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Books and Such: "The Last Nine Innings" by Charles Euchner

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Charles Euchner's "The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See" is clever in its approach to baseball storytelling. Per the publisher, the book is ostensibly about the so-called "Triple Revolution" that has taken place in baseball over the last decade, and continues to take place:

1. Globalization of Recruiting and Business
2. Scientific Analysis & Reduction of Physical Baseball Movements
3. Evolution Effect of Modernized Stat-Crunching

Euchner deftly uses the seventh game of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks as a canvass for his narrative. The game is broken down inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch, as the author segues into and out of numerous facets of a ballgame -- and of ballplayers -- that often go unnoticed by even the most die hard fan. The book dragged for me a little at the beginning as Euchner revealed to the casual fan the defensive deficiencies of Derek Jeter (aka Captain Fantastic). After the first few chapters, though, the book really took off and held me captivated until the end. Some points of interest:

On head-first slides (p.174)...

Using high-speed photography ... [they] speculate that the superior forward movement of the head-first slide is counted by other factors.

The researchers observe: "The surface area of the chest, abdomen, anterior legs, and knees, which contact the base path in a head-first slide, is much greater ... This increase in surface areas likely results in a greater amount of friction in the ground and the athlete in the last several feet of the head-first slide and may reduce the slider's speed."

On the psychology of the baseball player, specifically one Paul O'Neill (p.195)...
Psychology has always operated at the margin in baseball and other sports. The ethos of toughness that pervades sports is so powerful that there is often little room for consideration of fear and longing, of how childhood influences the man ... Even acknowledging a need for help threatens to undermine the very qualities that bring the athlete success in the first place -- single-minded determination, discipline to improve skills, confidence in the face of defeat.

But with the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in teams and with success so uncertain, many teams have taken to using psychological testing and counseling to make sure they get and keep the kinds of players who can succeed in the unreality of professional sports.

On baseball players as one of Latin America's chief exports (p.223)...
Baseball in Latin America, to some skeptics' eyes, looks a lot like previous episodes of American colonialism. This time, the resource is not slaves, sugar, mining, oil, drugs, or tourism, but ballplayers. The U.S. and Japanese leagues have transformed once-independent leagues and turned the Dominican Republic into a farm system for the major leagues. The American teams chew up players by the hundreds, while a relative handful realize their dreams of playing Major League Baseball.
On the Diamondbacks' approach to hitting Mariano Rivera (p.267)...
With the late movement of Rivera's cutter, lefties almost always get jammed. To compensate for Rivera's killer pitches on the hands, the Diamondbacks adopted a one-time-only plan: violate the most basic rule taught to hitters from their days in Little League and step into the bucket.
"The Last Nine Innings" features portions of interviews with numerous members of the Diamondbacks' and Yankees' organizations, from players to coaches, as well as with experts in various fields not exclusive to Major League Baseball. There is a lot to learn in this book, even for the most ardent baseball enthusiast, and many will derive at least the tiniest bit of pleasure from the recounting of the Yankees' unceremonious defeat that fine November evening.