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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not what it says it is, February 15, 2004
This review is from: Paths to Glory (H) (Hardcover)
I got this book on the recommendation of some baseball pundits that I respect greatly (the Baseball Prospectus crowd), but to be honest, I found it somewhat disappointing. The problem isn't poor scholarship (it's first-rate) nor inferior sabermetrics (the analytical approach is sound) nor any other quibbles with the findings. Rather, it's that the content is something rather different than the title implies: rather than discussing "how great baseball teams got that way," which would indeed be a fascinating subject, it digresses into two much less interesting topics.
The first ill-advised topical digression is that it rarely really talks about "great" baseball teams, at least not dynastic ones (with significant exceptions in sections on the Oakland A's of the 1970s and the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, both of which are excellent analyses). Instead too much time is spent not just on near-misses but on one-shot wonders that never got close to real greatness. I mean, the 1924 Washington Senators may have been a great human-interest story (after all, the immortal Walter Johnson finally got his ring...), but a "great" team? Hardly, and they never had a realistic chance to be great. Too many other chapters follow this pattern of looking at the wrong teams, and not for want of subject material -- where were the discussions of the blue-smoke-and-mirrors St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960s or 1980s, the great Koufax/Drysdale/Los Angeles pitching juggernauts, and above all, the post-WWII Yankees? The subject of this book simply was not as advertised.
Second, to report *that* a thing occurred is not the same as to say *how* it occurred, much less *why*. Practically all of this book's case studies are long on data but short on analysis, and particularly short on conclusions that address the question promised in the title. Lacking such a focus, too many of the chapters don't provide much insight beyond what can be gained in the superficial team histories of a Palmer/Thorn "Total Baseball." The authors promised more, and should have delivered it.
These concerns aside, there is much to like here. The explanation of statistical techniques is excellent work, a number of historical trends in baseball are skillfully discussed, and the appendices are full of useful information. I would therefore still give "Paths to Glory" a qualified thumbs up for the thoughtful baseball fan, as long as that fan doesn't expect total fidelity to the title, or to the expectation that the "why" questions in this most beautiful of sports are going to be answered to the reader's satisfaction.
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