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K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

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From The New York Times baseball columnist, an enchanting, enthralling history of the national pastime as told through the craft of pitching, based on years of archival research and interviews with more than three hundred people from Hall of Famers to the stars of today The baseball is an amazing plaything. We can grip it and hold it so many different ways, and even From The New York Times baseball columnist, an enchanting, enthralling history of the national pastime as told through the craft of pitching, based on years of archival research and interviews with more than three hundred people from Hall of Famers to the stars of today The baseball is an amazing plaything. We can grip it and hold it so many different ways, and even the slightest calibration can turn an ordinary pitch into a weapon to thwart the greatest hitters in the world. Each pitch has its own history, evolving through the decades as the masters pass it down to the next generation. From the earliest days of the game, when Candy Cummings dreamed up the curveball while flinging clamshells on a Brooklyn beach, pitchers have never stopped innovating. In K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Tyler Kepner traces the colorful stories and fascinating folklore behind the ten major pitches. Each chapter highlights a different pitch, from the blazing fastball to the fluttering knuckleball to the slippery spitball. Infusing every page with infectious passion for the game, Kepner brings readers inside the minds of combatants sixty feet, six inches apart. Filled with priceless insights from many of the best pitchers in baseball history--from Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan to Greg Maddux, Mariano Rivera, and Clayton Kershaw--K will be the definitive book on pitching and join such works as The Glory of Their Times and Moneyball as a classic of the genre.


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From The New York Times baseball columnist, an enchanting, enthralling history of the national pastime as told through the craft of pitching, based on years of archival research and interviews with more than three hundred people from Hall of Famers to the stars of today The baseball is an amazing plaything. We can grip it and hold it so many different ways, and even From The New York Times baseball columnist, an enchanting, enthralling history of the national pastime as told through the craft of pitching, based on years of archival research and interviews with more than three hundred people from Hall of Famers to the stars of today The baseball is an amazing plaything. We can grip it and hold it so many different ways, and even the slightest calibration can turn an ordinary pitch into a weapon to thwart the greatest hitters in the world. Each pitch has its own history, evolving through the decades as the masters pass it down to the next generation. From the earliest days of the game, when Candy Cummings dreamed up the curveball while flinging clamshells on a Brooklyn beach, pitchers have never stopped innovating. In K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Tyler Kepner traces the colorful stories and fascinating folklore behind the ten major pitches. Each chapter highlights a different pitch, from the blazing fastball to the fluttering knuckleball to the slippery spitball. Infusing every page with infectious passion for the game, Kepner brings readers inside the minds of combatants sixty feet, six inches apart. Filled with priceless insights from many of the best pitchers in baseball history--from Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan to Greg Maddux, Mariano Rivera, and Clayton Kershaw--K will be the definitive book on pitching and join such works as The Glory of Their Times and Moneyball as a classic of the genre.

