Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart and Finally Won a World Series

Overview

Think You Know Baseball?
Think Again.

The Red Sox finally won a World Series, in a triumph of unconventional wisdom. They rethought the batting order and committed to Johnny Damon as lead-off. Saw the talent in David Ortiz that other teams overlooked. Had the courage to trade one of the game’s top shortstops for the good of the team. They knocked over the sacred cows of RBIs, sacrifice bunts, the hit-and-run, and hewed to the new thinking about...

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Overview

Think You Know Baseball?
Think Again.

The Red Sox finally won a World Series, in a triumph of unconventional wisdom. They rethought the batting order and committed to Johnny Damon as lead-off. Saw the talent in David Ortiz that other teams overlooked. Had the courage to trade one of the game’s top shortstops for the good of the team. They knocked over the sacred cows of RBIs, sacrifice bunts, the hit-and-run, and hewed to the new thinking about pitch count—allowing Pedro Martinez, arguably baseball’s best pitcher ever, to excel. Weaving statistics, narrative, personalities, and anecdote, Mind Game reveals exactly how this group of “idiots,” led by Theo Epstein and Terry Francona, was in fact the smartest team in the league, and revolutionizes the thinking fan’s understanding of how baseball games are really won and lost.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal
“This is the book about the 90% of the game that’s half mental. It’s the smartest analysis of a smart team yet written.”
— Allen Barra, The Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
“This is the book about the 90% of the game that’s half mental. It’s the smartest analysis of a smart team yet written.”
— Allen Barra, The Wall Street Journal
Library Journal
Boston Red Sox fans are in heaven! Not only has the Babe's curse been extinguished, but almost a dozen new books have been published since the Sox victory. Mind Game may well prove to be the most valuable of all. Following Dan Shaughnesey's excellent Reversing the Curse and the book by two die-hard fans of no little literary notoriety, Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King's Faithful, Goldman (Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel) and his expert colleagues at Baseball Prospectus have penned a veritable "closer," the definitive account of the miracle season of 2004, warts and all. Not only does it entertain the casual ball fan with a doubleheader's worth of esting facts and provide the "stats junkies" with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of information but also the editors have succeeded in segregating these two types of discussion so that all esoteric material is contained in text boxes that may be skipped without any loss of reading pleasure. Thus, fans can derive all manner of enjoyment from a review of the merits of eschewing bunts and steals and explanations as to why strikeouts are not a concern, as well as the proper importance of pitch counts, West Coast travel, on-base percentage, and the corporate structure for success. Mind Game is that rare diamond, an intelligent and thoughtful book full of evocative sights and sounds for all ages. Indeed, no popular library should be without this "settle all arguments" and "debunk all myths" volume.-Gilles Justice Renaud, Ontario Court of Justice, Cornwall Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761140184
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/19/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts on Baseball Talent includes, among others, Gary Huckabay, the founder of Baseball Prospectus; Chris Kahrl, a sports editor who lives in Washington, D.C.; and Dave Pease, who roots for Ryan Klesko in San Diego. Together, the roster of Baseball Prospectus writers consult to 26 of the 30 major league baseball teams.

Steven Goldman is the creator of the long-running Pinstriped Bible column at www.yesnetwork.com and the You Could Look It Up column for BaseballProspectus.com, a contributor to the Baseball Prospectus annual book, and the author of the biography Forging Genius: the Making of Casey Stengel. His work has also been seen in Yankees Magazine, the New York Sun, and Web sites too numerous to mention. Steven lives in New Jersey with his wife, Stefanie, daughter, Sarah, and, by the time you read this, a boy to be named later.

