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Book Review: Why We Love Baseball by Joe Posnanski

I have not had the time to do a lot of book reviews here on the blog in the past ten years or so, but when I saw Joe Posnanski was titling his latest book Why We Love Baseball, I knew it would be a moral imperative for Why I Like Baseball to review it.

I’ll state my conclusion first, lest anyone get the wrong idea when I go on and on about this book, (which you know I will, because that is my way): Why We Love Baseball is a terrific and enjoyable book and I recommend it wholeheartedly whether you are a diehard baseball fan or a casual one. It takes a lot of chutzpah to title a book this, but Joe Posnanski has absolutely succeeded in creating a book that is the answer to its own question: if you love baseball you will absolutely love this book. (Continued)

SABR 51: Chicago

It’s been a few years since I had the time and brainpower to write up one of these recaps of a SABR convention! Of course there were no conventions for a few years in the pandemic, so last year’s one in Baltimore had been delayed twice. This year was Chicago, where we returned to the beautiful but eccentric Palmer House Hilton.

The Palmer House is, apparently, one of at least four different hotels in the USA claiming to be the oldest “continually operating” hotel in the country—not counting COVID shutdowns. (Another one of them is the Omni Parker House in Boston.) You’d think it wouldn’t be hard for historians to settle this, but it’s in the interest of the hotels to each keep making this claim, so they are probably not interested in hearing about actual facts.

We are, without a doubt, in the Misinformation Age. We live in a time when politicians, marketeers, and individuals on social media will flat-out make stuff up in order to build social capital. Where does SABR fit in all this? While on the one hand we are drawn to the myth and romance of baseball, SABRites typically do not hold to the creed “never let facts get in the way of a good story,” because the actual facts make for a pretty damn good story themselves. (Continued)

My 2004 Interview with Jim Bouton

Perhaps it’s a bit macabre, but the thing that motivates me to dig out my old notes and interview transcripts from 2000-2005 is when a player or coach I interviewed dies. I suppose it is inevitable that a bunch of middle-aged and older men I talked to ~20 years ago would be reaching the ends of their lives now, but knowing that doesn’t really soften the blow.

I haven’t posted most of them. Some were only partial transcripts, some I just didn’t quite have time to finish. But while working on something else today I stumbled across the transcript of the time I interviewed Jim Bouton for 50 Greatest Yankees Games.

Jim and I first met, by chance, at BookExpo America, the annual, massive book industry trade show, when I was in line to get an autographed copy of a book by Michael Lewis. (It might have been the Moneyball paperback?) At BookExpo, there is a massive autographing area, with long corrals of lines leading to tables with authors, each of whom has a stack of books to give away and only 30 minutes in which to do it. Often a publicist is sitting with the author, opening the book to the title page so that the author gets about 30 seconds to ask the person’s name (or read it off their badge), say a word of hello, scribble their name, and then bam, on to the next person.

I’ve been the author doing the autographing at the BookExpo corral several times, and it’s a distinctly weird performance of authorhood. But it makes the bookstore workers and librarians who are the majority of attendees (or were back then) happy, and anything that builds buzz is good.

At any rate, Lewis was late to his slot, a long line of disgruntled book people standing in the corral. And sitting by himself on a stool off to the left of the signing table, near the curtained-off backstage area, was a handsome, gray-but-fit-looking older gentleman whose eyes smiled when his mouth did. Many people in the line were staring at him, myself included, because he really looked a lot like Jim Bouton. Where he was sitting looked like he was probably waiting for Lewis, too.

I really didn’t care that much about getting Michael Lewis’s autograph–I just wanted the free book–so I got out of line to ask the publicist if I could just have one sans autograph (she gave me one), and then I said to the guy sitting off to the side, “Everyone’s staring at you because you look just like Jim Bouton.”

And he said, “That’s because I am Jim Bouton.” And we shook hands and immediately got into a brief conversation about Lewis being late and the madness that is BookExpo. I told Bouton I was writing a book about the history of the Yankees and that I’d really love to officially interview him for it. He gave me his card.

We met again a few times after that, including when he came to Boston to promote his self-published book, Foul Ball, which chronicled his efforts to save Wahconah Park, a historic ballpark near his home in North Adams, Massachusetts, and very briefly at the SABR Convention in Seattle, where he was the keynote speaker. Briefly, because I didn’t want to monopolize him, having already taken a lot of his time on the phone and wanting other SABR members to experience the great fun of talking to Jim Bouton.

A quote from the letter I wrote him after the interview, when I had to send him some paperwork from the publisher: “Your interview responses are pure gold to a writer like me: full sentences, to the point, grammatical, vivid, and all the rest.”

