Steve Stone is one of those odd public figures, in sports or elsewhere, who can be simultaneously one of his field’s best minds and also one of its most pompous blowhards.
He’s like that hipster friend who knows more about music than you could ever hope to learn, but—god damn, can you stop talking about the time you yelled “Secret Santa Cruz” at a Lifter Puller show and they played it two songs later? The Bob Nanna version is ten times better anyway.
Stone is equal parts baseball-brilliant and Olympic-caliber name-dropper in his new book, “Said in Stone: Your Game, My Way”—a work sure to bore ninety-two percent of the US population and turn off another seven percent with its semi-self-indulgence.
But for the one percent whose appreciation of America’s pastime goes beyond the Old Style on breezy June afternoons but whose knowledge of the game doesn’t go beyond an intermediate level, Stone’s book will be a good read, stuffed with entertaining anecdotes and comprehensive baseball theory.
Set up as a sort of catharsis for Stone, the book mates concrete strategy and philosophy with personal examples to illustrate.
The strategy is right on—as one would expect from a guy seemingly capable of announcing plays before those plays have even happened—but much of it will not be new to those reading the book. After all, if you’re inclined to read 242 pages of a baseball book, you’re probably already pretty well-versed in the ins and outs of the game.
Which leads to Stone’s biggest problem: Throughout the book, he’s prone to saying things like: “My goal is to help you to understand a very complicated game that, on the surface, looks quite simple. Baseball is similar to chess: once you learn how the pieces and players move, you can understand the game.”
As someone who reads a whole lot, I’m already frustrated—can someone please compare something they want to show is complicated to something other than chess? But as someone who watches an awful lot of baseball (and as a lifelong Cubs fan, I literally mean an awful lot), I feel condescended to. I suspect everyone who reads this book will already appreciate the complexity of the game.
As for the personal anecdotes, there are some good ones here. One comes during the “Third Base” chapter, when Stone—for reasons that are still a bit foggy—delves into the merits of wearing a protective cup.
He asks Roy McMillan (who apparently didn’t know who Stone was) if he always wore a cup, to which the former Reds shortstop replied: “Son, I’ve been around this game long enough that I wear a cup when I watch a game on TV.”
Stone then proceeds to another slapstick anecdote of his days pitching for the Orioles, when his third-baseman Doug DeCinces charged what he thought would be a sacrifice bunt, but that the hitter pulled back and swung, one-hopping a hard grounder at DeCinces’ unprotected sensitive region.
The lesson? “If you don’t wear a protective cup, you have to have magnificent hands.”
But even many of the anecdotes can get a bit windy. One that feels especially prickly is this, from the “Catching” chapter. Stone was pitching against the Indians, with Rick Dempsey behind the plate. The Orioles had raced to a 4-0 lead over Cleveland in the second inning, and Stone was pitching to the American League Rookie of the Year, Joe Charboneau with a runner on base.
“I had every intention of winning the game,” Stone reflects dully. Though Stone was hitting his spots, he writes, Dempsey came to the mound and said: “Hey, whatever you do, don’t hang a curveball to this guy because he’s the only guy in their lineup who can hit a homerun.”
Of course, that’s precisely what happens on the next pitch, and the end result “was a no-decision in a game I probably would have won.”
Now, to be fair, Stone does give his catcher credit for his twenty-five-win season that earned him the AL Cy Young Award, and does acknowledge that it was he, not Dempsey, who hung the curve.
But the flatness of the dialogue, and the fact that Stone fails to mention the fact that his Orioles were still ahead at that point, and that a couple innings later they’d take on another run to make it 5-2 until Stone gave up a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to tie it up, makes one question some of the credibility of the narratives.
Still, this is all probably excessively harsh for what the book sets out to be, and what it is.
Stone knows more about baseball than virtually anyone, and he’s got the credentials—almost half a century involved in the game, spent on the mound as a Cy Young winner and in the broadcast booth on both sides of the city—to back it up. And in that near half century, he’s amassed a card catalog of characters and stories, many of which beg to be told.
“Said in Stone: Your Game, My Way”
Triumph Books, 242 pages, $22.95