Jason Kendall is one of those guys you probably love if he played for your team. If he played for your opponent, you undoubtedly hated him.
In this entertaining and fascinating nitty-gritty examination of modern-day baseball, Kendall, for instance:
• Extols the virtue of fighting and gives instructions on how and when to do it.
•Describes how he tells opponents to “f—- off” if they courteously say hello.
•Calls out managers in general for not really knowing what they’re doing
•Says most sports columnists and talk-radio guys “know nothing…but won’t stop talking.”
Somehow, though, Kendall manages to come off as a likeable guy, and certainly a well-qualified guide to our national pastime as it currently exists. Perhaps that’s because he’s a homie, having played for the Kansas City Royals in 2010. Dunno. Anyway, as the season surges toward the finish, with the Royals at least in the discussion for the playoffs, local fans might find this a particularly intriguing time for this nitty-gritty examination.
Kendall played catcher. He tore his rotator cuff and eventually retired after trying to make it back with the Royals in 2012. He played 13 seasons for other teams before that, making the All-Star game three times, collecting more than 2,000 hits, and generally earning a reputation as one of the toughest guys playing the game. “‘Old-school’ and ‘throwback player’ don’t encompass Jason as a player,” said Mike Macfarlane, another former Royals catcher. “The game consumed him and he played it with an unparalleled passion. You can’t emulate him. It would destroy many players.”
In this book, written with Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star, Kendall gets deeply into how the game is played and how it ought to be played, at least according to him. Baseball players and coaches could pick up an awful lot, for instance, from his tips about baserunning, just to pick one example. Kendall also rants about how modern-day players don’t prepare themselves well enough for games, how they’re not tough enough, and how they need to pay their dues.
But it’s not a manual for players. The book is written for fans, to help them pick up some of the detail that might otherwise escape them.
You don’t always just want to watch the ball, Kendall says: You want to watch how the fielders position themselves. You want to think about little adjustments that the hitter is making, that the pitcher is making, and that everybody else is making in response. One fascinating thought: Everybody out there pretty much knows what everybody else is doing, so all the secrecy and signs and all that - it all comes down to just getting the job done. There really aren’t many secrets.
For instance, almost all teams use some variations of the same signs, which Kendall describes in small type over seven pages near the book’s end. There’s also a glossary of baseball terms, including the s-word and three variations of it, as well as terms such as duckfart and cock fastball. This is a book for adults.
Kendall does not address performance-enhancing drugs, which in any event seems to be less of an issue in baseball these days. He was accused in a nasty divorce case of taking Adderall, an ADHD drug, to enhance his performance —an allegation to which he responded by calling his ex-wife a drunk and a drug addict who abandoned their children, regularly punched him and cheated on him. Aside from that, Mr. and Mrs. Kendall, how was the marriage?
Well, Kendall does discuss cheating — stealing signs, keeping scuffed balls in play, and the like. He advocates all of them, although he says if he caught an opponent stealing signs, he’d insist that the pitcher hit the next batter with a pitch.
Despite all the tough-guy talk, Kendall actually softens just a tad by dedicating the book to his daughters, “My Magooski and my Princess — Daddy loves you.” The last page of the book is a photo of him walking on the field holding their hands.
And the last tip of the book, what he calls the “most important thing in the entire book”: Watch every pitch, and if you’ve got a kid with you, put yourself between the kid and home plate. Foul balls can seriously injure people.
“Fans can be closer to home plate than the third baseman. He’s wearing a baseball glove, and he’s one of the best third basemen in the world; you’re holding a beer and a cell phone and your kid is in harm’s way…nothing’s more important than looking out for that kid sitting next to you.”