Strike Four: Adventures in European Baseball by Jeff Archer

(White Boucke Publishing, 1995) 250 pages.
Review updated 20 February 2011

Many Americans have found themselves in Britain and been surprised to learn of the existence of organized baseball here, but few have become as involved in the game’s running as Jeff Archer did in the 1970s. Given the sparseness of literature on this, or any other, period of British baseball, I was delighted to be tipped off by a friend about Strike Four, which is a light-hearted account of Archer’s experiences that was published in 1995. The chronicle also covers the author’s subsequent trip to The Netherlands as a manager in the Hoofdklasse, the country’s top tier of competitive baseball, and the theme of cultural differences runs throughout the publication.

The book’s title refers to one of Archer’s many observations of weaknesses in the British understanding of baseball, specifically an article that appeared in a supplement to The Daily Telegraph in 1976 in which one of the rules was incorrectly reported:

“In baseball you are allowed three strikes. On the fourth you are out.”

Of course, the title is similar to that of one of the sport’s classic books, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, and this is unlikely to be coincidental.

Firstly, Archer is a self-described “advocate of the knuckler”, a pitch which was made immortal by Bouton’s book. Chapter 14 of Strike Four, which bears the name of this piece of pitching weaponry, contains the story of a 20-year-old Dutch player called Eric de Vries. As manager of HCAW, de Vries’ club, Archer saw the need in the player’s mound repertoire for a third, off-speed pitch. The knuckleball was that pitch, and it turned de Vries from an ordinary player into a pitcher good enough to make his nation’s roster for the mid-season European Championships. And if you are a fan of the knuckleball, you’ll be happy to learn that the pitch sparked a Dutch come-from-behind triumph in the best-of-five finals against Italy.

A second, and much more pervasive, parallel with Ball Four is the willingness to put in print perceived ineptitude among those running clubs and leagues, both in Britain and in The Netherlands. Indeed, the book is billed in its preface as a “salty exposé”. In the spirit of Bouton, Archer goes as far as describing the calamitous infidelity of an engaged American brought over to play third base for HCAW. And there is even mention of the outlawed Vaseline spitball being taught. The name of the teacher: Jeff Archer.

Thirdly, like Ball Four, Archer’s book is crammed with amusing, well-crafted depictions of what it is like to be part of a baseball team, a number of them beautifully crude, if such a thing is possible.

With the similarities to another book now covered, it is time to turn to the question of why this book is really worth reading. The answer is something mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, namely the rarity of literature of any form on Britain’s baseball history – this is thus a very important work, and one that happens to be very entertaining to read. In the first half of the book, before he moves on to the topic of his Dutch endeavours, Archer weaves together first-hand descriptions of the people he felt were helping or hindering British baseball in the 1970s. Compliments and criticism are dished out in similar portions, although it should be noted that much praise is for Archer himself, as exemplified below:

“My accomplishments in five years of British baseball were formidable – night baseball, international baseball, playground and sports center programs. Thousands of people were now playing baseball solely because of my involvement.”

Passages like this might detract from the enjoyment of British readers, but since Archer seems sufficiently astute to pick up on a plethora of cultural differences between here, The Netherlands, and his homeland of the States, this will probably come as no surprise to him. Moreover, it is worth noting that gratitude may not have been flowing from the taps during this prickly period of internal politics, and thus much good work may well have been undervalued at the time.

For anyone with an interest in what baseball was like in the past in Britain, this book is highly recommended.

You can learn more about Strike Four on Facebook.

Have you read “Strike Four: Adventures in European Baseball”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you recommend any other similar books? If so, let us know.

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10 Responses to Strike Four: Adventures in European Baseball by Jeff Archer

  1. Eric de Vries September 29, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    Dear baseball guys,

    This is very funny but I only found out a year ago about a great piece of my pitching history in baseball has been published in Jeff Archer’s book: Strike four. My name: Eric de Vries, 47 years young, at the moment Pitching coach of the Dutch National Junior Team and just started Eric’s Pitching Academy (E.P.A.)a one of a kind pitching instructional school in Europe. A great adventure.

    The story continued: After an awesome season in 1981 throwing the “knuckler”, ending up with an E.R.A. of 1.73 !!! and beating Italy which hitters I drove nuts with that pitch winning the European championship I had to let that pitch go.
    My next manager after Jeff Archer in 1982 told me that I should only go back throwing the knuckle ball when “I could not cut my toe nails anymore” I had to think about that one for a while. Anyway I still listed to him and went to a circle change for the rest of my pitching career beating several records and had to retire in 1994 due to a lower back injury. Jeff Archer has been a revolutionary but great inspirer of my pitching career of which I am very thankful.

    Best regards,

    Eric de Vries

  2. Joe Gray September 30, 2008 at 9:13 am #

    Hi Eric,

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with BaseballGB. It’s great to hear the continuation of your story.

    We wish you every success with your Pitching Academy.

  3. colin kidd April 3, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

    Strike four is an excellent book. It is particularly rivetting if you are one of the many personalities featured in the book. Is there anyone else out there who knew Jeff in the UK in 1976-79 ? He also coached basketball.
    He now resides in San Diego as far as I know.

  4. Joe Gray April 4, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    Hi Colin,

    Thanks for this.

    I have also sent you an email.

    Joe

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