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It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2007
This is a good book for those who enjoy baseball stats--the WARPs, VORPs, pythagorean expectations and the like. It looks at a number of pennant races and has analyses of those races. It also has some very interesting analyses of related and unrelated topics as well. One of the more enjoyable sections involves an "antipennant" to see who would "win" the rating of the worst baseball team (not surprisingly the 1899 Cleveland Spiders). Unlike many (much) older books, It Ain't Over often features computer replays--millions of replays to get a better statistical view. Hence when they say that Team X should have won the pennant, or that the 1899 Spiders were musch worse than the other worst teams, it carries more weight. (If you want to read more extensively about the worst teams, try the wonderful "On a Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place"--used, through Amazon).

I did have a couple of problems with the book. First, it's edited, not written by one person, and so the writing is not always uniform--a bit like an anthology of short stories by different authors. Second, I would myself probably have picked some different races here and there. I found myself asking "What makes a pennant race exciting?" Suppose you have three very mediocre teams in a weak division--and all three finish closely
with a record of, say, about 78 wins and 84 losses. It may be close, but is it exciting? It reminds me of some Monday Night Football games between
two teams that are 4 and 10 in which there are 8 fumbles and 10 interceptions. The game may be close, but I probably wouldn't call it exciting, except in a kind of morbid way.

The 1908 National League race which featured the "Merkle boner" is of course included in the book. The Cubs won, with the Giants and Pirates just one game back. But to my disappointment, the American league race for that same year is not included, and I didn't see any explanation why it was not included. The Tigers won, with the Indians 1/2 game back and the White Sox 1 1/2 back. This race didn't get as much attention as the NL race. But in 1908 rainout games didn't have to be made up if they affected the pennant. Detroit was 90-63, Cleveland 90-64, and Chicago 88-64. If Detroit had to play their missing game and had lost, and Chicago had won both of their missing games, all three teams would have finished at 90-64. So I think that both the NL and AL races should have been in the book.

Lots of tables, lots of stats--fun to read!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This latest book from the baseball statistical wizards at BaseballProspectus.com continues what has become a pattern with Baseball Prospectus printed matter: absolutely first-rate analysis of baseball's most interesting subjects, compromised by an editing job that would make a high-school English class retch.

The good part first. Steve Goldman and his Baseball Prospectus colleagues examine the tightest pennant races in (US) major-league baseball history and try to help us understand why those races worked out as they did. Their studies are not only statistical, as usual for BP products, but also historical and personal, and the whole package "works" -- the reader can see not only how so many races were swung by human error (for example, inability to build a roster soundly, a persistent BP theme), but also *why* the errors came about, one of those things that a purely statistical analysis can't accomplish, and an example of how the self-styled chewing-gum-and-tobacco "analysts" underestimate the BP crowd. Some standard BP prejudices are evident, for example tendency to dismiss the running game as inconsequential (fair enough in the era of power baseball, but not so obvious in the pitcher-friendly 60s and 80s) and belief that Dick Allen belongs in the Hall of Fame (this reviewer, who's old enough to remember what a mess he made of his teams, disagrees strenuously). On the whole, however, the analysis is excellent, well-integrated, thought-provoking, and well worth a read, at least if you don't mind long tables of statistics.

Unfortunately, the editing job is so poor that there are places where reading the analysis is frustrating. Somebody really needs to teach these people to spell, or at least to hire editor/proofreaders who can. It's bad enough when the names of key figures are misspelled, for example the persistent reference to "Denny McClain" as a 1960s-vintage Detroit Tiger; Denny McLain, no second "C", was the real Tiger, and a book on baseball history should get things like that right, although maybe a non-specialist editor might miss it. But ANY editor should be able to get chapter titles spelled correctly. When I got to the chapter on the demise of the Yankees dynasty (to be sure, a fun read from the standpoint of content) and saw that its title persistently appeared as "Tyranicide" (sic), all I could do was gag, and wonder what other typos had crept in to compromise the actual content.

