Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Browsing my library - Part IV

It has been a while since I showcased a book from my collection. The other morning, my sons were talking about school with each other as they waited to go to the bus stop. Somehow science came up and my oldest, never one to avoid the opportunity to belittle my interest and knowledge in science, proceeded to do so.

I know more about science than I let on. I don't really know why science rarely interested me (outside of watershed management). Maybe it was because my mother was a science teacher. Maybe it was dissections and fruit fly breeding. Fruit flies still rattle me. Regardless, I usually take the Sherlock Holmes point of view towards science: "What the deuce is it to me? You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work." That attitude gives my son a sense of supremacy since he does care and is knowledgeable.

So my son is mocking me and I say "Hey, I know about the science of baseball and that's all that really matters".

He walked right into it. "Science of baseball? There is no such thing."

I walk over to a shelf and pull this book off.


This book by Byrd Douglas, who was a player and coach for Princeton and then a coach for Vanderbilt before becoming a judge, examines the scientific play of all the positions. Pre-Babe Ruth, scientific or "inside" baseball was considered the peak of playing. Teams that used strategies and nuances in play to help them win were considered scientific with John McGraw, who wrote the forward for this book, being considered the king of scientific ball.

Much of the science is standard fare today. The book covers such commonplace things as pitchers covering first on bunts, shortstops using the "science" of signaling who should cover the bag on a steal attempt, and second basemen being able to turn the double play well. Some smart things then seem to get ignored but are finding favor once again in modern ball. For example, Douglas writes: "The first man in the batting order of a team is looked to by the coach as the best player he has for getting on bases, either by a walk, by being hit, by speed or by safe hitting." With greater awareness now compared to say the 1980's and even the 90's of on-base percentage as opposed to speed, we are seeing guys leading off who have the capacity to get on base and not just run fast.

For a book published in 1922, it's a mighty good one for instructional advice. There is indeed a science of baseball.

Best of all, I still have a hole card the next time my science skills are criticized: Robert Adair's Physics of Baseball.

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