So here’s the transcript of the interview we did February 2, 2004, by phone (my parts pared down, his not):

CT: Let’s get right into Game three of the 64 World Series. This was before arm problems for you, wasn’t it?

Jim Bouton: My arm bothered me the first half of ’64–I was only 3-8 at the All-Star break, and I wasn’t sure what the problem was. I had an impacted wisdom tooth removed during the All-Star break and when I came back I felt strong–won 13 games the 2nd half, so I was throwing as well as I’ve ever thrown. By the time the World Series came around I was ready.

Players have these memories, I remember the pennant race and the harmonica incident and all that, and Mickey Mantle calling his shot.

CT: You have to tell me more about that!

Bouton: I was sitting on the bench near the bat rack and Mickey was standing on the dugout steps watching Barney Schultz throw his knuckleball. and Barney Schultz’ knuckleball was dropping about a foot–knee high, drop to the ankles, knee high, drop to the ankles. Mickey had been batting right-handed against Simmons and he has a tomahawk swing, these vicious line drive home runs with overspin on it, but left-handed he had an uppercut. He always upper-cut, so here’s Barney Schultz throwing this knuckleball into Mickey’s uppercut stroke. He’s watching Barney’s warmup throw, and he says to the trainer maybe–Joe Sauros–and I overheard it–not a big announcement, he wasn’t the type to be a big shot or make predictions, it was just a statement of fact. So he walked up to the plate, Barney threw his first pitch, and Mickey hit a seven iron into the upper deck.

The minute he hit it we all knew it was gone, the only question was would it clear the roof? He actually hit it higher than the facade but it then dropped down into the stands. When they run it on Classic Sports you see a guy running in from the left in a pitcher’s jacket. That was me, greeting him at home plate.

CT: What were you thinking then?

Bouton: That was great because otherwise I’d have to go out and pitch the tenth. Nobody was warmed up. Starters almost never go into the tenth inning now. There was no thought of taking me out.

I think I drove in our only run? Or was that in a different game?
(CT: It was a different game.)

CT: Did it concern you at all that the team was a little banged up? Kubek’s wrist, etc…?

Bouton: I never had the sense when I pitched for the Yankees “uh oh we don’t have our best guys in there.” That thought never crossed my mind. To me, all of my thinking about a game had to do with my preparation and what I was thinking about, my mental preparation and my physical preparation. It could have been a high school team running out there behind me.

That was the summer when I developed my double warm up. If I had any trouble it was in the first inning, so that meant I wasn’t into the game yet mentally. So I would warm up twice, to try to simulate an inning, pitching, resting, then pitching, so by the time I went out there it felt like the second or third inning. It was a matter of not being totally focused.

There’s a level of concentration you can arrive at that is almost zen-like.

CT: Was it easier or harder to concentrate in the World Series?

Bouton: I always found it easier to concentrate in the World Series. I didn’t have to manufacture an importance about the game, which I did a few times during the season. I had to sit down at my locker and tell myself it’s life or death, if I don’t win tonight thousands will be starving in Africa. I was out there pitching for the human race. But I didn’t have to do that for the World Series; there was always that butterfly feeling in my stomach.

I loved the whole atmosphere, the buzz in the stadium, the bunting.

CT: 1964 was Mel Stottlemyre’s rookie year. What was your impression of him?

Bouton: [When he came up,] Stottlemyre seemed like a major league pitcher for ten years. He really had the poise and professionalism of a veteran player. It was amazing. He was a pro all the way, a seasoned big league veteran. Both on and off the field.

CT: Where you there in 1962 for the soggy series against the Giants?

Bouton: I almost pitched the 7th game of the 1962 World Series.

CT: Ralph Terry never mentioned that to me!

CT: In 1962 Whitey Ford had hurt his arm and we had nobody to pitch the game. The sports reporters asked Houk who was going to pitch tomorrow, and he said he didn’t know, which meant it was me because he wouldn’t tell me beforehand so I’d toss and turn all night. Ralph relied on seven pitchers all year and I was one of the seven. He said I’m going to go with these guys and that was what he did all year. But then it rained for three days, and game seven was postponed for several days, so they went with Ralph Terry.

CT: About 1960’s World Series loss, did the guys talk about it? (Terry was the pitcher who had served up the walk-off homer to Mill Mazeroski.)

Bouton: Nah, that’s history. Ralph wanted to get the monkey off his back with having given up the home run, so after the 7th game everybody was happy for him because he wouldn’t just be remembered as the guy who gave up that home run.

CT: Do you remember anything else about the game? (1964, again)

Bouton: No.

