Day 12 of 2023 baseball books: A field guide of dreams, version 4.0

“Baseball Field Guide: An In-Depth Illustrated Guide
to the Complete Rules of Baseball”

The authors:
Dan Formosa
Paul Hamburger

The publishing info:
The Experiment, LLC Publisher
272 pages; $17.95
Released March 28, 2023

The links:
The publishers website
The book’s official site
At TheLastBookStoreLA

The review in 90 feet or less

Without making a judgement call, far too much has transpired, and expired, since 2016, when the third edition of this 240-pager (highlighted in red) last landed. At least 16 pages worth, for starters. We reviewed that one here.

And that was already a nice upgrade from the original in 2006 (mostly all red on its cover). And that was in need of an update just two years later in 2008 (mostly in green).

For those on the color spectrum, this one’s trimmed in bold blue to stand out from the rest.

In what is presented in the cleanest of typeface, clearest of sans-serif fonts, crispest drawings and illustrations, on the highest-grade paper stock, not to mention a convenient size (9 inches tall, 5 inches wide and less than inch thick) to carry around  – there’s something you don’t read every day about a ball-type book – it is, in essence, what you may expect from a field guide that otherwise instructs and enlightens and demystifies about subjects such as birds, wildlife flowers, restaurants or travel destinations.

And baseball, these days, might even cross over into any of those four topics, and more. (Right, Orioles fans?)

Page 1 of the instruction manual is even set aside for “Instruction: How to Use This Book,” with suggested entry points: Use it as quick reference, a more extended explanation of the Major League Baseball rule book, or, just read the whole thing and learn.

Which, based on our habits, we did.

There is a neat index, glossary, and even the author bios: Formosa helped create the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York (explains the book’s exquisite visual presentation) and Hamburger, originally from New York, now lives in Los Angeles as a creative director (explains the creativity). And for what it’s worth, the hamburgers they used to serve at the iconic Formosa Cafe in Hollywood were pretty creative and visual on top of their taste value.

Why this is new update is important: New rules, obviously, that may have been explained amidst dozens of stories, but presented here, shows no judgment.

A graphic from an website post explaining the new rules.

= The re-imagined defensive shift has a two-page spread at the end of the “Fielding” chapter on pages 141-142.

=  The bigger bases (page 57) shows how the space between the old bases was 88 feet, 1.5 inches from edge to edge. Now they are 87 feet, 10 inches, or 4.5 inches shorter

= The pitch clock (page 84) has the addendum: An umpire can give the pitcher or the batter extra time due to “circumstances beyond their control.” Like, when Cody Bellinger comes to Dodger Stadium for the first time with the Chicago Cubs, acknowledges the fan ovation, the umpire calls an automatic strike because he isn’t ready? “C’mon, read the room,” said Dodgers TV play by play man Joe Davis, correctly.

= How the PitchCom system works (page 40).

From a 2021 story in New Yorker: “Invasion of the Robot Umpires”

= An explanation about how “Robots Calling Balls and Strikes” may be in play with the Automated Ball/Strike system (ABS) (page 97). Some say the system detects a higher strike because it detects pitches that start high but dip into the back edge ofg the strike zone, “something a human eye would have trouble discerning.” We recently talked to former major league umpire Bruce Froemming about the new requirements of today’s arbitrators. He brought up this robo system and said with exasperation: Why don’t they just set up a board game and play a game that way?

= Misbehavior has its own chapter, and includes the crackdown on pitchers using sticky substances like Spider Tack to increase spin rate. Page 202 covers “A Rich History of Cheating,” and dedicates a page to the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017 and beyond. The chapter also defines how there are four terms used regarding what action an umpire can take against a player or manager: Eject, remove, disqualify or expel.

So here are the nine things (one for each inning) we gleaned from the fourth edition of this handy, dandy guide book to the game that you think you know until you don’t, and fits nicely in your back pocket:

1. The two-way player (page 27) is defined as someone who meets the requirements of pitching 20 innings or more and appears in at least 20 games in a starting position (with three plate appearances a game). A two-way player can also become “two separate players” on the lineup card. Which explains how Shohei Ohtani is listed as a DH and a P on the box score.

2. Thirty minutes before each game, each team must identify its manager. (Page 31). Can the manager ID himself?

The 40-foot high left-field wire screen at the L.A. Coliseum when the Dodgers played there (1958-61) was called the “Chinese Wall,” and apparently fans dressed appropriately. There is even a Wikipedia page that explains the origins of the archaic “Chinese Home Run” that was referred to in MLB games, a reference to a short outfield border, with all sorts of derogatory explanations. Is that appropriate today to even point that out? Yes, to learn from history, and not repeat it.

