Book Review: Baseball Miscellany by Matthew Silverman

Posted by Kurt Smith on Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let me start with full disclosure here: Matt Silverman has done a favor for Ballpark E-Guides in the past with a very kind review of the Citi Field E-Guide on his blog (scroll down, it’s there) that included an interview he conducted with me; certainly I owe him a favor. This puts me in a quandary, since I would really feel bad saying something negative about a book of his.

But fortunately, his latest book “Baseball Miscellany” made such a dilemma unnecessary, and I’m happy to say I really enjoyed reading the book, regardless of any subconscious obligation.

Silverman is an accomplished author of quite a few baseball books; most notably “100 Things Mets Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” and “Shea Goodbye”, a book co-written with none other than Keith Hernandez.

In “Baseball Miscellany: Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Baseball” Silverman answers 27 questions about the great American pastime, the same number of outs required to win a ballgame not hampered by weather. Some are obvious questions that fans ask, like why the Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown or what makes a curveball curve, while others answer more obscure but certainly valid queries, like why the spitball is illegal or why Joe DiMaggio was called the “Yankee Clipper”.

Throughout the answers, Silverman provides the kind of history lesson that doesn’t bore the kids; a lesson about the origins of the game’s most common traditions. Some stories—like the great one about why umpires use hand signals—may even be entertaining enough to share with your non-baseball fan mate at the game. Silverman painstakingly also debunks the Abner Doubleday inventing the game myth, which hopefully won’t endanger the location of the Hall of Fame.

Reading the book jolted my brain a lot, because I had no idea how many of baseball’s phrases, rituals and traditions that I had either taken for granted or at least never gave a thought about their origins. Silverman explains how “sandlot”, “on deck”, and “Mets” came to be (for that matter, he explains the origins of all of the teams’ names, which is my favorite part of the book), and explained to me how the World Series, the 7th inning stretch, and even the ivy at Wrigley Field came to be. Entertaining stories all, and great fodder for the historic baseball discussions we love to have with everyone from our grandparents to our grandkids.

The best thing about “Baseball Miscellany” is what I call “bathroom value”. You can turn to any section in this book, read an interesting baseball history diatribe, and be that much more appreciative of the great game in the time it takes to do one’s business. “Baseball Miscellany” doesn’t require the reader to stay with it, nor does it have any kind of oppressive continuity that keeps you from putting it down on the beach so you can take a dip.

And there are some great photos. Most appealing to this longtime O’s fan was the picture of about twenty classic Orioles batting helmets…the black and white one with the grinning orange bird assuring us that our team was going to come back and win it in the eighth or ninth, once Earl was done hollering at the umpire.

I only have one minor beef about “Baseball Miscellany”, and very minor at that. The first is that on two occasions Silverman gets the names of ballparks slightly incorrect: he cites “Citizens Bank Ballpark” and “U.S. Cellar Field” (unless of course, he called the home of the White Sox the “Cellar” on purpose, as many Cubs fans do). Probably only an issue for someone like me who is geeky enough to be proud of being able to name each team’s home ballpark.

My father had a stroke some years ago that impairs his ability to read, which limits him to focusing solely on the success of his fantasy baseball team (which was good enough to win him a few hundred dollars last season). All the same; I’m thinking “Baseball Miscellany” will make a great Father’s Day gift. I am certain he would find it interesting enough to pore through it.

I was surprised at how little I knew about baseball’s great traditions; suddenly many of them do seem kind of oddball. The stories behind them are evidence of how much baseball pays tribute to the past, where everything is solved.

If you’re a baseball reader, you should certainly own “Baseball Miscellany”. You’ll be a more appreciative fan for it.

Tags: baseball books 
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