The New Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball (1991) is another of those used books that I picked up for a song and finished reading during a recent long journey. It's a thick collection of essays by Leonard Koppett, a sports writer who began practicing his craft in the 1940's. There's a delightful amount of general wisdom in his prose --- in addition to splendid historical information on the evolution of baseball, as a game and as a business, during the past century and a half. Some sample tidbits follow.

in the Introduction:

[This book] does, in fact, reproduce one of the underlying modes of thought among baseball people: Repeat the obvious, repeat the well known, remind yourself and your teammates (or players if you are a manager or coach) what they are supposed to know anyhow and probably do. The repetition is to make sure that the appropriate thought is firmly in mind at the appropriate moment .... [Baseball's mental processes] don't involve some sort of mystical flashes of brilliance, but only the ability, willingness, and need to concentrate on perspective, context, relevance, and focused attention.

in Chapter 5, Managing --- The Art of Worrying:

[A big-league manager] cannot change the fundamental character of any player. The lazy ones remain lazy, the conscientious ones are conscientious from the beginning. Men may change their own characters, and life can affect them, and a manager can be one of many interrelated influences .... He cannot change the basic level of ability of any player. ... He cannot "inspire" anybody ... This is a profession, a livelihood, serious business engaged in by adults. ... [I]n baseball, where all vital skills are of the fine-scale, hair-trigger, reflex type, a binge of passion can do more harm than good.


[The manager] clings to three recurrent themes, themes that have infinite applications: You can't please everybody, there's always tomorrow, and in the long run the breaks even up.


[I]t's not much of a trick, to a professional, to think of the right strategic moves in a given situation; the real trick is to define the situation correctly by taking into account all the contingencies.


[There's a] difference between making the right decision and getting the right result. One doesn't guarantee the other.

in Chapter 10, The Playing Field:

These variations [in fields] help make baseball fascinating to watch, as well as to play, but they also go to the heart of the game's philosophy. The idea is to win this game, on this field, under these conditions, at this time.


Baseball is not, as we have seen, explosive physical effort aided by excessive emotional highs (which produce inevitable emotional lows). Tennis players and golfers, trying to concentrate on hitting a ball, demand --- and get --- quiet. Football players are trying to hit nothing smaller than a full-size (or outsize) human being. Basketball and hockey players are involved in nonstop frenzy while in action. But baseball players are engaged in fine skill, high-concentration, split-second movements from a standing start, amid crowd noise that is allowed and encouraged, so they have to develop their shut-out-the-distraction mechanism more than their animal-response-to-cheers mechanism.

in Chapter 11, The Media:

"Media" is the plural of medium," which means the instrumentality used to convey information. ... (You can also say, as a clever ball player told me once, that "medium" means not rare and not well done, a perfect description of the baseball writer; but there are wise guys everywhere.)

in Chapter 12, The Road:

Loneliness is the element unappreciated, or never understood, by those who know all other facets of baseball but have not lived this one. Just as conquering fear is the fundamental but rarely cited basis of hitting, handling loneliness is the fundamental unmentionable of baseball life.

in Chapter 15, Statistics:

The first thing to remember is that statistics merely count what has already happened; they say nothing about why. The second is that the standard baseball statistics count only certain selected items, ignoring the effect of other equally countable items that are obviously related. ... The third is that many statistics have self-limiting factors, or other subtle mathematical relationships, that are universally ignored .... The fourth is that statistics, by their nature, are meaningful only for a large number of cases. And the fifth, and by far the most important, is that baseball is played by human beings, whose actions cannot be described by simple numbers. A man's performance fluctuates whether or not surrounding circumstances appear unchanged.


The guiding idea is that statistics are a byproduct, not a cause; a description, not a law; and an isolation of a few, almost arbitrary, factors from dynamic reality. ... Statistics as records, however, are another story. They are not merely valid; they are the whole business, by definition.

in Chapter 17, The Owners:

All owners are surrounded by employees, assistants, and advisers whose prime interest it is to keep the owner convinced that he has an excellent staff. It is the staff that handles the day-to-day details. This is what has grown so large recently, as we saw in an earlier chapter, and like any bureaucracy, it has increased influence upward and created tremendous inertia.


Another set of factors magnifies the gap between most owners' conception of the baseball world and the real thing. Since they are already capable, successful men in their own fields, with plenty of money, they tend to refuse to accept the idea that they don't understand. Like most successful people, they come to believe that methods they know have proved successful in the past can be used in a new situation. ...

The successful industrialist, or the heir to a fortune, is usually confident of his own judgment: He has the money to prove it, and he is accustomed to having his orders followed unquestioningly. Whatever else Fitzgerald might have had in mind in the opening words of his story "The Rich Boy" --- "The very rich are different from you and me" --- he was dealing with one pertinent facet of this chapter: The habitually rich live in an environment different from ordinary people, and therefore develop different responses ...

in Chapter 22, The Post-Season:

[L]asting romance (myth, legend, tradition, nostalgia, gilded memory) is created by writers and readers, not viewers with an itchy finger on the remote-control button. In a less poetic age, less daily poetry about baseball is being produced.

in Chapter 29, The Windup, and the Pitch:

Television is a highlights medium. Baseball is not a highlights game.

In news programs, as well as specials and the replays during live telecasts, the exceptional physical-action play is shown over and over --- and all the "boring" routine stuff is edited out or glossed over. That's perfect for football and basketball, where the most significant plays also coincide with the most balletic movements --- a drive, a dunk, a touchdown pass, an interception, a long run, a blocked shot. But in baseball, the significance lies in the situation more than in the physical occurrence: A grand-slam home run or a strikeout with the tying run on third is not a pictorial climax but a conceptual one. Neither lends itself as well to highlight presentation as it does to verbal description.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Television is conditioning everyone, especially children, to short-attention-span, quick-action, let's-get-on-to-the-next-thing viscerally visual responses --- not just to baseball or sports, but to everything. ...

(see also WorldSeriesLines (22 Jun 2002), HeartOfTheOrder (3 Jul 2002), SparkyAndSandy (24 Jul 2002), LossOfLight (4 Nov 2002), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicRecreation - 2003-07-23

(correlates: PyramidPeaking, SituationalStrategy, GoodRecovery, ...)