Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Ugliness of Short Books

If you love baseball and spend too much time reading about baseball on the internet, you've probably heard of the soon-to-be-released book "The Beauty of Short Hops."

In the much-ridiculed press release the authors claim to debunk sabermetrics generally and Moneyball specifically. I planned on purchasing this book for the sole purpose of adding to the ridicule, and to avoid the Joe Morgan hypocrisy of criticizing something without first reading it (or knowing who the author is).

A few reviews are now starting to surface, including this excellent account by Mitchel Lichtman at The Book. Lichtman takes the authors to task on several issues and summarizing his well-developed arguments would only deprive you of the joy of reading his criticism. That said, I have to mention what is perhaps the most damning fact in his review.

When I purchase a book I don't actually put much thought into how long it is, however when I pick up a book in a bookstore (ed: what's a bookstore?) I do feel that the price/weight ratio should make immediate sense to me. I'll happily spend 30 bucks on whatever weighty tome Neal Stephenson has just kicked out, and I'll happily spend 3 bucks on a used Kurt Vonnegut novella. If, however, someone attempted to charge me Stephenson prices for a Vonnegut-sized book I would probably laugh at them and head to a different bookstore. I was therefore quite surprised to read that:

A week or so ago, I received a copy, courtesy of and a blistering $29.95 on my part, or about 38.7 cents a page, considering that the entire book is 116 pages long, if we exclude the preface and the last two chapters, which are some examples of how “quirky” baseball can be, and a “diary” of the 2009 Boston Red Sox season to also show us how beautiful, interesting, and unpredictable baseball games can be, as opposed to the stoic, test-tube version that sabermetricians and new-age stat enthusiasts see through the lenses of their spreadsheets.

Now Lichtman is being a tad disingenuous here. Given his review of the substance, I think we're somewhat out of line discounting the value of the padding, such as it is. That said, the book comes in officially at 212 pages, which is pretty lame for 30 bucks, and even lamer if all of the substance was packed into 116 pages. That's a lot of padding.

So I won't be ridiculing the book just yet. There are still a few open B&N's around me and I suspect I'll be able to dig this one out of the bargain bin in short order, at which point I'll give it the respect it deserves.

Finally, I wonder if they actually should charge a bit more. I suspect their target audience is pretty limited to people who want to make fun of the book, and vocal critics of sabermetrics.

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