Thursday, July 6, 2017

Baseball Meat Market by Shawn Krest

Why I Read It: Whenever I get stitches, I ask the doctor to make them red. Baseball is in my blood.

Summary: Twenty of the biggest baseball trades in history, how they came to be, and how they look in retrospect.

My Thoughts: I'll state right off the bat (haha) that I'm not a huge fan of the modern statistics. I understand how it happened. Imagine living in the 1920s when the craze for statistics first hit. No longer was a player just what the eyes told you he was. Nope, he was now a bag of numbers, statistically comparable to all others in the game. It was a dehumanizing moment for baseball, and all sports that followed as crazes for the American public. Sports - all sports - became math games.

There's been a recent explosion in the ways we measure baseball players. For decades, we were comfortable with the big three for hitters: Average, Home Runs and RBIs. We checked Wins and Losses for pitchers, Earned Run Average and Strikeouts. Pitchers were judged by Complete Games and Shutouts for starters, and, from the 1970s onward, Saves for closers. Krest throws that all out for the purposes of this book and focuses on Worth Above Replacement, or WAR.

So, for old-timey stats lovers like me, let's move past that and get into the meat of the book.

Krest pulls out 20 of the biggest trades in history and dissects them from inkling to aftermath, ultimately validating his judgement of them by the use of WAR comparisons. It's the area in between that is the most fascinating. Trades can often surprise us, when we hear that player A was moved for player B or player C to be named later. We think, "wow, that came out of nowhere," but, in many cases, there were may iterations of that trade before it was finalized. Different names were thrown around.

Through Krest's research we find out just how detailed and mind-boggling the process can be, with players dangled and pulled back, offers changed and more. This book humanizes the trade process, reminding us that there are wives who want their children to grow up in strong communities, knees blown out in offseason basketball games necessitating the search for replacement players, crabby attitudes on behalf of the players and simple miscalculations and missed projections on the parts of the trading partners.

The book is dense, and covers an era from the 1950s onward, mostly focusing on the 1970s forward. For almost all baseball fans there will be a moment of revelation when they are forced to picture their favorite player wearing a rival uniform, in a version of a trade that never was.

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