July 18, 2006

Baseball Reading List: Some potentially interesting books like A Game of Inches and Between The Numbers, which has the subtitle, "Why everything you know about baseball is wrong."

posted by SummersEve to baseball at 04:50 PM - 26 comments

Just in time for my vacation... Can't wait to get my paws on the above books. Curious if anyone read either of them. There was a longer list in Tuesday's print version of The USA Today. On a side note, I finally finished The Natural. The book is so much darker than the movie... In a good way.

posted by SummersEve at 05:01 PM on July 18, 2006

One of the best books I ever read about baseball was "You Gotta Have Wa" by Robert Whiting. The book is really about Japan, giving an insight into their culture by looking at the way they play baseball compared to the way we in North America play and look at the game. It shows how Japanese approach the "short ball," bunting, stealing, the way teams perform training drills, the way rookies are treated as water-carriers, the way fans get together hours before the game and rehearse their chants. When I read the book 15 years ago, I never expected that somebody like Ichiro Suzuki would bring all those elements to MLB and become a superstar. Looking back, that book not only gave me a perspective into Japanese culture, it also gave me some insight into the Japanese professional ball-players' discipline and attitude toward the game. (BTW, Japan are current Baseball World Cup champions!) Moneyball and the Bill James books are pretty good too.

posted by the red terror at 05:23 PM on July 18, 2006

I read The Natural many years ago and it is still one of my favourite books, but then Malamud is such a great writer. Not really a "sports" book as such, but like all good novels, offers many insights into the human condition. Also, I just finished Moneyball, recommended by a friend as one of the best books about sport ever written. I'd have to agree. While I am none the wiser about the game, I am much better informed.

posted by owlhouse at 06:17 PM on July 18, 2006

It just goes to show you that their is a stat to everything in baseball I wish my beloved cubbies could play smallball like the japanese but alas they play in wrigley field and I know they have not hit too many hr's this season that is what they rely on I wish they could play like the sox more often

posted by luther70 at 06:20 PM on July 18, 2006

On the more whimsical side, I'll suggest Jim Bouton's Ball Four an account of his 1969 season (after being dumped by the Yankees, he spend part of it with the Seattle Pilots, and the remainder with the Houston Astros) and Sparky Lyle's Bronx Zoo a chronicle of the 1978 season with the Yankees.

posted by psmealey at 06:25 PM on July 18, 2006

Another vote here for Ball Four and the Natural. But probably my favorite baseball book of them all is The Greatest Slump of All Time by David Carkeet, a hilarious short novel about a baseball team that keeps winning even though they're all clinically depressed and have an ignoramus for a manager. The Great American Novel, another baseball novel, is also very funny. It's by Phillip Roth, but very un-Roth-like in style.

posted by drumdance at 07:09 PM on July 18, 2006

I finally finished The Natural. The book is so much darker than the movie... In a good way. I believe recently I saw you mention that you were reading it, and I was tempted to tease the ending then, but thought better of it. That and Summer of '49 by David Halberstam are my two favorite baseball books anywhere, my autographed copy of Blood Feud notwithstanding.

posted by The_Black_Hand at 08:10 PM on July 18, 2006

The Baseball Reader books are still the best. Roger Angell gathers the best short stories written by classic sports journalists. Other treats I would recommend are "Bums" about the Brooklyn Dodgers and "Dynasty" about the Yankees 1930s to 1960s. Great stuff.

posted by pauleye at 08:34 PM on July 18, 2006

I endorse these mentioned: Ball Four The Natural The Bronx Zoo The Great American Novel Summer of '49 And would add the following Wait 'Till Next Year (Goodwin) Victory Faust (Schechter) Ballparks Then and Now & 100 Years of the World Series (both by Enders) Line Drives (Horvath & Wiles) Companion books to Baseball As America (Hall of Fame exhibit) and Ken Burns' Baseball The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. (Coover) Bang The Drum Slowly (Harris) Baseball As I Have Known It (Lieb) The Summer Game (Angell) Fireside Book of Baseball (ed. Einstein) Breaking the Slump (Alexander) Past Time (Tygiel) Catcher In The Wry (Uecker) 1918 (Wood) The Last Golden Age: New York City Baseball 1947-1957 (Frommer) Some are light, some are rich, some are coffee table books, some are beach reading, all are great baseball books. I've enjoyed them completely.

