“A Unique Look At Big League Baseball” A Must Have For Seamheads
For most normal people, New Year’s Eve is all about bidding the old year adieu and ringing in the new one with friends, family, Dick Clark, Times Square, Jenny McCarthy kissing a dude she’d just met and lots and lots of adult beverages. But for me it was about methodically soaking in the information on all 374 pages of chocolatey goodness that is Joe Taxiera’s book, A Unique Look At Big League Baseball. Dedicated? Of course! Pathetic? Indeed! But if I could go back and do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing (except for listening to Clark count down the ball drop, which was just sad).
Taxiera sent me two complimentary copies (damn, I love this gig) and asked for my opinion. The first one I cracked open was the “Broadcasters Edition,” named so because major league broadcasters such as Dave Van Horne (Marlins), Dave Raymond (Astros) and Dave Flemming (Giants), among others, refer to it often during games. Marty Lurie, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark are also fans of the book, so you don’t need to be named Dave to enjoy it (just sayin’).
The “Broadcasters Edition” differs from the “Clubhouse Edition” only in that it includes colored tabs numbered 1 through 12 and carries a heavier price tag at $39.99 vs. $29.99 for the non-tabbed version. You’d think that would be a steep price to pay just for colored and numbered tabs, but the more expensive of the two has actually been more popular, and I can see why: there’s something about the tabs that appeals to me, probably that they make it so much easier to find what you’re looking for.
And what exactly is that? I’m so glad you asked.
- Chapter One discusses baseball’s history and includes timelines for each era loaded with information about rules changes, statistics and how the game was played. Then it segues into home run feats, such as the average number of home runs hit in each MLB venue over the last 15 years; home/road splits for the top 15 single-season home run kings (in 1938, Hank Greenberg hit 39 of his 58 homers at home, whereas Babe Ruth hit 32 of his 60 1927 homers on the road); home/road splits for ballparks (Coors Field appears on the list six times, but doesn’t rank #1 in home/road HR differential; you also won’t be surprised to see which park ranks first in fewest homers allowed as opposed to those hit on the road). The rest of the chapter has other fantastic lists, including an annual progression of salaries and the first night games in 16 different parks.
- Chapter Two is all about team franchise and ballpark history. Here you’ll find years of operation for all active franchises; expansions and relocations; and information about each franchise and every ballpark they’ve ever called home. There are also some great photos featured.
- Chapter Three is about teams and managers, and here you’ll find a list of pennant and World Series winners in chronological order; World Series career batting and pitching records; World Series single-season batting and pitching records for four-, five-, six- and seven-game series for both players and teams. Then the real fun begins with lists of teams that spent the entire season in first place, or fewest days in first place, or earliest to clinch a pennant or division. There are 100-win seasons listed by team as well as 100-loss seasons (the Phillies have won 100 games in a season only twice, but have lost a hundred 14 times); consecutive wins and losses, extra-inning games, longest and shortest games by time, most one-run games won and lost in a season, and other fun lists like “Teams with most infielders with 100 runs scored” (the 1950 Red Sox hold the record with four).
- Chapter Four features career batting records but goes beyond the typical and includes things like “Runs as % of Times On Base,” “Hits Per Game Played,” “2+ Home Run Games,” “3+ Home Run Games,” “Lead-Off Home Runs,” “Walk-Off Home Runs,” (not surprisingly the top five are all-time greats but one active player has a chance to set the record with one more walk-off piece), “Fewest Strikeouts per Home Run,” and many others.
- Chapter Five boasts single-season batting records and, again, goes beyond what you’d normally find in a record book. Taxiera lists the most at-bats, hits and RBIs with runners in scoring position since 1950, along with juicy nuggets like “Fewest Runs Scored in a Single Season (min. 3.1 plate appearances per team game)”; most and fewest hits, singles, doubles and triples; a whole slew of home run lists; Power/Speed Numbers; and any other offensive category you can dream up. In 2010, Mark Reynolds fanned once every 2.36 at-bats, but that’s still not the single season record. You’ll have to buy the book to see who holds it. Oh, by the way, Joe also includes Sabermetric batting records as well.
- Chapter Six is dedicated to home runs and includes more lists than you’ll know what to do with (but that’s a good thing). Home runs by position and by month; “Fewest Games to HR Increments from Start of Season” (in other words, it took George Bell, Tuffy Rhodes and Dmitri Young only one game to reach three home runs; it took Barry Bonds only 89 team games to reach 40 in 2001); homers by decade, by age, at certain ages, in first major league at-bat; and a comparison by age of players with 500+ homers through 2010.