30 review for K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Wow, what a fun book! It brought me back to the days when I ate, drank and slept baseball, during the 1970s and 1980s. I played (and invented my own) tabletop baseball games, religiously watched the All-Star game, scored games on paper and strained to listen to faraway games on the radio. Lots of my heroes were mentioned in this book, from Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, to Pedro Martinez. The conceit for this "history of baseball" is examining 10 pitches and their history: slider, Wow, what a fun book! It brought me back to the days when I ate, drank and slept baseball, during the 1970s and 1980s. I played (and invented my own) tabletop baseball games, religiously watched the All-Star game, scored games on paper and strained to listen to faraway games on the radio. Lots of my heroes were mentioned in this book, from Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, to Pedro Martinez. The conceit for this "history of baseball" is examining 10 pitches and their history: slider, fastball, curveball, knuckleball, splitter, screwball, sinker, changeup, spitball and cutter. Each chapter talks about the development of the pitch, who threw it first and how it impacts today's game. The author, the baseball writer for the New York Times, interviews dozens of pitchers, coaches and managers and goes into great depth for some of them. It's an interesting way to look at things, and is consistently surprising. Each pitch has its proponents and detractors, and he looks at all sides. Hitters are consulted and the greatest throwing each pitch is described. I especially liked the descriptions of how the mechanics of each pitch is passed around and down through the generations. I think my favorite chapter is probably the one on the knuckleball. It starts with an incredibly moving story about meeting with Jim Bouton, author of the famed Ball Four book about a season with the expansion Seattle Pilots, in western Massachusetts. He was suffering with dementia and his wife said that it was good for Jim to have company. It's exactly the kind of description that makes baseball so great. And he talks to the fraternity of knuckleballers, from Hall of Famers like Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm, to my favorite knuckler, Tim Wakefield. But each chapter has incredible nuggets of gold. Like the one on the screwball, which immediately brought back golden memories of "Fernando-mania", when Fernando Valenzuela burst on the scene. It's a crazy pitch to try and throw and almost no one does it any more. You twist your arm backwards. The one time I tried it (I'm no athlete, nevermind a pitcher), my elbow was killing me for a week. The first real practitioner, Carl Hubbell, spent the rest of his life with his left hand facing out from his body. There was a great story about a screwballer who in 1980 almost won the Cy Young. Mike Norris, as a kid, would pick things up backwards. When he would reach for something, say a milk bottle, he would pick it up with his hand facing outwards instead of inwards, scaring his mom who was sure he would spill it! Sounds like a natural screwballer. And it was also filled with great quotes. There was the one in the Curveball chapter, where a young Mike Piazza asked the Bill Madlock how to hit the curveball and was answered with "Don't miss the fastball!". Or the one where the pitcher explained how he learned to throw a pitch "It was like monkey see, monkey do. And I found the right monkey to follow." I had only 2 small complaints, that might make it a 4.5 star book. One is that there are a lot of names. I mean A LOT. Each chapter, while having one or two real stars, talks about many pitchers, coaches, managers and batters. It can get a little overwhelming. And the other was that there were a number of the usual curmudgeons, complaining about how the game is played "today", whether today meant the 20s, 30s or all the way up to right now. But it was a glorious ride back into baseball. Highly recommended if you like baseball!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    In order to be a successful pitcher in Major League Baseball, it is highly recommended that a pitcher has more than one type of pitch he uses to consistently get batters out. Through the history of the game, ten pitches have been used most frequently and a discussion on each one of them is the basis of this excellent book by Tyler Kepner. Pitches that are popular in today’s game, such as the fastball, cutter and slider, as well as pitches that are now phased out or given a new name, such as a In order to be a successful pitcher in Major League Baseball, it is highly recommended that a pitcher has more than one type of pitch he uses to consistently get batters out. Through the history of the game, ten pitches have been used most frequently and a discussion on each one of them is the basis of this excellent book by Tyler Kepner. Pitches that are popular in today’s game, such as the fastball, cutter and slider, as well as pitches that are now phased out or given a new name, such as a screwball or splitter, are all discussed. Everything about a particular pitch is discussed. Kepner’s thorough research is on display each time he writes about pitchers in the early history of the game who threw the pitch being discussed without it being called the current name. Interviews with pitchers who threw the pitch with much success, such as Sandy Koufax and Bert Blyleven on the curveball chapter, add valuable insight into the specific pitch as well. However, what really made this book a joy to read was the smooth and easy flow this book takes. The writing is outstanding in that it keeps that balance that a non-fan who wants to learn about pitching can do so without feeling overwhelmed, yet it is technical enough so that hard-core fans are not bored or disappointed because it is too simple for their tastes. Humor is spread throughout the book, both from pitchers being interviewed and the author himself. The information is also thorough since pitches that are no longer used or legal (such as the spitball), there isn’t an era, pitch or pitcher that isn’t covered. No matter what level of fan a reader is or what is his or her favorite era of the game, this book is one that should be added to the collection of baseball books. If pitching is supposedly 90% of the game, then every baseball fan needs to read this to be informed of that 90%. I wish to thank Doubleday Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. https://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/20...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    I kept having one thought while reading this book: baseball is history. Not in the hand-wringing, why-aren’t-millennials-watching, existential sense, but in the way that what we see every summer is a response to what happened in summers past, and the way innovation and adaptation thread their way through (and over, and away from) every stitch on the ball. I think I liked the concept here more than the execution - Kepner seemingly interviewed every pitcher alive for this book, and at times the I kept having one thought while reading this book: baseball is history. Not in the hand-wringing, why-aren’t-millennials-watching, existential sense, but in the way that what we see every summer is a response to what happened in summers past, and the way innovation and adaptation thread their way through (and over, and away from) every stitch on the ball. I think I liked the concept here more than the execution - Kepner seemingly interviewed every pitcher alive for this book, and at times the book feels like a jumble of anecdotes as opposed to a clean, linear approach - but it’s a really strong concept. If you love baseball, you’ll like this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Yes, there a little of this ‘new baseball’ in the book: Exit velo. Spin rate. Launch angle. But most importantly, there are the stories. We all know that the game is changing… that the power game has changed the movement game… and thus the complete game. Yet, it is stories, the anecdotes, and the yarns… like the ones in K that keep us coming back. I’m not going to remember the spin rate of the curveball that struck out the last hitter to win the world series, but I will remember the story of how Yes, there a little of this ‘new baseball’ in the book: Exit velo. Spin rate. Launch angle. But most importantly, there are the stories. We all know that the game is changing… that the power game has changed the movement game… and thus the complete game. Yet, it is stories, the anecdotes, and the yarns… like the ones in K that keep us coming back. I’m not going to remember the spin rate of the curveball that struck out the last hitter to win the world series, but I will remember the story of how he learned to throw that pitch. For my full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2019/03/21/k-... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  5. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    A great overview of ten of the most common and iconic baseball pitches. Like most baseball books, it's heavy on the lore and history, but it doesn't get too oppressive (but if you haven't been a baseball fan, I bet the parade of names and history gets old fast). I've a baseball fan my whole life and played through high school but I never grasped two things this book explains really well. First, how pitchers develop their repertoire and learn the strategy of setting up hitters, which is hard to A great overview of ten of the most common and iconic baseball pitches. Like most baseball books, it's heavy on the lore and history, but it doesn't get too oppressive (but if you haven't been a baseball fan, I bet the parade of names and history gets old fast). I've a baseball fan my whole life and played through high school but I never grasped two things this book explains really well. First, how pitchers develop their repertoire and learn the strategy of setting up hitters, which is hard to see when you're watching a game. Second, and more universally important, it consistently highlights how much variety there is in each pitch from pitcher to pitcher. Even the straightforward fastball behaves differently depending on anatomy, picthing motion, age, and altitude. Like most human traits and behaviors it's easy to lose sight of how much variety is obscured by central tendencies and labels. Down with the tyranny of the mean, median, and mode!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    This is as close to a flawless baseball book as it gets. At once loads of fun and supremely informative, K marries the science of pitching with lore of the game in mesmerizing fashion. I loved the unique structure of the book. And oh...the chapter on the spitter is mind-blowingly excellent.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    My only regret is not having a baseball to hold while reading in order to try out some of the grips. A fascinating read, and one of the best baseball books I've ever read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    I hate to be the ratings pooper here, especially since the reason for the lower rating probably rests on my expectations rather than any author created flaws. I was looking for a linear, explanatory excursion through the ten pitches. For example, here is the grip used to throw a slider, curve, fastball, knuckler, here is how it performs - trajectory, speed, rotation, spin direction, etc. Here is how it looks to the batter, here are stats related to how often it is thrown, what the batting I hate to be the ratings pooper here, especially since the reason for the lower rating probably rests on my expectations rather than any author created flaws. I was looking for a linear, explanatory excursion through the ten pitches. For example, here is the grip used to throw a slider, curve, fastball, knuckler, here is how it performs - trajectory, speed, rotation, spin direction, etc. Here is how it looks to the batter, here are stats related to how often it is thrown, what the batting results are, a bit of history, etc. What I got was a series of rambling anecdotes from just about every pitcher who ever threw a game of note and I just got bogged down. Much of the information I was looking for is there, just buried in the exposition. In the kindle version, the only illustrations are located at the end as opposed to the section where that particular pitcher is being discussed and I only discovered this after I finished and was thinking how much the book would be improved by illustrations. At any rate, probably a good book for the true baseball "nut". While I enjoy the game, that is not me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rob Neyer

