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Achieving excellence in the athletic arena is incredibly difficult. And with each rung one advances on the ladder, that difficulty increases exponentially. So to be recognized as the best at what you do at the athletic pinnacle is impressive indeed.

Now, a single outstanding season is not enough to place you among the immortals. Indeed, the history of every professional sport is littered with singularly transcendent stat lines by people who would never again reach those heights.

Take MLB’s Cy Young Award. To be named the Cy Young winner is to be placed among the very best to ever take the mound. For some, the award is a box checked on the way to Cooperstown. And yet … there are also many Cy Young winners whose careers prove that elite season to be the outlier rather than the norm.

In Doug Wedge’s “Pinnacle on the Mound: Cy Young Winners Talk Baseball” (Rowman & Littlefield, $32), we get a closer look at some of the men who won baseball’s preeminent pitching award. There are conversations with 10 Cy Young winners whose historic seasons span over half-a-century, devoted to shining a light on the particularities that allowed these hurlers to be, for one season at least, the very best in the game.

Published in Sports

Baseball is a game of decisions, both on the field and off it. And when we talk about Major League Baseball, well – there are A LOT of choices that need to be made. Whether we’re talking about in-game strategy or front office maneuvering, the sport is rife with opportunities to make decisions.

But how do we know if they’re the right ones? How do we know if we’re truly making optimal choices or if we’re being guided (or misguided) by subconscious belief systems and biases of which we may not even be fully aware?

Answers to those questions are among the many things that Keith Law is delving into with his new book “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s an effort to make accessible the behavioral science behind the inherent biases that can impact our decisions, baseball or otherwise.

By walking us through the conscious and unconscious influences that impact how baseball works, Law gives us a new perspective on the intricacies of the sport – a perspective that matches the more data-driven and analytically-inclined model followed by 21st century practitioners of the game.

Published in Sports

When I first heard about “The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball's Afterlife” (University of Nebraska Press, $27.95) by Brad Balukjian, my reaction was pure and basic: “God, that’s a f---ing good idea.”

Even after a decade-plus of literary reviews, I can count on one hand the times that I was legitimately envious of the idea behind a book. Not necessarily the best books or the most interesting books, but the ones with an underlying premise that spoke directly to me.

“The Wax Pack” is one of those.

Balukjian, a lifelong baseball fan, undertook a simple, yet deeply fascinating adventure. He bought a pack of Topps baseball cards from 1986, the year he got into collecting. He popped the decades-old gum into his mouth and flipped through the 15 cards, regaling himself with ghosts of seasons past. And then, he packed up his life and embarked on an epic road trip, a cross-country voyage in which he hoped to make contact with the players he found when he peeled the paper from the titular wax pack.

The result is something unexpected, a thoughtful exploration of fandom that also serves as a glimpse of the different directions a faded athlete might go. And in the process of delving into this sports-loving memory hole, Balukjian himself becomes more present, undertaking an effort to look back at his own history.

Published in Sports

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