K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

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 t...

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Title:K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches
Author:Tyler Kepner
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K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches Reviews

  • 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 sc

    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.

  • 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:

    For all my reviews:

  • 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

    is even better than I'd hop

    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

    is even better than I'd hoped, and I suspect it will now take its place on all the lists of essential baseball books.

    *

  • 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, fast

    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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Hal

    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.

  • 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 s

    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!

  • 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 bo

    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.

  • 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 result

    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.

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