    Two-word review: Instant classic. More words review: Kepner spoke to hundreds of pitchers, ex-pitchers, hitters, and coaches for this book, and somehow he deftly weaves all these voices into a seamless narrative. Or, rather, ten seamless narratives, one for each of the ten pitches he's chosen to write about.* I've been eager to read Tyler's book since he first told me about it, two or three years ago. You always worry about being disappointed in the actual event, but K is even better than I'd Two-word review: Instant classic. More words review: Kepner spoke to hundreds of pitchers, ex-pitchers, hitters, and coaches for this book, and somehow he deftly weaves all these voices into a seamless narrative. Or, rather, ten seamless narratives, one for each of the ten pitches he's chosen to write about.* I've been eager to read Tyler's book since he first told me about it, two or three years ago. You always worry about being disappointed in the actual event, but K is even better than I'd hoped, and I suspect it will now take its place on all the lists of essential baseball books. * with apologies to the Eephus and Folly Floater and LaLob; am hoping they'll make the paperback.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Harold Kasselman

    I thoroughly enjoyed this trip through the history of the game as depicted by the ten primary pitches: each is given its own chapter. Kepner was a beat writer for NY teams but he also has a fondness for my team the Phillies. There are a lot of original quotes, stories, and explanations first hand as well as hearsay stories. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the outlawed pitches; namely the spitter, shine ball, and scuffed balls. Preacher Roe was a great pitcher who almost made it to the I thoroughly enjoyed this trip through the history of the game as depicted by the ten primary pitches: each is given its own chapter. Kepner was a beat writer for NY teams but he also has a fondness for my team the Phillies. There are a lot of original quotes, stories, and explanations first hand as well as hearsay stories. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the outlawed pitches; namely the spitter, shine ball, and scuffed balls. Preacher Roe was a great pitcher who almost made it to the Hall of Fame but his fate was cemented when he took a $2,000 advance from Sports Illustrated in 1955 to discuss how and whether and why he threw the spitter. Against Carl Erskine's advice, he confessed and it may have cost him immortality. There are so many tid bits and gems in this book that you will appreciate. I was amazed at how often opposing pitchers would share important information about how to grip a certain pitch. For instance Kent Tekulve of the Pirates taught Dan Quisenberry the sinker. Mariano Rivera taught Roy Halladay how to throw the cutter and it rekindled an already great career for the Doc. There is everything from who threw the fastest ball(Bob Feller, no shy introvert about his own worth, says Walter Johnson was faster than he) to a discussion of whether throwing the curve and splitter cause early injuries. I also enjoyed the knuckle ball fraternity and the case of one catcher who quit because of it. The last chapter brings us to the mystery cutter that made Mariano Rivera the greatest relief pitcher of all time. This is a great read. My only criticism is that I would have loved diagrams or pictures of the grips for each pitch and how they are thrown rather than a description. Otherwise, an exceptional book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    A fantastic book -- what an incredible way to approach the history of baseball. Tyler Kepner combines great writing with amazing interviews from the pitchers, catchers, hitters, coaches and managers who describe in intimate detail how specific pitches are thrown (and missed). This book is a treasure, and belongs on the shelf of any serious baseball fan.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Allen Adams

