Intangiball by Lonnie Wheeler

Baseball is full of characters. At least is was. Nolan Ryan would throw at your head. Pete Rose would body slam you to the ground. Albert Belle would crush your soul. Apparently, there is a right way to play baseball, and you learn to play major league baseball from the veterans on your team. There’s no doubt that veterans in baseball have a unique, intangible value. They help rookies focus and defend their honor.

Why don’t we see these veterans like this anymore? Well, that is up for debate. Veterans blame sabermetrics. They suggest that modern baseball does not value chemistry and professional, instead it values on base percentages and wins above replacement.

Intangiball by Lonnie Wheeler attempts to address these “subtle things that win baseball games,” but it simply fails.

I can comment several different ways, but in the end, I did not find this book interesting at all. If you love the Cincinnati Reds you will like this book. The author, Lonnie Wheeler, is from Ohio and constantly uses the ball club from southern Ohio as an example of winning intangibles, though they haven’t won playoff series since the early 90’s. (To be fair to Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics have not seen much success either).

If you have romantic feelings towards Derek Jeter then you will adore this book. I fully agree Derek Jeter was a leader in New York and that his presence probably added runs and wins to the team that cannot be listed in any advanced stat. Nonetheless, you can argue that this work ethic made him valuable and that showed up in his wins above replacement.

If you are looking for a complement to the rise of sabermetrics, you will not like this book. If you are looking for a researched work on indefinable qualities of ballplayers, you will not like this book. It is popular for rugged veterans to rip sabermetrics as Ivy League nerds running a team with fancy computers, but that is simply an inaccurate view. I know this book is not an argument against moneyball, but it definitely feels like it does not understand it.

If you want to find a proper balance between old school baseball and modern day statistics, read up on manager Tony La Russa. He understood that winning teams needed peer leadership in the clubhouse, however, he also knew that preparation was key. He knew shifting defenses, adjusting lineups, knowing pitchers, and so on were essential to winning. Valuing intangibles over data or vice versa is dangerous and foolish.

This book does not give you any interesting stories or provide any remarkable theories. It offers boring stories – many lifted from old baseball books – and not much else.