- Chapter Seven is about batting streaks and single game feats, and includes lists of seasons with 80, 100, 120 and 140 RBIs and/or runs scored; 150+ and 200+ hit seasons; seasons with at least 100 walks, 50+ and 75+ extra base hits, 20+ intentional walks, slugging .600, batting .300, reaching base at a .400 clip, and on and on (the most home runs hit in a six-game span was 10 by Frank Howard, in 1968 of all years; Sid Gordon grounded into a double play in six straight games in 1943; Joe Sewell went 115 straight games and 439 at-bats without striking out in 1929; Craig Biggio was caught stealing in five straight games in 1993 without recording a stolen base; from July 1, 1951 to June 14, 1953 Pete Runnels was caught stealing 16 consecutive times without recording a stolen base).
- Chapter Eight is where the pitchers start to get their due, and here you’ll find the usual suspects—Cy Young at the top of the wins and losses lists, Ed Walsh leading in ERA, Walter Johnson the king of shutouts—but you’ll also find stuff you probably didn’t know. Among pitchers with at least 2,000 innings, Kid Carsey has the worst ERA at 4.95; Rollie Fingers allowed the second most walk-off home runs in his career, but isn’t close to the all-time leader; Ricardo Rincon was especially adept at keeping inherited runners from scoring, but Dale Murray was not; Jack Lynch (no relation, as far as I know) completed almost all of his 217 starts, while Jimmy Haynes completed only two of his 203 starts; of the runs my buddy Curt Schilling allowed in his career, 95% were earned, while only 57% of Pud Galvin’s runs allowed were earned; Eddie Plank tossed 4,496 innings without ever surrendering a grand slam.
- Chapter Nine features single-season pitching records, including most wins and losses and lowest and highest ERA, but also some fun stuff like “Most Wins with No Losses or Losses with No Wins,” “Most Games Started with No Complete Games,” most blown saves and worst “Saves-to-Blown Saves Differential since 1988,” lowest opponents batting average with runners in scoring position, “Most Innings Pitched with No Hit Batsmen or Wild Pitches” (you’ll NEVER guess who holds that record), most stolen bases allowed and best SB% (you think Luis Tiant was great in 1968? You’re right. Nine runners attempted to steal with him on the mound and all nine were gunned down).
- Chapter Ten lists pitching streaks and single game feats, such as Plank’s 14 straight years of ERA’s under 2.99; Christy Mathewson’s 12 straight 20-win seasons; Anthony Young’s 27 straight losses without a win; Pedro Martinez’s 130 strikeouts over a 10-game span from August of 1999 to April of 2000; Curt Young allowing a home run in 19 straight starts in 1987; Lefty Gomez walking 11 in a 9-0 shutout on August 1, 1941, and Milt Gaston walking only two but allowing 14 hits in a 9-0 shutout on July 10, 1928; and, of course, Tippy Martinez picking off all three runners who reached first against him on August 24, 1983.
- Chapter Eleven covers fielding and breaks things down by position so that we can see that Eddie Collins played more games at second base than anyone else (2,650), Placido Polanco has the best fielding percentage among second sackers with a minimum of 1,000 games (.993) and fielded 911 straight chances without an error between 2006 and 2008, “Laughing Larry” Doyle committed the most errors (443) and Bill Mazeroski turned the most double plays (1,706). And before we anoint Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez the greatest defensive catchers of all-time, let’s give Roy Campanella his props—according to Joe’s book, Campy threw out more than 60% of opposing basestealers in 1948, ’49, ’50, ’51 and ’52, and twice tossed out more than 67%.
- Chapter Twelve finishes things off with awards, All-Star games and Hall of Famers, and provides lists like “Career Triple Crown Winners,” or those who led his respective league in all three categories at different times in his career (Albert Pujols, for example, paced the NL in AVG in 2003, home runs in 2009 and 2010, and RBIs in 2010, but never led in all three in the same year). You’ll also find a list of All-Star selections and games played (Warren Spahn was on the NL’s All-Star roster 17 times, but appeared in only seven games); batting and pitching records; and a list of MVP and Cy Young Award winners with the fewest All-Star selections (who would have guessed that Kirk Gibson was never an All-Star?). And finally, the book concludes with lists of Hall of Famers with the highest percentage of votes received, and inductees by year with their vote percentages.
Joe Taxiera’s A Unique Look At Big League Baseball is a Seamhead’s dream and will be within arm’s reach for a very long time. The most recent edition is updated through 2010 and newer editions won’t come out until sometime in 2013 (damn publishers), but this book, especially the “Broadcasters Edition” is a must-have for any baseball fan. Just ask Jayson Stark, who called Joe’s book “The greatest baseball record book ever,” or Tim Kurkjian, who is also a big fan of Joe’s work and wrote, “[Joe’s] wonderful book sits prominently in my office.” Well, it now sits prominently in my office as well. Do yourself a favor and plunk down the $39.99, and make sure you have a prominent spot in your office for Joe’s wonderful book.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.