Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Links and a few book reviews

Awesome post from Beyond the Boxscore about a new Win Expectancy Finder tool. Not only is it informative, but the post itself is pretty damn funny.

It occurs to me I never linked it here, so if you haven't seen and/or filled out Tangotiger's Fan Scouting Report for whatever teams you've observed the most, you should.

The Rainiers made it to the PCL playoffs! The semi-finals are this Wednesday and Thursday at 7:05pm, and should they be in the championships, the games at Cheney will be the weekend of the 16th-18th. Awesome!

While I was travelling all over for Labor Day, I finished reading two more books, so here's a short review of each:

Now Pitching, Bob Feller by Bob Feller and Bill Gilbert

I've always thought it's not how you pitch but when -- when your team is scoring runs. Roger Clemens came up to me before an Old Timers game in Milwaukee a couple of years ago and asked what advice I'd give him. I said, "Not much, except this: Never start a game if your team is going to be shut out."

Ignore what you know about Bob Feller after his career. Ignore whether you think he's an asshat or not for his nasty comments about the current state of baseball. Ignore all that, and take yourself back to 1936 as a high-school kid with a blazing fastball, and read the story of his career, as he transformed from a teenage fireballing phenom into a pitcher with a long career split in two by WWII. Relive 1941 and the last summer of "baseball when the grass was green".

The interesting thing about this book is mainly that it's a story about 1936-1956, but was written in 1990, so there are often things where he'll compare the players of then to the players of today, which can often be jarring from the tales of the past. Another thing is that he purposefully leaves out a lot of the details of his personal life, because of the scandal with his first wife's drug addiction. I actually didn't know much about him before reading this, so I kept wondering through the book: did he just never get married? But no, it was omission on purpose. A bit odd. In retrospect I sort of wondered if it was more cleaned up than you'd expect, sort of like Ty Cobb's autobiography with Al Stump.

Oh well, it was still a fun book to read, especially with the recent hype over teenage phenom pitchers.

The Pitch That Killed, by Mike Sowell

This book is nothing short of amazing.

What do you know about Carl Mays? What do you know about Ray Chapman? Chances are, all you know about either man is the thing that links them: the fatal pitch that Carl Mays threw at Ray Chapman's head on August 16, 1920.

What do you know about Joe Sewell? About the pennant race of 1920? There's an absolutely fascinating story behind that season that goes beyond the White Sox scandal, or Babe Ruth's jump to the Yankees and hitting the unthinkable 54 home runs, or the ban on spitballs, or what have you.

This book does a great job of delving into the background of both Ray Chapman and Carl Mays and brings them both to life in a way that turns them into much more than just an answer to a trivia question. Much like Ty Cobb, Carl Mays was a very unpopular baseball player. It wasn't even just from after the beaning - he apparently had a personality that didn't really mesh well in baseball, as a reserved man with an unpredictable temper. However, he was an undeniably great pitcher, and had a long and productive career which was better than many players currently in the Hall of Fame. And another thing: he was a submariner, which is another detail that I never knew about him. When imagining the fatal pitch being thrown, I always had a normal overhand delivery in mind, but the submarine delivery makes it even odder.

Chapman, for his part, was as beloved as Mays was despised. The most tragic parts of his tale are that he had planned to retire after the 1920 season, hoping for a World Series ring. He planned to go into business with his father-in-law and start a family with his wife, who he had married less than a year before his death. His wife died a few years after he did, as did their daughter, who was born after his death. So very sad. The bright side is that Joe Sewell was called up to fill in as shortstop for the Indians that year, and it was the start of a long and impressive baseball career for him. He claimed that he played to be the reincarnation of Ray Chapman, so it seems fitting that he was able to carry on and fulfill the baseball dreams that Chapman never lived to see.

This book was just incredibly interesting to read. It's even split into short enough chapters and vignettes to make it a very good bus/plane/train book.

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