    https://www.themaineedge.com/sports/p... Baseball is a team game made up of individual battles, a series of one-on-one confrontations where one man throws a ball and the other attempts to hit it. Yes, the action evolves after that, but at its heart, baseball is about pitcher versus hitter. The man at the plate has a weapon – his bat – and protection in the form of gloves, a helmet, perhaps some armor in the form of an arm guard or shin guard. The man on the mound has none of that. But he is not https://www.themaineedge.com/sports/p... Baseball is a team game made up of individual battles, a series of one-on-one confrontations where one man throws a ball and the other attempts to hit it. Yes, the action evolves after that, but at its heart, baseball is about pitcher versus hitter. The man at the plate has a weapon – his bat – and protection in the form of gloves, a helmet, perhaps some armor in the form of an arm guard or shin guard. The man on the mound has none of that. But he is not unarmed – he has the ball. And the ball can be a formidable weapon indeed. That weapon is the focus of Tyler Kepner’s new book “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches.” In it, the New York Times baseball writer digs deep into the myriad ways that players have tried to put the ball over the plate over the course of the game’s long history. It’s an exploration of one-half of that ever-present central conceit of hurler against striker. Each of the 10 pitches – slider, fastball, curveball, knuckleball, splitter, screwball, sinker, changeup, spitball and cutter – is examined at length, with Kepler speaking to a number of pitchers and coaches (including close to two dozen Hall of Famers) while also drawing from the game’s considerable and thorough lore. He contextualizes each offering, sharing not just a pitch’s origins, but its evolution. It’s curious that Kepner started with the slider; one would think that the fastball would come first. Even the catcher’s sign for it is one finger. But Kepner’s case is a simple and perfectly valid one – the slider was the best pitch of his childhood hero, Steve Carlton. And Carlton’s has a very good case to be the best ever. That personal connection makes for a wonderful introduction. Next up – the fastball. The heater. The cheese. The pitch that most impresses in terms of raw, unflinching power. It’s a discussion of how the fastball is a distillation of the one-on-one nature of the pitcher’s journey. Guys like Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, Walter Johnson – each was THE legendary arm of his generation. All blessed with the ability to rear back and let fly faster than anyone. There’s no weapon more effective than a well-placed fastball. The curveball follows, looping its way into the narrative. This is another chapter where Kepner delights in the technical, talking with an assortment of folks about what it means to throw a good curveball. Whether it’s a slow 12-6 breaker or something a little tighter, there are few pitches more delightful to watch than a well-snapped curve – a karate chop with a ball, as the chapter’s subtitle states. What follows is one of those few “more delightful than a curveball” pitches – the knuckleball. The knuckler was, is and always shall be the black sheep of the pitching world. More art than science, it’s a pitch that precious few have mastered. Its practitioners, a motley collection of shaggy-dog baseball weirdoes who have chosen to hitch their wagons to a spinless, stuttering star. This one is fun. And so it goes throughout the book. Roger Craig and Bruce Sutter, the Johnny Appleseeds of the split-fingered fastball. The lost art of the screwball. Mariano Rivera’s omnipresent and devastating cutter. The messy mayhem that comes with spitballs and other ball-doctoring. The once-mighty sinker’s slow fade in the age of swing angle elevation. The gentle majesty and subtle trickery of the changeup. It’s all here. “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” delivers exactly what its title promises. It is a fascinating deconstruction of the nature of pitching by those men who did it best. It is a cross-section of the game’s history, showing us the ebb and flow of the craft and how pitches have come into and fallen out of favor over the years. Kepner’s passion for the game permeates the narrative he has constructed. The book offers intricate detail mixed with stories of the game – he blends the tangible notions of grips and spin rates and throwing motions with the ethereal myths of baseball’s bygone legends. It’s a combination that serves to elevate each element, a rich and engaging reading experience for any true fan. An immaculate inning is when a pitcher strikes out the side on nine pitches. Kepner gives us 10 – perhaps a curveball bounced or a cutter at the hands was fouled off or a knuckler wandered away – but what we get is certainly immaculate. One swing and a miss is merely a strike, but 10 swings and misses equal one fascinating “K.”

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner delivers a treat for the start of baseball season with his new book, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches. Kepner's book is a tale of baseball history from the pitcher's mound, using an assortment of the pitcher's familiar weapons as his themes for each chapter. As the subtitle implies, there are ten pitches examined- slider, fastball, curveball, change up, sinker, screwball, split-fingered fastball, cutter, knuckleball, and even the New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner delivers a treat for the start of baseball season with his new book, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches. Kepner's book is a tale of baseball history from the pitcher's mound, using an assortment of the pitcher's familiar weapons as his themes for each chapter. As the subtitle implies, there are ten pitches examined- slider, fastball, curveball, change up, sinker, screwball, split-fingered fastball, cutter, knuckleball, and even the spitball. Each chapter provides the history of the pitch, its development, and how it has wandered in and out of vogue over the course of the game's history. He provides basic instructions on how to successfully throw each pitch, outlines why the pitches are effective or can become troublesome, and spends time outlining some of the most prominent and effective practitioners of each pitch. Kepner has a deep and wide list of contacts in the game, and he exploits this asset to great effect in the book. Barely a page goes by that the narrative isn't enhanced by direct quotes from names throughout the last fifty years of baseball history. Kepner even manages to get the ultra-media shy Steve Carlton to open up on the record about his famous slider. The chapter- a- pitch structure keeps things organized and moving, and Kepner's prose and storytelling are top notch. Overall, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches will be a welcome addition to the library of any baseball fan. Highly recommended. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard Levine

    Great book for the devoted baseball fan, especially one who like me finds pitching to be the most fascinating part of the game. My only quibble is the book's (sub)title: in no way is this book a "history of baseball," nor does it attempt to be one. But I don't blame Tyler Kepner for the title; I assume it was the idea of some editorial genius enthralled by the annoying and ever-growing publishing trend of hyping oddball works of non-fiction with grandiose titles like "A History of the World in Great book for the devoted baseball fan, especially one who like me finds pitching to be the most fascinating part of the game. My only quibble is the book's (sub)title: in no way is this book a "history of baseball," nor does it attempt to be one. But I don't blame Tyler Kepner for the title; I assume it was the idea of some editorial genius enthralled by the annoying and ever-growing publishing trend of hyping oddball works of non-fiction with grandiose titles like "A History of the World in 149 Objects" (or "11 Maps," or "24 Pictures"), or "923 A.D.: The Year That Changed Everything," or "Mackerel: The Fish That Saved Civilization," or "Ovaltine: The Beverage That Conquered the Great Depression" . . . WHAT IS WRONG WITH THOSE PUBLISHING MORONS ANYWAY???!!! Sorry. Got a little carried away there. Anyway, Tyler Kepner has written an excellent account not of the history of baseball, but of ten different pitches thrown by hurlers throughout the baseball ages -- fastball, curve, slider, knuckleball, change up, screwball, etc. Each pitch is the subject of its own chapter -- although sometimes Kepner throws in bonus discussion of a different but related pitch (for example, the chapter on Spitters covers both the spitball and the scuffball, with good reason). And each chapter contains information about the history of that particular pitch, as well as entertaining anecdotes and fascinating how-to explanations from pitchers ranging from Hall of Famers to obscurities. I learned a fair amount from Kepner's book, but also found the book enjoyable even when he was writing about things I already knew. One piece of advice (which I didn't follow myself, but should have): have a baseball at hand while reading, so you can try for yourself the different grips and throwing motions that are discussed on almost every page of the book. An excellent book for serious baseball fans. But NOT a history of baseball!

