Tag: baseball

How to Improve Baseball: Trade Speed for Endurance

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Baseball is something that I really enjoy. Beyond just watching a game, there is a rich history to the sport1. That history ties together generations going back to the Civil War. People playing baseball in the 19th century would recognize the game today and vice versa–or, at least, that used to be the case.

Baseball has always been a business. To deny that is to deny obvious history. For a time, the business and the game seemed to find precarious balance. That no longer seems to be the case. Business has taken over. When I read baseball history, of times when the players were underpaid and taken advantage of, I rooted for the players and hooted at the owners. Free agency was a big break for players, finally releasing them from the barbed hook of the reserve clause. The problem is that the players became part of the business. When players almost routinely get 8- and 9-figure contacts, how can it be otherwise? When teams invest that much in players, how can they not look to do anything they can to increase viewership of the game, even if that means changing the very nature of the game itself?

The biggest complaint I read about baseball is that it is too slow. At the end of the Second World War, the average length of a baseball game was 2 hours and 7 minutes2. In the year I was born, the average length jumped to 2 hours 23 minutes. The average length of a game passed the 3 hour mark for the first time in 2014. In 2021, it was 3 hours and 11 minutes the longest so far.

I find the last stat interesting. For years baseball has been tweaking the game to find ways to speed it up. For example, they made it so that pitchers could call an intentional walk without requiring a pitcher to throw any pitches. That would speed up the game. I considered that intentional nonsense. Meanwhile, “instant” replay was introduced to the game, but there was nothing “instant” about it.

Now there is talk of adding a pitch clock to the game. Clocks are anathema to baseball. One of the things that makes the sport unique is that there is no clock, never has been. Introducing one takes things too far for my taste.

Another complaint is that there is not enough action in the game. People want to see hits, they want action. I agree with that, but I also appreciate the strategy of the game in much the way I imagine a seasoned chess player sees the strategy of a chess game unfolding on the board before them.

What to do then? How do you speed up the game while generating more “action”?

I have what I think is a fairly simple solution: trade speed for endurance.

Fans of my age (and older) will often lament that too few pitchers pitch complete games anymore. Indeed, if we take another look at the years we looked at above, then we’ll find that at the end of the Second World War, there were an average of 2.13 pitchers per game. In the year I was born that jumped to 2.45 pitchers per game. In 2021, the most recent full season, there were 4.43 pitchers per game. The reason pitchers no longer pitch complete games is because they throw so much harder than they used to. The 100 MPH fastball is commonplace today. Pitchers who throw that hard have to protect their arms. Teams have to protect their investment in those pitchers3, and therefore, starters now routinely aim to go 5-6 innings instead of nine.

At the same time, hitters don’t hit as much because they are facing 100 MPH pitches. They strike out a lot more. When they do connect, however, they send the ball sailing over the fences because to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and a 100 MPH fastball will fly if you can manage to make contact with it. So we don’t see a lot of excitment on the field anymore. We strikeouts and home runs.

When I say that baseball should trade speed for endurance, I am talking about a solution to address both of these problems. Baseball should look to trade speed (100 MPH fastballs) for endurance (more complete games). Two main results of this address the problems at hand:

  1. If starters were required to go a minimum of 8 innings (unless injured), the game would speed up. There would no longer be 4-5 pitching changes per game. Each pitching change takes from 2-3 minutes. Cutting these down from 5 to 1 per game shaves off 8 to 12 minutes per game. Immediately our “average” length drops from 3 hours and 11 minutes down to 2 hours 59 minutes.
  2. Forcing a starter to pitch 8 innings means severely limiting 100 MPH fastballs. This means more hitting and more hitting means more action during the game to make the game exciting.

There is no need to add a pitch clock. No need to introdce rules that prevent strategy like infield shifts. Pitchers have to rely on more than just a fastball to get batters out. They need their teams to back them up. Hitters get back into the game.

Of course, such a move more or less elimates the need for middle relief, and while that’s unfortunate, some sacrifices have to be made to maintain the integrity of the game. Closers are still allowed in this scenario, although I’d encourage starters to go for complete games.

