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March 12, 2012

Wezen-Ball

"Baseball for Dummies", by Joe Morgan

by Larry Granillo

In Baseball for Dummies, 3rd Edition, the good folks at Wiley Publishing take on the challenge of educating the world all about the greatest sport ever invented. To do this, they enlist the help of author Richard Lally, columnist and author of the Bill "Spaceman" Lee biography The Wrong Stuff and, of course, Joe Morgan.

The book attempts to cover all aspects of the game, from the simple batter-pitcher matchup and other game mechanics to everything else even tangentially-related, like weight-training, league structure, and getting a baseball job. The real meat of the book, though, is the "How to Play the Game" section that covers roughly 200 of the book's 380 non-appendix pages. In that section, the authors include chapters on hitting, pitching, defense, and baserunning.

"Authors" might be a bit misleading. While the opening chapters of the book are clearly written from a safe, impersonal distance, the playing chapters have a very different feel. Morgan chimes in often with descriptions of how or why he did a certain thing as a player ("I didn't wear a glove when I hit because I liked the feel of the wood against my fingers.") as he imparts his lessons. This shouldn't be confusing, but somehow they manage to make it so. Throughout the book, there are little icons with Morgan's smiling face that read "Joe Says". They signify small sidebars or paragraphs where Morgan is talking directly to the reader. For some reason, the icons are also placed in these chapters that are so clearly written by Morgan, sometimes only sentences before Morgan rushes into his first-person accounts. I was thoroughly bewildered the first time this happened, as I couldn't figure out who the "I" was since I assumed that Morgan was only speaking in the "Joe Says" parts.

Morgan does cover a great deal about playing the game. The chapter on hitting is 40 pages long, second in length only to the fielding chapter (more on that in a minute). Topics include gripping the bat, positioning yourself in the batter's box, the "dying art of bunting", and even how to play pepper. A page is also given over to Rusty Staub on his approach to a pinch-hitting role. At 62 pages, the chapter on fielding is far-and-away the longest in the book. That length is mostly due to the chapter's playing guides for each position, with defensive tips from All-Stars and Hall of Famers. The contributors read like a who's who of … Joe Morgan's friends. Ken Griffey, Sr. and Willie Mays cover the outfield, Barry Larkin and Derek Jeter give tips at shortstop, Morgan himself covers second, Willie McCovey and Keith Hernandez cover first, and Johnny Bench takes the plate. The most interesting inclusion is Ken Caminiti as the third base expert, though there is very little true insight offered by any of the players. The pitching chapter, at fifteen pages and featuring tips from Bob Gibson and Lee, feels clinical and inadequate compared to the offensive and defensive sides.

And, yes, you'll probably realize from the Caminiti inclusion that the book is a bit old. The first edition of "Baseball for Dummies" was published in 1998; this third edition came out at the start of the 2005 season. Thankfully, very little of the book is impacted by its age (though readers looking for job advice and technology help might feel otherwise). In fact, reading the book today has some benefits: Morgan includes a series of "top ten" lists at the back of the book, some of which have not aged well. The top ten current pitchers, for example, includes Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Jason Schmidt, while the top ten current fielders includes Luis Castillo.

The most intriguing list to read seven years later, though, is Morgan's "Top Ten Future Stars". The ten names he gives are: Mark Prior, Miguel Cabrera, Vernon Wells, Carlos Beltran, Hank Blalock, Francisco Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Jose Reyes, Dontrelle Willis, and Michael Young. (Note: There are no references to the 2004 season even though the book was published in 2005.) Cabrera, Sabathia, Beltran and Reyes were clear home runs, but Willis, Blalock and the rest raise an eyebrow here in 2012.

I set out reading this because I thought, a bit cynically, that a book called Baseball for Dummies written by Joe Morgan would be an unintentionally funny read. While some passages were classic "Joe speak"mashers shouldn't beat the shift by dinking a single to the opposite field because "that's what the opposition wants you to do" and "I don't care how many home runs you hit all season, your job is to bunt that runner to second base" with no outs and the winning run on first in the ninthit was mostly a professional look at the tools and knowledge needed to follow a game of baseball. It was hardly engrossing reading, though, and there were a few mistakes here and there ("Derek Lee" was mentioned more than once). Also, some concepts (like balks or the hit-and-run) were mentioned early but not fully explained until many chapters later. I could see a use for it as an occasional reference tool, but even then it's not enough for even moderately-knowledgeable baseball fans.

