The best baseball book I’ve read this year

If you’re seeking a holiday gift for a baseball fan who enjoys reading about the sport, an excellent choice is Phillies Essential by Rich Westcott. And you don’t have to be a Phillies fan to enjoy reading the book’s offerings.

The book’s a collection of stories packed into 189 plus pages. But though the stories are as filled with information as a sardine can is with the little fish, the statistics don’t overwhelm the reader because of Westcott’s skill at seamlessly blending statistics into the book’s content.

Here’s a sample:

“When a ballclub wins just 59 games in a single season, there is an obvious message: it’s time for a massive overhaul.

That message came crashing to the surface after the Phillies posted a pathetic 59-97 record during the 1972 season. If it hadn’t been for the presence of Steve Carlton and his 27 wins, the team’s sorry record would surely have been worse.” (p. 119)

And here’s a sample of Westcott’s ability to both show and tell:

“One of the best players ever to throw a little round sphere at a man holding a wooden stick was a guy with the epic name of Grover Cleveland Alexander. He was a Nebraska farm boy, one of 13 children, and he could throw a baseball so well that some of his records will never be broken.

He was named after a sitting president, and, in his own way, Alexander was certainly presidential, too, reigning over a population of hitters who had no chance of initiating a recall.”

One of my favorites stories focused on a Phillies pitchers who won at least 20 games six years in a row. More remarkably, of his 609 starts, he completed more than half, 305. And in one of those complete games, the Phils didn’t win it until the 17th inning. Thus, in one game, he pitched more innings than many of today’s pitchers pitch in two games.

The pitcher? Robin Roberts.

In an era when ballplayers need to use performance-enhancing drugs to elevate the competitiveness of their game, it’s a pleasure to read about men such as Roberts whose success resulted not from the power of performance-enhancing drugs but wholly from their naturally developed talent.

The bottom line: Westcott can write better than most baseball writers; better than most sports writers; better than most writers. Giving his book as a gift could gain you unexpected gratitude.

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