As to whether or not such changes would really work, one can point to history. Until around 1962, it was more common for there to be 2 pitcher in a game than 3. There were of hits, lots of action, and faster games. Maybe not as many home runs, but we are looking for action and excitement right? Plus, wouldn’t it be cool to see pitchers go the distance again?

This is my suggestion for how to improve baseball: trade speed (of pitches) for endurance (of pitchers) and see what happens. I think more people would watch games just to see how these changes would play out.

Written on April 21, 2022.

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  1. My reading list tells me that I’ve read 39 books on baseball and baseball history in the last quarter century.
  2. See this link in Baseball-Reference.com for these stats
  3. See how the Dodgers pulled Clayton Kershaw in the 6th inning of a perfect game for just that reason.

Baseball’s Temper Tantrum Has Finally Abated

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It was bottom of the ninth with two outs and a very slow runner on third and the score tied nothing-nothing. There were two strikes on the batter. It wasn’t looking good. And then, by some miracle, that batter got a hit, the run scored, and the game was over!

I thought about this scenario when I read that twice-past the eleventh hour, Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association finally had an agreement. After canceling the first two weeks of the season, MLB magically uncanceled it, saying that there would be a full 162-game season. It would just start a week later, and games would be made up through doubleheaders that would go the full 9-innings. Both MLB and the players seemed jubilant.

Not me.

I was left feeling jerked around by the entire process. MLB jerked me around when the locked out the players and refused to deal with them for a few months. The players jerked me around when the started with a going-in position to try to really make the game better for players–all players, including the youngest, and the oldest of retirees — and then seemed to gave on those demands that didn’t put money directly into their pockets. Then MLB jerked me around again with a ridiculous idea for a 14-team post season, and an eleventh hour international draft.

At this point, I’m pretty tired of being jerked around. In all honesty, as I said in an earlier post, I was hoping the entire season would be lost. I was hoping that, like Max from Where the Wild Things Are, and both sides would get sent to their respective rooms without any supper. Both side need a talking to. The problem is there is really no one to give them that talking to, except the fans.

Right now, I’m disappointed enough to be uninteresting in games, but very interesting fan reaction to all of this jerking around. Part of me is hoping for news stories about teams–even big market teams, that can come close to filling their seats. Part of me is hoping for reports of viewership down dramatically, threatening the revenue streams. Part of me is eager to see the result of Bernie Sanders introducing legislation to finally but an end to baseball’s antitrust exemption.

Yes, I am bitter right now, a rare manifestation in me, but one that shows just how annoyed all of this jerking around has made me. When I cool down a little, when my head clears, maybe I’ll start to wonder what the players and teams will do to lure fans back to the game; how they will begin to restore trust in the game. Or if it is too little, too late.

In the meantime, there are always minor league games, which in recent years have been much more like a traditional baseball experience than the major league games. No one is a superstar. It doesn’t cost a fortune to attend a game, and there’s much more of chance that you can chat with a player. Parking is easier, the whole scene is more relaxed. You can sit on metal bleachers with a scorecard in your lap and a hot dog on your knee and enjoy the ballgame without all the hype.

Baseball’s temper tantrum has finally abated, but mine, it seems, is just getting warmed up.

Written on March 11, 2022.

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Baseball Is a Game Played in History

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This season1 Major League Baseball will institute a universal designated hitter rule. For readers who are not familiar with baseball, until 1973 pitchers had to come to bat at their turn in the lineup. In 1973, in the American League, a designated hitter was instituted. Pitchers would no longer come to bat. Instead, a player could be designed a batter in the lineup without having to play in the field. There are a variety of reasons for doing this, the most talked about one being that it makes the game more exciting because of the likelihood of more hits.

I don’t like the DH rule, even in the American League. Joe Posnanski makes a good case, however, for the general ridiculousness of pitchers attempting to hit. There is a trade off between those extra hits generated by a designated hitter, and the strategy of situation that often requires bunting, double-switches, and other tactics. For me, it feels like a dumbing down of the game in order to appeal to a wider audience.

