As a life-long Pittsburgh Pirates fan, I enjoyed Hall's book for its picture of one of the most entertaining teams in major league history: the free-sAs a life-long Pittsburgh Pirates fan, I enjoyed Hall's book for its picture of one of the most entertaining teams in major league history: the free-spirited Bucs of the 1970s, a.k.a. "The Family." The team won two World Series championships--1971 and 1979--and in many ways embodied the breakthrough of black players into full citizenship in what Hall calls "the country of baseball." That breakthrough wasn't without its problems, and those are exemplified by the career of Dock Ellis, the Pirate pitcher who once hit three Cincinnati Reds (deliberately) to start a game--he was pulled after failing to hit Tony Perez with the first three attempts in the next dodgeball game--and for throwing a no-hitter on LSD. Dock spoke his mind, pitched well most of the time, did terrific community work, and managed to co-exist with his managers for seven years.
Hall, best known as a poet, spent a lot of time with Dock and clearly has a deep love for baseball. But I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with a book I'd known about but hadn't run down until it showed up on kindle. Part of the problem is that Hall's rhapsodies on the country of baseball teeter on cliche--the image doesn't really hold up over the course of 300 pages. Part of its that, while Hall is certainly aware of the centrality of race to Dock's story, he doesn't do much more than acknowledge it. Ellis both was and wasn't political--at least in the context of Black Power--and there's something fascinating to be drawn out of his experience. He had it right in most ways, but wrong in some crucial ones. Unfortunately, Hall isn't quite honest about the down side. Yes, Dock was treated ridiculously by the Pittsburgh press and that was mostly about race. But he had a real talent for concocting excuses for poor performance and he was more than a little self-indulgent in relation to sex and drugs. The book was published while many of Dock's teammates were still active, so I understand why Hall transforms Dock's LSD trip into "vodka" and why he doesn't mention the small mountains of cocaine that were part of the major league culture. But it leaves the book feeling evasive.
It was also odd that Roberto Clemente, the heart and soul of the Pirates when Dock came up, receives almost no mention prior to a chapter centered around his death. In contrast, there are thick portraits of some other Pirates, including Willie Stargell.
Glad I read it, but it's not a baseball classic....more
No clue why it took me a decade to get around to reading Moneyball. My Dad told me I'd love it a month or so after it was published, as did a small paNo clue why it took me a decade to get around to reading Moneyball. My Dad told me I'd love it a month or so after it was published, as did a small parade of baseball-loving friends at regular intervals thereafter. They were right, which is no surprise given my admiration of Lewis's other economics writing. "Other"'s right since Moneyball's as much about economics--especially identifying and capitalizing on market inefficiencies--as it is about baseball. But it's also about baseball and the personalities that inhabit its kingdom. Lewis's portraits of Chad Bradford, Scott Hattieberg and, of course, now-famous Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane join the gallery that includes Thomas Boswell's Earl Weaver (and assorted others, mostly Orioles), Donald Hall's Doc Ellis and Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer.
I've been reading Bill James since the Baseball Abstract since it moved into the commercial mainstream and believe strongly that James and Beane should both be inducted into the Hall of Fame, which is about as likely as Michael Lewis being buried in the poet's corner at Westminster Abbey. As a result, the basic principles Beane used to build the A's into the most notorious overachievers in recent baseball history--a status they've recaptured the last couple of years after a semi-dry spell--were generally familiar to me. That might have been less the case if I'd read Moneyball earlier, but it didn't substantially harm the reading experience. The case studies hold my interest, as does the larger picture of an ossified major league good old boy's club, which is passing slowly into history as team after team hires its own stat guy. One thing that came clearer to me as I read was that the radically increased presence of stats in baseball broadcasting has not been accompanied by an equally impressive increase in the understanding of which stats matter and why. Every time I hear someone say X is hitting .425 against Y or in the bottom of the 7th or whatever, I want to scream that small sample size renders almost every stat of that sort utterly irrelevant. The point of Billy Beane's approach isn't to valorize any particular analytical tool, but to recognize the qualities that are being undervalued in the current market. By now, everyone who's paying even minimal attention knows that OBP matters (though I will admit to having forgotten just how much more important than Slugging percentage it is until I read Lewis's explanation). But there are always going to be places where a clear, rational eye on the game will identify opportunities. Keeping ahead of the curve is what Beane's job is all about.
The only part of the book I didn't like was the epilog, in which Lewis gets involved in a slightly unseemly mud fight with the critics of the original edition of the book. I'd skip it....more
Charming book of occasional pieces by the former president of the National League and, for a very short time Commissioner. Giamatti was an academic whCharming book of occasional pieces by the former president of the National League and, for a very short time Commissioner. Giamatti was an academic who served as President of Yale, but his primary love was for baseball and it shows. Like many baseball writers, he writes in a romantic mode, waxing poetic on baseball, the American character, and the search for "home." He's near-medieval in his appreciation of the numerology and geometry of the game--fours and threes, circles and squares--, a tendency I definitely share. He sees baseball as a set of structures--laws--which provide room for individual assertion, and he was committed to enforcing fairness, a position he carefully articulated in a decision upholding the suspension of a pitcher (Kevin Gross) who used sandpaper to doctor the ball. Nice little book. Nothing really new and at times just a tad pedantic, but a quick rewarding read....more
Your basic baseball stat-head primer for the upcoming season. Among the NL nuggets: BP expects the Cardinals to be roughly as good as they were last yYour basic baseball stat-head primer for the upcoming season. Among the NL nuggets: BP expects the Cardinals to be roughly as good as they were last year, is positive the Nationals got fleeced in the Gio Gonzalez trade, and would give the Astros about a 27.3% chance of having a .500 season in the Midwest League....more
Baseball and Moby-Dick. What could be better? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. Harbach (whose credentials include being a Brewer fan who wrote a reBaseball and Moby-Dick. What could be better? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. Harbach (whose credentials include being a Brewer fan who wrote a really nice essay on last year's playoffs) has a lot going for him, but ultimately the novel doesn't come together. Part of it's the fact that the Melville motif shrinks gradually to a status on campus and an emblem on the hat--I was hoping for some explorations of baseball that tapped into the brilliance of the cetology chapter of MD. Part of it's a love triangle (or hexagon or whatever) that feels really forced. Affenlight never felt real to me, and the baseball plot (I won't provide a spoiler) felt contrived. Could have been much much better, but left a whole lotta runners on base....more