K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches
“For those who seek to understand the sublimity of baseball,” Tyler Kepner’s new book is “a treasure trove,” said Patricia Lenihan in the Santa Fe New Mexican. Kepner, the New York Times’ top writer on the game, has cracked open baseball’s code by focusing on a place on the field where the action never stops: in the head of the pitcher, who initiates every play. The job of the man on the mound is to bamboozle the batter, and Kepner makes every reader a student of the craft by focusing on 10 pitches and some of the players who’ve been the very best at throwing each of them. “Humans striving for excellence is the point of both the game and the book,” and you might be surprised what you can learn about life by paying close attention to them.
You’ll want a baseball handy while you read, said Paul Dickson in The Wall Street Journal. Kepner details how each pitch is fingered and spun, taking his lessons from 22 Hall of Famers and many other greats. Steve Carlton shares how he threw his slider; Roy Halladay explains the cutter, a pitch he learned from Mariano Rivera. The fastball, curve, screwball, and changeup all get turns in the sun: “each is accorded its own biography and character sketch, including its evolution and how, over the years, it has gone in and out of fashion.” Kepner develops special affection for knuckleball specialists, a distinct fraternity. “They are all Jedi knights,” he writes, “possessors of a shadowy power few can understand or believe.”
“What is the best pitch of all? It’s hard to say,” said David Holahan in CSMonitor.com. “No less an authority than Ted Williams voted for the slider,” but there’s also a case to be made for the old-fashioned curveball. When Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. threw 27 in a row during the 2017 playoffs, his daring helped carry his team to the World Series. Kepner, who clearly loves the game, eventually casts his own vote for the well-placed fastball, but that doesn’t settle the matter in the least. “Like most baseball arguments, this one, thankfully, will never end.” ■