An MVP of a guide to the national pastime from a savvy 17-year veteran of the major leagues who remains an ardent fan in retirement. Hernandez (If At First, 1986) or his muse came up with an angle that works to near perfection: tellingly detailed start-to-finish accounts of two games played midway through the 1993 baseball season. The former Met first followed a close encounter between Philadelphia and Atlanta from the stands in the City of Brotherly Love. One week later, he turned couch potato to take in the telecast of a Yankee Stadium contest pitting New York against Detroit. As it happened, the Phillies and Bronx Bombers both won; the final scores, however, are almost beside the points Hernandez wants to and does make. Drawing on pitch-by-pitch recaps and experience gained during a long career, the author (a slick fielder and slugger in his day) offers an insider's astute observations on the mini-matchups and workaday stratagems that cumulatively can determine outcomes or, if need be, give attentive onlookers something to watch for in the late innings of a laugher. Focusing on the primal battle of wills between pitcher and batter, for example, he digresses into ad-rem commentary on the importance of the ball/strike count, defensive placements, base-running tactics, hit-and-run opportunities, the role of the cutoff man, distinctions between American and National League umpires, how managers handle their bullpens, pickoff plays, and a host of allied topics. In particular, Hernandez prizes baseball's lack of secret moves and/or trick plays. ""It's cat-and-mouse out there...not hide-and-seek,""he says. ""Chess, not poker."" If his all-star handbook can't make casual fans masters of the game, it could at least enhance their credibility as second-guessers in season and out.