posted by BullpenPro at 11:33 PM on July 18, 2006

I have "The Book on The Book: A Landmark Inquiry into Which Strategies in the Modern Game Actually Work" all lined up to read in the next couple of weeks, and I just finished reading "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics". I highly recommend the latter book for those that think modern statistics are ruining the sport. You'll quickly learn two things: 1) people have been saying that for over a century 2) everything old is new again The history of baseball statistics is an interesting tale of characters who loved baseball and how the game has ALWAYS been about statistics.

posted by grum@work at 12:27 AM on July 19, 2006

**Pretty Much Off Topic.** I highly recommend the latter book for those that think modern statistics are ruining the sport. I have never heard anyone say that modern statistics are ruining the sport. In my opinion, modern statistics are ruining statistics. For me, there are three classifications of statistics: 1) The Easily Computable: these are statistics that have, by and large, been around forever and are simple to do in your head. If Pujols has 29 homers going in, and he hits 2 today, he has 31. If Halliday has 15 wins, and he gets the win today, he has 16 wins. Doesn't get easier than that. 2) The Difficult But Possible To Compute: these are, by and large, the ratio statistics that are based upon observable and easily computable nominators and denominators. ERA and batting average at the top. Fantasy baseballs' favorite WHIP in the second tier. Slugging and On Base Percentages after that. OPS at the far end of the spectrum (that's long division twice plus additon -- a lot of work for a stat). 3) The "I'll Take Your Word For It" Statistic: this is the stat I hate the most. "We charted every ball hit in the vicinity of every player in the league, and Player X gets to .125% fewer balls than the average." "Based on a chart of all pitches thrown, Player Y throws more curve balls for strikes than Player Z, but his change-up gets hit into play more often." No quantity of game watching or box score reading will get you into the ballpark of figuring these statistics for yourself. And, in my opinion, more and more "Modern Statistics" fall into this third category. Baseball will not die from statistical suffocation. But I think it is understandable that a lot of people are going to reflexively roll their eyes at numbers that are based on data that cannot be found in a box score. And the modern box score is pretty complex. Too few people want to check the work, check the accuracy or the relative significance of the findings. And frankly, there are quite a few charlatans in the baseball statistics business -- enough to damage the credibility of any number cruncher who chooses to toss out the tasty stat du jour. I guess it's kind of like reflexively reacting to the "you hate stats, and you're wrong to do so" implication. Which I should probably get over.

posted by BullpenPro at 01:21 AM on July 19, 2006

I've been reading Between The Numbers casually for the last month or so, and I can vouch for that it's actually a pretty fun read. Sure, you geek out to an alarming level, but so what.

posted by chicobangs at 02:49 AM on July 19, 2006

If you want more comments...justgary posted about Between the Numbers back in April. What I liked best about The Numbers Game was that it was less about the math and more about the people who championed each stat. The current box score is a subset of what it used to be. For awhile some papers would compete by having an exclusive stat category. The first major baseball stat guy worked hard behind the scenes to promote the stats he liked and discourage others from believing in stats he hated. Anyway, don't expect a stats course if you read the book. It's a well written history of the people that shaped baseball statistics. One thing I took from the book is that pretty much every record in baseball is expected statistically -- except for Dimaggio's hit streak. That was an anomaly.

posted by ?! at 06:32 AM on July 19, 2006

I have to admit I was a bit concerned posting this because it did kind of revisit earlier discussions. Hopefully it didn't piss anyone off and hopefully it's worth it. I know I'm looking forward to taking this list to the library.

posted by SummersEve at 07:28 AM on July 19, 2006

grum, on "what is old is new again", I just finished reading a paper called "From scientific baseball to sabermetrics: Professional baseball as a reflection of engineering and management in society" by a guy named Puerzer in the journal NINE. A lot of it is probably familiar to the statshead, but for those who are uninitiated, it details what you describe very neatly.

posted by smithers at 08:20 AM on July 19, 2006

You fucking geeks need to be wedgied into the middle of next week. How's Wednesday afternoon grab, ya? Line up Poindexter. Oh and I'm a big, big fan of Ball Four... Which essentially paved the road for jackoffs like Canseco (Bouton was the original "Tell All"), but is easily one of the few books that can render a man alone in a room laughing to the point of tears. His follow-up "I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally" isn't half as good but that's still twice as good as half the rest. Why am I worried that most of the books you guys' listed are upwards of $40 a pop?

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 08:43 AM on July 19, 2006

"Ball Four" is a fantastic book. It really was ahead of it's time. "Perfect I'm Not" by David Wells is another entertaining book. If you want a baseball classic, read "The Boys of Summer" about the Brooklyn Dodgers. The recent biography of Joe DiMaggio is also an eye-opener, which really sheds light on the real Joe D. But my all-time favorite, even though I don't recall the exact title, is a book from years back that dealt with players and baseball cards, and dove into the pictures on the cards, some of baseball's classic characters, and many other often-hilarious subjects. One of the best lines deals with a card of a player from the early-60's with the first name Jesus. The book writes that this player "is a great example that naming your child after a famous celebrity doesn't always guarantee success."

posted by dyams at 09:04 AM on July 19, 2006

I bought this one of my pops when I was finishing my whole philosophy thing in junior college. I was tired of him telling I was going to be the smartest guy in the unemployment office. I recommend any of the pop culture and philosophy series of books (Simpsons and Star Wars have been my favorite so far) there pretty good even if you have no back ground in philosophy.

posted by HATER 187 at 10:01 AM on July 19, 2006

Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al is worth an afternoon in an easy chair. A nice counterweight to The Natural, in a way. While visiting a small-town library, I ran across a bunch of instantly-recognizable, olden-style "sports biographies for boys." I remembered reading the ones on Williams, DiMaggio, Cobb, etc., so I flipped through a few. Nice little nostalgia trip, with plenty of smiles at their always-sunny portraits, even of infernal jackasses like Cobb. As a kid, I spent plenty of otherwise empty summer days browsing the (I think) 1976 Baseball Encyclopedia. I liked looking for players who had put in, say, a dozen games in 1909. That the BE had seen fit to include them was somehow reassuring. I'd like that copy back, but it was lost in a move, IIRC.

posted by Uncle Toby at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2006

Not along the same lines as the books above, but in terms of biographies, the "Say Hey" Willie Mays biography is a great read...

posted by sublime4390116 at 11:12 AM on July 19, 2006

While it should not be mentioned in the same breaths as many of the classics cited in this discussion (The Natural, Summer of 49, Veeck as in Wreck, and Baseball: A Literary Anthology are personal favorites), my new book is among those listed by USA Today: The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzie Guillen. So that I may beat you to the punch, [insert joke here] The book is actually as much as review of the 2005 White Sox season as it is an Ozzie compendium, but hey, he's a good hook.

posted by Brett at 11:14 AM on July 19, 2006

i have to give a plug for my fellow yankee blogger Alex Belth and his book about Curt Flood, Stepping Up.

posted by goddam at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2006

BullpenPro: After reading your comment, I'm almost begging you to read the "The Numbers Game". Your disection of the different "levels" of statistics is dead on. What the book explains is that the statistics aren't "bad", it's the people that use them and how they are presented. But the most interesting part of the books is the ongoing battle just to record the information correctly, and those that helped keep it going. Weedy: "The Numbers Game" has a cover price of $13.95/$19.95 (US/Can).

posted by grum@work at 02:09 AM on July 20, 2006

Fine. But I don't want "almost begging." I want 100% begging with full-frontal groveling. Ah, nevermind. I'll go read it. What's the address for amazon.com again? I'd like to add HATER's Baseball and Philosophy and You Know Me Al to my endorsements list. Great calls.

posted by BullpenPro at 12:33 PM on July 20, 2006

Fine. But I don't want "almost begging." I want 100% begging with full-frontal groveling. PLEASE READ THE BOOK!

posted by grum@work at 06:16 PM on July 20, 2006

I went to the libaray and could only find: "Between the Numbers", "Stepping up" and "The Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty" by Buster Olney, for my vacation. I Put "Stepping Up" down early because IMO he just gushed on and on about what a great person Curt Flood was. No one is a saint. I realize early on you need to counter Flood's current reputation, but no one's a saint. Between the Numbers is a really, really neat book. It is way geeky, but they do a great job explaining stuff. I feel like I know more about the game and I didn't finish the whole book. It's also nice because you don't have to go in any kind of order. You can pick it up and read a section and move on to something else. I really loved The Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty. It's a couple years old, but I thought it was a very fun read evern for someone who's not a Yankees fan. We forget how good those late-90s Yankee teams were.

posted by SummersEve at 10:23 AM on August 06, 2006

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