In Verducci's exclusive interview with himself for the SI Web site, he mused about opting to join the Jays rather than, say, the Boston Red Sox or the Toledo Mud Hens. "The Blue Jays would have a low-key camp, I knew, but also a cool vibe about them," he wrote. "They are a young team coming off a last-place finish, but have enough talent to be interesting. I liked the idea of being with a club still finding its identity. As it turned out, I could not have picked a better team."
So far, so good for the 7-3 Jays, playing .700 first place ball, 2.5 games ahead of the tied-for-last Red Sox and Yankees. But before Toronto fans get lost in the reverie of the apparent inevitability the 113-49 pace brings, let's give Verducci the floor to discuss the not-exactly alliterative "three R's" standard to a North Ameican grammar school education --reading, writing and arithmetic.
Verducci, who says his favourite major league ballpark is Camden Yards, identifies poet Donald Hall's "Fathers Playing Catch with Sons : Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball)" as his #1 baseball book, but admitted, "I'll read just about anything."
He continued, "I read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Trenton Times every day and read other newspapers online for baseball news and columns." But as a reader, this noted writer added, "I'm ... a fan of writing that is concise and elegant in simplicity. One measure of greatness is making the difficult look easy. It applies to baseball and it applies to writing. Some favourites: Roger Angell, Anne Lamott, Elmore Leonard, Donald Hall."
If you sense the poetry-in-prose theme in his list of favourites, it won't surprise you to hear this three, quite old-school "unshakeable baseball beliefs," another standard query posed to Batter's Box interview subjects:
1. Heaven is no clock. 2. A new baseball is the most perfectly formed object for the human hand. 3. Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports.
Come to notice, that's a pretty concise and elegant list in and of itself.
It only makes sense that Verducci has a strong and quick response regarding favourite books and authors; after all, he's a writer. But what if he wasn't? Now there's a quesetion he has no ready answer for.
"This is all I ever wanted to do," he said. Hedging just a bit, and digging for a response perhaps because as a reporter he knows questions need answers, he added, "But if I were not writing, I would probably be teaching and coaching. I like working with kids."
While that's a terrific and admirable answer, as Verducci said, he's doing exactly what he wants to do -- and who can begrduge him that? But while, as noted, he can quickly identify preferred authors and books, don't ask him about his favourite and least favourite works of Tom Verducci.
"I could not identify one piece as [in my opinion] the best I've written," he said. "But if you judge by the amount of feedback from others" -- a topic discussed here on Batter's Box by others who write for a living like John Gizzi and Jordan Furlong -- "then it would be the Blue Jays piece," he said, adding to his short list, "the Boston Red Sox Sportsman of the Year piece, a cover story on Sandy Koufax, the 2002 Special Report on steroids in baseball, and the declines of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden."
And a least favourite? Verducci echoes every writer in the history of the litereary profession, in saying, "Every piece could be better, given more time, reporting, help from the muses, etc." But, he concluded, "there's nothing I would want to take back."
Arithmetic (Sort Of)
Some local Toronto mainstream media mistakenly pigeonhole Batter's Box as a "J.P. Lovefest" (ask Ricciardi if he agrees with that!) or simply a "Moneyball sabermetrics site" where numbers rule the day and "old school baseball" is a thing of the past, surely ignored to the young fan's eventual regret.
And what's Verducci's take on sabermetrics? "It enhances the understanding and enjoyment of the game," he said. "I especially like when it questions or even disproves some of the assumptions that have been around forever."
Don't slot him into the "stat-head" camp too quickly, though. "I don't like overly complicated analysis, though," he added. "You've got to make the information readable and easily understandable, or don't bother. This is not quantum physics. It's a game."
Is Verducci playing both sides here? Sure; he identifed as the two men he would pay to see play, the greatest by any measure, sabermetric or otherwise, Babe Ruth, and one of the most naturally gifted and least productive players ever, Steve Dalkowski. So he sees both sides, and he knows it. And you'd better like it.
"I don't like when sabermetricians or saber-phobics refuse to see the other side of the fence," he said. "This is not an either/or proposition. [In baseball], there is room for plenty of art and science."
Batter's Box extends its thanks to Tom Verducci for granting the interview that led to this short series of features and compliments him on his fair but accurate recent portrayal of the Toronto Blue Jays in Sports Illustrated.