Monday, March 20, 2006

The 2006 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia

One thing that seems to be common in all professional sports these days (besides huge multimillion dollar contracts and prima donna athletes) is statistics. Each sport has more stats than you can shake a stick at in more obscure categories than you could ever imagine. When you watch sports on television, it seems that there's never a game situation that comes up where the commentators don't have statistical data concerning similar situations that have occurred in the past.

Out of all the major professional sports, baseball seems to have more numbers associated with it than any others. You can't get through a game with seeing hundreds of numbers flashed across the screen. Every time a batter comes up to the plate, they show his season batting average, number of home runs, and RBI. Then they also show his stats for the game (e.g. 2-for-4 with 1 RBI), his career stats against a particular pitcher, his batting average with runners in scoring position, etc. They have the same kind of stats available on the pitching side of things as well.

It seems that baseball enthusiasts really eat these numbers up, so it only makes sense that something like the Baseball Encyclopedia would be available to fans. The Baseball Encyclopedia is produced annually by ESPN, which is a cable network devoted to sports programming. The Baseball Encyclopedia consists of 1,743 pages of very small print (not tiny enough where you would need a magnifying glass, like the Oxford English Dictionary, but certainly not big enough to make for comfortable reading) detailing the stats of every major league player that has been involved in the game since 1871. It's just amazing to me that stats from that long ago are still around, and it's good to know that they will be preserved thanks in large part to books like the Baseball Encyclopedia.

This book obviously has value as a reference tool. If you want to find out how many home runs a particular player hit in a particular year, you can find that information quickly and easily. Similarly, if you wanted to know a pitcher's ERA or the team standings in the American or National Leagues for specific years, you can find all of that out too. In addition, the Baseball Encyclopedia lists award winners, Hall of Fame inductees, All-Star game information, and even pertinent information about all of the current major league ballparks.

Furthermore, there is a section called "Great Performances," which gives information about some of the long-standing records and relatively recent feats that have become legends in the game. For example, you'll get a breakdown of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, a look at the 15 players in all of baseball history who have hit 4 home runs in a single game, pitchers who have thrown multiple no-hitters, and much more.

The Baseball Encyclopedia is not a "pretty" book by any means. It is only available in paperback, the pages are completely black and white, and there are no pictures inside it whatsoever. I suppose that helps limit the bulk and cost of the book (I bought it on sale for less than $13 at my local bookstore), but it doesn't make it a very fun volume to browse through. In other words, it's strictly a reference book, not a coffee table book or anything else that you would want to put on display.

Overall, the book is an excellent value for what you get. If you are a baseball enthusiast or if you participate in fantasy baseball leagues, then I would even go so far as to say that this book is a must for your collection. Some might argue that all of the information contained in the Baseball Encyclopedia is readily available for free online or at the library. That's true, but it would probably take a long time to look some of this stuff up. Sure, you can quickly find the stats of current players by looking on the ESPN website or something, but if you want to find some stats and records from more obscure players, you'd have to search through a lot of different sites.

For an authoritative guide to all of the baseball stats you could ever want or need, I recommend adding The 2006 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia to your home library today!

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