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Hallstrom

    One of the things that makes baseball great is that no matter how many games you see, you will always, every game, see something you have never seen before. The same holds true for baseball books. There are great books on teams (The Boys of Summer); great books on international baseball (You Gotta Have Wa); great biographies (Alexander’s: Ruth); great autobiographies (Cobb: My Life in Baseball); and great books on excellence (Men at Work). And now there is a great book on pitching. K: A History One of the things that makes baseball great is that no matter how many games you see, you will always, every game, see something you have never seen before. The same holds true for baseball books. There are great books on teams (The Boys of Summer); great books on international baseball (You Gotta Have Wa); great biographies (Alexander’s: Ruth); great autobiographies (Cobb: My Life in Baseball); and great books on excellence (Men at Work). And now there is a great book on pitching. K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches is a unique look at the game. Tyler Kepner gives detailed insight into the effectiveness of: The Slider; The Fastball; The Curveball; The Knuckleball; The Splitter; The Screwball; The Sinker; The Changeup; The Spitball; and, The Cutter. Kepner interviews some of the great and not-so great pitchers associated with each of the ten pitches. And where interviews are not possible, Kepner quotes from autobiographies or news archives. Kepner documents how pitches come in and out of fashion: the Screwball and the Splitter fell out of fashion due to perceptions they led to serious injuries – although as is noted in the book, the pitches are out of favor and the pitchers keep getting injured. Kepner has written a very insightful book. By narrowing his focus on one pitch at a time, Kepner has broadened the view of what it take for a pitcher to succeed in the only game that begins with the defense holding the ball.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Shoup

    This book is kind of poorly named. It's not a history of baseball in ten pitches. It's really just a history OF those ten pitches. There's no attempt to broaden the scope of the history to a larger history of baseball through the lens of 10 specific pitches, which is definitely possible. It's just that each chapter is a collection of stories about pitch types. IF you know, going into it, that that's what it is, this is a decent book. I did not. My other major problem is that this book is very This book is kind of poorly named. It's not a history of baseball in ten pitches. It's really just a history OF those ten pitches. There's no attempt to broaden the scope of the history to a larger history of baseball through the lens of 10 specific pitches, which is definitely possible. It's just that each chapter is a collection of stories about pitch types. IF you know, going into it, that that's what it is, this is a decent book. I did not. My other major problem is that this book is very poorly organized. IF you're going to discuss ten pitches, you start with the fastball, then variations like the change up or the sinker, then you talk about the curveball as an introduction to breaking balls. Don't start with the slider. It's not the best book but it's a decent collection of stories about baseball. I didn't hate it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hapzydeco

    If you read only one baseball book during this season, this might be the one to read especially if you are a baseball aficionados. According to Joe Madden, “The pitcher controls everything.” By the way, the ten pitches are the Slider, the Fastball, the Curveball, the Knuckleball, the Splitter, the Scrrewball, the Sinker, the Changeup, The Spitball, and the Cutter.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mark Stevens

    There are 1.5 billion reasons why baseball is a fascinating sport and one of those reasons is that it’s a defensive player who puts the game in motion. The game starts with a pitch. The game starts with defense. Another one of the fascination points is the ability of a pitcher to throw a baseball at either top speed or top level of deception in and around a strike zone sixty feet and six inches from the mound. There is a generally accepted speed, or range of speeds, at which that baseball needs to There are 1.5 billion reasons why baseball is a fascinating sport and one of those reasons is that it’s a defensive player who puts the game in motion. The game starts with a pitch. The game starts with defense. Another one of the fascination points is the ability of a pitcher to throw a baseball at either top speed or top level of deception in and around a strike zone sixty feet and six inches from the mound. There is a generally accepted speed, or range of speeds, at which that baseball needs to be thrown to be successful at the major league level. There is also a generally accepted fact that a pitcher needs at least two pitches, preferably three or four, and five would be fantastic. If you can mix your speeds and execute control with all them for a decade or fifteen years – and take the mound every fifth day from April through September or even October – well, welcome to the Hall of Fame. What appears to be an arduous but perhaps vanilla task to a casual observer — throwing the ball—actually involves remarkable variety. And if you doubt that, read K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches. “There is, indeed, no limit to the kinds of options available to a pitcher, or how he can use them,” writes Kepner in the introduction. Lance McCullers Jr., who called (Mike) Mussina one of his favorite pitchers to watch, threw 24 curveballs in a row to close out the American League Championship Series for Houston in 2017 … There was no rule against, only convention.” Based on hundreds of interviews with pitchers, hitters and coaches, and written with a fine flair, K is a fun and fascinating read. ('K' is a baseball scorer's notation for a strikeout.) The Slider. The Fastball. The Curveball. The Knuckleball. The Splitter. The Screwball. The Sinker. The Changeup. The Spitball. The Cutter. Tyler Kepner dives into the history and science of all ten, illustrating each pitch through its chief aficionados and in riveting or colorful moments from key games. Tidbits abound. The Slider: “In 1971, J.R. Richard tied a record for strikeouts in a major league debut, with 15 in a complete game victory in San Francisco. Willie Mays struck out three times.” Richard could hold eight baseballs in one hand. Richard threw his slider at 98 miles per hour, often with better control than his fastball. The Curveball: It’s not as dangerous to a pitcher’s arm health as the slider. However: “There are far more young pitchers than there are coaches qualified to teach a safe curveball.” Nolan Ryan agrees with this. It’s all about your hand position on the ball and a consistent arm slot. The Knuckleball: Jim Bouton, who wrote Ball Four and who won two World Series games for the New York Yankees in 1964, was still throwing knuckleballs at age 78 (Kepner visited him in Massachusetts). Bouton, who died last week, built a cinder-block backstop and still hit the strike zone “most of the time.” So Jim Bouton. The Changeup: Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg used to sit in the left field seats as a teenager at Petco Park in San Diego to watch Trevor Hoffman warm up. Strasburg admired Hoffman’s changeup. Hoffman also inspired Cole Hamels to learn the changeup, which is one of the most difficult pitches to learn to throw. Who knew? Two final thoughts. First, K is clearly the product of a smart enthusiast with a gift for telling stories. It’s no wonder Tyler Kepner is the national baseball writer for The New York Times. (I want his job.) Second, it’s not just the 10 pitches. It’s the variety of characters and attitudes on the mound. Ten pitches, sure, but hundreds and hundreds of colorful characters throughout baseball history who brought emotion and competitiveness (or anger, humor, craftiness, etc.) to the art and science of throwing a baseball. Ten pitches, sure, but the guys on the mound? Humanity is endless. Kepner captures the personalities of the sport as well as he writes about the pitches themselves.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tad

