Book Review: Strike Three!

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Strike Three!: My Years in the 'Pen

By Thomas A. Tomsick, M.D.

Part memoir, part statistical analysis, Strike Three! is a unique look at the mid-60s Indians pitching staff.

The initial trade of Rocky Colavito in 1959 is frequently used as the line of demarcation between the golden age of Cleveland baseball and the dark ages that lasted until Jacobs Field opened. But during much of the 1960s, the Indians were pretty competitive; for most of the decade, the team was usually around .500, even with the almost-constant threat of relocation. And most of that success was due to its talented group of young fireballers.

The author, who played amateur baseball in Cleveland, was hired by the Indians in 1964 to serve as a bullpen catcher after graduating from high school. Unlike in today's game, where on-field staff are usually former professional players, bullpen catchers in those days were often young amateur players. For four seasons Tomsick not only had an inside view of the workings of a major-league team, but also caught one of the best pitching staffs in Cleveland history. 

The first part of the book was a look at the author's experience with the Indians.The little details of his experience were most interesting to me, including the nicknames the players gave to each other, pitching coach Early Wynn's quips, and life in a major-league clubhouse.

Tomsick's debut with the club in '64 coincided with both Sam McDowell's breakout season and the debuts of Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert. Amazingly enough, the Indians also had a young Tommy John on their roster; had the Indians kept John instead of dealing him to get Rocky Colavito back, who knows how close they could have come to winning a pennant, or even just competing for one. But despite that ill-advised trade, the Indians still had one of the best group of starters in baseball. Tomsick, in the second half of the book, goes into detail how good the staff was, especially when it came to strikeouts. He also compares general trends in strikeouts, including a detailed look at how the 1969 mound height changes affected the game. He makes the point that the lowering of mound wasn't the only major change that season; the strike zone, which had been enlarged for the 1963 season, was shrunk back to its previous size.

The last few chapters of the book compares the Indians staff with other great strikeout rotations over the years, taking into effect changes between the different eras. The McDowell-Siebert-Tiant trio were prolific strikeout artists in a relatively low-strikeout era, and the author goes to great lengths to show this. So even though the mid-to-late '60s were very friendly to pitchers in general, the Tribe staff was rather unique for their time, and in any other time for that matter.

Strike Three! is a nice combination of statistical analysis as well as historical anecdotes. It's a great resource for  for someone (like me) who grew up long after  "Sudden Sam" and Gary "Ding Dong" Bell, and will provide some interesting new tidbits for those who followed those teams religiously. And its look at the larger trends in pitching will interest those looking for hard baseball analysis.

Purchasing info for Strike Three! can be found here.

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