Book Review: Mind Game

Sabermetrics almost seems old hat now. It doesn’t have the cache it did even just a decade ago when it seemed like it was still being shunned by some in the baseball community. While the new age statistics are now widely accepted and pretty much everyone has accepted that using them is the way to help build the best ball club possible, it’s interesting to look back at a time when that wasn’t the case. In Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series and Created a New Blueprint for Winning, the writers of Baseball Prospectus take us on a trip to examine how the sabermetric game was adopted by one of the most historic teams in baseball and how they used it to break the infamous curse.

The book was published in 2005, just after Boston’s improbable run through the New York Yankees and into the World Series to claim their first championship since 1918. The book is set up with 25 chapters, each breaking down key dates in the 2004 season. That is to say, except for the first three chapters, which examine first 1919-2002 and then two important events in 2003.

The way the writers break down the 2004 season with different articles examining how each move made the team better and more viable for a championship is really interesting. Here is a taste of some of the chapters:

  • Squeezing the Merchandize, March 7 and March 24, 2004
  • “You Want Me to Hit Like a Little Bitch?” Mat 5, 2004
  • Better Winning Through Chemistry, July 1-3, 2004
  • Cracking the Rivera Code, September 17-19, 2004
  • The 510-Square-Inch War Zone, October 17-18, 2004
  • Beat the Yankees, Be the Yankees, October 28, 2004

The reader can really see the season unfold in front of them as each section is explained and the relevance of the topics are broken down by the writers. Due to the press this Red Sox team received, many people who weren’t necessarily Sox fans, would have enough information in their baseball brains from this year to recall many of the events chronicled in the book.

One of the other things the book sets out to do is to “unmask” common baseball myths. A few that they attempt to tackle include:

  • A lineup that strikes out a lot can’t be a winner
  • There’s no such thing as too much offense
  • Until 2004, the Red Sox were habitual underperformers in the post-season
  • Teams play better after an emotionally uplifting brawl
  • Mariano Rivera was the best closer in baseball from 1999 to 2003

While some of these “myths” may not seem so surprising, the way they go about explaining the logic to dispelling them is very interesting. Not to say the reader will always walk away agreeing with the logic, but it is certainly something that makes the reader rethink some standard baseball beliefs.

If you’re into sabermetrics and haven’t read this book before, it is recommended reading. As the future of Baseball Prospectus seems uncertain right now, there can be no debate the impact they had on baseball during the height of their reign as a publication and this book is further illustration of that.

Baseball Reflections Rating: 4/5

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