(Brassey’s Inc, 2002) 196 pages.
If you had to pick one topic that British baseball fans might need some help with, in-game strategy would be near the top of the list. Many of us have never really played the game, never mind spent our childhood playing ball with friends and neighbours. The knowledge that Americans pick up over many years needs to be learned somehow. There is no better teacher than Earl Weaver and no better teaching manual than Weaver on Strategy.
Weaver’s record speaks for itself. Over seventeen years spent managing the Baltimore Orioles, he amassed a 1480-1060 record (good for a .583 winning percentage), with three American League championships and a World Series triumph in 1970. Alongside his legendary run-ins with umpires, Weaver earned a reputation for being a master tactician who was more than happy to defy conventional wisdom when his experience and statistics encouraged him to do so.
Weaver on Strategy covers all aspects of a manager’s job, from organising Spring Training to making tactical decisions in the pressured environment of a World Series game. While a budding manager could undoubtedly learn a lot from this book, it is not intended as a coaching guide in the traditional sense. Rather it is a very readable collection of chapters about subjects such as ‘The Lineup’, ‘Fielding’ and ‘Scouting’.
Mixed into these chapters are Weaver’s Ten Laws, which demonstrate his managerial philosophy. They will not find agreement with everybody, indeed many of his laws would be challenged by other Big League managers, but that is largely the point. Weaver puts each idea across, explaining precisely why he believes in it and why he disagrees with the alternative viewpoint. Take bunting for example. Weaver was a manager who believed in the three-run homer and shied away from so-called ‘smallball’ tactics. The bunt is classified as being “rarely worth the trouble” on the basis that it is generally employed while sacrificing an out. Weaver’s Fourth Law states “your most precious possessions on offense are your twenty-seven outs” and he uses this as a springboard to examine various situations where managers wrongly (in his eyes) reach for the sacrifice bunt.
However, one of the clear themes that comes through in this book is that all theories should be put into context. A dogmatic, ‘I will never tell my team to bunt’ philosophy would be as damaging to a team’s chances of success as throwing away outs might be. Weaver’s message is not to ‘never bunt’, it is to only bunt in specific situations. Even though he values power more than any other skill in most cases, Weaver notes that had he been managing Kansas City at the time (in the wide expanses of Royals Stadium) he would have adopted a more speed-based strategy. As he puts it: “a manager has to adjust to his club”.
The reference to Royals Stadium reveals that Weaver is not discussing the current Major League scene. Weaver on Strategy was originally written and published in 1984 and the main text has not been revised. This means that throughout the book, he is making dated references to players who have been retired for many a year. This doesn’t pose a problem though as it is always explained why a certain player is brought up at each point (e.g. noting what type of player they were) so a lack of familiarity with Eddie Murray or Mark Belanger does not stop you from understanding the examples.
The dated references are also acceptable because the book is really about Weaver giving you the benefit of his experience and it therefore makes complete sense that he writes about the players he managed. The only slight downside is that the frequent ‘Brooks and Frank Robinson did this’, ‘Brooks and Frank Robinson did that’ comments do become a bit wearing after a while (even though they were great players who deserve the attention).
More than anything, the fact that this was written in 1984 is not much of an issue because baseball strategy has not moved on a great deal since. In fact, some of Weaver’s more radical ideas would still be met with suspicion today. This is highlighted in the epilogue that was added to the book in 2002. Weaver’s belief in the four-man rotation was out of step with conventional thinking in 1984 and if anything it is even further from being considered today (although some sabermetricians are currently preaching its worth).
Weaver states that he firmly believes the “four-man rotation would still work”, but concedes that there are various reasons (not least the lucrative, multi-year deals given to starters these days) why it will not be adopted. When reading the main text, one of Weaver’s comments that really stands out is his opposition to the then-standard practice of having ten pitchers on your roster (he would go with nine at most). Of course, virtually all teams now carry twelve pitchers and the epilogue allows Weaver to offer his comments on the practice. As a result, this section is a useful addition to the book, even though there is very little in the way of “Weaver’s views on today’s managers”, as promised on the cover.
Like any good book of this type, it increases your knowledge of the sport by both providing an expert’s point of view and making you think about the differing arguments in each case. All baseball fans could learn something by reading Weaver on Strategy and British fans in particular have a lot to gain by adding it to their collection.
Have you read “Weaver on Strategy”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you recommend any other similar books? If so, let us know.