"Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits." — Tommy Edison
Tom Hoffarth is a sports journalist in Los Angeles, born and raised (reared is the correct phrase, but it just sounds wrong) and specializing in the sports media business. A USC graduate from the School of Journalism (it still exists, somewhat) in 1984, he is also available for service at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomhoffarth/
It arrived in a Manilla envelope, carefully stuck between two pieces of cardboard. The envelope was hand addressed, from a post-office box in Accord, New York. There was one “two ounce” stamp affixed to it, along with four “Earth Day” forever stamps, all upside down.
It came from a random recommendation from the Twitter account of John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball.
From the inimitable Mikhail Horowitz, author/illustrator of the new book Ancient Baseball, a fresh take on Franklin P. Adams's "baseball's Sad Lexicon" (a.k.a. "Tinker to Evers to Chance"). pic.twitter.com/x9pJ3TdBZH
He also has a back-cover blurb: “Who knew baseball history could be so much fun? No more archive trawling for me – Horowitz sees baseball everywhere in the ancient world. Gorgeous, erudite, laugh-out-loud funny.”
It came, as well, with a stamp of approval by Tim Wiles, the former director of research for the National Baseball Hall of Fame: “Many have tried to explain baseball’s mysterious connections to time, eternity, mythology and human spirituality, but most such attempts leave us empty-handed. Mikhail Horowitz has caught lightning flashes of insight over and over again in this slim volume … Read it and reap.”
After all we poured through in our previous review of the Sports Publishing/Skyhorse refresh of “The New Baseball Bible,” this update of “Baseball Miscellany” by the same publishing house measures in at half the size, half the number of pages, far more colorful and graphically bent, printed on much better paper stock, a much tighter binding and, all in all, likely far more easier for a reader to navigate. (And it’s five bucks cheaper).
Smaller can be more useful, depending on the reader’s attention span.
Still, you’re at the mercy of the author’s construction and content decisions.
Matthew Silverman – not to be confused with the 44-year-old Harvard-educated President of Baseball Ops for the Tampa Bay Rays – has done plenty of other baseball books that involve collecting material, specifically with his work on New York Mets history.
Unlike the Dan Schlossberg “Bible” format of 20-plus chapters that break down the game historically and every other which way, Silverman’s approach is to pose 30 questions – the last three, in a category of “Extra Innings” – and then meander from from there.
Most chapters are filled in by quips, quotes and antidotes, enough that don’t directly relate at all the chapter’s original focus, but none-the-less serve a purpose of continued educations.
Bibles should be thumped in higher regards at this moment in time. Because they can serve a higher purpose. Right-side up, especially, with favorite passages recited in order to help put things into perspective.
In the beginning, Dan Schlossberg created a lot of this.
It may seem like night and day since he proclaimed “The Baseball Book of Why” in 1984. Or even “The Baseball Almanac: Big Bodacious Book of Baseball” of 2004 for Triumph Books, followed by “Baseball Gold: Mining Nuggets from Our National Pastime” in 2007 and Baseball Bits: Little-Known Stories, Facts, and Trivia from the Dugout to the Outfield” in 2008. There are many others in between for the former Associated Press sports editor from New Jersey, a regular writer for Street & Smith’s Official Baseball Yearbook, Sports Collectors Digest, The Sporting News and official World Series programs. His resume includes more than three dozen books.
For this particular book of numbers, facts and stories that’s about as large as old Sears catalogue (with a typeface that still reminds us one, along with the muddied black-and-white photos), the lineage goes back to “The Baseball Catalog” of 1980 (and a millennium edition in 2000) from Jonathan David Publishers. This is now the third version of “The New Baseball Bible,” which Sports Publishing took over with a version in 2002, and last updated it in 2017 before the latest refresh.
So, what’s new?
Comparing this one to three years ago – which we can, having both editions here in front of us – the cover tweaks include noting that Schlossberg is now identified as a “former AP sportswriter” (he now can be found contributing to Forbes.com), the forward is now by official MLB historian John Thorn (versus former Dodger Jay Johnstone) and the preface comes from former MLB umpire Al Clark (instead of writer Alan Schwarz). The cover collage also adds Mike Trout as the main figure in the center, replacing Ken Griffey Jr., while Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews are added (and a group of three old-timers we’d be hard pressed to identify are left off).
