History Buffs and Stat Heads Inquire Within…
I came across an interesting book that serious stat, history, and sabermetrics guys (herein referred to as "stat geeks") might enjoy. Stephen M. Lombardi’s "The Baseball Same Game: Finding Comperable Players From the National Pastime" takes an interesting perspective on classic baseball history arguements. Basically, instead of trying to figure out what players are better than others, Lombardi instead attempts to figure out what big league hitters and pitchers have had eerily similar careers.
While this book is clearly not for the casual fan, hard core types will probably enjoy the arguements Lombardi (whose knowledge and love of baseball are obvious) makes in his player comparisons, relying on cool, post-Bill James statistics like Offensive Winning Percentage, OBPS, Runs Created vs. League Average, and Runs Saved Above Average, just to name a few. For me, the most interesting are between players where one is generally considered to have been better than another. Most people, for example, would say that Roy Campanella, who holds a hallowed place in baseball lore, was a more accomplished hitter than Sixto Lezcano, who holds a hallowed place only in the lore of cool baseball names. Lombardi makes a compelling case to the contrary. Similarly interesting comparisons are between guys like Enos Slaughter and Keith Hernandez, where one is in the Hall of Fame and another isn’t. I also thought comparisons between players of vastly different periods (Mo Vaughn and Home Run Baker) were fun to read, because Lombardi provides the statistical tools required to bridge the gaps created by changes in the game. The same holds true of HOFers, where he measures Willie Mays to Honus Wagner, perhaps the greatest players of their respective eras (It works for pitchers as well, with Christie Mathewson and Tom Seaver). It’s pretty cool to see how similar they were in many respects.
I respect Lombardi’s choice to find similarity in players, rather than taking the more typical, "who’s better than who" approach. It was a risky one, I believe.
Unfortunately, it’s also one that creates some of "Baseball Same Game’s" biggest problems. Once I got past some of the more interesting pairings like the ones mentioned above, there were just too many entries comparing players occupying that much larger player pool of all stars and solid pros who weren’t HOF caliber. Guys that I would have assumed if asked, as a reasonably informed baseball fan (with a working, but not oracle-like knowledge of baseball history) had similar careers. Jack Clark and Reggie Smith. Derek Bell and Mike Scioscia. Ken Holtzman and Bill Lee. Nobody- or nobody I know at least- really spends time comparing guys like that, because the assumption is they are more or less the same. After that, perhaps the fault is mine. Lombardi compares so many players whom I knew little to nothing about- often to each other- that aside from providing an interesting history lesson about some good-to-very-good but not great players from years gone by, I couldn’t get much out of it. But, like I mentioned, this book is for hard core fans and historians. Whether I’m the first depends on your definition of hard core, but there’s no question that I’m not the second.
I have a couple other issues with the book. When comparing position players, it’s a matter of finding hitters of similar caliber, and no more. Thus it gives an incomplete picture of the total player, where defense or baserunning could have made one guy a more superior total package than another (obviously, this isn’t really a problem when he compares pitchers). Finding similar hitters or pitchers can be interesting, but many, like me, want to know who was a better player. For me, the writing occasionally got bogged down and felt awkward, but plenty of people who visit this sight probably feel the same about my work. The amount of information can be overwhelming, and it’s not something that’s easy to read straight through. Fortunately, I don’t think you’re supposed to. In the end, Lombardi’s numbers and comparisons are more important than his words, and it’s clear the book has been thoroughly researched.
In the end, most baseball fans would find something interesting inside "Baseball Same Game," even if they couldn’t digest the whole thing. But if you’re a stat guy, a history guy, or someone who just can’t get enough of baseball history and minutae, this may be a book for you.
"The Baseball Same Game: Finding Comperable Players From The National Pastime," by Stephen M. Lombardi. Check out www.baseballsamegame.com, or Amazon if you’re interested.