    I can't believe I read a book about baseball and actually liked it. Just goes to show what a strange and transformative year 2019 has proven to be in my life. Using ten different baseball pitches as his starting point, Tyler Kepner gives us a thorough and utterly engrossing look at the history of baseball through the stories of these pitches and the pitchers who threw them. It is obvious that Kepner did his research and I was appreciative of that. I'm not a baseball person, by any means. If you I can't believe I read a book about baseball and actually liked it. Just goes to show what a strange and transformative year 2019 has proven to be in my life. Using ten different baseball pitches as his starting point, Tyler Kepner gives us a thorough and utterly engrossing look at the history of baseball through the stories of these pitches and the pitchers who threw them. It is obvious that Kepner did his research and I was appreciative of that. I'm not a baseball person, by any means. If you are, you will probably love this book and appreciate it way more than I did. What I will say is that this book managed to engross me as a non baseball lover. That is high praise indeed. Definitely worth a look, even if you know nothing about the game of baseball.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike Mikulski

    Read this one with a baseball by your side! Kepner clearly explains how each pitch is thrown, how it breaks and how each pitch arose and the history and evolution of each pitch. I found it interesting how pitches go in and out of style. The split finger fastball, which was used extensively in the 80's has almost completely disappeared in the majors while it still flourishes in Japan. Fear that the pitch leads to arm problems haven't been medically verified, yet the fear spread and the pitch has Read this one with a baseball by your side! Kepner clearly explains how each pitch is thrown, how it breaks and how each pitch arose and the history and evolution of each pitch. I found it interesting how pitches go in and out of style. The split finger fastball, which was used extensively in the 80's has almost completely disappeared in the majors while it still flourishes in Japan. Fear that the pitch leads to arm problems haven't been medically verified, yet the fear spread and the pitch has disappeared from the current arsenal of pitches used. Today the dominant pitches are fastballs, especially thrown high n the zone as an out pitch, change ups and curves. Other pitches of the past that are no longer seen are the screwball, a favorite of Fernando Valenzuela. The knuckle ball is also an endangered pitch because it takes years to master, the modern focus on pitching velocity and a minor league/college ball system that has greatly reduced pitcher innovation. A fun and insiteful read, especially when a game is on in the background. Pick it up now, you have a month or two to finish it before the World Series ends in November.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark Simon

    This is a book for the intense baseball fan, the history-oriented baseball fan, and the detail-oriented baseball fan. It's heavy on information, whether it be stories and anecdotes or descriptions of how to best throw the pitch that Tyler's referring to. But with that in mind, it's a comfortable read. You won't feel overwhelmed and you'll get plenty out of it. Just like Tyler's writing for the Times.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

    I think I am more of a baseball hobbyist than a super fan, but I would recommend this wonderful treatment of the pitches and the pitchers and their history to enrich your enjoyment of the game. I really enjoy a game broadcast when the commentary includes a discussion of the pitcher, the pitching, the pitches and the hitter's response to the pitching. I think my appreciation of the game has increased as I have been able to follow the pitching more confidently. I thought this book might help me I think I am more of a baseball hobbyist than a super fan, but I would recommend this wonderful treatment of the pitches and the pitchers and their history to enrich your enjoyment of the game. I really enjoy a game broadcast when the commentary includes a discussion of the pitcher, the pitching, the pitches and the hitter's response to the pitching. I think my appreciation of the game has increased as I have been able to follow the pitching more confidently. I thought this book might help me read pitches by knowing grips and how the ball ravels. The most important lesson I learned was that it is not that simple. I have even greater reverence for the game, the pitchers and the hitters- evidence of that is that I am almost more concerned and excited to see the first inning or innings than the last innings when the win or loss is set.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Danny Knobler

    A labor of love (and you’ll love it) I’ll admit up front that Tyler Kepner is a friend. I’d have read his book even if it wasn’t great. But the fact is, it is great. You can tell through every word how much he loves the subject, but he writes in a way that makes you love it, too. He got to the right people and asked them the right questions, and he got fascinating answers. And he spent time looking into the history books to find answers from those he couldn’t reach himself. Tyler is an A labor of love (and you’ll love it) I’ll admit up front that Tyler Kepner is a friend. I’d have read his book even if it wasn’t great. But the fact is, it is great. You can tell through every word how much he loves the subject, but he writes in a way that makes you love it, too. He got to the right people and asked them the right questions, and he got fascinating answers. And he spent time looking into the history books to find answers from those he couldn’t reach himself. Tyler is an outstanding writer, as anyone who reads The New York Times already knows. So my expectations were high. Even so, with this book, he exceeded them.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bill S.

