INTANGIBALL by Lonnie Wheeler


The Subtle Things that Win Baseball Games
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Sportswriter Wheeler—co-author of memoirs by Hank Aaron and Mike Piazza, among others—makes the case that baseball statistics should be examined in tandem with the intangibles of a player's character when assembling a winning team.

The author does not reject the approach of Moneyball, but he does claim it requires supplementing. A former Cincinnati journalist, Wheeler focuses on the Cincinnati Reds more than any other team, but he provides examples of players with excellent character and less-desirable character from across Major League Baseball. In the author’s view, Derek Jeter, the recently retired shortstop for the New York Yankees, is exemplary: a player who leads through the example of physical dedication as well as verbal leadership among his teammates. MLB players must stick together in close quarters through a 162-game season, which means far more intense interactions than in other professional sports. When a team's stars fail to mesh well with other players on the field and in the clubhouse, that team might fail to claim the championships it has the talent to win. In the case of the Reds, Wheeler demonstrates how the additions of stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn backfired, while signing relative unknowns such as Joey Votto paid dividends. In addition to analyzing the characters of players, the author delves into the psyches of managers, general managers, and other team decision-makers, explaining how various philosophies about taking character into account have produced wildly varying results. Never does Wheeler make the case that the character factor on a team guarantees success, but he is convinced that signing players who mesh well significantly improves the odds of winning. His examples tend to become repetitious after he has stated his theme numerous times, and his writing style is often overly cute, with too much wordplay. However, the author is always clear and readable.

A good book for baseball fans who already know, or think they know, about the specific players named.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9602-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2015


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