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Book review: Baseball Field Guide

Baseball Field Guide
Dan Formosa and Paul Hamburger
Da Capo Press, $14.00, pp.240

Few documents have greater impact on us here at baseball than the Official Rules of Baseball - but have you ever tried to read the sucker? It's as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall and more soporific than a marathon of Cosmos on PBS [Hey, I love Carl Sagan, but his voice is just so soothing... "Beelyuns and beelyuns of years ago..."] This is probably an inevitable result of the way it has been modified over the years. Alexander Cartwright's original rules contained exactly 500 words, in their entirety. Nowadays, the first section alone, 'Objectives', consists of 2,639 words. Chunks get tagged on, modified, deleted and rewritten, and in the 163 years since Cartwright, readability has become less and less of a priority.

Enter Formosa and Hamburger, who have undertaken the challenging, but entirely laudable, task of presenting the rules in a format where they make sense and will not induce unconsciousness faster than a six-pack of NyQuil. In this aspect, they have succeeded admirably: the results will never be mistaken for the latest from Tom Clancy, but they are a good deal more clear and understandable. Here's a sample page, illustrating the Infield Fly rule - so it should be of particular interest to Orlando Hudson:


Combined with specific examples of the rules in action, this visual approach is very helpful, and makes things a lot clearer than they have been. I've already been able to put the information contained in the book to use. During a D-backs game earlier this season, a double-play started at first, was completed by Hudson at second - but rather than just touching the bag, Orlando reached down to tag the runner. Turns out he had to do that: as soon as the out was made at first, the runner heading toward second was no longer compelled to advance [he could have gone back to first], and had to be physically tagged by O-Dawg, in order to make the out.

The organization of the book also makes much more sense, being divided up into chapters on pitching, batting, running and fielding, each of which includes all the relevant rules covering that area. This does lead to some duplication, obviously: interference and obstruction, for example, appear in more than one section. However, the authors say that the book was not intended to be read from cover to cover, but used as a reference work - on that basis, the layout is perfectly logical. It's also slim enough to be easily tucked into your cooler or bag, and brought to the game. I would have welcomed an index highlighting the main entry for a rule, so it can be found quick;y. For example, "Infield Fly" has five pages listed, including its appearance in the ways of making an out, which is probably not what you want to find.

Overall, however, this is a great book and one which I'll certainly be keeping to hand. It evern passed the acid test: how does it cope with explaining the balk rule? This was where the illustrations were particularly useful: describing what constitutes a balk is one thing, but seeing diagrams that show the difference has made things much more clear in my mind. Of course, so as not to stand out from the crowd, I will still be forced to yell "Balk!" every time a pitcher does that fake to third, fake to first move - but in my heart, I will now know better.

[For more information on the book, please see its website.]