What I have come to realize, however, is that baseball is a game played in history. We might experience it in the moment, if we catch a broadcast, or better yet, attend a game in person. But it is afterward that the game solidifies in our memory. It is after the game that we talk about it. Box scores and sports columns are the written historical records of the game. Even sitting in a ball park, watching a game, a bang-bang play often triggers a memory of another game we saw with a similar (or even better) play. A baseball game that unfold live before us is just the tip of the iceberg. The vast hidden remainder of that iceberg is what we think and say and write about the game once it is part of baseball history.

I find this comforting. I used to fret at every inexplicable change that was made to the game, often in the weak attempt at speeding up the pace of the game. But I have come to realize that baseball really is a game played in history. If want to watch a game without a designated hitter, I can find and old replay on TV or the Internet. Better yet, an old radio broadcast. Or a book on the game. Sportswriting, and baseball writing specifically, is among the finest of the American arts.

Baseball is also a game that seems more and more likely to be played in history going forward. As I write this the owners have locked out the players in a dispute over money. The owners want more. The players want more. In locking out the players, the owners have also locked out the fans. Baseball’s commissioner has said, “Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season.” I think checking greed on both sides is probably a better mechanism. It seems utterly ridiculous to fans (at least this one) that billionaire owners and mulit-millionaire players are complaining about how much money they make.

For long-time fans, this is nothing new. In past labor negotiations, I’ve been completely behind the players. History shows how poorly the players were treated for the vast majority of the game. Now, however, it seems ridiculous. The players have given up most of what they were asking for, jettisoning those things that might have helped to improve the game in favor of going for the most important goal: money.

This time around, I’m diappointed with both the players and the owners. Let’s call this lockout what it: a shakedown. Let’s frame this lockout in a way that reflects reality, one that both the players and owners don’t want us to think of it: This is a fan lock-out. The players will be fine. The owners will be fine. They both seem to be under the misapprehension that fans are powerless in all of this. But, of course, we are not.

Fans can take action, too. After many years as a subscriber to MLB TV, I canceled my subscription before this season started as a protest. If there is a lockout, if spring training is delayed, if the season is likely to be delayed, why pay for it? And what if there is a season? No fan of the game can be happy with this situation. Players and owners expect that we will all come happily back. So do the networks that broadcast the games. I’m not sure I will, at least, not right away. As I said at the beginning, baseball is a game played in history. There are thousands of games I watch without watching the current season. There are thousands of books and articles I can read about the game without watching the current season. The only way real change will happen is if fans decide to lock out the owners and players: canceled subscriptions, season tickets. Tune out the broadcasts and read the papers instead, read the sportswriters, watch old games, find comfort in the joy of the game without the frustration that greed forces upon us.

Written on February 18, 2022.

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  1. If there is a season.

David Ortiz in the Hall of Fame

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Last night (as I write this), the BBWAA voted David Ortiz into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot. As a lifelong Yankees fan, David Ortiz was often a thorn my side, but I can’t deny that he was a fantastic hitter, and given the dynasty that he played in and his offensive numbers, he belongs in the Hall. I know there was some debate because he spent most of his career as a DH, but sometimes, there is just something amazIng about watching a player play the game over the course of career, seeing a quality they have that other players lack. It is one of those “intagibles” of the game. As a Yankees fan, no matter what the score or who was on the mound, I was always nervous when Ortiz came ot the plate.

I’ve been to Cooperstown five times, most recently this past summer, when we spent a too brief few hours in a suprisingly crowded museum. The museum is wonderful, but walking through the Hall itself, surrounded by the plaques of the greatest of the game, is a moving experience for fan like me. It might seem silly, but the feeling I have standing in the Hall of Fame is the same feeling I had wandering the nave of Westminster Abbey, and seeing the names of kings and philosophers and scientists all around me. The Hall captures the best of the game in one place.

Noteably, the BBWAA did not vote in Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens in their last year of eligibility. I have mixed feelings about this. To me, the Hall of Fame captures the history of the game, the good and the bad. As writers have pointed out, there are amazing players in the Hall who were terrible people off the field. It is a testament that no one is perfect, no matter how great a player they are. But I was (and am) bothered by the blot that the steriods and PED era made on the game. It is a reflection of just how deep a role money has come to play in the game.