And a yellow coloring of the book title instead of white.
Improvement overall already.
Ramping up from 408 pages to 467, the most notable additions:
== Aside from chapters on Beginnings of Baseball, How Some Rules Apply, Umpires, Playing the Game, Equipment, Ballparks, The Game, Famous Faces, Managers, The Brass (commissioners and owners), Trades, The Supporting Cast (stadium announcers, organists, vendors, etc.), The Media, Big Moments, The Language of Baseball, Superstitions and Other Traditions, Spring Training, Other Leagues and Other Lands, Fans, The Expansion Eras and A New Century, there are three additional chapters: Cooperstown (all things related to the Hall of Fame), After 108 years (the Cubs’ 2016 title) and Turbulent Times (labor pains, Astros’ scandals and a change in how offense is played).
The most poignant addition of having Thorn do the new forward and talk about for all the baseball history he has written, Schlossberg has been more than a kindred spirit, matching him publication for publication going back to the mid 1970s. It’s akin to watching the Beatles/Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson look and admire each other and then have it inspire their next pieces of work.
When the movie “Major League” arrived in 1989, it kinda rocked the box office.
Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert, Corbin Bernsen … plus Milwaukee County Stadium, and Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, recruited to somehow merge into this a fictionalized story using a real MLB team and logos to grab onto some kind of authenticity.
Yet, was it really doing the real Indians of Cleveland any favors?
The R-rated “Slap Shot”-type of tale about how an evil woman owner of the team is trying to break the stadium lease with the city by fielding the most mismatched roster possible that will sink ticket sales and then she can move the franchise to Miami. It wasn’t based on a true story. But one couldn’t help compare the team to how the real ’89 Indians of Joe Carter, Cory Snyder, Brook Jacoby, Greg Swindell and Doug Jones were operating amidst their third losing season in a row, a 73-89, next-to-last finish in the AL East.
In the movie, the guys rallied together. In real life, not so much. (Oh, and here’s also 10 “wild” facts about the movie, thanks to the late, great Mental Floss magazine).
Because the movie grossed about $50 million just with its domestic release, “Major League” it would spawn two sequels.
By the time “Major League II” came out in 1994 — sub in Omar Epps for Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes, as if we wouldn’t notice, and then drop it down to a PG rating – the real Indians had started to turn a corner under manager Mike Hargrove. They were going along at a 66-47 clip and second in the newly created AL Central (the first year beyond a simple East-West division for each league) when everything came to a ridiculous stop for the strike/lockout. The Indians were almost assured a playoff spot in ’94. But with the season done (ask the Montreal Expos about “what if?”), there would be no World Series and everything would bleed over into the threat of replacement players and the delayed start of a 1995 season.
(You may be hearing more about how the current MLB situation reminds some of that ’94-’95 period when it comes to how to split up income. Some things just don’t change).
Back on that Indians’ ’94 roster was Albert Belle, a rookie back in ’89, coming off an All-Star year where he led the league with 129 RBIs and was third in AL MVP voting. Manny Ramirez was a 22-year-old who would finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting (17 HRs, 60 RBIs, .269). Jim Thome, drafted by the team in ’89, was a 23-year-old third baseman showing some power – the first of 11 straight seasons of 20 or home homers. Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray, Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel and Paul Sorrento were the core of the lineup. The pitching staff focused on 40-year-old Dennis Martinez and 39-year-old Jack Morris at the top, with Charles Nagy and Jason Grimsley. But no one in the bullpen had more than five saves.
When “MLII” hit theaters in March, 1994, it debuted at No. 1 in the box office. Yet critics gave it a 5 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The discussion over who most deserved the 2012 American League MVP Award – Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout or Tigers’ Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera – appeared to depend far less on how voters quantified a player’s value and more on how they valued certain statistics.
