Amateur Book Review: The Last Nine Innings


Baseball is really, really hard.

It's difficult to understand, oftentimes difficult to appreciate, and always difficult to play.

This is not shocking news to anyone. It is however, the central premise behind this book. The game in present form is over a century old, and ingrained in the American character. Yet, it seems as much a mystery to us in 2006 as it was to those in 1906. What does it take to throw a baseball 95 miles an hour, to make it curve or slide, fall away or cut in? How does one, to paraphrase Pete Rose, take a round ball and a round bat and hit it square? How do we measure defense? What is the difference between a Gold Glove defender and a should-be DH? Euchner picks the brain of hundreds, from players and scouts to statheads and research scientists to try to find the answers.

Does he? Is it even possible?

Maybe. And probably not.

Eucher uses the drama of the seventh game of the 2001 World Series as a backdrop. That series, between the Arizona Diamondbacks, a young team of old men and the New York Yankees - shooting for a fourth championship in a row - came just six weeks after 9/11, and it was both cathartic and ridiculously exciting. It wasn't the best series of the past 25 years, but coming after the horror of 9/11 and the wound inflicted on New York and America, it may have been the most important. The Yankees had won games 5 and 6 in dramatic fashion, with game-winning homers off Arizona closer BK Kim. The Last Nine Innings switches between a narrative of the final game and exploration of baseball itself.

This is both the strength and the weakness of this book. The game, whether it leads to a examination of Roger Clemens' perfect pitching form or a discussion about whether Derek Jeter is one of the best fielding shortstops or the one of the worst, always grounds the more esoteric or technical discussion. It can also slow the narrative of both. While the author does a fine job of connecting the two, say a introduction of Roger Clemens and his insane training regiment which leads to a possible explanation for his late-career success and then picks up on the mound near the end of his start in game 7. But it can also meander, and the in-game action is sometimes absurdly slow.

This book, despite clocking in at a mere 288 pages, is neither a quick or easy read. It requires concentration and it helps to either have some understanding of modern statistical analysis or at least an open mind to it. In that respect, I am probably the perfect audience: a baseball fanatic who understands the importance of modern stats, but has neither the brainpower nor wish to create my own. Meaning: I get what DIPS and OPS and VORP are, but please don't make me do the math.

The Last Nine Innings is very much a worthwhile read for both the serious fan and the semi-serious. It would serve as a primer, I think, for those wanting to make the jump from one to the other.


Amateur Book Review: The Traveler

Everything you know is wrong!

The entire world, its business and politics on down are run - no, not by a dozen Jews in a Geneva basement - but by an ultra-secret order called the Tabula. Our early-21st century consumer society is actually the "Vast Machine", where nearly everyone lives under the Tabula's surveillance and control. Below the surface though, a fierce, ages-long war continues. The Tabula has been trying for centuries to eradicate the Travelers, seemingly normal men and women who have the ability to transcend this plane of reality and lead humanity. To the Tabula, they are a variable that can't be controlled and so must be eradicated. The Travelers, pacifists at heart, are protected by The Harlequins (no, not this Harlequin or this Harley Quinn), merciless killers who have no reason to exist other than protecting Travelers. But now, in this technology-driven modern age, the Tabula has gained the upper hand. The Harlequins are shattered and the Travelers are all but extinct. This is the world of John Twelve Hawks' upcoming book The Traveler, the first part of a planned trilogy.

The odds are good you're going to hear about this book. The publisher, Doubleday, has set up a huge marketing campaign built on forced world-of-mouth (10,000 advance reader copies already sent), a large Internet presence (half-dozen websites, such as this fake blog set up by the Harlequin main character in her civilian disguise), and guerrilla marketing using various mysterious passages from the book. This book is being released in 18 countries, and already has been optioned for a movie with Steven Spielberg attached. The book itself is marvelously packaged: a wraparound cover showing an extreme close-up of the heroine with a Traveler reflected in her sunglasses. The logo - on the galleys anyway- is on the back. The kicker to this marketing onslaught? A reclusive author who lives "off the grid" and refuses to do any interviews, even by email. The only contact had with the media was on a promo DVD released where he read passages off-camera sounding, in the words of Publishers Weekly "like Darth Vader's nephew". So the marketing is excellent; how is the book?

Okay, but not great. How does that sound? This first installment follows Maya, a young woman who has buried her Harlequin heritage beneath the facade of Judith Strand. She's summoned to Prague by her paraplegic father and asked to finish his last mission. She refuses, until her father is brutally murdered by the Tabula. It seems that the mission was to protect Michael and Gabriel, two young Californians who may be Travelers. Michael, the older of the two, has tired of living off the grid and settles in as a shady real estate investor in Los Angeles. The younger brother Gabriel, who might as well hold a neon sign that says "HERO HERE", is the opposite. He's coooooool. While Michael has decided to live within the Vast Machine without knowing what it is, buying stuff and making money and probably voting Republican; Gabriel only drives motorcycles, jumps out of airplanes, and lives in the bad part of town. He probably keeps a perpetual 5-o'clock shadow and definitely has soulful eyes.

The Traveler is briskly plotted, aside from a tedious section where Gabriel is trained to use his power. The book is polished to a very bright sheen; makes me wonder if Twelve Hawks really is a big unknown. There just isn't much here that says, "first time author", and a lot to suggest an old pro. It reads so briskly it nearly doesn't need a screenplay adaptation. It becomes difficult to read the book without wondering who will play these parts on the screen. Does Jennifer Garner or Kate Beckinsale play Maya? It quickly becomes distracting, and with all the manufactured hype planned for this book, and the rather ridiculous story of the author, it isn't easy to really get into this book. It seems very fake, much like the world it describes.