On balance, I do recommend this book; its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and you won't get meatier analysis. But somebody PLEASE get these folks some editorial help!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2008
As the other reviewers have indicated, this book is full of choice details and interesting analysis about some of baseball's great pennant races and memorable teams, players, coaches, and managers. However, the book is badly edited and poorly written at times -- the price paid for trying to quickly slap together contributions from numerous contributors.

I think the book also suffers from confusion about whether it is aimed at the serious baseball fan or the casual fan. There's a lot of advanced baseball analysis terminology and numerology in the book that is familiar to the perhaps 200,000 people who are fascinated by sabermetrics. But the authors want to cast a wider net, so they spend a fair amount of time explaining these concepts to the newcomers in the audience. Trying to serve two audiences weakens the flow for those of us who already are on the bandwagon.

Yet, the book has significant strengths. The stories of how certain teams were built and reached their pinnacle during a particular pennant race (or staved off collapse for one more year) are frequently compelling. In fact, they're stronger than the data and statistics, which is usually BP's strength. I'm not a softie for the stories about a particular player's "manhood" or "ability to play in pain" or whatever, but this book highlights those achievements without being hyperbolic about it.

In conclusion, it's a decent addition to my baseball library, but far from a grand slam.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2007
This book contains several factual errors, most notably in the chapters on the 1967 AL race and the 1972 AL East race (including a continual misspelling of Denny McLain's name). Given the number of easily-found mistakes in this book, one starts wondering if there are other errors embedded in the statistical analyses that aren't readily apparent. Many of the chapters also skim the surface and don't delve into issues surrounding teams that didn't win; for example, the chapter on the 1964 NL race just about ignores the Reds, arguably the best team in the league that year (and the team with the highest Pythagorean won-lost mark, presuming they did the math right), led by a manager dying of cancer. In short, this book was a bit of disappointment, and certainly not Baseball Prospectus' best work; there are still some neat things in here, but this book is not worth paying full price for.
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on December 15, 2012
It starts with an interesting idea. Take the boys and girls (those words are used fondly) who put together the annual Baseball Prospectus book, and sick them on pennant races of the past. How did the 1967 Boston Red Sox and 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers win? How did the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies lose? Mix in a few relevant essays, and you have a book.

Yes, but do you have a good book? In spots, yes, very much so. In others, less so.

There are all sorts of books on pennant races out there. The idea is to provide some perspective and new information, possibly through statistics.

For example, editor Steve Goldman points out that the Yankees gave the Indians an opening in 1948 when they weren't quite as good as usual, and Cleveland marched through the gap to a pennant. A reason was that the Indians were willing to add African-American talent, thus briefly closing the talent gap between them and the Yankees. Of course, New York compensated within a year.

For example, Clifford Corcoran writes about the 1964 pennant race, and shows just how good Dick Allen was that year. Allen even turned it up a couple of notches during the Phillies' famous collapse. (By the way, Allen Barra writes a spirited essay on Allen's status as one of the most underrated and misunderstood players in baseball history -- it's a little over the top, but interesting.)

The essay on the demise of the Yankees in the 1970's/80's was particularly interesting. Goldman uses Otto Velez as an example of a young player who should have been a star but was always the odd man out because he was young. As a result, he got shuffled around eventually lost to Toronto, letting some potential go unfilled. The Yankees' drafting record is none too good in that era.

Other chapters aren't quite as interesting. For example, Alex Belth delivers a straight-forward review of the 1973 National League season, won by the Mets at 82-79 -- the worst championship season to date, relatively speaking. It's more history than analysis, if you understand my idea at the difference -- not badly done by any means, but not what I'm looking for in a book like this.

In addition, some of the essays are heavily into charts and statistics. There are some valid points to be made here, such as one that points out how attendance drops after September 1 although the decline has been slowed with the introduction of wild-cards. Still, some might not wade through a graph that has "percentage of games with TPRI of 3 Percent of Higher."