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments vii
A Comforting Note About Statistics x
Introduction: A Brain Surgeon Walks Into a Bar xii
Prologue xiv

1 The Banality of Incompetence, 1919–2002 1
Extra Innings: How Important Is a Team’s Best Player?
The Noncurse of the Grey Eagle: A Case Study 14

2 Shopping for Winners, November 25, 2003 17
Extra Innings: Dan Duquette: Failed Epstein Prototype 30

3 The A-Rod Advantage, November–December 2003 35

4 Squeezing the Merchandise, March 7 and March 24, 2004 47

5 Varieties of Relief, April 8–9, 2004 63
Extra Innings: Calvin Schiraldi: Industrial-Strength Fluke 73

6 Walking, Wounded, April 16–18, 2004 77

7 Arms and the Man, April 25, 2004 85

8 “You Want Me to Hit Like a Little Bitch?” May 5, 2004 91

9 The Caveman Cleans Up, May 21, 2004 105

10 The Holy Gospel of On-Base Percentage, May 23, 2004 113
Extra Innings: On-Base-Percentage Scripture 120

11 A Streak of Insignificance, May 29–June 8, 2004 125

12 Nomar’s Spring and Regression to the Mean, June 9, 2004 141

13 Better Winning Through Chemistry, July 1–3, 2004 151
Extra Innings: The Fanning Fallacy 157

14 Brothers of the Mind Game, July 6–8, 2004 161

15 Basebrawl, July 24, 2004 169
Extra Innings: Draft-Wise but Career-Foolish 178

16 Nomargate, July 31, 2004 183
Extra Innings: Hail and Farewell to the Holy Trinity = 192

17 Invulnerable, August 16–September 11, 2004 197
Extra Innings: Bicoastal Blues? 202

18 Cracking the Rivera Code, September 17–19, 2004 209

19 Deconstructing Pedro, September 24–26, 2004 217
A Case Study: Pedro, Without Qualification 218
Extra Innings: “Why Don’t We Just Wake Up the Bambino and I’ll Drill Him.” 228

20 Reframing History, October 5–8, 2004 231

21 Insult and Injury, October 16, 2004 241

22 The 510-Square-Inch War Zone, October 17–18, 2004 249

23 Beat the Devil, October 19–20, 2004 261

24 The Substance of Style, October 23–27, 2004 269

25 Beat the Yankees, Be the Yankees, October 28, 2004 277

Epilogue 285
Appendix I: Yawkey and Post-Yawkey Red Sox General Managers 291
Appendix II: The Complete List of Baseball Brawls from Stengel and Weinart to A-Rod and Varitek 293
Appendix III: Glossary and Statistical Leaders 300
Notes 335
About the Authors 343
Index 347

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Preface

INTRODUCTION: A BRAIN SURGEON WALKS INTO A BAR . . .

A brain surgeon walks into a bar after a hard day in the OR. He sits down at the counter, orders himself a cold one, and takes note of the big-screen television. It’s tuned to one of the popular forensic crime dramas that rule network television schedules. A medical examiner leans over a mutilated body in an alleyway.“

Take a close look at this entry wound, Detective,” the examiner is saying. “The bullet penetrated here, then turned his left parietal lobe into hamburger. Must’ve hurt like the dickens.”

The brain surgeon winces. “That’s completely inaccurate. He’s pointing to the wrong part of the brain. The bullet hit the right temporal lobe, not the left parietal lobe.”

“ No way, man!” shouts a man in a faded Detroit Tigers jersey two barstools away. “That ain’t no right temporal! They made the right call! I’ve been a brain fan since I was seven years old and I know! Up yours, buddy!”

Baseball may not be brain surgery, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is an expert on the national pastime any more than we expect the man on the street to know neurophysiology. Yet virtually everyone who follows baseball acts as if he knows what he’s talking about. This book is your insurance policy against being one of those people.

A century of sportswriters, broadcasters, guys in bars, and baseball men themselves have burdened our understanding of the game with half-truths and outright inventions. To take a few examples:

  • Leadoff hitters have to have speed.
  • Character is more important than talent.
  • The more RBIs a player has, the greater his contribution to his team.
  • Some players hit better in the clutch.
  • Teams that hit a lot of home runs don’t win as many big games as those that bunt and steal bases.
  • Bullpen pitchers fall into two categories: regular relievers and those who can close.
  • The closer is the most important man in the bullpen.
  • A player who can’t hit but is an above-average fielder is just as valuable as a good hitter who is an average defender.
One of the greatest myths of all was the Boston Red Sox curse. There was no curse. There was just a tradition of incompetence and mismanagement going back to 1919. Believing their own evasions, the Red Sox continued to assemble one team after another without ever using their brains or their common sense to address their actual flaws.

