April 1, 2006

Recent Reading

Here are some of the most recent books I've read (or read through). See if you can figure out the theme:

Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel by Steven Goldman - This book talks about the formative baseball years of Casey Stengel from his playing days until shortly after he took command of the Yankees, commencing a run of 5 consecutive World Series wins. Goldman is an entertaining writer with a flair for making historical and pop culture references having little to do with the sport at hand.

The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death. by Gene Weingarten - As a self professed former hypochondriac, Washington Post humor columnist writes about the human body and everything weird that can go wrong. Chapter titles include "Hiccups Can Mean Cancer," "How Your Doctor Can Kill You," "Tumor. Rhymes with Humor," and "Relax. Hypochondria Never Killed Anyone. Oh, Wait. Yes, it Did." Trust me, it's funny, and you'll probably be scared the next time you get a headache.

Baseball Between the Numbers by Baseball Prospectus - Tackles much of baseball's conventional wisdom by attacking it with cold, hard reasoning. These guys (and girl) have a moderately well known website and are on the bleeding edge of baseball research. If you want to know why baseball works the way it does and how to make it work better, this is your book, as they explain a lot of things in fairly easy to understand language, and they keep the heavy mathematical lifting safely behind the curtain.

Winners : How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones (And It's Not the Way You Think) by Dayne Perry - Perry analyzes playoff teams from the past 25 years to figure out why and how those teams made the playoffs. More than facts, figures, and graphs, Perry tells the story of these teams and some of their more colorful players. Stories of Pedro Guerrero, Rickey Henderson, Dave Dravecky, and others fill the pages, keeping the pace quick. The only quibble I have with the book is that it treats all playoff teams as equal in its analysis, when there is a big difference between a team like the 2005 Padres and the 2005 Cardinals (the book stops at 2003). However, this is explicit in the text, so it's hard to fault him for doing what he said he would do.

The Numbers Game : Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics by Alan Schwarz - The book traces just what the title says from the invention of the box score in the 1850's to the efforts of Retrosheet to recreate every game pitch by pitch from the statistical and news accounts. The reader sees the introduction of the computer, the battle between various parties for the rights to statistics, the efforts to clean up the mess of numbers from the earliest days of the game, and the controversy over records purposely altered for some purpose or another. It's baseball history from a perspective never considered.

Dollar Sign on the Muscle: The World of Baseball Scouting by Kevin Kerrane - Written in 1984 and currently out of print, I got it at the library. The author follows a bunch of different scouts around for the 1981 scouting season. The reader meets men who have been in the business for 60 years and others just starting out. One learns about the life of the scout, what they look for, and how the game is starting to change. Finding out how scouts evaluate players, the different approaches of different teams, and the various levels of subjectivity is interesting, especially combined with the names of the players involved, especially now that every player mentioned (save Julio Franco) is retired, so it is possible to look back and see how the scouts did. Recommended for anyone with the slightest appreciation for the history of the game.

Baseball America 2006 Prospect Handbook by Baseball America - I got this book by mistake via a miscommunication about a birthday present between my wife and mom. It's interesting, though it is purely a reference book. Each major league team's top 30 prospects are listed and decribed along with their stats. There is also an short analysis of the overall quality of a team's minor league system. This book is interesting if you're into prospects and will be more interesting to me in three or four years when I can see who made the Show.

Baseball Prospectus 2006 by Baseball Prospectus - They've been at it for about 10 years now, and they keep innovating on the cutting edge of analysis. This is their yearly book that lists all the players, makes comments about each, and includes their hyper-accurate analytical projections for the coming year. Included are essays on each team and essays about certain statistical analysis they've done for this year's book. I'm counting on them to help me win my fantasy league this year, and while they market the book as a way to help with that, they're really trying to figure out why teams win and how to make good baseball decisions based on the data at hand. They tend to attack the sacred cows of baseball, which ticks some people off, but they do it with data, which I like.

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