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Scientific Baseball, by John J. McGraw

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Xipoo's taking his car in for service, so Snake Bytes will be a bit late. Since it's an off-day, let's crank up the wayback machine and go back to when the entire state of Arizona had barely been founded... Written in 1913, but a lot what it says is surprisingly relevant to today's game.

At that time, McGraw was managing the New York Giants, on their way to a third consecutive National League pennant. He'd already won the World Series in 1905, as a player-manager, and would achieve back-to-back titles in 1921 and 1922. He'd finish his career with 10 pennants, three World Series championships and more National League victories than any other manager, before or since, with 2,669. He was famed for his temper as much as his sharp and incisive analytical mind, and also held the record for managerial ejections, until eventually passed there by Bobby Cox. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, three years after his death.

The book begins with a guest chapter by Christy Mathewson, another Hall of Famer who was in its inaugural class. He writes about pitching, and it's fascinating to realize that, even more than a century ago, baseball was aware of the strain placed on pitchers' arms by breaking pitches. Mathewson writes: "No pitcher with a good assortment of curves should be required to play in more than two games a week.  A great amount of tissue is broken down in the arm that does the work and it takes a lot of time to rebuild it." However, other things have changed - you won't find any modern pitching manual explaining how to throw a spit-ball!

Some of McGraw's wisdom is applicable anywhere. For example: "Always back up the play of another fielder. No man is infallible and he is liable to miss a ball, but with two men, the chances of missing are minimized - and, besides, it will serve to make the runners stick to their bases a little closer. Another thing: a man who is backed up will have more confidence in his work. Good support is invaluable in every part of the game of baseball. Help each other, and remember again, that good team work will tell in the long run." But let's head into the main body of the book, and sample what McGraw has to say specifically about each position in the field.

Catcher. He must have a quick eye, strong hands and good nerve for all three are necessary to good play in that particular position. Even in the most favorable light the position is not an easy one and it is always in the danger zone. Many a good catcher has pulled his team out of a hole at a critical moment and has helped the pitcher to steady himself. The catcher is the man who is practically in control of the field because his position faces every player, and consequently not a move should escape him.

First base. When the bases are vacant play well into the field in order to get hits that would otherwise be safe, and depend upon the pitcher to cover the base. In the event of fielding the ball at a short distance from the base, if the pitcher is covering it, don't make the mistake of a swift overhand throw which is liable to be muffed. In case the base is occupied, watch the batter closely, and if he bunts the ball toward first, run in and get it and throw it to second on the chance that it may be returned promptly enough to head off the man who is trying to make first. Too much importance cannot be attached to this play, which has been adopted by all good first basemen. But don t hurry.

Second base. A great many flies come to the second baseman's territory and many of them are extremely difficult to handle. He may have to go to center or right field, or he may have to run in almost to the pitcher. In cases of this kind there is always the chance of two men, both after the same ball, colliding. To avoid this, if he is reasonably sure of getting the fly, he should shout "I'll take it!" No reply is necessary to this, as the other player assumes that everything is all right. Unless this is done, both players may stop running for the ball, each one assuming that the other will take it, and both will miss it. Many an easy fly has proved a safe hit because of a misunderstanding.

Third base. The third baseman is right in line with some of the hardest hits which it takes no little amount of nerve and courage to face. Besides this, he occupies what is considered by many experts one of the most difficult positions on the diamond..He must make up his mind that the batter is just as clever as he is, and will try and deceive him if possible. Such a batter will do all in his power to induce the baseman to play in close, by pretending to bunt, and will then make a safe hit. So the man on third who expects to be really good in the position, must know to a certain extent about what is going to happen, in advance.

Shortstop. This means an exceedingly active man good at a sprint quick to get in action and just as quick to stop; a good and accurate thrower, and the more ability he has to throw a ball, the better will he be able to support a very trying position... The short stop covers a territory in which it is very easy for an experienced batter to send the ball, and he must perforce keep all his wits about him. It frequently happens that he will have to field the ball on a run. He must then make a dead stop, and send it to first without delay. The position of short stop offers many opportunities for individual star plays, and the work of a good man will have no little effect upon the score card. [Hello, Ahmed!]

Outfield. The player who is a good outfielder is a valuable and important addition to any team. His motto should be, "Don't wait, but get there." There are two essential qualifications, and they must be well developed: a strong arm and the ability to sprint... The fielder must think quick and act quick. He must take the sun and the wind into consideration, as well as the nature of the ground upon which he is working. A slight inequality will often divert the course of a grounder that would otherwise come his way, and he must allow for that. He should know the instant the ball is hit by the batter, just about where it will go, and he should not confine himself to too small a territory."

On hitting. When the pitcher is about to deliver the ball, be prepared to meet it and try and make up your mind whether it is a fast ball or a slow ball. Study his delivery, and try to discover what he is going to do next. Rather let a ball go and have a strike than miss it because nothing is so discouraging as to hit at a ball and miss it.  The secret of a long hit is not muscle: it's knack. It lies in the hitting of the ball at precisely the proper moment, with a sharp quick stroke, and adding to it the impetus given by the shoulders. It isn't necessary to swing hard either: in fact, in many cases it is a fatal error and it robs the batter of his judgment of distance and accuracy.

The book also includes the schedules for the 1913 season, the then-current rules of the game (including a stern reminder that, "Under no circumstances shall a captain or player dispute the accuracy of the umpire's judgment and decision on a play") and the statistics for the previous year. Though the latter look more like a fantasy baseball league, since for hitters, they consist entirely of games, at-bats, runs, hits, stolen-bases and batting average. There are also some marvelous old advertisements at the back, from pamphlets on "Scientific Bag Punching," and how to win at poker to... Well, take a look for yourself: [Maybe NSFW, albeit in a very 1913 way!]

Somehow, the occasional promo for FanDuel suddenly doesn't seem so bad, does it?!

[The entire book is available online, for your perusing pleasure]