Sunday, August 26, 2012

Life Behind the Mask

Michael Schafer is a very good baseball umpire, a man as dedicated to teaching the game as he is to making certain that the youth baseball games he officiates are played fairly and by the rules. Unfortunately, he is not as good a writer as he is an umpire.  Life Behind the Mask is a book that will benefit youth league umpires and managers much more than it will interest those who have children or grandchildren playing the game. It is essentially a book in which baseball's rules are illustrated by stories and fictional situations, especially the more obscure and complicated rules. It is not nearly the book it could, or should, have been;

There are so many side-stories in kid baseball these days that Life Behind the Mask could have been a book filled with heartwarming stories about comebacks, kids who overcame great physical difficulties to play the game, parents who go the extra mile to coach teams, little girls competing with the boys, (to be fair, there is one good story about a little girl who pitched underhanded to the boys and did quite well with her surprising delivery), etc. There are thousands of personal stories out there and I'm sure that a man who has been around kid baseball as long as Schafer has knows dozens of them in great, firsthand detail. But, although a handful of such stories are included in the book, they are few and far between - and are usually used to illustrate some obscure baseball rule.  This is simply a book that has none of the feel of a memoir despite being labeled as one on its front cover.

Frankly, I could not finish Life Behind the Mask - something that hardly ever happens to me when I commit to reviewing a book. If I make that commitment, I expect to read every word that the author wrote, including dedications, notes, and acknowledgements.  But despite being an obsessed baseball fan, I am bored by all the "what if" rule interpretations that the author chooses to focus on here. He convinced me to abandon the book when he described two very complicated, and rather rare, situations where the infield fly rule was triggered and asked his readers what their calls would have been in each instance. Only at the end of that section does Schafer tell the reader that he will not be revealing the correct interpretation of the rule. Cute?  Funny?  I don't think so.  End of book.

Youth baseball umpires searching for tips on rule interpretations and suggestions about handling managers, parents, and young players might want to read this one.  Others are very likely to be frustrated by it.


  1. It does sound like this could have been a great book but the author really missed the mark with the focus he chose.

  2. Kathleen, in sports terms, Life Behind the Mask is one of those silly, "unforced errors" that change everything.