Jason Kendall tells us how baseball is really played

Jason Kendall tells us how baseball is really played

Book review: Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells Us How The Game Is Really Played




By Jason Kendall and Lee Judge

For those who believe baseball to be a romantic, quaintly traditional affair played out on fields of dreams, or for others who find it a dreary, repetitious pursuit, this book may prove a game-changer. Kendall, a hard-nosed all-star catcher who retired in 2012, once commanded so much respect he could tell off umpires and future hall-of-famers without getting ejected or beaned; he explains what we’re missing if our eyes become misty or glazed at the sight of pitchers, batters, peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Kendall’s mantra, for spectators and players alike, is to “pay attention.” He takes us through the routines and specific planning that go into every game, starting with batting practice, where you can tell the serious players from the “Dig-Me Tribe” that “just wants to look cool on TV.” It moves through every major situation a pitcher, catcher, batter, and manager may face, from the mundane (what kind of pitch and defensive shift to expect on what count and to what kind of hitter) to the arcane (the ins and outs of signs and stealing them). It’s what Kendall calls the “game within a game” that truly fascinates: the strategies, counterstrategies and misdirection that go into plays that don’t unfold the way we’d expect. He explains how pitchers fake shaking off pitches to bamboozle hitters, how infielders cloak their movements by seemingly manicuring the field, how catchers pass off scuffed balls to distracted umpires, and how outfielders decoy runners by pretending they’re going to catch balls they can’t reach.

As a 16-year vet whose father was a major-leaguer, Kendall, as a catcher, is the one best poised to take in everything. What’s more, he had the ear of the ump—the two would talk all game through, although constantly facing forward, through their masks. Best of all, Kendall is an old-school gamer (hence the title) who offers ammunition against statistics nerds, explaining just how many plays in baseball are made—or missed—because players want to preserve their averages and sign better contracts. He recalls an infielder who asked the official scorekeeper to get an error reassigned to Kendall; the catcher “came out from behind the watercooler, grabbed a fistful of his jersey, and confronted him.” Moneyball is all very well, but Kendall’s wit and grit are more compelling.

Filed under: