Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Book Review: "The Last Nine Innings" by Charles Euchner

With the M's taking the series from, and having the opportunity to sweep the 2001 World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks, it's definitely good timing for this post. I just finished reading the book, too, so I'd like to write down my thoughts while the book is still fresh in my mind.

Way back in March, I received a request from a publicist at a publishing company who thought I might be interested in reading and discussing a book on this blog. I was very humbled by this request, and responded more than willingly. I mean, heck, how often do you get requests for your thoughts on a book that isn't even out to the general public yet? The book is titled "The Last Nine Innings" and was written by Charles Euchner. When you go to Barnes & Noble or surf on Amazon, you'll see this cover (as was sent to me by the publicist):

After reading the quote from Andrew Zimbalist at the top of the cover, as well as the press release, I realized even before getting my copy that it had the potential of being the type of book that would really patch some holes in my knowledge of baseball, and indeed could change the way I watch a baseball game.

In spite of my reading skills being somewhat diminished (the less-polished stuff in blogs excepted), I looked forward to finding out what Charles Euchner brought to the table. Now, I drive myself to work, I rarely travel, and most of my non-family free time is spent blogging, taking and manipulating pictures, and playing music. Non-blogging reading time is unfortunately rather limited. I really, really enjoy reading, but it's taken a back burner to a lot of different things. Due to those facts, not to the quality of the book, it took me a little longer than I'd hoped to read.

But when I did get the chance to read, I was very, very engaged.

I'm a little rusty in writing book reviews, so please forgive me if this is incomplete or incomprehensive. After all, the last book review I wrote was in German -- for a German Lit class required for my German major. Yeah. That was tough.

To summarize in a nutshell what the book is about, I'll quote from the press release:
Charles Euchner, author of the new book The Last Nine Innings, says that pro baseball’s Triple Revolution has changed the game for good.

The Triple Revolution:

  • Globalization of Recruiting and Business
  • Scientific Analysis & Reduction of Physical Baseball Movements
  • Evolution Effect of Modernized Stat-Crunching
However, since Baseball is so bound to the history and culture of the nation, will fans accept the “new” game with the same love and respect that they did just decades ago? Will the post-9/11 World Series of ’01 (Yankees-Diamondbacks) be immortalized in the same way as the Series of ’52 (Yankees-Dodgers)? Will we ever have a “Gehrig-Luckiest-Man Moment” again?

These are some of the many compelling discussion/debate points stirred up by Euchner and The Last Nine Innings, which ingeniously uses the dramatic “insider” narrative of the 2001 World Series Game 7 between the Yankees and Diamondbacks to display all the aspects of pro baseball’s Triple Revolution.
Euchner uses vignettes from Game 7 of the 2001 World Series to dig a lot deeper into the modern game, as baseball rides the waves of change into the new high-tech millenium. He lets us in behind the scenes not only to Game 7, but to the intricate details behind the game in general. Euchner's approach is definitely all-encompassing and rather unique. Statheads will accept this book -- Euchner seems to have a good enough handle on the modern-day statistical analysis tools in baseball to discuss things from that perspective. He also understands the baseball mechanics side of things -- things that scout-types would relate to -- and discusses how modern-age technological advancements add to the kinesthetic knowledge arsenal of the baseball player and his coaching staff.

There are several things in the book that really spark discussion and debate. With grace and poise, Euchner enters the discussion around folks' love-hate relationship for Derek Jeter and his defense. It's the best discussion I've read on this debate yet. He really captures both sides of the debate well. I'll let you read the book to see his conclusions. ;-)

What caught my eye in particular, and kept me reading to find out if Euchner addressed, was a very important question:
At a time when so much of the game is reduced to scientific examination and action, I also wondered why the best players seemed to come from Latin America. If we have become a nation of superkids with superparents who hire supercoaches and use videos and stats and scientific research to teach throwing, hitting, running, and sliding to the privileged scions of the American Dream, why do so many great and innovative players come from places where bats need to be carved out of tree trunks? (Pregame, page XV)
Again, I don't want to play the role of spoiler, but Euchner does discuss this towards the end of the book. My initial response to the question was somewhat aligned with the conclusion Euchner reaches. Different cultures view success much differently. They approach things much differently than we do here in the U.S. The pages Euchner devotes to this discussion are very valuable lessons for all of us.

My photography, too, has progressed because of the sections Euchner devotes to pitching and hitting mechanics. I'm nowhere near an expert in this arena, having spent very little of my life playing baseball. I'm just now starting to grasp the stuff that is second-nature to scout types and bloggers like Jeff Sullivan and Jeff "Dr. Detecto" Clarke. But I'm a devoted fan, and more than willing to learn more about this kind of stuff. The Clement-Thome Flash Morph I created after reading Dr. Detecto's comparison definitely was aided by knowledge I gained by reading "The Last Nine Innings." Euchner's book has definitely opened my eyes wider to this aspect of baseball.

In short, this book has definitely delivered as Zimbalist suggests along the top of the cover: "You'll never watch a baseball game the same way." I'm still not sure how this opportunity fell into my lap, but I'm very, very thankful it did. I know that I'll read through this book again and have several other things to discuss. I'm not sure if I can attend any meetings, but I do believe it would be a good book for a future gathering of Deanna's Book Club (the next one being next weekend -- July 8th).

I don't have an affiliate account set up from Amazon, but you can get the book there. I also saw it at my local Barnes & Noble. Don't let the fact that it discusses the Yankees scare you. It's a very good book!


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