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Book Review: "The Last Nine Innings"

As today is an off day for Our Heroes, who can bask in their 16-7 win Monday for an extra day, I thought I'd take time out to review "The Last Nine Innings", which I can best describe as "A Lefty's Legacy" for statheads.

Huh? You're saying. "A Lefty's Legacy" is a biography of Sandy Koufax (well worth your while if you haven't read it, incidentally. "The Last Nine Innings" is the detailed analysis of Game Seven of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks.

Well, yes, but the structure of the two books is quite similar. Each one takes a single game -- in the case of the Koufax bio it's his 1965 perfect game against the Cubs -- and intersperses chapters with detailed descriptions of the game, with other information.

"The Last Nine Innings" tries to show how players involved in that famous game got to where they are, by analyzing things such as pitching motions, defensive performances, managerial decisions, odds of various things happening during the game, and so on.

The author, Charles Euchner, is a dedicated geek. He writes in the preface:

I don't put much stock in elegiac and mythical portrayals of baseball. Contrary to the late Yale scholar and baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti, baseball does not embody mankind's eternal Odyssean struggle to return home. Contrary to poets like Donald Hall, baseball is not an essential source of bonding between farhers and sons. Contrary to essayists like Jacques Barzun and George Will, baseball doesn't provide the most telling lens into the American psyche.

Well. Those of you who've been reading BCB long enough must know that this paragraph is something with which I vehemently disagree. I believe baseball is ALL of those things, and more.

But Euchner goes on to say:

But baseball is a damn good game, and sometimes it unfolds in ways that astonish and please even cynics. Sometimes, because it can astonish and please, the game creates something that seems bigger than it really is. And people sometimes need something that seems bigger than it is.

On that, I can agree.

Euchner goes on to analyze, scientifically, referring extensively to the work of scientists at the American Sports Medicine Institute,, particularly how they analyze pitching biomechanics, as well as other things from hitting to fielding, that make up a baseball team, and attempts to answer questions such as:

What kinds of force and rotation do pitchers cause when they reared back and threw a ball? What's the best pitching motion for power and control and the health of the pitcher? How did a batter create power to hit a ball? What factors affected the ball's movement before and after it hit the bat? How do fielders perceive the ball's movement into the field, even before the batter hit it?

Euchner answers all these questions and more, using concrete examples of players who played in Game Seven, as well as other players.

Interestingly, in analyzing the question "who has the 'perfect' pitching motion", Roger Clemens is held up as an example of someone who has "near-perfect mechanics." It's no wonder Clemens has been able to pitch at a high level for so long. One of the younger pitchers compared mechanically to Clemens is, interestingly and ominously enough, Mark Prior.

It is instructive to remember, when looking at Clemens' career record, that after an auspicious debut, he spent most of his second year on the DL (1985). But once healed, he burst on the national scene with his fantastic 1986 season, and since then has missed very few starts.

You'll read of Clemens' fanatical devotion to workout regimes, and how he takes care of his body, and wonder why it is that Prior hasn't been able to do the same.

This is a book that to me, was likeable precisely because of its format. If it had just been dry stats or "scientific" stuff, I'd have fallen asleep. But by interspersing the analysis with the game, and showing WHY things that happened during that tense, memorable game, happened, it kept my interest. If you're a stathead, you'll love it -- but even if you're not, there IS something in "The Last Nine Innings" for any baseball fan, in fact, for anyone interested in human nature and whyand how we do what we do.

Oh, and if you're interested in buying this book? Make sure you use the Amazon referral link on the left sidebar.