It isn't without charm though. As mentioned, the book races pretty quickly to an interesting - if not particularly shocking - ending. The characters maintain a voice throughout. Gabriel is very self-consciously cool. Michael is a grasping twit. The most interesting of the bunch is Maya, the Harlequin. Raised to be a killing machine, she desperately wants to be more than that, and it's rather touching to see her succeed and fail simultaneously. The backstory to this work, the Tabula and Travelers and such, is interesting (in fact the brief descriptions of the history of the war is more so than much of the present action), if not particularly innovative. Anyone paying attention to pop culture the last 10 years will recognize snippets of the Matrix, Da Vinci Code, even Star Wars. The book is enjoyable though, for what it is: the ultimate airplane read.


Amateur Book Review: Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars


It is the year 1797. England is at war with Revolutionary France and her ally Spain. Young Lieutenant Charles Edgemont is at his post on the gun deck of the HMS Argonaut and he's about to see action for the first time, off the French coast at Brest. This, and the excellent battle scenes, begin Jay Worrall's first novel, Sails on the Horizon, a fine - if flawed - book that owes a lot to the tales of Horatio Hornblower and Lucky Jack Aubrey. We follow Charlie for one year, a year where he takes his own command.

There is much to recommend about this book. Worrall obviously connects with the time period, and his love for maritime lore is obvious. Sails is full of the small details that make a book about this time so memorable, and wouldn't feel out of place in a Patrick O'Brien novel. The numerous battle scenes, a staple for this genre, are uniformly excellent. Worrall captures the terror, mayhem and sheer confusion of the naval battle well. These scenes, spread evenly throughout, are the heart of this book.

The characters are less successful. The protagonist is a bit too perfect. Charles starts as a second lieutenant, hesitant and worried. The opening chapters, a battle between an over matched Argonaut and several Spanish vessels, is the highlight of the book. It's both a cracklin' battle scene and the best look inside the head of Charles Edgemont. He's hesitant about his abilities, worries about a very scared young midshipman and wonders he will ever really command his men. Edgemont sort of stumbles into the role of Captain and his doubts and fears ring truer than anything that follows.

After the battle, things just go too damned well for Charlie. There is little reason to empathize with him, since he becomes a major landowner quickly, finds (and eventually marries) the girl of his dreams and starts out on a successful career. There aren't many obstacles, and what ones do come up, like his future wife Penny Brown being a Quaker who has major problems with being with a military man, are wrapped up quickly and neatly. There are also possible problems with his best friend Daniel Bevan, who now acts as his First Lieutenant by dint of Charlie joining the Navy a mere week and a half earlier. Again, this is quickly dealt with. Charlie is obviously The Hero, but he seems a cold one, too shiny and perfect to connect with. There is also a minor issue with Penny. She is a fine character, smart and engaging, but she talks in a very - even for the time - archaic way filled with "thees" and "thous". It starts as an amusing diversion, but becomes supremely annoying. There are times near the end of the book where the reader has to fight the temptation to skip her parts.

Despite the flaws, Sails on the Horizon is an enjoyable book. The action scenes are excellent, and the potential is there for memorable characters, even if they don't quite pan out. This is obviously meant as the first chapter in a continuing saga, and I hope it does continue.


Frinklin doesn't live here anymore; he's moved to the new and improved version 2.0. You should come visit.


Well, this is just about it for the Blogspot version of Frinklin Speaks. Check out the new and improved Frinklin Speaks. The archives aren't over yet, and I haven't put all of my links in, but it's a work in progress.


How many other couples do this?

The Mrs. and I seem to have this amazing ability to bore our friends and family to tears by getting on movie-quoting jags. Someone will mention one of our favorites, usually Chasing Amy, Dazed and Confused, Office Space or what have you. Usually we start the whole conversation come to think of it. Anyway, it's off to the races..

"I said no thalt, no thalt."

"What's a Nubian?"

"It'd be a lot cooler if you did..."

The wife and I will then spend several minutes acting out entire scenes, not even noticing that whomever is present that isn't us is quickly going to bemusement to boredom to being really concerned about our sanity. And we will laugh hysterically like it's the first time we've ever heard this stuff, let alone said it.

Is this normal? Do other couple have moments like this? Or are we completely crazy?
Well we are a week into the new season.
Most Suprising Team (Good Suprise Division) Detroit Tigers-Is there any question about this? Last year they started 0-9 on the way to losing 119 games. This year they start 5-1 and in first place at the 1-week mark. Of course they won't keep this up, but who cares? Enjoy it Tiger fans.

Most Suprising Team (Lousy Suprise Division) Tie-Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies-Well, of course the last-team-to-win Mariners are going to place, but you have to give up for the Phils too. They have the very same 1-5 record, are already 4 full games behind the Marlins. Oh, and they open Citizen's Bank Park tomorrow. Should be fun. Will Philly fans merely boo? Or will they go ahead and throw things?
Okay gentlemen, that's more like it. The M's avoid matching the worst start in franchise history at the very last minute. Ichiro and Winn with RBI singles in the 9th, Boone homers in the 10th, and Shiggy picks up the win. Still, Moyer was off again, which is worrisome, and 3 walks in a 10-inning game, which is bordeline ridiculous.
Yes, it's true.. Frinklin has been invited to the cool kid's table. Once I get everything working (and figure out Movable Type, should only take 2-3 years), I'll be transferring everything to the new site. I hope everyone comes along.