The book: “Baseball for the Utterly Confused”
The author: Ed Randall
The vital stats: McGraw Hill, 232 pages, $17.95 paperback
Find it: Powells has it (linked here)
The pitch: Mr. “Talkin’ Baseball,” who according to his bio in WFAN radio (linked here) “is held in the highest esteem as one of baseball’s foremost authorities, the result of approximately 500 compelling interviews with the Who’s Who of baseball,” has decided to author his own version of the publishing company’s answer to “(Fill in the blank) for Dummys” or “The Idiot’s Guide to (Whatever).”
Maybe he’s the best candidate. He thinks he knows enough, and can impress a novice with that information.
What should tip you off immediately as to what this one’s all about is the kiss-of-death quote stripped across the top of the cover:
“This book takes its place among the best baseball books ever written. It’s so much fun, and I coulnd’ put it down. A must-read for the diehard fan and for the apprentice.”
So says Larry King.
First problem: A baseball book that’s supposed to teach someone about the game should have a lot of pictures. That visually helps explain a lot. However, this book has three pictures, and they’re really just diagrams. One, on page 16, illustrates a baseball field, with the numbers for the players at their positions, and a chart listing the distances between things — did you know it’s 127 feet, 3 3/8 inches between home plate and second base? That’s never come up in casual conversation, not has it been a discussion of change. The other diagrams: Both on how to keep score, and even then, they’re more confusing than necessary.
Second problem: After the two-page preface, there’s an 11-page introduction. Both written by Randall. Telling you everything about why baseball is great. Get to the meat of the matter.
Page 13: Explaining the rules: Paragraph one includes: “Each team’s objective is to win the game by outscoring its opponent (Hello! Please tell me you already knew this and weren’t utterly confused!)”
Actually, at this point, we’re more annoyed.
Page 80: “A Purely Subjective List of the Greatest Starting Pitchers Since Ed’s Been on Earth.” He then gives his list, and adds: “Why are Koufax and Gibson on top of my list een though they have fewer career wins? Because, I said so. Ask the same question as to why there’s an asterisk (*) next to Roger Clemens’ name. You’ll get the same answer.”
In other words, he can’t explain it.
Page 102: Randall poses the question: What Happens When There’s a Double Switch? His answer: “The double switch occurs when the manager removes his pitcher as well as one of his position players. It is a phenonenom principally in the National League.”
That’s as deep as you’re gonna get here?
Page 123: An explanation about how Fritz Petersen and Mike Kekich once traded wives. As if this has anything to do with anything.
Page 129: “A Purely Subjective List of the Greatest Fielders Since Ed’s been on Earth.” There are two left-fielders listed. There are seven catchers. Why? We’re not sure. Earth to Ed — please explain.
We can’t go on. Even if there was someone we were trying to bore to death, we wouldn’t recommend this to them to learn what horsehide’s all about. We’d hide it.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Caught stealing. Your time and money. Ask a friend if you really can’t understand what’s going on. Unless you know Ed and trust him, that’s what baseball is good at — inspiring conversation, explanation, interpretation. It’s not just there in a book. If you must, thought, may we instead recommend: “Watching Baseball Smart — A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-Experts and Deeply Serious Geeks,” by Zack Hample (2007, paperback, $13.95, linked here), from the author who once gave us “How To Snag Major League Baseballs”