And yet… to my knowledge, while these drugs improve muscle strength, they don’t improve hand-eye coordination; they don’t magically instill a player with great baserunning sense; they don’t help you know what pitch is coming next Bonds has the record for homeruns, but if you’ve ever tried to hit a baseball, you know that strength is only part of it. As Joe Posnanski has pointed out, without Bonds–the all-time home run king–in the Hall of Fame, something doesn’t seem right.

Bonds (and Clemens) can still be voted in by the Veteran’s commitee. Right now that doesn’t seem very likley. But on the offchance they do get voted in, I think Pete Rose would finally get his place there as well. Even Ortiz said that it was hard to believe that Bonds and Clemons were not in the Hall with him.

For now, I’m happy for Big Papi. This is a happy moment for him, and all of baesball, at time when we’re not even certain if the 2022 season will start on time because once more, the players and owners are arguing about — you guessed it — money.

Written on January 26, 2022

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Thoughts on The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski

I finished reading The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski on Thursday. If you’re a regular reader here you’ve probably heard me mention it several times over the last week or so. The book is a collection of 100 essays, each about a player that Posnanski has rated in his own way, to form a list of the best players of all time. It is a massive book, nearly 300,000 words long, something for which I am grateful, since I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. It was so good, and part of what made it good is that it was not all all what I expected.

  1. As incredible as it seems, the book manages covers the entire history of baseball in 100 essays through the, story of 100 players. These are players I’d heard of, as well as players I’d never heard of. Several of the players never played Major League Baseball, but instead played for the Negro Leagues. Those were some of the most fascinating chapters, both incredible and heartbreaking. You can’t come away from reading the book without a good feel for the 150+ year history of the sport.
  2. Each essay is unique. The way Posnanski tells the story depends entirely on the player at the center of the essay. There is no standard, no formula. Each player is unique and each story is unique both in its details and how Posnanski tells the story. The one constant, besides baseball, is Joe’s voice: his passion for and delight of the game form the backbone the holds all of these stories together.
  3. The essays meander. I love that. The essays aren’t all a straight history of a player. Joe might start with a famous event, then go on to talk for half the essay about other things that eventually tie back to that famous event. He might start with another player entirely. He might discuss a statistic, or a questionable piece of folklore. This is where much fo the history of the sport happens, and much as a good historian can tie together different ties by identifying comparative elements, this is what the meandering achieves.

Then there is the sheer audacity of what Joe pulled off. Within these essays, there are many record achievements, some that will likely never be broken again. Take Di Maggio’s 56-game hitting streak. There are also examples of consistent, workhorse players, players who manage 3,000 or more career hits, which requires a kinds of consistency, skill, and discipline that is rare. Joe’s book is in this latter category. Joe wrote these 100 essays in 100 days, each originally published in The Athletic as it was finished. This meant he did his research, reading and writing and somehow came up with a brilliant, and on average, 3,000 word essay every single day for 100 days without fail. How did he manage such a feat? He gives a little insight in the final chapters, when he writes,

I spent almost every hour of every day thinking about ballplayers. I read books about them. I researched them. I watched movies and documentaries about them. Mostly, I remembered them, the ones I had seen, the ones I had spoken with, the ones I had heard so much about.

In a way, this sounds familiar. Ten years ago when I was writing my Vacation in the Golden Age posts, I remember doing something similar, pouring over every words in the issues of Astounding Science Fiction, referring to book about the writers that appeared in those issues, about the history of the magazines, reviewing notes in collections of stories, completely immersing myself in the era. And I was doing it part-time, and managed 42 essays over the space of more than a year. Joe did all of this and managed 100 magnificent essays in the 100 days. Like Di Maggio’s hitting streak, or Ted Williams’ .406 season, it seems almost inconceivable. Which, of course, makes it all the more impressive.

I recently wrote about my favorite baseball books, noting that my favorite was Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. Well, I think I’ll have to revised that list. There is a new leader, and that leader is The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski.

As of this writing, I’ve read 62 books this year. As usual, they run the gamut, taking me wherever the butterfly effect of reading directs me to go next. Of those 62 book, this one easily jumps to the best I’ve read this year. And I’ve got say, I think it will be hard to top it. It is that good.

