Just picked up a book that every baseball writer should pack away in the satchel. Zack Hample’s Watching Baseball Smarter does exactly that by teaching fans (and sports writers) how to better understand the game. You can learn how to calculate earned-run averages, on-base percentages, and fielding averages, among other things. You can also learn how a split-fingered fastball drops when it reaches the plate, why a knuckleball flutters, and how to grip a four-seam fastball. You’ll also learn more about pitch sequences.
This book also includes some history, such as the fact balls caught on one-bounce were originally called outs, that the pitching mound was originally 50 feet from the plate until 1893, and that foul balls were not called strikes until 1901.
The strength of this book is in its clear explanations of the game itself, such as a breakdown on how players field each defensive position, strategies for running (and stealing) bases, how umpires call games, and how to calculate and understand statistics. The book also includes a chapter on random stuff to notice, such as how catchers gesture to call pitches during warm-ups: “Slider—He moves his glove to one side with a backhand motion.”
You’ll also learn how to scrutinize a boxscore and how to keep score. The 42 pages of glossary terms alone is worth the price of this book ($13.95). Plus, you’ll get a list of season and all-time records for hitting and pitching. This book is written clearly and with some humor. Sit down and read a few chapters and then pack it away so you can reference it before you cover your next baseball game. It’s a new book, so check the tables near the front of your book store, which is where I found this gem. Check it out and keep it with you. You’ll learn volumes.
Now, I need to check out another book I found, The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball. That looks like an interesting read as well. I’ll let you know.