When I write I often fall in love with my own asides. (Aside: a remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion.) I believe that what I want to say is so fascinating that it doesn’t matter if it fits the topic. Nope, I’m going to interject it simply because I can.
I’ve just read a book that may—if not cure me—get me to think more deeply before heading down some rabbit hole.
Terry McDermott’s Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception comes close to being a wonderful book. Using the framework of Felix Hernandez’s 2012 perfect game, Seattle Mariners fan McDermott takes the reader through a nine-inning/chapter history of pitching, pitches, and—naturally, given the subject—deception. Hernandez is one of the best in the game and a terrific subject for this fan’s dive into the deep end of baseball.
McDermott is a life-long lover of baseball, having been reared in the rural Midwest in “Field of Dreams” country. And that is where the trouble begins. McDermott finds his upbringing fascinating, and he drops in stories, footnotes, phrases (parenthetical and otherwise), and all matter of stuff that simply distracts from what could have been a terrific little baseball book.
Let’s take those footnotes denoted with an asterisk and placed at the bottom of the page that McDermott overuses throughout the book. He can’t even get past the second page of the preface without a long footnote about obscure Mariners relief pitcher Bobby Ayala and a call with his daughter. These footnotes occur so frequently that you feel compelled to read them, yet when you finish, 9 times out of 10 you have the thought “this book could have used a better editor.” And the use of a different pitch for each of the 9 chapters “almost” works…until you get to chapter 5 and the knuckleball—which Felix Hernandez doesn’t throw. That gives McDermott almost an entire chapter to chase down different stories, some of which are interesting and others of which are trite.
Which is all too bad. When I read in that same preface that reliever Brandon League “is a pitcher with a great arm, two great pitches, and apparently no brain” I thought I had latched onto a book both interesting and fun. And for the most part it is. The story of Hernandez’s perfect game, told inning-by-inning and almost pitch-by-pitch, is fascinating. McDermott does a good job of describing pitches, and for those who want to know the difference between a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a cutter, this book provides that information in different ways that are almost all illuminating.
McDermott is a gifted writer, but he let’s his love get in the way of tighter editing. I’ll still recommend Off Speed, but—with apologies to William Shakespeare—beware the asides of summer.
More to come…