Finished a wonderful book last evening that helped me cement this as the summer of baseball. For the first sustained period of time, we’ve got a Reds team that is very enjoyable to watch. Competitive. I don’t mind that they are not perfect–I just relish that we have a competitive team. And I’ve downloaded the MLB At-Bat application which allows me to listen to games across the U.S. I’ve been to a few great Reds games, with colleagues from work, and then to the second Civil Rights game with my dad. I’m enjoying the game at a different level this year, and it’s really added a nice calming touch to my summer.
But what would my obsession be without a few books? First, see my initial post on the Willie Mays bio. (Note: he was at the Civil Rights Game this year, and it was a treat to see and hear him.) And now, The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow. First read about this book in a George Will column that was as usual, excellent. One of my bosses at work was kind enough to buy me a copy of the book, and for the past week, I’ve enjoyed it while listening to At-Bat games.
Turbow’s book is an inside look at all the hidden rules that exist in baseball. Sign stealing, decoys, hitting other players, retaliation, etc etc etc. No matter where you work, there are always hidden rules and inside gags. Baseball is no different except that millions watch it each day. This book must have been fun to write. He interviewed hundreds of players. Watched tapes and read other bios of players for the scoop. The anecdotes are excellent, if somewhat repetitive. It is a great window into the traditions of the game and to some of the gamesmanship that occurs when most people are refilling a glass or dozing off.
I think that understanding these rules makes the game more enjoyable to watch. Next time Brandon Phillips gets beaned, I’ll wonder who he offended somewhere along the way. Or I’ll wonder how long it will be before retaliation ensues. I’ll imagine the conversation in the dugout during a no-hitter (or the lack of conversation). I’ll know a bit more about the conversations on the mound when a pitcher is about to be replaced. And I’ll think twice about cheering on a team when they are running up the score in the bottom of the eighth.
There are lots of other life lessons here. Some very good ones. About when to stand up for your friends (everyone should clear the bench if a brawl ensues) and about holding a grudge until the right moment (a pitcher will always get another chance.) I loved the story of Joe Torre trying to break up a game that was essentially a nine-inning brawl–he knew that the pitcher he was trying to calm down was a “deaf man.” Immediately, the pitcher beaned the next batter and Torre thought: “You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it’s guys defending each other. That’s what it’s about.”
I’ll remember a couple of great stories about soon to be former Senator and former pitcher Jim Bunning. One in which he hits Mickey Mantle for stealing signs. Also, the chapter on pranks was great. And I think it is great that the reaction to getting hit by a pitch should be to go directly to first without showing pain. By the way the book also implies that as part of the Code, Joyce should have called that guy out at first so that Gallaraga had the perfect game. (Of course he should have called him out because he was, but Joyce didn’t see that and it shouldn’t have mattered what he saw anyway.)
But the best line of the book belongs to Dusty Baker, the Reds current skipper. (He’s quoted repeatedly throughout the book, a Jedi Master of sorts in understanding the Codes.) I’m going to print it entirely because I think it is a good philosophy for the game. And if you replace “the game” with the word “life,” you’ll get a pretty good philosophy for that too.
“I honestly believe that what you learn in this game is not yours to possess, but yours to pass on. I believe that, whether it’s equipment, knowledge or philosophy, that’s the only way the game shall carry on. I believe that you have to talk, communicate and pass on what was given to you. You can’t harbor it. You can’t run off to the woods and keep it for yourself, because it isn’t yours to keep. And what you teach other guys is the torch you pass. I don’t make this up–it was passed to me.”
Amen. Now go beat those Cubs.