Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan's Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks

Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan's Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks

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by Zack Hample

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Whether you’re a major league couch potato, life-long season ticket-holder, or teaching game to a beginner, Watching Baseball Smarter leaves no territory uncovered. In this smart and funny fan’s guide Hample explains the ins and outs of pitching, hitting, running, and fielding, while offering insider trivia and anecdotes that will surprise even the


Whether you’re a major league couch potato, life-long season ticket-holder, or teaching game to a beginner, Watching Baseball Smarter leaves no territory uncovered. In this smart and funny fan’s guide Hample explains the ins and outs of pitching, hitting, running, and fielding, while offering insider trivia and anecdotes that will surprise even the most informed viewers of our national pastime.

What is the difference between a slider and a curveball?
At which stadium did “The Wave” first make an appearance?
How do some hitters use iPods to improve their skills?
Which positions are never played by lefties?
Why do some players urinate on their hands?

Combining the narrative voice and attitude of Michael Lewis with the compulsive brilliance of Schott’s Miscellany, Watching Baseball Smarter will increase your understanding and enjoyment of the sport–no matter what your level of expertise.

Zack Hample is an obsessed fan and a regular writer for He's collected nearly 3,000 baseballs from major league games and has appeared on dozens of TV and radio shows. His first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, was published in 1999.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Professional fan" Hample (How to Snag Major League Baseballs), who falls squarely in the "deeply serious geek" category, has put together an invaluable resource for armchair fans. A former college shortstop, four-time attendee of Bucky Dent's Baseball School and an obsessive baseball collector, Hample covers basics such as what to watch for in pitchers, catchers, hitters, fielders and base runners; he also provides answers to such nagging questions as why spectators stretch in the seventh inning and why most ballplayers grab their crotches. He explains the difference between a change-up and a split-finger fastball, breaks down a box score and offers an extensive glossary of baseball slang that defines both a "courtesy trot" and a "dying quail." Other sections address free agency and fair balls, umpires and uniform numbers, stadiums and superstitions. Trivia abounds, including the names of the 10 switch hitters honored in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and a record of inside the park home runs. Hample hits the equivalent of a reference book home run with his witty and loose style-taking a friendly for-a-fan-by-a-fan approach that doesn't hide his enormous depth of knowledge. Hample also schools amateur players and coaches with well-illustrated examples of some complex pitching, hitting and base-running scenarios. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

From one of that new tribe of so-called professional fans, here's a guide that will make most of us enjoy the game even more and persuade those still aloof that there is some allure to its complexities. Divided by theme (e.g. "Pitchers and Catchers," "Base Running," "Statistics," as well as "The Basics" and "Random Stuff To Know") and with clear subheadings to keep the reader oriented, Hample's book offers a winning approach. For all collections.

—Bob Cottrell, Margaret Heilbrun, Paul Kaplan, Gilles Renaud Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
“This isn’t the first book to take on the challenge of explaining baseball intricacies, but I’ve never seen it done better. . . . When it comes to producing ‘aha moments’ of baseball enlightenment, the book indeed has a high batting average.” —The Seattle Times

“Hample calls himself an obsessed fan—obsessed in a good way—and the product of his torment is a funny and informative guide for all levels of fans.” —Yankees Magazine

“Engaging. . . . Hample’s book is both deceptive in its simplicity (the basic rules, but also the ten different ways a pitcher can commit a balk) and surprising in its range.” —Fortune

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt



There's one word that describes baseball: "You never know."

--Joaquin Andujar, former major league pitcher


Life is pretty good if you're in the Major Leagues. First of all, you get to hang out with other major leaguers. You also get to be on TV every day and play in front of thousands of people. You get to see your name in newspapers and magazines and on the back of people's T-shirts. You get to see your face on scoreboards and baseball cards and posters. You get free equipment from sporting goods companies. You get unlimited bubble gum and sunflower seeds in the dugout. You get to relax in the clubhouse and watch big-screen TVs from fancy leather couches while other people get paid to wash your uniform. You get to fly on private jets and stay in nice hotels. You get recognized by kids and pretty women who scream for autographs. Sometimes old men scream too. You earn an average annual salary of $2.9 million (or roughly $17,900 per game), and when the team travels, you get over $75 extra every day to spend on food.

