⚾ ‘A Damn Near Perfect Game: Reclaiming America’s Pastime’ by Joe Kelly & Rob Bradford (2023)

There are no shortage of books and articles lamenting the decline of baseball. The general thesis goes that as analytics have become widespread, teams have started optimizing how they play towards achieving the most valuable types of plays – home runs and strikes. This has led to a series of entirely rational actions that have cumulatively resulted in a fundamental shift in baseball with the ball ending up in play far less often. These rational actions by teams and individuals have resulted in an irrational outcome for the sport and the league as a whole – a much worse ‘product’ for fans and viewers. It’s fairly clear however that this isn’t the only issue affecting baseball’s popularity however with the length of games, poor TV access, and other issues playing their part.

What I haven’t seen much of is anyone asking ‘well how do we make baseball better then?’. Enter Joe Kelly, a 2-time World Series winning pitcher currently with the White Sox.

A Damn Near Perfect Game is Kelly’s love letter to the sport as it can (or should) be. Kelly is a passionate guy. He’s a baseball lover who wants everyone else to all love baseball too. A Damn Near Perfect Game is a lot of different things. It’s partly insider account of what it’s really like to play in the majors (and stand around in the bullpen). It’s partly an autobiographical tale and a way for Kelly to capture who he is as a player and a person at this point in his life. And it’s partly a call to action for changes to increase the popularity of baseball and the experience of fans. The book is packed with ideas for how to do this from encouraging players to speak out, to seeking out a new generation of innovate owners, to improving the fan experience in the ballpark.

The later part of the book includes a wide bunch of players, coaches, mangers and fans giving their perspective on what they love about the game. It’s an interesting approach to extending the conversation the books seeks to ignite in readers. While it can get a little repetitive, it’s a good device to show what baseball can mean to so many people and some common ideas on what can be done to improve it.

Overall, the book is an enjoyable read. The writing captures Kelly’s voice and enthusiasm well. Kelly’s passion is infectious, his anecdotes are entertaining and his calls to action are compelling. Whether baseball can ever regain it’s status as America’s pastime is debatable but Kelly certainty makes a passionate case that it should very much try to do so.

A Damn Near Perfect Game is out on February 28th, 2023.

Kelly’s most famous moment involves provoking a mass brawl

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