the book “Pro” based on the journal he kept during the 1969 pro tour during which he surprised everyone by being the highest earner that year.

The book “instant Replay” by Jerry Kramer was also based on a journal he kept during the season that ended with him making the key block that enabled the quarterback to score the winning touchdown on the last play of the game in the coldest game ever played.

Jim Brosnan was considered an out of place intellectual in baseball.  The season he wrote about preceded the National League championship season by the Cincinnati Reds team.  Many people, especially kids, who read his book, had never fully understood just how long a baseball season is.

The Long Season chronicles the many minutiae that go into minute elements of success that stretched across the season may be the difference between having a good season or a bad one, getting to the playoffs or not, and winning a championship or not.

The Catcher was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff

Moe Berg was an itinerant catcher who played for several teams over 16 seasons.  His baseball skills were minimal at best but he had intangible qualities that allowed him to stay in the Major Leagues long after he was a valuable player.

He was able to see and analyze other teams’ tendencies.  He could also analyze his team’s pitchers and help the coach correct or change things the pitchers were doing wrong.   Berg also spoke many languages and spied on the German atomic bomb project.

Berg was a private man in a world where players spent endless hours together.  He was also a rare Jewish player which made him an extreme anomaly in the highly Christian world of baseball.

In his later years, Berg travelled from friend to friend.  He claimed that a man needed only the clothes he was wearing and fastidiously washed his socks and underwear every night to wear them again the next day.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

Kahn travelled across the country to interview the men who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950’s.  This book was published almost two decades after the players’’ careers had ended.

The Boys of Summer works as a reminder of how baseball reflected the innocence of an era that seems very long ago.  The careers he wanted to explore were spent in Brooklyn.  By the end of the decade, the Brooklyn Dodgers would be no more, having moved to Los Angeles.

One telling vignette in the book was about the great right fielder Carl Furillo who had the strongest throwing arm of any outfielder during his career.  Furillo invited Kahn to play catch in his yard.  Immediately Kahn discovered that Furillo throwing “softly” was still throwing far too hard for Kahn’s comfort.

Baseball players have to be able to catch balls thrown 100 mph over very short distances.

Men at Work by George Will

This is a book that covers in great detail the minutiae of baseball.  It is a precursor of the statistical revolution in that it describes without measuring many aspects of baseball.  The main theme is that baseball is very hard work.

We think of sports as games but to excel at a game like baseball requires extraordinary devotion and dedication.  Will also describes the fragility of players’ egos and emotions.  It is remarkable that excellent players talk about the loss of confidence if they have a small slump in hitting or pitching.

The book also points to the ephemeral nature of baseball success.  The case of Steve Blass stands out; a pitcher who was one of the best in the game but could not throw strikes the following spring and never played in a major league game again.

The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics by Alan Schwarz

This was the first book that discussed the statistics revolution in baseball.  The game today is still the same in the physical side but in the analytical side it is far different than it was before the 1990’s.

 

 



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