    Learned so much that I took notes: Baseball is the only sport in which a defensive player begins every play in possession of the ball. Everything is in reaction to his pitch. He is the planner and the initiator of the action. What does he throw, where, and why? Make strikes look like balls, and balls look like strikes. - Maddux SLIDER A cross between a fast ball and curve. Faster than a curve and it does not break as much. It comes in looking like a fastball but when it reaches the plate it moves Learned so much that I took notes: Baseball is the only sport in which a defensive player begins every play in possession of the ball. Everything is in reaction to his pitch. He is the planner and the initiator of the action. What does he throw, where, and why? Make strikes look like balls, and balls look like strikes. - Maddux SLIDER A cross between a fast ball and curve. Faster than a curve and it does not break as much. It comes in looking like a fastball but when it reaches the plate it moves to the side and down just a bit. So, instead of a curve it slides across the plate. A right handed pitcher’s slider will slide away and down a bit from a right handed batter and will come in on a leftie. Opposite for left handed pitchers. Thus, it moves down and away from a pitcher’s glove. It works because the hitter thinks it is a fastball and must commit early to that. He’ll end up overswinging it, missing or grounding out weakly. Of all the breaking pitches it looks most like a fastball for the longest. A great pitch to use when the pitcher is behind in the count. The hitter will be thinking fast ball. It can be detected if you see a red dot on the ball caused by the spin of the stitches. However, some hitters feel this is impossible to see as you have to make up your mind very quickly. While not called a slider, it was developed prior to WWII but took off after WWII. It is easily learned and more easily controlled than a curve. Thus, many pitchers searching for that third pitch turned to it as a salvation. Gibson, Carlton, Guidrey, Randy Johnson and Kershaw used it to great affect. IN 2017 HITTERS HAD THE MOST TROUBLE HITTING IT and Ted Williams thought it most effective. FAST BALL First Rule of Pitching THE BEST PITCH IN BASEBALL IS A WELL-LOCATED FASTBALL. It is most critical because all of the other pitches plays off of the fastball. It is the default pitch. Easiest pitch to control and gives hitter least time to react. Although generally the faster you throw it, the less control you have. Command is not everything but it matters more than speed. The best fast balls have “LIFE” - a ball that finishes well - seems to burst at the end - and “FILTH” - it moves differently than most. Balls with lots of spin do not drop at the same rate as others. It is impossible for a fastball to rise up against gravity. But balls with life and filth don’t drop to where the hitter expects them to be when they arrive, so they perceive that it must have risen up! A FOUR SEAM FASTBALL - index and middle fingers separated slightly across the widest gap between the seams. It has backspin and all four seams cycle through each revolution as it travels. Ryan, was the best. Throwing fastballs inside used to be a critical part of the game. Can’t be hit and was done to intimidate. But, in college guys with aluminum bats can hit this ball and new umpires don’t tolerate it. Inside balls are usually cutters today. THE WISDOM IS NOT TO THROW INSIDE AT FENWAY. Allows batter to pull the ball and hit it out to those short foul poles. Throwing fastball more than 48 % of time and for many innings invites injury. The new emphasis on speed means that the days of the starter are numbered. Future staffs might be 12 pitchers pitching 3 times per week. Because these fireballers make mistakes and leave fastballs over the plate, and knowing how hard it is to string together singles against such power, the strategy has become to tailor swing to hit fly balls and swat mistakes out of the park. Lots of standing around and pitching changes. As the fastball speeds up the game slows down. CURVE Unique in that it works with a forward spin - top spin. Every other pitch is backspin. Curve tumbles faster than gravity with seams wooshing downward. Few have the loose easy wrist action needed. The best can disguise the release which looks different than a fast ball and make the ball come out and then tumble down rather than popping up and then down which gives it away. Throw it to look like it is high and it drops for a strike (get me over curveballs) or make it look like it is coming over the plate and it drops below in the dirt or curves that tumble through the zone to induce swinging strikes. There are many ways to throw it and different angles. A 12-6 drops straight (like the 12 hand to the 6 on a clock). It is more effective than a 11-5 or 2-8 particularly when thrown against a batter of the same handedness. It is very difficult to hit a ball dropping almost straight down. Much easier to see a fastball coming in straight. The 11-5 or 2-8 comes in on a batter of the same handedness. If thrown properly - using wrists and hand rather than the elbow to generate spin - it is safe to throw. Koufax was the best. Rare in that he had an elite slider and curve. He needed the curve because the slider came in on lefties into a hot zone. Blyleven and Mussina also were masters. SINKER or TWO SEAM FASTBALL Slower than a four seam, but you can get the pitch to break at the end towards the pitchers dominant hand. So, to the right for a right hander - opposite of a slider or curve. A right handed pitcher can have it move away from a left handed batter. Hold two fingers along seam. Pressure of index finger leads to the break. Only two seams bite the air per revolution. Thrown low it will induce ground balls. Hard to hit a ball squarely that you only see the top half of. Hard to lift it into the air, so extra base hits are difficult to get. Hard curves, hard sliders, and changeups do the same, but sinker most reliable. NOt thrown hard. Very easy on the arm, it can extend a pitcher’s night. PITCHING TO CONTACT - Idea is to get hitter to not hit it on the bat’s sweet spot. If you can you get ground balls, or usually at worse, singles. Roy Halladay used Sinker a lot. With two strikes on he could not understand why most pitchers would throw stuff outside hoping that a jittery hitter would swing. Trying to get strike outs would run up the count. Instead, he gave them something that would get weak contact, like the sinker. Doing so saved him many pitches and extended his time on the mound. THE IDEA BEHIND ALL BREAKING PITCHES IS THAT IT MUST BREAK LATE. OTHERWISE They see it coming. On the other hand, you can’t “overthrow it” - IF IT DOES NOT BREAK BEFORE IT GETS TO THE PLATE. THAT’s OUT OF THE PARK USUALLY. Zach Britton another sinker ball