The annual begins with a series of short player profiles for most of the Reds' starting 25. I think these were written by Joel, and they manage to be informative and sophisticated in content while remaining extremely readable and engaging, with minimal mentions of the so-called advanced statistics that happen whenever I write something. The piece by Manny Parra, for example, highlights his change in repertoire (which I only recently discovered) and gives a measured appraisal of how this should affect our hopes for him in 2014. I thought his piece on Brandon Phillips was similarly excellent; it notes that his decline might be overstated because 2011 was a career year for Brandon, and because he played hurt for so much of the latter half of 2013. At the same time, it recognizes his limitations. Billy Hamilton's profile was easily the most entertaining, but I'll save the punchline for when you buy your copy!
After the profiles are a range of articles that include some that are fairly standard fare for a team annual (not that they're not excellent!), such as evaluations of where the Reds' fielding ranks in the team's history, a celebration of Joey Votto and his Hall of Fame prospects, and looks at some of the upcoming Reds minor leaguers.
But there were also some really original gems in here too. Here are a few (and apologies to those I don't mention...these were just my favorites!):
- Scott Hoberg of Red Reporter provided a fantastic, practical guide to effective ways to save some money when attending games at Great American Ballpark, down to recommended parking garages as well as good places for pre-game beers. I'm definitely going to consult this when I'm in Cincinnati this July for a game--it's on my iphone's kindle app!
- Bryan Harris (also of Red Reporter) got the chance to interview Sam LeCure, which was just fantastic. My favorite part was how he answered the question of the importance of the catcher to his performance, because I've never heard another pitcher say it before. After lauding his catchers and noting his confidence in Mesoraco, he dropped this: "But, if you ask me about a certain instance or at-bat in a past game, I can probably tell you almost everything about it except for who's catching."
- Sean Lahman (of the Lahman baseball database) provided a terrific recap and commentary on the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose's banishment from baseball. I'm a little younger than Sean. While I do remember Pete Rose's record-breaking hit (I keenly remember listening on the radio), my direct experiences with Pete Rose have come almost entirely after his banishment in 1989. And frankly, I have a pretty negative opinion of him, so I almost skipped this chapter. But I'm glad I didn't, because I learned a great deal about the events that occurred back then. Furthermore, I've really enjoyed reading about Lahman's personal journey as he wrestled with how to respond to his boyhood hero as he came to grips with Rose's deception, and how his views have changed over the two-plus decades since.
- Brian Welch of Chris Sabo's Goggles scored an interview with Chris Sabo himself that is another must-read gem. Sabo has a reputation as a bit of an odd cat, and I guess that does come across in the interview. But I found him to be really interesting. The best part was his dissection of the 1990 Oakland Athletics, who the Reds defeated in that year's World Series. He makes a compelling case that the Reds really weren't tremendous underdogs in that series, citing strong right-handed pitching to negate their right-handed lineup, and the fact that the 1990 Reds were a very athletic, multidimensional team. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I found Sabo surprisingly insightful.
A word on the format. I made the switch over to e-book readers about a year ago, starting a kindle app on my phone/ipad, and then I recently got a kindle paperwhite. I love them. For whatever reason, reading on an e-reader seems to fit into my life much better (one of the big advantages is that I can read without a light on when other people in my house are sleeping). I loved that this annual was designed from the ground up to play nice with e-readers. The only place where I found that it did NOT work well was in the tables, which were consistently too small to be visible when viewed on my kindle. When I took a look at the PDF version tonight, however, they are far easier to read. That said, there aren't a lot of tables or graphics in this book--it really is a book--so this doesn't present a major problem.
So, hopefully this has convinced you to go pick up your copy. At $3, it's very inexpensive, and it provides a lot of value in its content. Granted, the 2014 season has already begun. But we're not so far into the season that our views on many of the Reds players have changed (or, at least, they shouldn't have yet). Furthermore, much of the content is pretty timeless, including many of the chapters I highlighted above. And if that doesn't move you, supporting projects like this will make them more likely to happen again in the future!
Disclosure: I've known Joel for a while (as much as you can know anyone on the internet, anyway), and have worked with him on a few projects in the past. That said, I was not in any way involved in this project, did not consult with him while writing the review, and am reviewing my own personal bought-and-paid-for copy.