No wonder the dream starts early.

But is it simply about fame and money? Maybe it's about having the chance to do something spectacular in one instant that people will always remember. Maybe it's about a subconscious desire to play a game full-time and act like a little boy well into adulthood. Maybe it's about having the manager and trainer race onto the field to make sure you're okay after you hit a foul ball off your ankle.

The motivation is almost irrelevant because every kid with the dream wants it bad. Every kid has a reason. Every kid has a story. Every kid has a good baseball name. Every kid practices his swing in the mirror. Every kid can steal a base and catch a fly ball and throw strikes. Every kid converts his statistics into a 600-at-bat season and concludes that he'll be a superstar in the majors. Every kid is sure he's gonna make it--and 99,999 out of 100,000 kids are wrong. They don't know how much better the competition gets every step of the way. They don't know how long the journey takes. They don't know that there's always some other kid with an edge. Someone is always taller, stronger, faster, smarter. Someone has quicker feet and softer hands and sharper eyes and better instincts. Someone runs more. Someone lifts weights more. Someone is using steroids. Someone's father is a baseball coach. Someone's older brother is already playing pro ball. Someone has a batting tee in the basement or a batting cage in the backyard. Someone lives in warmer weather and gets to practice year-round. Someone wants it more than anyone on earth has ever wanted it.

There's T-ball, Wiffle ball, softball, and Little League. There are baseball camps, baseball schools, private lessons, and winter clinics in stuffy gymnasiums. There's high school ball, college ball, summer ball, and fall ball. There's Babe Ruth League, the Cape Cod League, semipro leagues, and independent leagues. There are scouts, agents, tryouts, strikeouts, errors, cuts, injuries, surgeries, and lifelong dreams that can die in an instant.

But every year, the dream stays alive for 1,500 young men, at least for a little while, when they're selected by major league organizations in the First-Year Player Draft.


Basketball players regularly jump directly from high school to the NBA. Football players push right through college to the NFL. But baseball players have it much harder--as do the scouts who discover them. Almost all players start their careers in the Minor Leagues because their talent is less predictable and takes longer to develop.

Each June the ongoing search for talent begins a new cycle with the 50-round draft. Every major league team employs dozens of scouts who focus on North American players--mostly high school and college graduates--who are eligible for the draft. Now that baseball is spreading internationally, scouts also comb the rest of the globe for prospects who can sign outside of the draft as free agents if they're at least 16 years old. But the draft supplies more future major leaguers than any other talent pool.

Teams are assigned an order for selecting players, based on the previous season's won-lost records. The lousier teams get the higher picks. (Some people wonder if teams prefer to finish last once the season starts going downhill.)

The draft serves two purposes: to distribute the talent evenly and to keep signing bonuses from surging. Players are not free agents in the draft. They are forced to negotiate only with the team that selects them. If a player refuses an offer, he must wait a year and reenter the draft.

Even though every kid dreams of playing in the big leagues, it's not always easy for a team to complete the deal with a player it has drafted. For example, a high school star who's offered a $10,000 signing bonus for his 16th-round selection might also have heard from dozens of colleges that offered him full scholarships and a chance to play on their Division I teams. He may choose to stay in school, knowing that his skills could improve so much in four years that he might eventually be a first-round draft pick and earn a multimillion-dollar signing bonus. And if his future professional team pays him that much, the organization will stick with him if he struggles and give him all the instruction, attention, and support he needs to reach the majors.

Scouts look for intangibles like maturity, aggressiveness, and baseball instincts. When it comes to finding position players, a scout's Holy Grail is the five-tool player, the five tools being the ability to field well, throw hard, run fast, hit home runs, and hit for a high batting average. Barry Bonds, in his prime, was the ultimate five-tool player.

With pitchers, scouts look for velocity and accuracy, but they don't just want throwers; they want pitchers who use their heads and have a game plan. Left-handers are always in demand because their pitches naturally have more movement--no one's really sure why--and because they're more effective against left-handed hitters. Teams seek tall pitchers, not only because their big bodies are more durable, but because their long arms allow them to release the ball closer to home plate, giving hitters less time to react. Tall guys also have better leverage, meaning their higher release points allow them to throw with a greater downward angle for more velocity. Look at any team's roster and you'll notice that there aren't many players--especially pitchers--under six feet tall.


Of the tens of thousands of players selected since the draft began in 1965, fewer than two dozen have jumped directly to the majors. Mike Adamson became the first in 1967 when the Baltimore Orioles plucked him from the University of Southern California. Dave Winfield is the lone Hall of Famer on the list, but there are other big names, such as Burt Hooton, Dick Ruthven, Mike Morgan, Bob Horner, Pete Incaviglia, John Olerud, Chan Ho Park, and one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott.

Everyone else faces the ugly reality of life in the Minor Leagues. During homestands, some players live with host families who volunteer through their teams. On the road, all players endure endless bus rides, stay at cheap hotels, and receive a measly $20 a day for meals. They earn a maximum of $850 per month during their first season at the bottom of the professional baseball totem pole--and most of them couldn't be happier.

Most teams' minor league systems have these six levels, each divided into several leagues:

RookieAppalachian, Arizona, Gulf Coast, Pioneer
Class A Short-SeasonNew York-Penn, Northwest
Class AMidwest, South Atlantic
Class A AdvancedCalifornia, Carolina, Florida State
Double-AEastern, Southern, Texas
Triple-AInternational, Pacific Coast

The Detroit Tigers, for example, have a Rookie team in the Gulf Coast League, a Class A Short-Season team in the New York-Penn League, a Class A team in the Midwest League, a Class A Advanced team in the Florida State League, a Double-A team in the Eastern League, and a Triple-A team in the International League.

When advancing to Triple-A, the highest level before the majors, players face a significant competitive jump because the rosters include many former major leaguers (and current ones recovering from injuries on rehab assignments) who are trying to get back to The Show.

Skipping a higher level of the Minor Leagues is rare; most players advance one level at a time only after demonstrating that they're better than most of the competition. So think twice before you yell, "He stinks!" about any major leaguer; he's spent his entire life beating the odds and proving himself as the best of the best of the best of the best of the best.

Players and scouts often mention that it's more difficult to make it from the minors to the majors than it is to get drafted in the first place. Of the minor leaguers who do reach the majors, many get just a cup of coffee before fading into oblivion--but even they get their names in the Baseball Encyclopedia. Most minor leaguers never make it and get released when their organizations give up on them (if they don't get discouraged and quit on their own). Still, they'll always be able to say that they played professional baseball.


Major League Baseball (MLB) has 30 teams and two leagues. The National League (NL) and American League (AL) each have three divisions called the East, Central, and West. Take a look at the breakdown:

Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Florida MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsHouston AstrosLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesMilwaukee BrewersSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsPittsburgh PiratesSan Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals

Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxLos Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansOakland Athletics
New York YankeesDetroit TigersSeattle Mariners
Tampa Bay Devil RaysKansas City RoyalsTexas Rangers
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota Twins

Before 1997, teams played only within their league during the regular season. Then baseball officials introduced interleague play. The new matchups, though limited to just a handful of games each year, boosted attendance but angered purists who felt that the World Series should have remained the only meeting between the leagues. Many people think it's odd that the NL has two more teams than the AL, but if each had 15, the odd number would force one team in each league to either play an interleague game or take a day off every day.

The major difference between the leagues is the designated hitter (DH). In the National League, the pitcher, like everyone else who plays the field, has a spot in the batting order. In the American League, the DH bats for him. In interleague play, All-Star Games, and the World Series, the home team's ballpark determines the DH rule. Why does the AL have a DH? Good question. After fans supposedly got bored seeing pitchers dominate the sport in the 1960s, the American League adopted the DH in 1973 to bolster offense and attendance; the National League voted against it and still drew more fans than the AL.

(In order to call yourself a baseball fan, you must have an opinion on the designated hitter; you either love that it creates more offense by replacing weak-hitting pitchers with full-time sluggers or you hate that it eliminates the late-inning strategy of dealing with those pitchers. If a guy is pitching well, should the manager let him bat in a crucial situation so he can return to the mound for another inning or two? Or should the manager use a pinch-hitter and turn the ball over to the bullpen? These decisions don't exist in the AL.)


