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Saturday, April 01, 2006
 
Being a blogger has its perquisites. A couple of weeks ago, I received in the mail a copy of “The Last Nine Innings” by Charles Euchner, a new book featuring the seventh game of the 2001 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees, with the agreement that I would read it and review it for my blog. Therefore, I am.

Euchner’s book owes much to Daniel Okrent’s seminal book “Nine Innings” about a 1982 midseason game, that Okrent used to veer off onto tangents on just about everything related to baseball. Euchner follows the same formula; only rather than a typical game, he uses a game of supreme importance, because no baseball game can ever be more important than the seventh game of the Series. Aside from that, Euchner follows Okrent’s style of making observations about the game in general by referring from this game specifically.

Baseball changed quite a bit in the nearly twenty years between the playing of these two games, and Euchner focuses on many of the changes. Sabermetrics, the new statistical studies of the game, are a large feature of this book. There is also some attention paid to the evolving TV work done by Fox network in broadcasting the games, and the changing marketplace for baseball talent. Euchner also focuses on the kinesiology research being done to break down the movements used in baseball from batting swings to pitchers’ throwing motions.

In many ways, it was time for a new book like this, as so much has changed since Okrent first wrote his tome. Euchner’s prose suffers a bit by comparison, as he is not the writer that Okrent is. However, the language is straightforward and solid, the storytelling sure. Euchner reaches no literary heights, but states his points clearly. Introducing a Luis Gonzalez at-bat, Euchner writes, “With a runner on base and one out in the home half of the third inning, baseball’s most improbable power hitter steps to the plate.” It’s not Red Smith, but it is certainly readable.

The problems with this book are mostly editorial. A firmer hand by the editor would have made for a much better book. There are specific instances that show this as well as general ones. In the 9th inning, Tony Womack tied the game with a bloop double. On page 273, it says, “Womack hit the ball hard to left field.” Then, on page 274, it reads, “The ball bounces two feet inside the right-field line.” The ball was actually hit to right field. There are a few small factual errors like this that better proofreading could have caught. Then again, I have that complaint about a lot of books, as well as my own work.

My other complaint is stylistic. The book is divided into nine sections, by inning, but the sections have between two and four chapters of varying length. A nine-chapter book, or eighteen chapters following each half inning, would have been preferable. Enough of the jumping-off points are flexible enough that they could have been used in multiple places, and the book could have been better balanced by giving nearly equal space to each inning, with more tangents in the early innings and concentrating more on the game in the late innings, much as broadcasters do. A good editing job would have gone a long way here.

For all that, there is much to like here. Euchner delves into many aspects of the game with a fan’s eye. He looks at Steve Finley’s odd conditioning routine, and examines the touchy subject of Derek Jeter’s fielding. He follows the thought patterns of the managers, and looks at how the strategy affects the game. He profiles the biggest stars of the game, from Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson to Jeter and Alfonso Soriano. Euchner interviewed a number of the principles, and I only wish he could have interviewed more. Their comments help give the book depth.

Euchner presents the story but strives not to take sides. It makes for a very interesting work that may by turns interest, involve, and frustrate you. Either way, it will certainly prove of interest.