This gets something of a split decision, then. For those familiar with Baseball Prospectus (a worthwhile purchase every spring for big baseball fans), "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" works pretty well with some good analysis and insights. For those who aren't, readers might get a little bogged down in some unfamiliar stats or too-familiar history in spots.
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on October 27, 2008
As would be expected coming from the statistical Baseball Prospectus group this entry is chock full of data and analysis concerning a number of past close pennant races. Thirteen seasons are discussed. There are plenty of what might have been type discussions. Sprinkled thruout is much talk about the effects of racial integration in baseball. There are by my count twelve contributors to the book. Some of the chapters have multiple authors. This allows for some uneveness in content. But, all in all, it's definitely a worthwhile read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2008
Baseball Prospectus is a premium web-site that engages in both quantitative and qualitative analysis. The authors come from a variety of different backgrounds, including (but not limited to): a meteorologist, a Chicago economics grad, a MBA, a German Romantic scholar, and a dermatologist. This is the third non-annual BP book (Mind Game (2005) & Baseball Between the Numbers (2006)).

The book is dedicated to "Branch Rickey, our spiritual father." Mr. Rickey created the farm system, forged three championship teams (the Cardinals of the 30's, the Dodgers of the late 40's/early 50's and the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates), and of course, integrated Major League Baseball by signing Jackie Robinson.

The book describes the greatest 14 pennant races over 13 different chapters (the 1948 & '49 AL are combined). The criteria that the authors used to determine the greatest pennant races is outlined in the introduction, but can be simply reduced to (1) "the longer a race remains undecided, the better a race is" and (2) "a three-team race is better than a two-team race."

The 1967 season bats lead-off. Jay Jaffe goes into great detail about how Yaz and the Red Sox won a four-team race and breathed life into a new generation of Red Sox fans. This season was the founding of the modern Red Sox franchise and its rabid followers.

There are a number of articles at the end of each chapter. There is a fascinating bit about "The Braves Dynasty That Wasn't." It laments the fact that the Milwaukee Braves only won one title in the late 50's, despite having Aaron, Mathews, Spahn, Burdette, Adcock and Logan (part of the problem was a couple of terrible trades).

Steve Goldman, a historian turned baseball writer (who also writes on-line for and about the Yankees), has two outstanding chapters on the 48-49 AL and the 1908 NL races.

The collapse of the 1964 Phillies gets a chapter. Dick Allen is redeemed (he hit .341/.434/.618 from September 1 on) and Gene Mauch is eviscerated for his handling of the pitching staff.

There is an outstanding chapter about The Shot Heard Round the World (`51 NL), in which Mr. Rickey's team lost to the Giants (and the Dodgers old manager, Leo Durocher) in a three-game playoff. Mr. Rickey's 1934 triumph, the Dizzy Dean Gas-House Gang Cardinals, also gets a chapter.

It's an excellent baseball book. It is reasoned and well presented. It's not a dry book; the seasons spring to life in flowing narratives that are enhanced by BP's statistical analysis.
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on May 4, 2011
As other reviewers noted, they definitely needed a good editor for this book. I lost interest after coming across several errors on the 1964 pennant race. It's an interesting subject, and there were parts I enjoyed, but overall it's factual shortcomings ruined it for me.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2007
Terrence is correct-a lot of errors.A few examples--Steve Goldman has Bob Lemon as a left handed picther.He also said Lemon came up as a third baseman.Didn't it occur to Mr. Goldman that if he came up as a third baseman, he would not have been a lefty thrower? Alex Belth had Pittsburgh winning 7 NL East titles in the 70's (actually won 6) In the Index section, Denny McLain is listed twice-spelled McLain and McClain.These were just found in the first half of the book--who knows what I will find in the second half.The Baseball Prospectus authors have got to do a better job on the research. Allen Barra's book-Brushbacks and Knockdowns contain a ton of errors , but that is another story for another day.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If you're really into baseball stats & second-guessing history, then this book is for you. Most of the pennant races have been talked about before in better books.
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