Thursday, April 4, 2024

Review: Baseball Obscura 2024

By David J. Fleming

It's always good to see someone new try to break into the lineup.

That's the basic story behind David J. Fleming's book, "Baseball Obscura 2024." 

Fleming had been doing some writing on Bill James' website for several years, tackling a variety of baseball-related subjects. That outlet died, and Fleming thought he'd like to read a book containing some essays about the sport, mostly tied to an upcoming season. Since there really wasn't such a publication out there, he wrote the book himself. And he's not above poking a bit of fun at himself along the way for attempting it, which is nice to see.

The title is a reference to the camera obscura, which came into use in the 15th century - in other words, Columbus might have heard of it. It was a darkened room that had a small hole at one end. It was used to project an image inside that room. For example, scientists could study what a solar eclipse looked like without damaging their eyes along the way. I thought the title might have something to do with a search for obscure information. But this - a way of looking at information in a novel way - might be an even better rationale for the title.

Every major league team gets a few pages, starting with a recap of basic statistics. Some of them have one long essay about a particular area, while others are broken into pieces. The pages go by quite quickly, all things considered. Fleming writes that he's interested in how teams are constructed, and there are some good thoughts along those lines. For example, he's a little more upbeat on the future of the Detroit Tigers than I would have thought.

And, he's one of the lone voices who is wondering about the Yankees' acquisition of Juan Soto. He simply doesn't know if it was worth giving up four good pitching prospects for the chance to have Soto for a year. The outfielder obviously got off to a great start in New York, and he's been a great player for most of his career. Usually a four-for-one deal works out best for the team that acquires the best player, but there are no guarantees. And it's tough to know if that's the best way to approach the building of a team. 

The book ends with a few more general essays. The story of Bullet Joe Rogan, who was the Shohei Ohtani of the Negro Leagues in terms of the the pitcher/hitter combination, was particularly interesting. It's the type of essay that you really don't get anywhere else.  

This all comes with a bit of an asterisk, which we will borrow from the record book; Roger Maris' 1961 season doesn't really need it. "Baseball Obscura 2024" is self-published. That's going to mean that some compromises had to be made in terms of quality. It is to be expected.

There are some typographical errors along the way. One that made me feel a little uncomfortable - in the "been there, done that" sense - was the misspelling of the last name of Luis Robert Jr. of the White Sox. It came out Roberts in the team essay. There are some other mistakes, and they seem to pick up speed as the book goes along. Fleming does say that he ran out of time to have someone do a good cleaning of the text.

He also says he could complete some of his ideas when it came to writing essays, and that feels about right. There are a few sections that feel like fillers. 

Still, Fleming deserves all sorts of credit and admiration for giving this a try. It was obviously a good-sized amount of work, and he did get the book produced. "Baseball Obscura 2024" is a good start, and it's fairly priced at $16. The people who have reviewed it for Amazon seem to like it a lot. The author deserves some encouragement to see if he can take more steps forward in the future.

Three stars

Learn more about this book from  (As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)  

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