Friday, April 16, 2010

The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow (with Michael Duca)

Outraged, Steinbrenner called the visitors' dugout at Anaheim Stadium and lit into Yankees manager Lou Piniella. Was he aware, asked the owner, that Sutton was cheating?... "George," Piniella responded, "do you know who taught him hot cheat?... The guy who taught Don Sutton everything he knows about cheating is the guy pitching for us tonight," Piniella said. "Do you want me to go out there and get Tommy John thrown out too?"

The Baseball Codes was great. I love baseball and loved reading about the game from an insider's perspective (not that the author played baseball, but he talked to a shit ton of players, managers, broadcasters, etc). As the title suggests, the book goes through and sheds light on many of baseball's unwritten rules. For example, there are chapters devoted to the when and how of bean balls, the proper etiquette for stealing signs, and the omerta of the clubhouse. The thesis is that the game's unwritten rules basically boil down to respect: respecting your opponents, respecting your teammates, and respecting the game. The code tells you how to go about showing proper respect and what to do if someone ignores it. If a hitter stands around too long in the batter's box admiring a home run, he's going to get drilled his next time up. You can steal signs or add the occasional spit to your fastball, but if you get caught you knock it off. If your teammate gets in a brawl, everyone better get their ass on the field, even if all you do is lightly shove a friend on the other team for show. And so on and so on.

What was fun about this book is that it was basically a long string of anecdotes from all eras of the game, almost all interesting and some hilarious. Some of my favorites:

  • One accepted practice is that if a hitter fares particularly well against a certain pitcher, the pitcher sometimes feels entitled to brush that hitter back or hit him, just to keep him on his toes. Well, in 1975, Bob Gibson gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, but retired before he faced him again. Fifteen years later at an old-timers' game, Gibson inserted himself in the game when LaCock came to bat just so he could deliver that long awaited bean ball.
  • Whitey Ford made a mix of turpentine, baby oil and rosin that he used to give himself a little better grip on the ball. He kept the concoction in a roll-on deodorant container and one time Yogi Berra borrowed it, thinking it was regular deodorant. Apparently they had to cut his armpit hair out to get him free from the stuff. Only Yogi.
  • Satchel Paige had a lady friend, Nancy, who he sometimes like to meet up with when he was on the road, unbeknown to his wife. One time his wife showed up to the hotel unexpectedly while Satchel was entertaining Nancy, so his teammate, Buck O'Neil, ran interference until Satchel could extricate himself. Later, after getting ready to turn in with his wife, Satchel went a couple doors down to give Nancy some money to take the train home, but she couldn't hear him knocking on the door. He knocked louder and called out, "Hey Nancy." O'Neil, in the next room, here's Satchel's wife come out in the hall, so Buck jumps out of his room and says, "Hey Satchel, I'm in this one." From then on his nickname was Nancy.
I'd say that if you aren't a big baseball nut you probably won't get as much out of this one as I did, but if you do love the game then I definitely recommend it.

Did you know that Joe Torre, Felipe Alou and Dusty Baker all played together for the Braves in 1968? That's more than 4600 career managerial wins playing for one team. Fascinating.

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