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Part Three: Reading, Writing & Sabermetrics

See also:

  1. Part One: Paper Blue Jay
  2. Part Two: Inside the Clubhouse
And now, some parting shots from Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Tom Verducci, who flew down Blue Jay Way in Spring Training.

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.

One Final Swing in Da Box ... Tom Verducci | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Friday, April 15 2005 @ 09:18 AM EDT (#111731) #
Excellent, Mick. A man who likes Elmore Leonard and Roger Angell writes for Sports Illustrated. As the saying and song go, you can't judge a book by the cover.
Coach - Friday, April 15 2005 @ 10:09 AM EDT (#111737) #
Great stuff as always, Mick.

Tom sounds like someone I'd get along with very well; any fan of Angell and Leonard is in my good books from the start. Baseball definitely involves both art and science, and anyone who puts themselves squarely in one "camp" or the other, while demeaning the opposing viewpoint, is missing a great game.

Next time I talk to Butter, I'll ask him for a scouting report on Verducci the player.
Gerry - Friday, April 15 2005 @ 11:18 AM EDT (#111766) #
Thnaks Mick and Tom, very entertaining and informative.
Mick Doherty - Friday, April 15 2005 @ 12:45 PM EDT (#111792) #

"This is not an either/or proposition. [In baseball], there is room for plenty of art and science."

... is my favourite take on the so-called sabermetrics debate that I've seen yet. Succinct and well-worded (which is why I saved it for the last line of the series). I also really like the Ruth and Dalkowski juxtaposition.
Gitz - Friday, April 15 2005 @ 01:22 PM EDT (#111803) #
In something of a broad stroke, I think the on-going dualistic thinking of These Trying Times is a mammoth problem to overcome. This applies to everything, not simply baseball. For as depressing as it is to hear "Either you are with us or against us" when attached to real-life issues, it's equally as depressing to hear, from the baseball prospective, "Either you're a traditionalist or a sabermetrician." But talk about tired topics.

My guess is Verducci woulnd't have been selected to serve on the jury of the Scopes trial. Art and science together? God forbid such a pestilential merging! (Yes, I'm aware that the Scopes trial was about religion and science. I think the comparison holds.)

Mick Doherty - Friday, April 15 2005 @ 01:46 PM EDT (#111816) #
If you are scratching your head at Gitz's reference -- and I hope you're not -- O.J. Simpson was NOT the "trial of the century in U.S. 20th century. It was "Tennessee Board of Education v. John Scopes," often referred to as "the Scopes Monkey Trial," which pitted legendary lawyers Clarence Darrow, on the side of "evil-ution" and Darwinism against William Jennings Bryan on the side of biblical literalism.

For a really good flavour of the trial, see the movie "Inherit the Wind" or better yet, see the stageplay or read the script. It's arguably the greatest American drama of the last 50 years.
One Final Swing in Da Box ... Tom Verducci | 6 comments | Create New Account
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