Monday, March 27, 2006

"The Last Nine Innings"

How much do you love baseball? I've read a lot of baseball books and sports literature, from Bouton's classic Ball Four, to the business tale Lords of the Realm to Will's Men at Work and biographies from Koufax to Mantle. Charles Euchner's The Last Nine Innings (Sourcebooks) chronicles Game 7 of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks. Innings made me hungry for the beginning of the baseball season, and more.

Euchner examines the game within the game. The cover proclaims 'get inside the game of baseball like never before'. Truer words were never spoken. Innings doesn't replicate any of the previous baseball books I've read, although by way of comparison, it resembles Men at Work most closely.

The author peers into not only at what each player and position does, but also studies their preparation, from offseason physical training by Steve Finley, to the art of pitch framing, to the vagaries of the strike zone. Euchner brings Game 7 to life, inning by inning through interviews with key players (both prominent and less so), managers, and even the umpiring crew.

Not only is Innings well-conceived, it presents a tapestry weaving together history, both of the Diamondbacks but the mighty Yankees, and how each team achieved. Euchner doesn't lack the courage to take on controversy, either, noting the impact of steroids on human performance, and explaining the dichotomy concerning Derek Jeter's fielding performance. He allows the Jeter water carriers air to explain how he makes terrific decisions and memorable plays, but uses the quantititative yardsticks from fielding percentage, to zone ratings, and defensive win shares to help understand why some consider Jeter in the bottom quintile of defensive shortstops.

The Last Nine Innings is far more than another book about baseball players or on baseball. Euchner tells a love story, about how much we care about baseball and why. But moreover, Euchner brings the pursuit of baseball perfection into the reader's consciousness. If you enjoyed Jerry Remy's Watching Baseball, which personalized your baseball experience, then The Last Nine Innings will captivate you, and maybe even 'juice' your personal search for excellence.

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