Since its founding in 1996, Baseball Prospectus has developed a reputation through its annual guide and magazine-style Web site as the nation’s foremost independent group of baseball analysts and pundits, breaking new ground in areas the game has long neglected: intelligent team design, objective player evaluation, injury-preventative pitcher usage, as well as dozens of other insights, many of which are now commonly utilized in the game, or soon will be. In the pages that follow, the writers and performance analysts of the Baseball Prospectus group dissect and explain the process that enabled the 2004 Red Sox to win their first championship since 1918. Week by week and in some cases day by day, BP considers the problems encountered along the way, both on and off the field, and reveals that winning a World Series is not just a matter of getting the big hits at the right time, but of having a plan and a rational worldview.

In short, the Red Sox finally got smart and won themselves a championship. Of course, getting smart doesn’t guarantee a World Series Championship, but it sure beats staying dumb and hoping one will find you by accident.
— STEVEN GOLDMAN

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Introduction

INTRODUCTION: A BRAIN SURGEON WALKS INTO A BAR . . .

A brain surgeon walks into a bar after a hard day in the OR. He sits down at the counter, orders himself a cold one, and takes note of the big-screen television. It's tuned to one of the popular forensic crime dramas that rule network television schedules. A medical examiner leans over a mutilated body in an alleyway."

Take a close look at this entry wound, Detective," the examiner is saying. "The bullet penetrated here, then turned his left parietal lobe into hamburger. Must've hurt like the dickens."

The brain surgeon winces. "That's completely inaccurate. He's pointing to the wrong part of the brain. The bullet hit the right temporal lobe, not the left parietal lobe."

"No way, man!" shouts a man in a faded Detroit Tigers jersey two barstools away. "That ain't no right temporal! They made the right call! I've been a brain fan since I was seven years old and I know! Up yours, buddy!"

Baseball may not be brain surgery, but that doesn't mean that everyone is an expert on the national pastime any more than we expect the man on the street to know neurophysiology. Yet virtually everyone who follows baseball acts as if he knows what he's talking about. This book is your insurance policy against being one of those people.

A century of sportswriters, broadcasters, guys in bars, and baseball men themselves have burdened our understanding of the game with half-truths and outright inventions. To take a few examples:
  • Leadoff hitters have to have speed.
  • Character is more important than talent.
  • The more RBIs a player has, the greater his contribution to histeam.
  • Some players hit better in the clutch.
  • Teams that hit a lot of home runs don't win as many big games as those that bunt and steal bases.
  • Bullpen pitchers fall into two categories: regular relievers and those who can close.
  • The closer is the most important man in the bullpen.
  • A player who can't hit but is an above-average fielder is just as valuable as a good hitter who is an average defender.
One of the greatest myths of all was the Boston Red Sox curse. There was no curse. There was just a tradition of incompetence and mismanagement going back to 1919. Believing their own evasions, the Red Sox continued to assemble one team after another without ever using their brains or their common sense to address their actual flaws.

Since its founding in 1996, Baseball Prospectus has developed a reputation through its annual guide and magazine-style Web site as the nation's foremost independent group of baseball analysts and pundits, breaking new ground in areas the game has long neglected: intelligent team design, objective player evaluation, injury-preventative pitcher usage, as well as dozens of other insights, many of which are now commonly utilized in the game, or soon will be. In the pages that follow, the writers and performance analysts of the Baseball Prospectus group dissect and explain the process that enabled the 2004 Red Sox to win their first championship since 1918. Week by week and in some cases day by day, BP considers the problems encountered along the way, both on and off the field, and reveals that winning a World Series is not just a matter of getting the big hits at the right time, but of having a plan and a rational worldview.

In short, the Red Sox finally got smart and won themselves a championship. Of course, getting smart doesn't guarantee a World Series Championship, but it sure beats staying dumb and hoping one will find you by accident.
-- Steven Goldman
Read More Show Less

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