The Official Rules of Baseball

Last week I finished reading The Official Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball and How They Came To Be by David Nemec. While the book is very interesting, the level of detail and the amount of time spent on subtle, seldom-invoked rules probably make it too esoteric for the casual fan. However, for students of the game – those interested in better understanding the infield-fly rule or other widely-misunderstood concepts – it is ideal.

The book basically follows the structure of Major League Baseball’s Official Rules document, with chapters titled Objectives of the Game, Definitions of Terms, Game Preliminaries, Starting and Ending a Game, Putting the Ball in Play, The Batter, The Runner, The Pitcher, The Umpire, and The Official Scorer, respectively. In a narrow column on the left side of each page, the relevant text from the official rules is included. On the right, a description, often accompanied by an anecdote describing the rule’s evolution or a noteworthy instance in which the rule came into play, is included. This layout is logical but because the rules are not meant to read like a book, the result is that this book reads more like a collection of brief articles than a cohesive whole.

Because the book deals with the same concepts repeatedly, the author tries to add some variety by using different words for the same concepts. This is a common practice in sports writing, where authors use words like “dinger” or “tater” as a substitute for “home run”. However, I found the author’s efforts to avoid repetition somewhat annoying.

Despite the book’s shortcomings, I found myself mesmerized. It is thoroughly researched and presents many highly interesting examples of obscure rules making a huge difference in important games. In addition, it paints a picture of baseball as it was originally: gritty and rough around the edges. In the early years of the game, all sorts of trickery was employed by managers and players in order to gain a competitive advantage. Many of today’s seemingly inexplicable rules were written in order to explicitly forbid the most prevalent or most philosophically objectionable of those tricks.

If you consider yourself a student of the game and you’re interested in understanding many of the game’s most subtle and confusing aspects, this is a great resource. It certainly has some shortcomings, but overall it is a very interesting book.

Other books that I can recommend to those with a keen interest in baseball include The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz and Curve Ball by Jim Albert and Jay Bennett.

Having completed this book, I have moved on to another. This time, I’m leaving baseball behind and have started reading a photography book, so I’m prepared to take pictures when my Pentax K1000 arrives. I checked out two books on Tuesday, I think, and I’ve already finished the first: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Today I’ll be starting on the second: Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography, also by Bryan Peterson.

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September 2006

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