A baseball book by an obsessive for other obsessives.
The latest by self-proclaimed “ballhawk” Hample (Watching Baseball Smarter, 2007) brings a whole new dimension to the term “inside baseball.” In contrast to the countless other books celebrating the sport, this one focuses on the ball itself—its history, production, place in popular culture, desirability as a collectible and pretty much anything else that the author has been able to dig up concerning the sphere. Because Hample is plainly a resourceful sort (“Since 1990 I’ve snagged 4,578 baseballs at forty-eight different major league stadiums”), he provides plenty of revelations to even the most passionate follower of the game. This isn’t a book to read for any literary quality but for its myriad factoids and tips. The narrative is divided into three parts, with the anecdotes about famous incidents involving the ball, memorable souvenirs and the ball’s appearance in movies and TV of most interest to the general reader. The second part delves deep into the evolution of the baseball (nearly 70 pages, almost year by year), detailing the switch from high-quality horsehide from Belgium to cheaper domestic fare (1942) and from Spalding to Rawlings (1977, when “home runs increased by a whopping 63 percent”). The third section, “How to Snag Major League Baseballs,” offers advice on when to arrive (early), what to wear (visiting team’s garb might earn a reward from one of its players), how to act (persistent but polite) and what to bring (glove).
Not the type of book to read in one setting, but its information could fill many seasons of baseball broadcasts.