Monday, January 24, 2011

Scorecasting


Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim have written a book for sports fans that, as its subtitle says, explores “the hidden influences behind how sports are played and games are won.”  Scorecasting does pretty much deliver the goods, but some of what is revealed is at times a bit underwhelming since common sense and careful observation tell much the same story without all the stats.

There is something in the book for fans of both professional and amateur sports - and everything in between, such as our semi-professional college sports programs.  The authors take a hard look at football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and soccer and use statistics, personal observation, interviews, and speculation to make surprising points concerning what is really happening out there. 

I suspect that most fans will be least surprised by the book when it comes to whatever sport they spend the most time following.  In my case, that sport is baseball.  While the authors spend a substantial number of pages explaining what goes on in the head of a major league umpire when the game is being played in a loud and hostile ballpark, little about “makeup calls” and special treatment for star players, especially in late innings or in crucial situations, will surprise baseball nuts.
 
The chapter on the use of steroids in baseball did, however, give me something new to think about.  Ever wonder why most of the players caught using steroids are minority players from poor countries?  Moskowitz and Wertheim will fill you in.

There are chapters on home field advantage, the relative value of blocked shots in basketball, the situational pressure of putting, the “myth” of the hot hand and momentum, icing the field goal kicker in game situations, why early draft choices are so overvalued and, among a few others, whether or not defense really wins championships. 

There really is something here for everyone, regardless of how rabid a sports fan one might be, and there are some surprises and observational gems to be found.  If you enjoyed Freakonomics or SuperFreakonomics, the odds are pretty high that you will love this one.  If you hated those two books and dislike sports, run away from Scorecasting.

Just remember, sports fans, as one of the book’s chapter titles puts it, “There’s no I in team, but there is an “m” and an “e.”  Or as Michael Jordon once said when a team owner chastised him by using the “there’s no I in team,” thing, “There’s an I in win.  So which way do you want it?” 

This one will make you chuckle a bit while it presents you with a new way to look at something you’ve been watching your entire life.  It might even make you feel a little smarter because you already knew some of this stuff.

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

4 comments:

  1. Love the Michael Jordan quote. I'll keep this book in mind for Father's Day.

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  2. Oh, my husband will like this one, I think. He loves to watch them, and is curious about how they work, especially North American ones - he is trying to learn American football at the moment. Thanks for this review, I'll look out for this one!

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  3. Lisa, it would make a great gift for any sports fan...good idea.

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  4. Susan, the book doesn't so much explain the rules of the game as it gets inside the heads of the players, coaches, and umpires to explain their strategies and play-calling. Your husband would probably be especially interested in the chapters on soccer.

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