The Cheater's Guide to Baseball
by Derek Zumsteg
If I have learned nothing, (and my wife,
reading this, is probably saying, “and you have”) I have learned that in life,
one hears the same arguments over and over again. One of the most hoary of these
clichés is what I will call Old School vs. New School. This type of argument can
be found in politics, sports, music-any place where strongly held opinions can
be backed up with scanty evidence. I can sympathize with at least the latter,
because I personally have had very little use for anything recorded after Pearl
Jam released Ten.
Fortunately, most intelligent people don’t fall entirely into one camp or the other. When I heard blogger and Baseball Prospectus author Derek Zumsteg had a book out about baseball cheating, I was immediately intrigued. I instinctively wanted to support Derek, as I try to buy whatever is produced by the bright folks at BP, in order to encourage them to continue doing so. And the spitball has always been a passing interest of mine, and I was sure Derek would do a fine job describing and narrating the story of the wet one.
But time and money for baseball books, like lifespan and gas mileage, is not infinite, and so Derek’s book lingered on the periphery of my awareness for a while. I glanced at the back cover once, and I secretly feared it would be another of those “1000 Wild and Wacky Baseball Facts” kind of books. Not that there is anything wrong with those sort of books, but when you have read a lot of books about baseball, you have heard that Gaylord Perry was accused of throwing a spitball but only disciplined once, and so on, and so on. I didn’t want to read the same stories I’ve heard in five other books, which is often what you get when you pick up one of those “Unusual Baseball Tales” books.
Happily, Derek did not let me down. The Cheater's Guide covers the usual suspects-Perry, and the long and dampened history of the spitter, and the Black Sox, and the obligatory chapter in a modern baseball book about Bonds and the steroid era. While a blogger, which is as New School as it gets, Derek is pleasantly Old School in his ability to let the historical figures tell the story. When an anecdote is questionable, he notes it, but lets it stand while admitting the need for more relative truth. His writing is of uniformly high quality, with a touch of edge to it, and he does as complete a job of explicating baseball skullduggery as I have ever read.
I can't agree with all of his assertions-in terms of Pete Rose or the steroid era, I have always shared Bill James' opinion about Rose-I don't know, and you don't know either. But it is fine to encounter well reasoned, passionate, intelligent descriptions of these burning issues. Zumsteg's New School passion and Old School love for the game shine through his work. Derek Zumsteg manages to cover a great deal of territory, producing a short, very readable account of the many ways players have tried for an edge since bat first struck ball.
-- Michael Webb