I have tried to focus on NPB and specifically the Hanshin Tigers as much as possible since last year. However, as someone who has mostly followed the game on paper for the better part of the last two decades, I thought I needed to get an education from someone who played the game on the field for nearly that length of time. Jason Kendall teamed up with Lee Judge to write Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played. While some of what he says is basic and known to most observant fans, he also goes into a decent amount of detail about some of the finer aspects of the game that go unnoticed by fans, especially those watching on TV whose angle is limited by what the camera shows us.
Jason Kendall was a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals from 1996 to 2010. Catchers, as you may know, understand the game better than almost any other position player, thanks to their vantage point and the need for them to know many more details than the rest of the team.
Through the book, Kendall mixes anecdotes with actual practical things for fans to look for whether in attendance at a game or watching on TV. He starts with pitchers (starters and relievers alike), how they like to have the game called for them, what makes a tough pitcher, what makes it easy for catchers to work with pitchers, etc. He then goes into the catchers’ mentality, followed by the infield, outfield, hitters, base runners, managers and the rest.
Each section gives the reader some new insight into how the game is really played, and how it goes beyond one man throwing the ball, another trying to hit it hard, and everyone trying to score runs. The amount of detail and thinking that goes into baseball is beyond what many of us think about as we watch the game.
I actually read this in conjunction with a Japanese book called 考える野球術 (Thinking Baseball Techniques), which talked about many similar topics but just from a much more mechanical, impersonal perspective. It was interspersed with the thoughts and ideas of other professionals – mostly Japanese players with experience in the majors – but it definitely felt a lot less intriguing than Kendall’s thoughts.
Still, reading the two books simultaneously helped solidify some of the more solid ideas. It definitely brought my baseball knowledge up a few notches. If you have a chance to pick up Kendall’s “Throwback” I recommend it. Only two things about the book prevent it from being a full five-stars: a lot of ideas/anecdotes get repeated several times, and his final point – “if you get anything out of this book, remember to protect your kids at games because you don’t want them to get hit by a foul ball” – seemed completely unrelated to anything else he said.