The Diamond Appraised – The Book

 

“I told him he should write a book about this stuff. He said he was thinking

 about it, which is a step forward from what he said the last time I told him

 that, which was that he wasn’t thinking about it.”    

 

That’s Bill James writing about a conversation we had during game 2 of the 1985 World Series. Yes, his friendly nudges and encouragement were a factor. Within a few months of that conversation Rangers’ pitching coach Tom House approached me about our doing a book together, and I decided to give it a try. We got a book deal with Macmillan, but it got off to a lousy start. I was interested in doing a fairly serious book and House was interested in something less strenuous. The book was in a stall, and it was actually a relief to me when Macmillan pulled the plug on the book.

 

But the editor Jeff Neuman really liked the book, and when he moved to Simon & Shuster as Senior Editor and Director of Sports Books, he wanted to revive the book and work around House’s lack of work ethic by having me write most of it. They would pay me double what House would get and as the primary author my name would go first rather than follow alphabetical form. The format of the book would give us independent voices where I would write on a topic and then House and I would have a little give-and-take on the subject.

 

The "give and take" idea between Tom House and myself was always a good idea in theory. The potential of the concept comes through very well in the early chapter on "4000 Hits," and also the one on Knuckleballers, but it pretty much vanishes thereafter. Again my co-author lost interest and pretty much stopped working on the book. They finally had to hire a sportswriter to work with Tom as his ghost writer just to get enough done to preserve some semblance of the "give and take" premise. Most of Tom's material was done under the gun at the last minute, which is why his sections are so sparse, especially late in the book.  A lot of his stuff I never even got to see until the book was first being proofed. Rather than two-thirds of the book, I ended up writing 90% with House contributing less than 50 pages.

 

The one thing I always regretted is that House petered out before we got into the pitching sections which were, for me, the most important part of the book. There was a huge opportunity for a lively dialogue given our widely divergent views on enhancing the longevity of pitchers. Within the Rangers organization House and I represented two very different views on this subject. House firmly believed that with the special conditioning program that he had for the Ranger pitchers that they could be worked unusually hard without it affecting their short or long-term future. I disagreed. While I valued an emphasis on conditioning as a way of promoting better health in pitchers, I felt the evidence just wasn’t there to say it was much more than a minor factor. My research strongly suggested that modifications of pitcher workload would have the greatest impact. Our ideas on the appropriate workloads for various types of pitchers at certain points in their careers were light years apart, and I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to more clearly delineate our opposing views on this. As it was, I wrote over 100 pages in the pitching section; House wrote 5. The little he did write I barely got to see in time to write a few quick comments before we went to press.

 

I know this is a bit hard on Tom, but it is what it is and relevant to the story about the book and how it came to its final form. I was not the only one disappointed with Tom’s effort. Even the most positive reviews tended to dismiss Tom’s small essays as the “weakness” of the book and “usually dull.” Editor Neuman was so disenchanted with House’s contributions that he apologized for pushing to include House when the book was revived at Simon & Shuster. On the positive side, Tom is the one who got the original Macmillan book deal, and he did make one really sterling contribution to the book – one for which I will always be grateful. When House first proposed our doing a book together, he said, “I already have a great title for the book: The Diamond Appraised.” It was so perfect I laughed out loud with delight, and that literally was the moment I made up my mind to give it a try. No other title was ever considered, and it later became the name of my consulting business.

 

How’d it do? -  It wasn’t what it was meant to be or could have been, but folks still seemed to find a lot to like. It got a very nice review from Allen Berra of The New York Post who called it “… the most impossible-to-put-down baseball book since The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.”  I was especially touched that it got a nice reaction from Peter Hirdt, co-author of The Elias Baseball Analyst. Because of my association with STATS Inc, which was a direct competitor with The Elias Sports Bureau, this was unexpected. And it was all the more remarkable because of my close relationship with Bill James who had done the foreword for the book. Bill and the Elias Sports Bureau tended to do a lot of sniping at each other in those days. When the original hard cover version did well enough to warrant doing a paperback edition, Peter provided a cover blurb for it, calling the book “fascinating and thought-provoking.” George Will sent me a nice note saying he had read the book with “pleasure and profit,” and he quoted a couple of my sections in his baseball book Men at Work.

 

I wrote most of the book in 1987 and the copyright is 1989. A lot of stuff in the book is now dated and it was intended for a short shelf life, but there are enough sections that are sufficiently timeless that its relevance is still hanging in there nearly 25 years later.  It is still being read and reviewed favorably by readers in 2012 and 2013. Rany Jazayerli who helped found the The Baseball Prospectus said in an interview that what I covered in my three pitching chapters was one of the five most important baseball studies ever. ESPN’s Rob Neyer gave The Diamond Appraised  an honorable mention for a place in the “Essential Baseball Library.”

 

Which of the three editions is best? – Many don’t realize that there was a third edition. The Diamond Appraised sold its Japanese translation rights and a very nice hardback edition was sold in Japan. I personally like the American paperback best. As nice as the hard cover was, there is an error in one paragraph where a whole line or two somehow didn’t make it to print. That was corrected in the paperback edition, and I also got to add a few worthy notes about Nolan Ryan in one of the pitching chapters based on his accomplishments after the first printing. The Japanese edition? What can I say? I have no idea if it is even a good translation. I will say the construction and presentation of the book is very nice, including one of those cloth bookmarks that attach to the binding. The picture provided does not do justice to the Japanese book jacket. The drawing and the English title are all done in some kind of ink that has a subtle jewel like reflection.

 

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