A recent Wall Street Journal story (July 16, 2013) found that the game of professional baseball involves a lot of standing around. “By WSJ calculations, a baseball fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour game. This is roughly the equivalent of a TED Talk, a Broadway intermission or the missing section of the Watergate tapes. A similar WSJ study on NFL games in January 2010 found that the average action time for a football game was 11 minutes. So MLB does pack more punch in a battle of the two biggest stop-and-start sports. By seven minutes.”
To read Jason Kendall’s Throwback, however, it’s all action. There are always adjustments underway based on the pitcher, the count, the hitter, the time of day. Everything. “Throwback” is about the little things that make baseball fascinating. It’s about the minuscule moments of anticipation most of us don’t appreciate.
If you’re someone who yawns at the mere thought of baseball, Throwback isn’t going to change your mind. If you watch even a half-dozen baseball games a year, you’ll get something out of Jason Kendall’s inside look at the infinite number of complexities that go into every moment of “action.”
The baseball may not be “in play,” as the Wall Street Journal might measure it, but the game is being “played” by players, coaches and managers anticipating the next moment—every pitch, every defensive position, every slide, every injustice meted out earlier in the game (or earlier in the season—or the season before that).
The writing is breezy. And easy. It is a bit repetitive in spots. A catcher, Kendall played with a blunt and hard-nosed style. His prose won’t be confused with John Updike or Roger Angell. However, he is self-effacing and very funny in a few spots. You get the feeling that he is not holding back.
He’s particularly dismissive of the players who show weakness (as a Colorado Rockies fan, I know what he’s talking about).
Writes Kendall: “A guy fouls a ball of his leg and collapses on the ground? Get up; don’t waste my time. If the leg’s broke? My bad—sorry I yelled at you. But you see guys hobble around for a while and then announce they’re okay. If a guy fouls a ball of his leg and makes a big production of it—if he let us know it hurt—guess what? We’re throwing the ball right back in the same spot. Oh, that one hurt? Here’s another one in the same place.”
Kendall provides insights on every position on the field—and all those in the dugout, too—and takes a run at a relevant subjects such as “Moneyball” (not enough credit to three outstanding pitchers), “Bull Durham” (“got it right”), playing in pain (pop Advil), cheating (“everybody is pushing it”), and the end-of-the-season grind (you will realize it’s a very long season when you read this book).
Highly recommended for baseball fans and borderline fans. If you like baseball, you enjoy subtleties. Throwback helps you see more of them—and know what to look for when you watch.