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Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Stephen Jay Gould

The late Stephen Jay Gould was a man of strong opinions--and not just about evolutionary theory and paleontology, the subjects of fine books of his such asEver Since DarwinandWonderful Life. Just get him going on baseball, as readers of his long-running … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Baseball
Author: Stephen Jay Gould
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
1 review about Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong...

Greater love hath no fan, than he always speak the truth about his sport

  • Dec 5, 2006
  • by
Gould was one of those people for whom baseball was an adored affliction. He was a true lover of the game and a traditionalist in the best usage of the term. Like nearly all thinking fans, he deplores the addition of another level of the playoffs, aluminum bats and the designated hitter. His love for the game, developed early in life by his worshipping of Joe DiMaggio and his being an unrepentant lifelong Yankee fan, comes through very strongly in his writing.
My favorite part of the book is when Gould uses his impeccable scientific credentials to perform a statistical analysis on the decline in the variation of batting averages over the years. The standard deviation of batting averages has shown a steady decline from the beginnings of professional baseball in the 1870's to the middle 1970's. His conclusion is that this demonstrates a continued improvement in the overall level of play. He uses this to argue that it is most unlikely that anyone will ever hit .400 again. I don't agree with that, I have seen the banner years put up by George Brett and Tony Gwynn and understand that if each had gotten just a few more hits, then they could have reached that milestone.
I do agree with his assessment of Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak. There are those who argue that he received help from dubious acts of scoring, but the vast majority of his hits were solid. The most amazing thing is that if there had not been two great fielding plays in game 57, his streak would be in the seventies. The statistical analysis carried out by Gould points out an incontrovertible fact, the streak should not have occurred. Of all the events in sports, it is the statistically most improbable one of all.
I have read hundreds of books about baseball, from the sanitized idolatry of the books before Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" to some of the more recent shameless gutter sniping. Gould is an intellectual whose writing is some of the clearest and most honest about a game whose elegance in unmatched. I have been to Cooperstown and agree with his assessment that it is a most non-touristy town. Yet, that is the way it should be, baseball is a game that is played everywhere, so why not have the baseball hall of fame in a rural area?

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