The book: “Baseball Field Guide: An In-Depth Illustrated Guide to the Complete Rules of Baseball”
The authors: Dan Formosa and Paul Hamburger
The vital statistics: The Experiment Publishing Company, 248 pages, $14.95 (Released March 22)
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, and the publishers website.
The pitch: A field guide, by definition, really isn’t a rule book.
It’s much better.
Far more usable.
And it assumes you know some things, just not everything, and that eventually everyone needs things explained in different ways.
While it seems as if those who do compile the annual official MLB rule books have to be a) technical writers, b) lawyers, c) player agents with something to gain or d) nit-pickers (is that word actually hyphenated?) – and the version of the one by Triumph Books doesn’t come out until June 1, which kind of defeats the purpose – this thing that looks like a Zagat’s Guide comes across much more as a A-plus collection of graphics from USA Today. It might not ultimately simplify things down to the “Baseball for Dummies” IQ, but it’s a much cleaner, intuitively organized and far too practical for those who just need of a clear refresher. Like, something you’d read before heading to the DMV for a driving test.
Graphics, photos, charts and the occasional humorous sidebar nuggets make this something that an umpire should really have stuck into his back pocket before even setting foot on a field of any kind. (And, with a paperback format that measures five inches wide, nine inches tall and less than an inch thick, it’s very doable).
Formosa and Hamburger have refined the art of baseballism with the third edition of a book that they launched in 2006, revised in 2008 and, almost under the radar, have continued to make compelling and discernible for this year’s readership.
On the very first page, they explain their goal is “to organize and explain the vague, misleading, confusing, inconsistent and obscure rules of America’s favorite pastime.” They add that the book is “intended to be used as a reference guide.” In bold letters. (As a result, that’s how some book stores may have it shelved … even better, the publishers have it under the category of “health and wellness.”)
So check, and check.
Now, let’s put it to use right away.
The latest MLB update about the “neighborhood” slide into second base – the “Utley Rule” – was among several rule revisions implemented after recent meetings in late February. We’re guessing it was too late for the authors to include any of it in this edition, but we’ll stick with that they’ve diagrammed nonetheless because, in essence, it really has not varied from the original intent, just the interpretation.
(Some people just need it spelled out better for them).
How do you figure out whether a runner slid too far out of the base path to try to break up a double play?
Look at these illustrations on page 135.
Now go break a leg.
(Interestingly, on the opposite page, there’s a discussion about what constitutes fan interference, and the photo included is from the Dodgers-Cubs game at Wrigley Field last June when Adrian Gonzalez went to try to catch a pop up but a fan, while holding his baby, grabbed his glove and tries to wrestle the ball out of it. The call was made properly, but the fan was not ejected).
One other instance of this book’s value is how it gets into the ever-confusing infield fly rule. Page 124 clearly explains the rule, its intent, how it’s applied and even why it’s different from a “closely related rule” where there’s only a runner on first with less than two outs. But more to the point, page 125 is even better, getting into how the world would be “if the Infield Fly Rule did not exist …”
We don’t even want to think about it. But now we can visualize. And sleep much better.
The typeface may be a little small for those with challenged eyesight, but the font is otherwise clear enough for those who are used to reading long passages these days on their smart phones. In fact, because of today’s reading trends, it might even be prudent to get a version of this as a phone app.
Two more things we admire,: The cover shot is from the first MLB night game at Ebbets Field, which might have not even supplied enough light to have read a book, and this book refers in all instances to the local American League West team as the “Anaheim Angels.” No references to “Los Angeles.”
More to know:
= Thanks to this very interesting independent publisher for being the ones who, in 2014, came out with the paperback verison of Billy Bean’s “Going the Other Way”
= Bizzare rules from the past you may not have known existed.
= For the “real” rules, there’s the MLB guide coming out soon (with rule-breaker Bryce Harper gracing the cover). But don’t forget, for a really neat reference book that could also be in this genre, there’s Paul Dickson’s 2009 “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball: The Etiquette, Conventional Wisdom and Axiomatic Codes of our National Pasttime.” Which we happily reviewed when it came out. There’s also the Zack Hample 2007 book, “Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts and Deeply Serious Geeks” that fits well.