3. Field specifications (page 55) includes: There are rules regarding the minimum size for a field, but “nothing prevents the outfield from extending outward from home plate indefinitely.” And, parks built before June 1, 1958 and aren’t up to the current dimension restrictions (325 down each foul line and 400 to dead center field) are grandfathered into today’s rules. If the Dodgers still played at the L.A. Coliseum with its 252-left-field foul pole and 440 to right-center field, it would be cool today. Just not cool. (When the Dodgers and Red Sox played an exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2008 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers moving to L.A. the current restrictions made for the left-field foul pole to be only 201 feet from home. Read more about how when the Dodgers were at the Coliseum, commissioner Ford Frick proposed there was two left-field screens, a second put up 333 feet from home plate, and fly balls landing between the two screens would be a ground-rule double. It was nixed because of local earthquake ordinances. And, perhaps, common sense.)

4. There are 20 ways a pitcher can commit a balk (pages 70-72) and two ways a non-pitcher can be charged with a balk – including a catcher or another player (likely the third baseman) trying to block a runner from stealing home or advancing on a squeeze play. Likewise, there are 23 ways a batter can make an out (pages 112-113). Three of those are as a result of a runner doing something that runs afoul. The last example is interesting: If there is a 3-2 count on the batter, with two outs, and the runner from third tries to steal home and is hit by the pitch. The ruling: Strike three on the hitter. Batter is out. Run does not count.

5. A designated hitter is not allowed to be in the team’s bullpen “unless he is catching” a pitcher who is warming up (page 115). Let Will Smith know this one, please.

6. There are 12 ways a runner can be declared out (page 119). The last one: He runs around the bases in reverse order. Intentionally. It doesn’t apply if a runner goes back to the previous base as a mistake when he believes a ball was caught or deceived by a fielder. Clarification: Does this mean if someone steals second base, he can’t run back to first base and then try to steal second again? There is the story of how Germany Schaefer was on second and “stole” first to confuse the pitcher in the early 1900s. After, a rule was passed against “making a travesty if the game.” Or is this about The Jimmy Piersall Incident when he hit his 100th career home run in 1963, turned himself around, and went around the bases backward (as he did as a New York Met in the bottom of the fifth inning of this first game of a doubleheader, against Philadelphia’s Dallas Green, a fly ball down the short right-field line at the old Polo Grounds. Go the one hour, eight minute spot of this clip below to hear the radio call right after play-by-play man Bob Murphy’s live ad for Kool cigarettes and later remark “hope the run counts … well, Jimmy is a man of his word.” He wasn’t declared out. The official account of the game also mentions how Piersall “ran backwards to 1B and all the way around.” Manager Casey Stengel released him two days later saying, “There’s only room for one clown on this team.”)

7. Under the new defensive shift explanation (page 143) it notes there was a consideration of a “slice-of-pie” alternative that would have added a “no-man zone” behind second base, defined by the two baselines running outward at 45-degree angles from second base (and shaped like a slice of pie), which would have allowed for more ground balls going up the middle to have a better chance of getting to the outfield. That would have prevented infielders from playing too deep directly behind second base. The rule was tested in the minor leagues and not taken to the MLB level.

8. The 2021 Official Rules of Baseball added a clause: “Protesting a game shall never be permitted.” Even if an umpire makes a human error/wrong decision. Is that because the video replay system is supposed to resolve this happening in the moment, rather than set up a dispute afterward and possibly requiring the teams to resume the game at the point of the dispute – logisitcally problematic at best, no matter how right it may be?

9. Major League Baseball’s Office of the Commissioner requires the Official Statistician for every game to “generate tables displaying all individual and team records.” He must “identify each player by first and last name,” indicate if each player hit right-handed, left-handed or “switches between the two,” and for each fielder, including the pitcher, “indicate if he throws with his right or left hand.” Or arm, too. (Page 251).

And one more for the road:

There is a story behind why the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts felt touched enough to wear all this bling.

“A player or umpire is considered ‘touched’ when the ball contacts his body or any piece of clothing or equipment that he is wearing. However, if the ball only touches jewelry (such as a necklace or bracelet), it doesn’t count as a touch.” (Page 131). Uh, OK.

How it goes in the scorebook

A four-for-four career batting average of 1.000. Blue-ribbon work.

If the book isn’t dog-eared, bookmarked with adhesive note pages, highlighted with yellow marker and held together with paperclips by its fifth use, you aren’t handling it properly.

And if this isn’t kept near the real, confusing Official MLB Rule Book on one’s shelf, it’s a missed opportunity.

Make sure that Dodgers’ Bob Geren, who had been manager Dave Roberts’ “bench coach” and right-hand man but now has the label of “major league field coordinator,” keeps this bible nearby. That, and Roberts, and the Dodgers, seem to be trying to groom Danny Lehmann as someone deserving more responsibilities as the games evolves into … whatever it evolving into these days.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== Don’t get ghosted: There are reasons why one also needs to keep checking with the official website There are things that came up after the book went to press that need clarification. Like this:

== The authors point out that in any given MLB season, there are 2,430 games played. That’s because you have 30 teams playing 162 games. So, if multiply those two numbers together and get 4,860, you have to half that because, of course, it takes two teams to play one game. Game on, mathematicians.

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