I’m often asked for suggestions for good baseball books, and I struggle to come up with good suggestions. Many are leaden; a lot are full of the sort of clichÃ©-ridden garbage that has so thoroughly turned me off of newspapers; and a lot are just poorly written, too. So I’m pleased to be able to offer a very strong recommendation for a new, unusual entry in the pantheon of baseball books: Derek Zumsteg’s The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball.
First, a disclaimer: I know Derek personally and have for something like seven years. We were both writers at BP around the same time, and while we definitely don’t agree on every topic, I have always enjoyed Derek’s writing. I still think if his book sucked, I’d say so, or at least I wouldn’t recommend it, but I thought the connection was something I should mention.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the book, ripping through it in two days despite the fact that I was coming down with a bad respiratory infection and read the last section while I had a fever of 102.5. Zumsteg splits his history of cheating into three sections, and unfortunately the first section – devoted to shady-but-not-really-cheating things, like groundskeepers’ tricks to help the home team – is the least interesting, although it’s certainly well-written, and does discuss John McGraw, one of my favorite historical baseball figures. But we want sordid details, like spitballs and gambling scandals, and sections two (the illegal) and three (the awful) deliver, which gave me the feeling that the book was accelerating as I read it. The section on Billy Martin, a manager I remember well from my Yankee-fan childhood, was a particular treat.
My one big criticism of the book is the lack of footnotes or endnotes, although Derek tells me that its omission was an editorial decision. It’s too bad, because the book clearly has a lot of research behind it, and I often find other interesting reads by checking out the notes or bibliography of a book I’ve enjoyed. My guess is that a lot of readers won’t mind the absence of the notes, certainly not if your primary interest is in a good, fast-moving baseball read.