If you know someone who really wants to learn the game of baseball (and is a big Dummies fan), or if you're just dying to read Joe Morgan and his Big Red Machine teammates talk way too much about the 1975 World Series, "Baseball for Dummies, 3rd Edition" might fit the bill. Otherwise, you should probably keep reading everything here at Baseball Prospectus!

Related Content:  The Who,  Joe Morgan

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

monkey

"I liked the feel of the wood against my fingers."

Snicker-snicker

Mar 12, 2012 22:13 PM
rating: 5
 
APer930

that's what she said...

Mar 13, 2012 06:06 AM
rating: 4
 
greendrummer

saw this title on a dishelved shelf at a 30's-ish chick's housewarming party recently, asked her if she was a baseball fan she said one of her ex-boyfriends was a big fan and she tried to learn something about it a few years ago

the next sentence was about how her entire bookshelf basically represented different people she had dated at different times, so we never really got to the part if Joe had actually helped her out or not....

Mar 12, 2012 23:48 PM
rating: 2
 
CRP13

Did you buy her any books?

Mar 13, 2012 06:39 AM
rating: 8
 
cooper7d7

This is why I have a copy of The Bell Jar and The Tao of Pooh.

Mar 13, 2012 08:06 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Tim Kniker
BP staff

A nice comparison review would be McCarver's "Baseball for Brain Surgeions," which tried (sometimes successfully) to educate the average baseball fan into an expert baseball fan.

Mar 13, 2012 10:14 AM
 
Wrigleyviller
(883)

While I don't wish to take away anything from this article in any way, I consider it a great tragedy that Fire Joe Morgan isn't around anymore to comment on the existence of this book.

Mar 13, 2012 14:24 PM
rating: 3
 
John Douglass

Fingers crossed for one of those Deadspin today-only-we're-out-of-retirement days.

Mar 13, 2012 16:51 PM
rating: 2
 
rcrary

alas, the Deadspin appearances have been pale, not so funny, shadows of their former FJM glory

Mar 16, 2012 12:26 PM
rating: 0
 
monkey

I'm reasonably sure they have made posts about this

Mar 13, 2012 21:49 PM
rating: 0
 
gweedoh565

Indeed, they have a 4-part series on the subject:

http://www.firejoemorgan.com/search?q=%22Baseball+for+Dummies%22

Mar 14, 2012 05:43 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I should have known the FJM guys would have discussed this at some point.

At least I can be happy that they noticed most of the same things I did (they even cited the same bunting line).

Mar 14, 2012 07:20 AM
 
Peixinho

Hello! I'm Finnish and introduced myself to the fascinating world of baseball in 2010. My first book was Baseball for Dummies. I didn't know the Dummies series before and ordered the book because of its name. For someone who didn't know there is 9 innings in a baseball game, it sounded like a good book to start. Naturally, I didn't have any idea who is Joe Morgan. I read the whole book eventually, but it wasn't easy at the start. I managed to understand most of it only with the help of Wikipedia, so not "for dummies" material! I was suprised how little the book contained statistical stuff, like 5 pages or so... (not so surprised anymore though!) Introduction of the stadiums was an interesting chapter, but is outdated.

Zack Hample's Watching Baseball Smarter was much more easy to read and I got a good understanding of the basic statistics from it. It also has some reference value even today. So for non-US dummy like I was, I would recommend this book instead of Joe Morgans.

Last year I read Moneyball, The Numbers Game, BP 2011 (and various history related books) which I liked very much, but as a first book for me any of them would have been too hard. BP 2011 was actually very hard even last year, but I'm starting to be quite comfortable with the stuff and I will probably get much more from this year's edition.

Baseball is not played in Finland, so never been to a ball game, but last MLB-season I watched about 5-10 games a week from TV.

Mar 15, 2012 16:49 PM
rating: 4
 
TucsonTumbleweed

Thanks for sharing Peixino. While I hope you get to experience a live major league ball game at some point, for me, I prefer to watch the game on tv as it is easier to just focus on the game. Watching it live is about more than just the game and in fact the whole atmosphere (announcers, music, food vendors, fans, etc.) for me at least makes it difficult to focus on the actual game play. I may be in the minority though. I suppose it is easier to say this here in the US where I have already seen 30-40 games in my life and can see one any weekend with a few hour ride in any direction.

Mar 19, 2012 12:52 PM
rating: 0
 
TucsonTumbleweed

Let me add that watching baseball on tv when Joe Morgan was a commentator was NOT an enjoyable experience!

Mar 19, 2012 12:55 PM
rating: 0
 
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