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Impressive Feats of Writing

I’ve mentioned how I am reading The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski. It is a delight and treat to read these 100 essays on baseball players, that tell a fascinating history of the game. It has quickly jumped toward the top of the list of best baseball books I have ever read. I’ve learned (or been reintroduced to) all kinds of incredible things that have happened in the sport over the last 150+ years.

But actually, the book itself is an impressive feat of writing. These essays originally appeared in The Athletic. As Posnanski writes in the introduction:

This book contains almost 300,000 words, just about all of them originally written over a 100-day stretch when this series first appeared on the web pages of “The Athletic.” I lived this book twenty-four hours a day during those weeks, writing, reading, learning, dreaming baseball.

Three hundred thousand words in 100 days. To put that in some perspective, that’s 3,000 words per day, fifty percent more than a prolific author like Stephen King aimed for in his prime. In the book, Posnanski discusses why getting 3,000 hits is such an achievement. It means consistently hitting the ball over a period more than a decade. That means playing as much as possible, staying healthy, and still managing to make enough regular contact to get those hits. I think of 3,000 words a day for a hundred days as a similar achievement. And when you couple that with the reading, learning, and dreaming that Posnanski refers to, it really boggles the mind to think that all of this was written in 100 days.

Consider, that as of this post, I’ve published post for 283 consecutive days, writing 345 posts so far in 2021. My average post length is about 650 words, and I’ve written, on average, 1.2 posts per day. Doing that math, that means I’m writing about 780 words per day. Generally, these posts require little or no research, so I don’t have that to worry about. So, 283 days into the year, I’ve written a grand total of 222,000 words here on the blog. Posnanski wrote 300,000 in 100 days. That is just mind-boggling.

What makes it even more amazing, to me, is that, like the best baseball writing, Posnanski’s essays are engaging, have a distinct voice, and are endlessly fascinating. One of the great pleasures of the book is not looking ahead to see who will the next essay be about? It is almost as if, as each player gets better as you move down the list, each essay rises to the level of that player. As one writer looking at another, I am in awe. It is as if I am in the minor leagues, watching a Hall of Fame work in his prime.

It is at time like these that I think back to that day when I decided I was too busy to work on the college newspaper. I think I could have been a decent sportswriter. No Joe Posnanski, but I would have a done alright. And just imagine having a job like that? I never could have played in the majors, or minors for that matter, but when it came to sportswriting, I could have been a contender.

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Coding and Baseball

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I’ve spend much of this week writing code for a fairly significant update to some software my team rolled out in May. Much of it was refactoring (from about 4,000 lines of Groovy script down to about 900), some of it was making things more efficient, and a lot of it was to make the code more supportable as time goes on. There were also a lot of important enhancements and bug fixes. Each day began with me sitting in front of code, disappearing into the code, and emerging only reluctantly to the world when my brain was too tired to continue.

Those of you who write code for a living know what this feels like. On Friday night, for instance, as I write this, I was completely spent. As much as I wanted to continue reading the (thus far) fantastic book by Joe Posnanski, The Baseball 100, I needed a break from reading. It was all I could do to pull myself back to the computer to write this. The family went out and I wanted to go with them, but I wasn’t feeling social. That happens sometimes after spending a week in code.

So what’s a fellow to do?

I think I found a pretty good solution: I discovered that The Show ’21 is finally available for the Xbox One. And I started playing it. I played my first game as the Los Angeles Dodgers facing Tampa Bay. And despite it being my first game, and despite the fact that my hand-eye-coordination could use some work, I played a full 9 innings and beat Tampa 6-5. It was blissful.

Either you are a baseball fan or you aren’t. I’ve rarely met someone in between. People sometimes wonder what’s so great about the sport. You hear all kinds of arguments from baseball fans (of which I am one), but the best line I’ve ever heard is simple: baseball is there to be enjoyed. And I enjoyed it tonight, even though it was in a video game. I love the dynamics of the game, the skills required not just on the athletic side, but on the mental side as well. I love the instincts that develop: flipping that grounder to second because you know without looking that there is already a running on first. I love the chess match between pitcher and hitter, each trying to outguess the other. And of course, I love the history.

It’s been many decades since I last thought that playing in the majors could be a reality (I think I might have been ten). But playing The Show tonight after spending my week coding made it feel like I was playing in the majors. It made me feel good, and that’s just about the best think a video game can do.