After each dreary off-season, baseball comes back to life in mid-February when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. All other players show up five days later because, quite simply, their positions are less demanding and don't require the extra work.

In the old days, players used Spring Training to get in shape for the regular season. Nowadays, everyone arrives in top physical condition. Superstars want to prove that they deserve their salaries, while many other players compete to make the team and avoid beginning the season in the minors.

There's no NL or AL in the preseason (but the home team still determines the DH rule). Instead, 18 of the 30 major league teams, mostly from the East and Central Divisions, play in Florida in the Grapefruit League. The other 12 teams, mostly from the West, play in Arizona in the Cactus League.


For most teams, the 162-game regular season begins on the first Monday in April and ends either on the last Sunday in September or the first in October. Major League Baseball uses an unbalanced schedule, which means that teams don't all face each other the same number of times. Instead, they play more games within their divisions. Teams sometimes complain that their road trips are too long, that they don't play a particular divisional rival until July, or that they lose money when the popular matchups take place in the other team's ballpark. Too bad. The schedule makers organize 2,430 games each season and can't please everyone.

Teams don't always finish the season having played exactly 162 games. They may play one fewer when a meaningless late-season contest gets rained out and can't be rescheduled. Or if two teams are tied after 162 games with one postseason slot remaining, there are certain circumstances that would force an extra one-game playoff, creating a rare 163-game season.


Let's start from the beginning. The first World Series was played in 1903 as a best-of-nine contest, and the Boston Americans (who became the Red Sox five years later) beat the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three. All other World Series have been best-of-seven, except those from 1919 to 1921, which reverted to the original format. The Series used to be the only postseason matchup; there were no divisions, so the first-place teams in each league played each other after the regular season and wham! that was it.

Divisional play began in 1969 when the leagues divided into East and West. This created another round in the postseason called the League Championship Series (LCS) and allowed four teams to compete: the first-place team in the NL East played the first-place team in the NL West in the NLCS, and the two first-place teams in the AL played in the ALCS. The two winners then faced off in the World Series.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Zack Hample has caught roughly 3,000 baseballs from 41 Major League stadiums. His first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, was published in 1999. Since then, he has been interviewed hundreds of times for print, radio, and television. He currently writes for, and has a popular blog, The Baseball Collector, chronicling his obsession.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Watching Baseball Smarter 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Tony_P More than 1 year ago
I've watched baseball off and on all of my 41 years. I've even been to some games. But I never truly understood the game. I was one of those people who thought it was "slow" and "boring." I decided that for the 2010 season I would really get into it. I looked for a book that would help me understand the nuances and subtleties of the game. "Watching Baseball Smarter" is just that book. Everything I wanted to know about baserunning, rules, stats, scoring, trivia, you name it. Hample is an obvious baseball geek, but he never talks down to his audience and seems to genuinely want to share his love of the game with others without getting bogged down in minutia. This book will be by my side while I watch every game this season.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Watching Baseball Smarter is an excellent read for any fan of baseball, from beginner in Little League to that guy who's always quoting stats at work. It gives you a lot of useful info on why plays are called as they are so you won't be screaming at the television all summer. And you will rarely ask blue if he needs glasses again, nor complain about the pitcher's lack of hitting prowess. This is a complicated game, but so much of it is in the mind that it can be hard to see the implications of each play. For anyone who's ever wondered how a person could sit through three hours of this, read the book and you'll find yourself hooked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JohnBensonMath More than 1 year ago
This is a great book if you are a new fan and interested in learning more about the game. If you are a lifelong fan, there is very little in this book that you do not already know. Nevertheless, I intend to use it as a reference book as it has some dates and details about the history of the game that I often forget.
MerlinDB More than 1 year ago
Hample obviously knows what he's talking about. Depending on the reader's interest and knowledge about the game, some parts will be intriguing and informative, others will be skipped. Good read. I ordered a second copy for my son.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good reference book and jearning tool
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very informative, and you are almost guaranteed to learn something from this book. He is a great author, and makes learning baseball fun.
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Written in an engaging way, well organized. I keep it next to the tv every season. Even my wife is now reading the sports page with this book by her side!
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I bought this book as a gift for a friend that is a BB fan. He said this was the best book on baseball he has ever read. I was very pleased.
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