guy. Would throw for strikes early then go off the plate when ahead. Orel Hershiser, Ferguson Jenkins. Hershiser defied conventional wisdom and pitched in to left handed batters with his sinker. Maddux used movement not velocity to win. The Sinker would be used with 2 strikes which he would gain with a cutter that would start as a strike but end up as a ball and a fast ball that started as a ball but became a strike. SUBMARINE PITCHERS USE THE SINKER to get even more sink. Hitters not used to seeing it so they have trouble detecting its top spin. Purpose is to induce groundballs and double-plays. You need good fielders. Declining pitch. Hitters now tend to swing down to up so it goes right into their path. The strike zone is much smaller and lower so it makes sense. Velocity is now king. CHANGE UP An artistic pitch. Very hard to master. Takes a long time to perfect. The motion of the pitcher and spin of ball all tell you it is a fastball but it is 10 mPH slower. Can make an average fastball seem so much faster. Takes courage to throw. Pedro Martinez. Frank Viola. FOr them the key was not just the change of speed, but the ability to locate the pitch. Pedro had power but he won with guile. One of smartest pitchers ever. Glavine also loved the change up and even threw it to lefties which defies conventional wisdom because it fades down and into them - a slow pitch in a hot zone. But surprised so many when he did it. Strasburg uses the curve and change up along with a fast ball in the high 90’s. CUTTER Cut fast ball A fast ball that cuts. This is the way to attack an opposite handed batter. THe cutter at the last moment cuts in towards the batters hands and jams him. Comes across and down just a little bit and very late. Can break bats and leads to lots of foul balls. Also ground outs that you can put a shift on to gobble up. It is a slider but does not drop down much. Stays belt high where it is hard to hit. Goes away to same handed batter and is very difficult to read. Been around forever, but called a cutter only recently. An aggressive pitch. Mariano Rivera the master. Nobody’s looks like his. Hitters are getting better at recognizing the pitch. LESS COMMON PITCHES….. KNUCKLEBALL Grip the ball with 3 fingernails - thumb index middle finger. Used to be gripped with knuckles. Unlike all other pitches you don’t want spin. Spin gives velocity and control. With little to no spin, the ball drops at an unusual rate and moves erratically and batter swings where he thought it would be, not where it is. Hitting it squarely is an accident. Best advice is to wait as long as you can and then explode on it. Can look like a fool or send it out. Another theory is to let the low ones go by, but swing at high stuff. Pitcher can’t overthrow it, if you do it spins and you are dead. Very hard to throw repeatedly for strikes. The pitch that gave careers for pitchers headed in the wrong direction. Phil Niekro the master. He started the idea that it had to be your only pitch. SPLITTER Split fingered fast ball a craze from mid 1970’s to late 90’s. Faded due to injury concerns. Bruce Sutter was the master manager Rodger Craig its chief advocate. Became out pitch for Clemens. You split your fingers on the two sides. Something like a forkball which is much slower and has little spin. Must have huge hands and long fingers. Those who can’t throw a change-up use the splitter. Used almost exclusively by right handers it is effective against lefties because it will go down and away from them. Other breaking pitches come in on a lefty thrown by a righty which advantages the hitter. Pitch can also tumble straight down. The pitch is very hard to identify. Thrown like a fastball. The wrist is shown wide like a fast ball. Other breaking pitches show the skinny part of wrist when released. Unlike other pitches, very few can recognize it by its rotation - could be a fast ball or a change and then it unexpectedly drops. Wade Boggs could identify it when his eyes were exceptional. Swung at ones that started high because they would drop into the zone. Held back on low ones. Either way, so hard to hit a dropping pitch. Still popular in Japan, but not US. Rarely taught. SCREWBALL or FADEAWAY Released like a fast ball, but wrist action has the ball drop in on a right handed hitter and away from a lefty when thrown by a right handed pitcher. It is a reverse curve - an oddity, but a changeup can produce a similar result. Very difficult and painful to throw. Matthewson used it. Rarely seen. Fernando Valenzuela. WHAT TO THROW - LEFT vs. LEFT RIGHT vs. RIGHT The advantage to the hitter is that sliders and other breaking pitches come in to a hitter of the opposite handedness which is easier to hit than something going away. Easier to get the bat on it and easier to track the ball coming in at you. Down and in is a hot zone for hitters on breaking pitches. SO…... When facing a batter of the same handedness - DO NOT throw a change up or splitter because it will come in. A curve or slider or sinker or cutter which will go away. When batter is opposite - A change up or splitter will go away and should be used. Tough pitches to throw. That’s what advantages the hitter. Curves, sliders, and sinkers come in and should not be thrown. But, a 12-6 curve works well. A cutter comes in to jam the hitter - the exception to the rule about throwing breaking pitches in. It breaks so late and is so hard to square up and hit that it works. Without a cutter, you can throw fastballs in to keep them back from the plate.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael Polizzi

    Excellent ... a must read for all real baseball fans.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mike Edwardson

    Very enjoyable with lots of history and anecdotes for each pitch.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Billinboston

    Lots of baseball lore This is a fun read for anyone who wants an unusual view of baseball history. Many great interviews with great pitchers. The writer unabashedly lives the game.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alan Correnti

    As a lover of baseball and the history of the game, this book blended both terrifically. Combining stories from players in the 1800s to the players I grew up watching and those I still watch was fascinating. You you love baseball history, you will love this book

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Waller

    A must for baseball fans. Exhaustive research and interviews are woven together seamlessly to provide insights into pitching and how the game has changed. such a fun read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I liked the descriptions of the different pitches and how they were developed, but the organization of pitchers' recollections seemed random and haphazard.

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