I played one game already, but it’s a beautiful evening for baseball. As Ernie Banks would say, “Let’s play two.”

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A Disappointing, But Not Unexpected End to the Yankees’ Season

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I needed a day to settle down before I could write about the Yankees loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday night. I watched the game, one of the few that I’ve watched this season, and I went into it excited about the possibilities of the Yankees going all the way. They had a great finish to their final game of the season to make it to the wild card game. But within the first few minutes of Tuesday’s game, I had a strong hunch they weren’t going to win. None of the Yankee players, even the stars, had that hungry, driven look in their eyes. It showed in the game. Just two examples:

Down 2-0, Stanton hit a wicked shot off the Green Monster. He trotted down the first base line, watching the ball go, probably thinking it was a home run. It went off the wall, however, and what could easily have been a standup double ended up a single. Later, with Aaron Judge on first, Stanton hit another smash off the wall, that was played perfectly. Judge went from first to home, and was thrown out. It really Judge’s fault. He was waved home, and should have been held at third.

Whatever happened to running out every hit? Whatever happened to playing smart baseball? With one out and down by two, why risk a play at the plate when you could have had one out and two runners in scoring position? I was frustrated by the end of the game, which was usually short for a Yankees/Red Sox post season match-up. It took me a while before I finally settled down and fell asleep.

Baseball has changed a lot over the course of my life. The longest, most fun I ever had watching the game on TV was during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, I’ve lost track of a lot of the players, and it is hard to keep up. About the only thing I’ve really kept up with are the changing measures of the game. Batting average is no longer a good measure of a hitter; it’s been supplanted by the superior OPS+. WAR and Runs Created allow for comparisons across eras of the game. WHIP tells you a lot more about a pitcher than ERA. Still, I had that little thrill in my gut that I always get at the outset of a game. And despite the Yankees loss, and the end to their season, I am looking forward to next season, and will try to pay more attention, and learn the newer players.

As I write this, the Dodgers are set to play the Cardinals for the National League wildcard. I’m not much of a fan of the wildcard concept. Baseball is a game of series. The entire season is made up of 3 or 4 game series; and the postseason is also series: best 3 out of 5, best 4 out of 7. But this relatively new wildcard playoff game is a sudden death, do-or-die thing. Not at all what baseball is about. In any case, if I can’t root for the Yankees anymore this season, then I’ll turn my attention to the Dodgers. It boggles my mind that a team that won 106 games in the regular season is a wildcard team. St. Louis, the other wildcard team had 90 wins by comparison. San Francisco, the team that won the NL West, had 107 wins, only one more than the Dodgers.

If I had my way, I’d get rid of the wildcard entirely. I’d also get rid of the designated hitter rule. And I’d play more day games. And I’d scout for announcers and color commentators who could talk about more than just stats; someone like Vin Scully, who really brought color to the games with his commentary. Of course, the game evolves. At least I can take comfort in the past, and the rich history of the game. At the moment, I’m having a blast reading Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100. It makes me want to be a baseball player, and sportswriter at the same time.

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A Book I’m Looking Forward To: The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski

cover of the baseball 100 by joe posnanski

Every now and then I discover a new book that really hits the sweet spot for me and I can’t wait to read it. Most recently it was The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski. I love baseball, and I have a think for the rich history of the game. Just do a search for “baseball” in the list of books I’ve read since 1996 and you’ll see just how much I’ve read on the subject. Indeed, baseball writing is an art form in its own right. There are sportswriters, and there are baseball writers. I sometimes daydream that I could be the latter. I especially love baseball essays. And this book is a collection of 100 essays about the lives of the 100 greatest players of the game, according to Joe Posnanski.

My hardcover edition of the book arrived yesterday, and I am itching to get started reading it. First, I have to finish the book I am currently read, a fascinating biography of Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, who, though born in 1838, lived long enough to witness Babe Ruth play baseball. In addition to baseball, I have a thing for the Adams family. But once I finish the book, with should be sometime today, I am eager to start this new baseball history. Perfect timing, too, since October, in addition to being a rare month for boys1 is also magic time in the baseball world.