CT: What about afterward?

Bouton: What I remember about afterward–there was a lot of posing in front of my locker with the baseballs, Mickey and Yogi and I holding a ball–I don’t remember if it was the actual home run ball. There was one of Mickey and I hugging Yogi. I’ve seen that one a lot.

CT: Did you care who you were matched up with, who had to face Gibson?

Bouton: We didn’t care — I always wanted to face the other team’s best pitcher, I wanted to start the World Series, I wanted to be the starter in ’63, but of course Whitey deserved it in ’63. It’s a kind of honorary thing. But whoever pitches game 1 was going to do game 4 and 7 also. I wanted to be the pitcher who would get the three games.

I thought we’d be in the World Series every year and I’d win 20 games every year. I thought I was going to be in the Hall of Fame.

[Jim Bouton died in 2021, and although he was not inducted into the Hall of Fame, his book, Ball Four, was one of the most significant works in the English language in the 20th century.]

Link to Bouton’s books on Amazon: (I get a kickback if you buy anything through this link.)

New baseball science fiction short story (free to read)

I have a new short story, free to read online at! It’s a piece of near future science fiction told from the point of view of a female baseball pitcher making her debut on the mound at Fenway Park. It’s one of the few times I’ve gotten a chance to mix my baseball writing with my sf/f writing!

You can read the story here:

I also wrote a detailed breakdown of all the many threads of research, facts, commentary, etc that went into crafting the story in my Patreon, which is free to read here:

The Patreon essay was prompted by a Twitter thread I did about why I wrote it and The National Pastime, the publication that it’s in:

Playin’ the Blues: Umpiring, MLB Public Relations, and QuesTec

Today I’m re-posting an old relic, mostly because I know you will all find it hilarious to see how antiquated the state of baseball technology was 20 years ago. I wrote this piece for Mudville Magazine (now defunct), after attending a session on umpires and technology at the SABR convention in 2002, when the QuesTec system was new:

In the olden days umpire-baiting and shouts of “Kill the umpire!” were as much a part of a spectator’s experience at a baseball game as the National Anthem and hot dogs. Grumbling about poor umpiring is a time-honored tradition in itself. But in a sport suffering severe public relations problems, could improving the umpiring quell fan unrest?

Major League Baseball, it seems, has always had just as touchy a relationship with its umpires as it has with its players. But in recent years that relationship has changed drastically since the old umps’ union was broken. Under the new union and the new rules, MLB has much greater oversight of umpires than ever before, and much more control. But fans have yet to see much in the way of change on the field. Why?

Think about the gripes you hear—and undoubtedly say yourself—from time to time. How about this one: the time when a single umpire’s decision carries the most weight—in the postseason or World Series—is the time when we want the best umpires, not the ones with the most favors to call in with their boss. Baseball is a ruthless meritocracy in so many ways. It appeals to the fan sensibility of the cream rising to the top, and would mollify us to know that if an umpire blew a call in the seventh game of the World Series, well, at least he was one of the best umpires in the business. Why isn’t there a merit system to choose who works these plum assignments?

And then there is ball/strike calling. This is by far the most widespread source of griping, especially among TV announcers and fans at home watching. ESPN went so far as to introduce a special technology (the “K-zone”) for its Sunday night broadcasts, to definitively determine whether a pitch indeed touched any portion of the strike zone. Why hasn’t Major League Baseball implemented a system like this to evaluate umpire accuracy?

Well, guess what? Major League Baseball does have an umpire oversight program that uses a technology that is even more advanced than the K-zone, at least according to Kevin O’Connor, an umpire evaluator who spoke at the 2002 SABR Convention in Boston. In ten of the thirty Major League parks, electronic equipment evaluates every pitch of the game. After each game, a compact disc of data is burned and given to the home plate ump to review his mistakes. The CD shows every pitch, the strike zone, and marks those that were called incorrectly. Also, according to O’Connor, most umps will only miss 5-6 ball/strike calls per game, which means an accuracy rate above 98%. Not only that, the results of these umpire evaluations are monitored by MLB and (supposedly) do influence who is chosen to work postseason games.

If every fan knew this, would there be less grumbling? Perhaps. We’ve now answered all my questions except for one: why haven’t fans seen this change on the field? The real question is, why hasn’t Major League Baseball made this system common knowledge? Why has MLB preferred to suffer the accusations like those of devoted fan Bob Williams (in Mudville’s letter column) that “it is obvious that umpires do not obey the rules which state the strikes must be over the plate” and play-by-play announcers everywhere? I can only speculate as follows:

1) Maybe MLB is not interested in doing anything to antagonize Television, which is its Golden Goose. To announce that most of the ball/strike replays you see on television are inaccurate (and they are, because of camera angles and distances) would undermine the illusion that the networks carefully preserve that its better to watch the game on TV than to see it live (or listen on radio).