Eventually, an important WAR broke out over the weight of some very basic sabermetrics. Baseball’s older, old and not so old grabbed a handrail and payed attention to this shifting ground.
After the fact, ESPN did a whole issue about analytics and how it pertained to this decision, in its February, 2013 issue. But long before that, when editors of The Daily News thought it would be worthwhile to have me and writer J.P. Hoornstra publicly hash things out on the front page of the Sept. 24, 2012 edition – the season wasn’t even over yet – it was couched as a classic “new-vs.-old school mentality.” There was the weighted scales of how was also about whether this 21-year-old on a team that would be missing the playoffs deserved taking this honor from a veteran player, whose team was bound for the playoffs, and was accomplishing a feat that hadn’t been done in decades.
There was no regional bias in that we were all enamored with Trout. Not just his “traditional” average/power numbers, but also his nearly 50 stolen bases, and his phenomenal defense. He was “Magic Mike.”
Since I was taking the “old school” argument, it was mostly based on “this is how we’ve done it in the past.” What pushed me for Cabrera was accomplishing the league lead in average, homers and RBIs, plus the fact the team was going to the post-season. And he was finishing strong.
The pivot to this whole discussion was Wins Above Replacement. Trout led the league, above 10. Cabrera wasn’t so bad, either.
My final argument: “I’m most impressed with the fact Trout has saved 25 runs with his defense (again, a stat I’m not sure how it’s devised) and he’s only been caught stealing four times. Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez already have turned the tide on how Sabermetrics can determine a Cy Young Award, and this may take it to the next step. It’s just a shame if Cabrera pulls this rarity and doesn’t win. It’s something that happened to four Triple Crown winners in the past, but that didn’t make it necessarily right (see: Williams, Ted; hated by reporters). Trout and Cabrera both have great stories.”
I asked for a tie (see: 1979 NL MVP). When the votes came in, Cabrera (.330, 44 HRs, 139 RBIs from the No. 3 spot, plus a .606 slugging percentage and 6.9 WAR for the AL champion Tigers) won far too easily over Trout (.326, 30 HRs, 83 RBIs from the leadoff spot, a league-best 129 runs and 49 steals and a MLB best 10.7 WAR). Easily. It shouldn’t have been that way, but it was. Old school won. Perhaps, for the last time.
So now, on pages 189-200 in Anthony Castrovince’s old school/new school updated guidebook on baseball analytics that focuses especially Wins Above Replacement, he can take that 2012 example and, with hindsight, better summarize:
You can protest WAR, and many have. Complex thinkers have derided it as too simple, and simple thinkers have derided it as too complex. … To be very clear: WAR has flaws. But if nothing else it’s a quick and dirty starting point.
In this book, it’s actually the end point – the final chapter in the fifth and last section of a book, and probably the best place to put it, because of how it ties together and captures the intricacies of all the stats discussed before it.
But getting to this point, you have to start with now-obvious flaws of the “old stats” – batting average, RBIs, errors, pitching victories and saves, covered in Section 1. Then after those 38 pages comes the parade of newer, sometimes esoteric, occasionally hair-splitting calculations that have grown from the Bill James movement.
That would be, in order presented here for purposeful reasons: OBP, SLG, OPS, RC, ISO, wOBA, wRC+, BsR, ERA+, WHIP, GSs, FIP, DRS, UZR, Diff, SRS, DER, WP, MN, BABIP, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA and WPA.
(Just then, we had a flash back there of our junior year in high school, having finished advanced algebra, geometry and trig, we were asked if we would be continuing on with the group into the calculus phase of this mathematical maze. Initially — both rhetorically and literally — we were scared at what we saw on the horizon. Suddenly, the 26 letters of the alphabet looked far easier to master into sentences and paragraphs over in the English department than trying to wrestle with these these calculations that only added up to doom for whatever jobs we might enjoy going forward. For what it was worth, we scored far higher on the math portion of the SAT than we did the English side of it, so math got us a better seat in the college admissions offices).Continue reading “Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: No need to start a nerdy WAR over MLB’s new metrics system … try some cool WHIP”→