New book punctures some old baseball myths


As the baseball postseason lurches on to the League Championship Series this week, Andrew Torrez wouldn't be at all surprised if you were watching the contests with antiquated notions about the grand old game.

And it's not necessarily your fault, says Torrez, a Catonsville native and the author of "Off Base: New Insights Into An Old Game" (Woodford Press, 256 pages, $24.95), a new book that challenges not only what we know about baseball, but also how we know it.

"We [baseball fans] are not going to believe something to be true because somebody tells us that it is," said Torrez, 25, a Washington attorney.

Among the things many baseball fans believe to be true, but aren't, according to Torrez, include:

Batting averages are a key indicator of a player's ability.

Former Orioles general manager Pat Gillick is a genius.

Don Mattingly and Joe Carter should be in the Hall of Fame.

Scouts and sportswriters know more than fans about baseball.

Sportswriters, in particular, come in for criticism from Torrez, who says that the scribes who cover games don't challenge what they're told by insiders.

"When the White House issues a press release, you [reporters] take it and investigate the issues and go to the other side to see what they think," said Torrez, who coaches a debate team at his alma mater, Catonsville High School. "With baseball, there's no opposition, so everything is taken at face value."

Very little about "Off Base" is conventional, even the way the book came about. Torrez, who also runs a computer software company with his wife, has regularly posted his thoughts on baseball with a message group. One of the members of the group happened to be the editor-in-chief of Woodford, a San Francisco-based publishing house, and Torrez was offered a deal.

"I got really lucky," said Torrez, who took 11 months to write the book. "I can't discount the role that just plain, old dumb luck played in this. All good books start with an idea, and my idea was to take the stat-head manifesto to the masses. I hope they'll like it."

The numbers game

With just over a quarter of the NFL season out of the way, all of the league's television carriers (ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN) are reporting double-digit upswings in their Nielsen ratings, and isn't that just good news for everyone?

CBS, for instance, gleefully reported yesterday that its overnight ratings, which measure numbers from the nation's biggest markets, are up 13 percent from the same time last year, through Sunday's games. Fox's are up 11 percent from last year, a figure that does not include this past weekend's games.

Meanwhile, the Disney family appears to be getting its money's worth. Not including last night's game, ABC's Monday night package, airing an hour later than last year, is up 13 percent from 1998, and the ratings for ESPN's Sunday night slate are up a whopping 30 percent, not counting Sunday's Green Bay-Tampa Bay game.

From the screening room

A couple of taped programs are well worth the effort to find them tonight, even with NBC's coverage of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series (Channel 11, 8 o'clock).

First up is a splendid edition of the NFL Films series, "Lost Treasures," in which the league's official propaganda wing goes through its vast mine of films to find heretofore unearthed nuggets.

Tonight's gold strike involves sounds that have not been heard for more than 30 years, if at all, for a variety of reasons. "The Lost Sounds" begins in the training camp of the 1967 Baltimore Colts, where NFL Films first matched sound to film, with footage of then-coach Don Shula putting the Hosses through their paces.

Later, the program picks up priceless segments with legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi, former Dallas quarterback Don Meredith and a memorable exchange between former Giants coach Allie Sherman and a young Fran Tarkenton. The show airs at 8 p.m. on ESPN Classic and is a definite VCR keeper.

At the top of this month's HBO "Real Sports" magazine, airing at 10 p.m., is a gripping interview with Denny McLain, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season (in 1968), who has been in and out of prison over the past 14 years, including a current stint for embezzlement.

Anchor Bryant Gumbel, who heads back to morning television next month, confirms his status as one of television's best interviewers, with a compassionate but firm interrogation of the former Detroit Tigers star, conducted from a federal prison in Pennsylvania.

Larry Merchant's piece on cockfighting, which includes an undercover taping of a Louisiana match, is chilling, and James Brown's profile of San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan is solid and amusing. The only clunker of the four stories is Derek McGinty's look at the ramifications of Title IX on sports, which focuses entirely on men as victims, rather than taking a balanced view.

By the way, hope you caught a fascinating feature on 16-year-old Canadian in-line skater Nicky Adams on Sunday's Gravity Games telecast on NBC.

Producer Kathie Ferrall was given 13 minutes to tell the story of Adams, who watched as his abusive father was accidentally stabbed to death on Christmas Day 1992. The piece, told in color and black and white and without narration, was gritty and moving, and Ferrall should at least receive an Emmy nomination for it.

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