18 July 2011

Craig Robinson, Flip Flop Fly Ball. 2011, Bloomsbury USA, New York.

Flip Flop Fly Ball is the story of one man’s baseball fandom. Usually, that would not be very interesting (e.g. discovers baseball card trading in schoolyard: 1983. attends first MLB game, hometown team wins world series: 1984. chasing the dragon ever since). But Robinson isn’t a usual fan. An English artist, he first noticed baseball in 2000, upon moving to Germany. Robinson describes the experience in straightforward, enjoyable essays detailing his discovering the sport and his trip Stateside to experience it, including stops in Seattle and Toronto. The bulk of the book, however, is devoted to the infographics that first made Flip Flop Fly Ball an internet sensation.

Hailed as a “mat[ing of] Edward Tufte and Bill James" by Deadspin, Robinson’s twofold gift is asking interesting questions from an outside perspective and showing us their answers in simple, often brilliant, amusing graphical form. The cover, for instance, illustrates the percentage of baseball books (among Amazon’s top 100 results for the term on a given date) which have a baseball on the cover—by turning the pitcher’s mound into a pie chart.

And while Robinson is a Yankees fan, that comes across less as something to hate than as inevitable—he also counted, and charted, the number of different caps encountered in British and German towns during his travel from mid-2009 through 2010. The Yankees had 328. The Dodgers ran second—at 37. If a European is going to follow a team, exposure dictates it will be New York. Don’t hold it against him; be glad, instead, that he has discovered the game and given us this delightful book.

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