Friday, February 17, 2006

Book review #3

Back in review #1 I mentioned how you essentially had two types of regional history. Usually they're done by someone passionate, yet not real talented in research and writing, and the book is a pretty lousy read. The other kind is when you get a writer, often a local sportswriter, who uses his journalistic skills to put together a really nice history.

The Giants of Oshkosh Baseball by Myles Strasser is an example of the latter. Strasser wrote a series of articles for the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper and this book is a compilation of those articles. It covers the history of organized baseball in Oshkosh up until the 1950's when the minor league team, like so many others across the country that fell victim to the multitude of other entertainment options available to people through television and radio, folded.

Through a combination of interviews and solid research, Strasser puts together a lot of good information and narrates it so that it is interesting. No rote re-listing of batting averages or standings. No height and weight statements. Just solid reporting and story-telling. This is a very good history if you can find it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Book review #2

As I mentioned before, I am a long time member of The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). As part of annual membership, you receive the publications The Baseball Research Journal (BRJ) and The National Pastime. The latter historically has been more of a history/photographic essay publication while the former has primarily been statistics and analysis.

A couple years ago, SABR got a new editor for their publications, Jim Charlton. The previous editor, Mark Alvarez, did a decent job but the publications were sort of stale. Charlton has brought some excitement back to SABR publications.

The most recent issue of the BRJ is the first that I read cover to cover. This is the 34th issue (I have 31 of them, I think) so that is saying something. This issue is geared towards analysis but does have a couple of historical National Pastime articles tossed in which gives a nice change of pace. The statistical pieces are really well done. Too often there are a number of pieces of contrived statistics where someone throws a mish-mash of numbers together to try and prove that Ty Cobb was the best player of all-time or Harland Clift belongs in the Hall of Fame or some such thing. Very little of that in this issue.

It is difficult to pick out which articles of the 23 are the best. Tom Ruane does his usual fantastic work with two pieces(!); one on the myth of clutch hitting, the other on whether reaching base on errors is a skill. The errors piece brings up more questions than it answers but certainly makes one think that it is a more likely skill than clutch hitting (not that that is Ruane's intent of writing the two pieces but the existence of clutch hitting is a topic that drives me nuts (it doesn't exist).

George Michael's Photo Mysteries are really cool. Cumulative Home Run Frequency by Gabriel Costa, Michael Huber and John Saccoman is also terribly interesting. Without getting into the morality of the steroid issue, it provides some measures that seem to indicate that something has been going on with the great power hitters of the 1990's-2000's.

Great articles abound in this publication and if you don't get a copy through SABR membership (if you're reading this blog, you should probably join SABR), at fifteen dollars, it is a bargain. That's 65 cents an article! I strongly recommend it.