2) Maybe MLB would prefer that the ire of the masses about bad ball/strike calling continue to fall on the umpires, as it has done since time immemorial. If fans thought MLB might be responsible, we’d have yet one more reason to call for Selig’s head.

3) Maybe MLB’s “control” over the umpires is not quite as complete as they would like it to be, and if the use of umpire evaluation were common knowledge, this fact might be exposed.

4) Maybe Kevin O’Connor wasn’t being truthful, and actually umpires are a lot worse than he stated. Maybe the gripers are right and MLB would be in a pickle if we really knew how bad things were.

5) Maybe MLB is just clueless about what makes fans happy and doesn’t realize that fans would universally approve of objective evaluation of umpiring skills? We know umpires have to work their way through the minors, just as players do. Technically, that is supposed to make those who reach the majors the best at what they do. But we also know that there are other factors besides raw talent that can get one to the top. As with players, so it is with umpires–a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness, putting up with low pay and constant travel for years on end, conformity, toeing the line, and even nepotism can serve to advance one up the ladder. Knowing that to stay in the majors, umpires have to keep performing, just like players, at the top level, might set some fans’ minds at ease.

6) Maybe MLB is trying to respect the umpire’s prerogative, which is “he sees what he sees.” We have never before been able to look inside an umpire’s head to find out if he thought he got a call wrong, and the fact that an umpire’s decision stands no matter what in baseball (no ridiculous “consulting the replays” as in football) is one of the few things that is still sacrosanct. If word of this system were widespread, how long would it be before writers started wanting to put a “box score” for the umpire in the paper? The best umpire is supposedly the one you don’t notice is there. By bringing even closer scrutiny on umpires by the public and sportswriters, would MLB be violating this principle?

As I said, this is all speculation. Whatever the reason for MLB’s seeming reticence to discuss or inform the public about umpire oversight, I hope the program is here to stay even if it stays in the background. I approve of MLB’s human and electronic watchdogs but I, for one, do not want to see an umpire “box score” every day. No matter how good an umpire is, there will still be blown calls. Human umpires are a part of the game, they are part of its fabric. Some long for “pure” baseball, where there would never be a question, where the outcome of every game, of every play, would be determined purely on physical success. But that wouldn’t be baseball, where we have so many influences on the richness of the game, from playing fields of different sizes to mounds of different shapes, not to mention sign-stealing and many other forms of sanctioned cheating. I’m not saying we should stop griping about umpires, far from it. But will you be able to pick out which are the five pitches missed on Opening Day? I can’t wait to try.

Of course, since the publication of the piece 19 years ago, we’ve seen the QuesTec system give way to PitchF/X – Trackman and now to Statcast – Hawkeye, video replay be introduced first for fair/foul calls and then expand to include on-field “challenges” issued by managers on safe/out calls, the “K-Zone” type box become ubiquitous on TV broadcasts, and of course the experimentation with ABS — Automatic Ball-Strike calling — in the Atlantic League. And yet some umps who shall remain nameless but who have still has a job and the seniority to work the postseason. Some things change, some things stay the same…

We also know that they were not being truthful when they said five pitches were being missed. The average NOW is around 14 pitches per game, and umpires have gotten MORE accurate since 2002, thanks to the feedback they get from the technology!

For further reading:

  • Pursuit of the Perfect Umpire Game“, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer, August 9, 2019.
    Ben notes in this article that the introduction of QuesTec in 2002 led to an increased in umpire accuracy. However, “MLB’s current rubric for scoring umpires’ performance on pitches, the Zone Evaluation system, claims that umpires are 97 percent accurate, a number that Scott also cites. That seemingly inflated figure—which may stem from MLB’s decision to discard certain pitches when the catcher blocks the ump’s view—is something of a mystery, considering that public research consistently yields lower figures. (An inquiry to an MLB spokesperson didn’t clear up the discrepancy.)”

  • MLB Umpires Missed 34,294 Ball-Strike Calls in 2018. Bring on Robo-umps?, Mark T. Williams, BU Today, April 8, 2019.
    This study noted that not only were there an AVERAGE of 14 missed ball-strike calls per MLB game, but that the older the umpire, the less accurate they were, not more. “The top 10 performing umps averaged 2.7 years of experience. The bottom 10 averaged 20.6 years of experience.”

