Behind-the-Scenes Baseball is an interesting, quick read. The book was written by Doug Decatur, who has worked as a statistical consultant for a bunch of teams over the years, including the Brewers, Cubs, Reds and Astros. He's been something of a go-to guy for Phil Garner over the years, and he helped put together the amazing second half runs in Houston in recent seasons.
A lot of this is about stats, but you don't have to be a stats junkie at all. Decatur leads off with this: "Why do I love baseball statistics? I don't. I love winning. Statistics are just a vehicle used to generate wins." Decatur says he read Bill James' Baseball Abstract in 1982, and that it changed the way he looked at baseball.
The book has three parts. Part one is a bunch of quick "road story" type things about working in baseball, and it's fantastic. I would read a book that was about nothing but that stuff. The GM IQ Test is the second part, 100 questions that general managers and managers probably should know, but often times likely do not. The third part is a case study of the Astros' 2004 playoff charge, which is a really interesting look at how that team happened. It seemed like it happened overnight, and reading this, it kind of did.
Let me share one of the stories from the first part of the book with you.
The Cubs' pitching coach was Moe Drabowsky. He was considered by many people, including Hank Bauer, his former manager, to be the star of the 1966 World Series thanks to his momentum-changing, record-setting, eleven-strikeout relief appearance in Game One of the Orioles' four-game sweep of the Dodgers. Drabowsky had come up with a chart for the Cubs' bullpen that used different colored stickers to signify the status of the pitchers: one color if a pitcher had just warmed up in a game, and others for outings of different lengths and/or pitch counts. The chart was somewhat useful, but to be honest it fell into the category of "too much information." Cubs manager Tom Trebelhorn just wanted to know who was available in his bullpen each night, and the Cubs pitchers didn't need a chart to tell them whether or not they were tired.
At one point, we were in Atlanta to start a three-game series. Trebelhorn and I were going over my statistics scouting report on the Braves when Drabowsky came in wanting a place to set up his chart where his bullpen could see it. Trebelhorn wanted it some place they couldn't to avoid any grief from the pitchers. Drabowsky started to unfold and set up his chart right in the middle of the office, but Trebelhorn suggested Drabowsky set it up in an adjoining room -- the manager's office bathroom. Drabowsky tried to resist, but Trebelhorn insisted that was the best place for it. So, disappointedly, Drabowsky set up shop in the bathroom.
A few minutes later, the Cubs' rubber arm reliever Jose Bautista came walking into Trebelhorn's office, holding his arm, saying, "I no can pitch." "Why not?" Drabowsky demanded. Bautista replied, "I no can pitch." And then, referring to the now infamous chart and stickers, said, "I have two reds, a green, a blue and a yellow. I no can pitch." Drabowsky then tried to go through game by game with Bautista to figure out what colors he did have. Bautista would ward off every attempted explanation from Drabowsky with a shake of his head and a "I no can pitch." He proceeded to argue the color of each outing with Drabowsky and finally summed it all up by flatly saying, "Too many colors. I no can pitch." It became painfully obvious to Trebelhorn and me that Bautista was doing and saying whatever he could just to mess with Drabowsky, who took his colors and chart very seriously. Drabowsky stomped out to the bathroom to look at his chart. He came yelling back at Bautista that all he had in the last five days was one yellow. To that Bautista replied, "Oh, OK. One color. I pitch," and he walked out. At this point Drabowsky said, "That's exactly why we need the chart right in here where everyone can see it."