Tuesday, April 04, 2006
I picked up Charles Euchner’s The Last Nine Innings not entirely knowing what to expect. “You’ll Never Watch A Baseball Game The Same Way” promised Andrew Zimbalist on the cover.
Sure, I thought. I think you are actually required to put that on a baseball book these days. Everyone has to promise hidden insight into the game the way Moneyball did. I was prepared to dislike The Last Nine Innings, but I ended up reading the book cover-to-cover. Darn if it didn't deliver what it promised: insight.
The premise for the book is fairly simple: Euchner reconstructs the Seventh Game of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and D-backs and outlines how the game epitomizes strategy and underscores every aspect of the game. The narrative device, taking the unfolding events of the game and relating them back to various aspects of the game of baseball itself, is very good. The game itself was a hard-fought struggle where the D-backs prevailed, winning their sole World Series championship and breaking the Yankees streak of three consecutive titles.
What I like the best about The Last Nine Innings was how even-handed and thorough Euchner was. I really don’t think there is a single aspect of the game that Euchner doesn’t touch upon, from bunting to relief pitching.
Euchner also has the courage to grapple with a lot of the precepts of sabremetrics and give them their due. Compared with 3 Nights In August, by Buzz Bissinger, which dismisses the arguments of Moneyball by misconstruing them and neglects to cite to Bill James in the index (despite mentioning and criticizing him in a passage dealing the Red Sox pitching), The Last Nine Innings is very fair. Take Chapter Fourteen, The Strategy of Scoring: in discussing a situation where the D-backs considering bunting to move a runner over or stealing, Euchner talks about what a losing strategy bunting and stealing are and cites to arguments made by Baseball Prospectus and Pete Palmer on the subject. A baseball writer taking sabremetrics seriously!
Euchner isn’t making a case for sabremetrics: he's too even-handed for that. The Last Nine Innings endeavors to do something 3 Nights did not: treat all arguments fairly and seek a middle ground. E.g., take Euchner’s discussion of Derek Jeter’s fielding abilities. He fairly lays down comments from pundits and fellow players praising Jeter’s abilities and then includes a fair representation of the statistical argument against Jeter. At the end Euchner doesn’t take a stance. Draw your own conclusion, he tells the reader.
I couldn’t help but compare that to Buzz Bissinger’s rah-rah-ing of Tony LaRussa in 3 Nights. Euchner wants to get fair and give you just the facts. Bissinger is an advocate: he wants you to root for LaRussa, he wants you to think he’s a genius. Euchner wants to be the honest broker and that is why his book is better. Bissinger would no doubt fault Nine Innings for being too dispassionate, but a dispassionate observer will get things right. And Euchner does get things right. The strategy of the game, the joy, the tragedy of it all come through in the 292 pages of The Last Nine Innings. Definitely worth your while.
Opening Day notes … I actually didn’t wait until I went to bed to scope out the full dimensions of the Phils 13-5 butt-kicking. I got home from work discovered the full dimension of the rout before my wife & I left to shop for a new sink at Lowe's. After a sober reflection on the day's events, here are my thoughts …
I’m mildly horrified by Jon Lieber’s performance (eight runs, ouch), but he was facing a pretty darn good lineup. Still, he’s going to have to do better than that.
Hey, the Phillies did bat .350 yesterday (14-for-40) and hit six extra-base hits (inc. two home runs) against a pretty darn good pitcher. Bottom-line, yesterday was a very forgettable performance from the Phillies. Let’s move along … Today is an off-day, then Brett Myers and Mark Mulder square off. Which Brett Myers will show up? 2004 version? Or 2005? I'm eager to see.
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