March 25, 2006

Review:  The Last Nine Innings
by Steve Lombardi, for

In his book, "The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See," Charles Euchner uses the final game of the 2001 World Series as an operating platform - where he takes the events of the game, by inning, and by each plate appearance (and sometimes by each pitch) and then uses those particular events to segue into narrative examination on the details behind copious key elements of Major League Baseball today.

These topics include sports training and conditioning - both for the mind and body, defensive technique and skill throughout the diamond, pitch selection, pitching and batting mechanics, manager decisions, the impact of the baseball statistical revolution, and the globalization of the baseball talent pool.

To be candid, as I started reading "The Last Nine Innings," being someone who has listened to professional commentary from parts of over 3,000 big league baseball games and who has read nearly 150 books on baseball, my impression (about roughly 10% into the book) was "I'm not seeing much that I don't already know."  However, that reaction quickly changed - within minutes - as I began to continue reading.  In fact, the further that I went into this book, I became increasingly (at what seemed like an exponential rate) more impressed with Euchner's storytelling and the amount of detail provided therein.

I especially enjoyed the passages concerning Steve Finley's work with chiropractor Edythe Heus, the role of the brain's rostromedical prefrontal cortex in body movement, the elements of a batting swing, the research performed at the American Sports Medicine Institute on pitching motions, the impact of particular game events on the change of win probability, the advantages of veteran players, the development of the Athletic Desire Index, and how Chuck Knoblauch taking Randy Johnson deep in the count during an 8th inning At Bat actually helped the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Having read "The Last Nine Innings," in its entirety, I can submit that this book is one of the best available encapsulations of everything inside and behind the scenes of modern baseball.  This is not to imply that it is just a cold collection of facts.  It is quite the opposite.  In addition to being a robust collection of "everything you need to know," Euchner's book is very entertaining.  (And, this is coming from a Yankees fan who always imagined that nothing but pain would come from ever revisiting Game Seven of the 2001 World Series.)  When you consider all the interesting players and personalities involved in this particular game, just the numerous and insightful interviews (alone) that Euchner provides with several of these participants make this book worth the price of admission.  When you tack on the plethora of other information that "The Last Nine Innings" provides, it's a great experience obtained at a bargain.

To summarize the benefit from reading "The Last Nine Innings," I would offer that this book is the perfect primer for the neophyte baseball fan who wants to expeditiously learn everything that is essential to the game today while also serving as an effective multipurpose reference tome for the more experienced baseball enthusiast.

To be fair, I did notice two small faux pas in the edition that I read.  When describing the fan salute that Paul O'Neill received during Game Five of the 2001 World Series, it refers to him as the "Yankees' left fielder."  And, when mentioning Tony Womack's hit during the 9th inning of Game Seven of the Series, Euchner states "Womack hits the ball hard to left field."  When, in reality, O'Neill was a right fielder in Game Five and Womack's hit in Game Seven was to right field.  But, in the grand scheme of things here, these are just two minor nitpicks and do not change my recommendation on "The Last Nine Innings."

"The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See" should be considered as an essential element of any worthwhile baseball library and is highly recommended.

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