Anyway, if you are wondering what I am reading this weekend, now you know.

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Major League Baseball Does Something Right

A few days ago, the Yankees played the Chicago White Sox (and ended up losing a close one). What made the game unique was that it was played in the middle of a corn field at the Field of Dreams stadium Dyersville, Iowa. The field was originally constructed for the 1989 Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, which was based on W. P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe.

The movie has since become a classic baseball movie, and is a terrific film. The book is probably the best baseball novel ever written, one that I have gone back and read three times.

I imagine there were a lot of dads watching Kevin Costner emerge from the corn in center field with tears welling in their eyes. I admit I was one of them.

With a shortened baseball season in 2020 (thanks, COVID); with all kinds of ridiculous rule changes in order to speed up a game that by design has no clock; with the controversies stirred up by PEDs and, more recently, sticky substances in pitcher’s mitts, it was so refreshing to see Major League Baseball do something right, and hold a game in Iowa, in the midst of a corn field. It highlights the fun of the game and it’s rich history real and fictional.

Sometime before 1982, W. P. Kinsella wrote the words, “If you build it, he will come,” which appear on the very first page of the 1982 novel. Well, they built it in the late 1980s, and 39 years after the novel debuted, MLB finally came. It was wonderful to see. I only wish the Kinsella had lived long enough to see it for himself.

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A Few Hours in Cooperstown

A big part of our recent road trip vacation took us through central New York. Over a period of two days, we drove from Albany, where we visited friends, to Niagara Falls. On the way, we stopped in several places, the first of which was Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I’d been to the Hall on three previous occasions, twice as kid, and once, 15 years ago with my brother. As not just a baseball fan, but an aficionado of the history of the game, it is a great place to visit.

My family humored me on this stop. I’m not sure any of them were excited to visit the Hall of Fame.

From Albany, we tried to stay off the interstate highways, sticking to the blue highways, and driving through some beautiful farm country. It always amazes me how quickly the urban turns into the rural. There were long stretches of two lane highway where we didn’t see another vehicle in either direction. Occasionally, we were slowed down by a truck, but this was good because it forced me to slow my pace and get a better look at the country we passed through.

We arrived in Cooperstown around 11 am and after failing in our first attempt to find parking, we realized that there are parking lots on the outskirts of the town from which a trolley will take you in. We are all walkers and the free lot we parked in (the Red Lot) was only half a mile from the Hall of Fame, so rather than wait for the trolley, we walked. Currently, the Hall of Fame has timed entrances and our tickets were for 11:30 am. I figured a Monday was a good day to visit since I couldn’t imagine it would be crowded. It never had been on my previous visits. But I was wrong. The place was packed. I mean really packed.

The Hall of Fame has a scavenger hunt game for kids and so I felt like I spent much of my time helping our youngest daughter find the things she needed to complete her scavenger hunt. I tried to focus on the displays when I could, but there were so many people there, it was difficult. I felt rushed. I was also disappointed that my favorite exhibit no longer exists: this was a wall that contained baseballs from every no-hitter (and perfect game) ever thrown. I asked a museum staff member about it and he told me that they occasionally change exhibits to keep things fresh. I was sorry to see that one go.

The Littlest Miss really seemed to get into the exhibits. She was particularly taken with displays of prizes: medals, silver bats, bronzed baseballs. She also enjoyed the old baseball gloves and catchers mitts.

Throughout the museum, touchscreens were setup to poll visitors on various questions. Two stand out in my mind. The first had to do with the way the game was changing and if those changes were good or not. My response to the poll indicated that I was a “baseball purist,” which no doubt I am. Interestingly, the same was true of more than 70% of the visitors to the Hall of Fame. A second poll asked about gambling in baseball and PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs, e.g. steroids). A final question asked whether the all-time hit king, Pete Rose, deserved to be in the Hall of Fame (he was banned for life from baseball because he gambled while he was as player/manager). I think it is time he should be let into the Hall, and I said so on the poll. 79% of Hall of Fame visitors agreed with me:

results of a hall of fame poll

This is a good example of a selection bias. It seems to me that (a) people who take the time and money to visit the Hall of Fame are real fans of the game and more likely to be baseball purists than the general population; and (b) they also probably know more about the history of the game, how the game was tainted by the Black Sox scandal and steroids. Many probably came to the same conclusions that I did about Pete Rose. Comparing these poll results to similar polls of the general population would probably look a bit different.