  • Robo Strike Zone: It’s Not as Simple As You Think“, Wayne Boyle, Sean O’Rourke, Jeff Long, and Harry Pavlidis, Baseball Prospectus, January 29, 2018. This rundown of difficulties for systems like PitchF/X may be of interest, but as we’re seeing with ABS in the Atlantic League, the problems can be overcome.

  • The Karma Series

    The Washington Nationals have won the World Series and the nation could not be happier.

    2019 ALCS Games 4 and 5: Tale of Two Nights

    I’m writing this in the car on the way back to Massachusetts after the Yankees slayed the dragon known as Justin Verlander. It’s 2:30 in the morning, and this dark drive would be very different if they had lost the game.

    We did this drive the night Joe Torre’s career as a Yankee ended, with Suzyn Waldman crying as she described how the whole coaching staff knew that elimination from the postseason would spell the end for Joe’s tenure.

    But tonight the Yankees were not eliminated, even though they could have been.

    The Women in Baseball Panel at #SABR49

    The Women in Baseball Panel at #SABR49

    Wow, has this panel has grown in stature as the field of women in baseball has grown. I was on this panel myself at a SABR convention back in the 2000s… over ten years ago. (I retired from playing women’s baseball when I turned 40, so it had to be around 2006… this blog probably has an entry on that panel but I’m having connection issues and can’t load my own blog…) The panel has upgraded drastically from me (a women’s park-league player and occasional baseball instructor for the AAU and Girl Scouts) to multiple women who have both played and coached actual professional men’s baseball.

    On the panel:

    Perry Barber, well-known former pro umpire

    Janet Marie Smith, who now works for the LA Dodgers, best known for leading the design and building of Camden Yards in Baltimore, as well as the renovation of Fenway Park and the conversion of Turner Field from Olympic venue into baseball stadium

    Ila Borders, former professional pitcher with the St. Paul Saints and other men’s independent teams

    Justine Siegel, founder of Baseball for All and coach for several men’s teams including the Oakland A’s

    Kelsie Whitmore, current pro pitcher with the Sonoma Stompers and member of USA national women’s baseball team

    Jewel Greenberg, documentary filmmaker, just finished a documentary on women in baseball (now called “Hardball: The Girls of Summer” coming out September 24th)

    Moderator: Jean Ardell, author of several books relating to women in baseball

    (What follows is a partial transcript of the panel discussion, which I typed in real-time as the women spoke. This only captures about half of what was said. Any errors are mine.)

    Jean: In 1993 I attended my first SABR convention right here in San Diego. There were exactly 2 women presenting, me and Barbara Gregorich. [*Note: there are enough this year I couldn’t count them easily. 6-8 at least.] Where were all of you in 1993? Well, Kelsie you weren’t even born yet…


    Pride Project: LGBTQ Pride and Organized Baseball: History in the making?

    Those of you who’ve followed my career through my various gigs at writing and editing in the baseball sphere, from the early days of the New York Yankees’ attempt at a website, stints at Gotham Baseball and Baseball Prospectus, to my current position as Publications Director for SABR, may have heard me say this before:

    Every day in baseball something historic can happen. Sometimes it’s noticed at the time, like when the highly anticipated breaking of a record occurs. Other times it isn’t until some sabermetrician or historian goes back and looks at the facts and concludes that something happened. At the time that things are going on, the participants tend to be too wrapped up in doing the thing to also be leaving a written record of what they did. If the newspapers (or later, other media) didn’t create a record, players, teams, and even whole leagues can disappear without a trace.

    I’ve been bookmarking and screencapping and noting articles, tweets, and other online mentions for a while now relating to how MLB teams celebrate Pride Month. I started making notes in 2016, when I went to Petco Park in San Diego and received a Pride rally towel as a freebie.

    Nine Things About the Yankees 2018 Home Opener

    I couldn’t think of one single thematic thread to tie up the story of the 2018 home opener, so I’m going to fall back on that baseball blog trope of a nine-element list.

    Nine Things About the 2018 Home Opener:

    1. SNOW & RAIN

    This isn’t the first time we’ve had snow for the home opener at Yankee Stadium, and it isn’t the first time it’s been postponed to a second day. I was there for the Hideki Matsui grand slam in the snow–that was on a postponed day, if I recall correctly. I wasn’t there for the postponed home opener in 2005 because I thought I should go home to get more work done, and I ended up crying the whole four-hour drive home. So I vowed not to do that again. This year we planned for a possible postponement because the weather prediction for snow was well telegraphed. We stayed over with a friend in the city and packed extra clothes. I wish I could say that the second day was sunny and warm, but it wasn’t. (Continued)