Fun little book, published in the former of the old Chip Hilton sports novels I read as a kid. King tells the story from the perspective of a retired...moreFun little book, published in the former of the old Chip Hilton sports novels I read as a kid. King tells the story from the perspective of a retired third base coach remembering a month of games excised from the major league record. The story's not one of King's best, but the voice carries it and for anyone who remembers the major league players of 1958, it's fun to imagine Walt Dropo, Gus Triandos and Ike Dermott coming back to life.(less)
For Sabremetric aficionados only. The collaborators are statisticians in the Bill James mold and they do their work well. Usually, that makes for dead...moreFor Sabremetric aficionados only. The collaborators are statisticians in the Bill James mold and they do their work well. Usually, that makes for deadening reading--I'll admit to glazing over the tables increasingly in the second half of the book. Most of the take-home messages are predictable for those who follow the field. 1) Most of the sportscaster wisdom about the relationship between hot streaks and past match-ups and future performance is simply illusion. The only real indicator of future performance is the player's ability level. 2) "Conventional sabremetric wisdom" about the counter productivity of sac bunts and steals is right on a general level, but needs to be put in very specific contexts, some of which justify the strategies.
The one chapter I really learned something new from was the one on how to put together a batting order. You do want the high OBP guy leading off, but forget the standard approach to the number two slot--that's where you want one of your two best remaining hitters (the other one goes in the clean-up slot). It was a slight surprise to see that you probably want a stronger hitter at 5 than at 3. Once you pass 5, just place the hitters in descending order of quality, no matter the rest of their profile.
Got a laugh out of the way they handled Earl Weaver's bizarre decision to put Mark Belanger--who you'd basically bat 12th if you could--in the number two slot. Terrible strategy (although Belanger did hit better at 2 than at 8 or 9, he was till awful). But, as they say, Weaver's response is that he can't hear the criticism because he's holding the World Series rings over his ears.(less)
Coming back to Boswell, who I read when he began publishing his collections, was a quiet pleasure. Published in 1985, Why Time Begins on Opening Day w...moreComing back to Boswell, who I read when he began publishing his collections, was a quiet pleasure. Published in 1985, Why Time Begins on Opening Day was written amidst the fairly ugly era of the early 1980s--the 1981 split season remains one of the lowest low points of major league history. Through it all, Boswell maintained a firm sense that baseball would survive itself, a lesson that's been repeated with the steroid era. The keys are his appreciation for the ways in which the continuity of the game is always being reshaped by new thinkers who appreciate the continuity--Whitey Herzog's the exemplar here--and his ability craft portraits of the players and managers that capture their complexity--Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, the Ripkens.
Loved the essay on "The Greatest of All Time," which suggests that Mike Schmidt and Robin Yount (then just a shortstop) might wind up as the greatest ever to play their positions and thinking through the criteria. (I'd say Schmidt made it, Yount didn't quite.) Other favorite essays include his reflections on managerial "types"--he sees four (the Fearless Leader, the Little Napoleon, the Tall Tactician, and the Eccentric Uncle)--on catchers, pinch hitters, and defense.
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-s...moreAs 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.(less)