The actually Hall for which the Hall of Fame is named is a place of reverence for baseball fans, and I looked forward to wandering its quiet spaces, reading the plaques. But even the Hall was crowded and noisy. Still, I managed to see where Derek Jeter’s plaque would be installed in about a month. Still, I found a few of the plaques I was interested in looking at, and I made due with those.

This was the first time I’d been back to the Hall of Fame since I’d written a story that took place there. It was also the first time I’d been back since reading dozens of books on the history of the game. I was looking forward to browsing the library, but it was closed to the public on the day we were there. I did manage to get myself a new hat and t-shirt from the Hall of Fame gift shop, however.

I knew that the family was humoring me for this particular stop, and I didn’t want to keep them there longer than necessary, so we left the Hall after two hours. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day in Cooperstown, and we spent some time wandering the streets, dipping into and out of various shops. The small town is like many tourist towns, with one twist: most of the shops are geared toward baseball.

looking north from the shore of Otsego lake.

I bought the only book I purchased on this road trip in a shop called Willis Monie Books. What an amazing shop. They had narrow aisles just packed to the gills with used books. I could have spent hours in there. They even had a wall of baseball books, and I could have spent an hour just browsing those titles. Rushed, as I felt, I picked out just one book, The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House by H. R. Haldeman. It was the “diaries” that attracted me to that one. It would be worth a trip back to Cooperstown just to spend a day browsing the shelves in that store.

We had ice cream, did a little more window shopping, and then departed for Auburn, New York, which is where we were staying that night. I’m glad we got to go to the Hall of Fame. I just wish it wasn’t as crowded as it was.

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My Favorite Story I’ve Written (So Far)

Occasionally I am asked what my favorite story that I’ve written is. I assume this means my favorite story that I’ve sold and has been published. This is not an easy question for a writer. It is like asking a parent, which of your children is your favorite. A common response, and one that I’ve used often, is: “The one that I’m working on now.”

Since it has been several years since I sold my last piece of fiction, and since I think of that initial period of about a dozen stories as Phase 1 of my writing career, I think can now admit to a definite favorite.

My favorite story from Phase 1 of my writing career (2007-2015) is “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” It is currently freely available at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show and I urge you all to go read it, if you haven’t already done so. The story received my all-time favorite review in Tangent Online. There, reviewer Ryan Holmes wrote:

All the little strings by which Rubin weaves the characters to each other and to the game itself create a tapestry even a non-baseball fan would enjoy, but this story isn’t about baseball. It’s about loving something more than ourselves and sacrificing everything for that love. It’s about family, the distance that can separate us from our loved ones, and yes, it’s about how baseball can bring us together

This is one of those stories that wrote itself. All I had to do was sit down at the keyboard and take dictation. The science fiction is secondary–a vehicle to sell it to a science fiction magazine. It is a story that could be told without the science fictional element, something that was more and more common with my later stories.

It is the first time I ever received the cover of a magazine, and Eric Wilkerson’s artwork for the story just blew me away. It was better than I could have possibly imagined. He captured Gemma from my words and turned her into a living, breathing person that really brings her to life.

There is a reason this story is on my mind today. Back in 2005 (pre-blog days) I went on a road trip with my brother to Cooperstown. We spent a few days there, touring the National Baseball Hall of Fame. My brother played baseball in college, and then played semi-pro ball after graduating. It was such a fun trip. It was also the last time I was in Cooperstown. (I’d been there at least twice before that as a kid.) Today, I am returning to Cooperstown, this time with my family. It is the second stop on our summer road trip, and I’m probably the only one looking forward to this particular stop. Mainly, I’m looking forward to standing in the Hall, among all of the plaques of the greatest players of the last 150 years or so, and imagining Gemma’s plaque in that space.

I’ll have more to say about my visit to the Hall of Fame in the days to come, but at least now you know why “Gemma Barrows” is on my mind. If you read it, I think it’s pretty easy to see why it is my favorite story of those that I have written so far.

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