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Book Review: 'Intangiball' is For Students of the Game

A book review of ‘Intangiball: The Subtle Things That Win Baseball Games.’ A bit cerebral? Perhaps, but still a fascinating baseball read.

By Ron Keurajian

“Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.”
– Yogi Berra

The complexity of the game of baseball cannot be understated. Speed, strength and a keen batting eye are only part of the game.

Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were the greatest of them all, yet they were completely different types of players. Hall of Fame legend Tris Speaker once said, “The Babe was a great ballplayer but Cobb was even greater. . . . The Babe could knock your brains out, but Cobb? Cobb would drive you crazy.”

Determination, team culture and player chemistry are critical elements for a successful ballclub. They are just as important as the stolen base and home run, if not more so.
In his new book Intangiball (Simon & Schuster, 2015), author Lonnie Wheeler takes analysis of the inner workings of the game to a whole new level. Wheeler is a long-time baseball writer who has written autobiographies of Bob Gibson, Mike Piazza and Hank Aaron.

The point of the book? Wheeler summed it up like this: “The purpose was to demystify the concept of intangibles” and “to demonstrate that the human qualities we admire truly do offer competitive value to a ballclub, even if they can’t be directly quantified.”

Intangiball cover art

This book will appeal to true students of the game and who find the idiosyncrasies that make the national pastime so great. Intangiball will prove a favorite of the dedicated baseball fan.

The book delves into many facets of the modern game – from the cold unfeeling business that is the game of baseball to the “one-on-one” interaction between players. Wheeler writes that there are essentially two intangibles to the game:
“The minor feats of fundamental execution, when persistently observed add up to playing the game properly.” These, Wheeler defines as, situational intangibles.

Then there are the environmental intangibles. “These are the undocumented deeds by which players make other players better.” You know, one team member compliments the other. “Every player” slugger Jack Clark is quoted, “should be lucky enough to play one year with Joe Morgan and he’d be a better player for having done so.”

Wheeler goes on to give detailed examples of these intangibles and how it betters a ballclub.

Intangiball dedicates a lot of text to team chemistry, which is often defined as an intangible of the game but it is something vastly different.

“Good chemistry” Wheeler pens, “is when two squad members crosspollinate in such a way as to bring out the best in at least one of them.” The author goes on to demonstrate how Cincinnati Reds great and Hall of Famer Tony Perez kept things in balance between superstars Johnny Bench and Pete Rose for the benefit of all.

Chemistry, leadership,and minutia of the game are explained is an engaging and straightforward way that will keep the reader engrossed. Wheeler’s deep understanding of the game shines through in this book.

I was fascinated by the unseen intangibles that can bring a team together and make for a winning season. This book is not only a great read for the baseball fan but should prove a benefit to other fields as well. Intangiball will prove to be a valuable tool for the businessman or woman looking to bring greater cohesiveness to the corporate setting. This book hits the nail on the head on so many levels that it will be a welcome addition to any library, sports or otherwise.

If the Prussian theorist von Clausewitz were alive today, I think he would get a kick out of this book and so will you. A bit cerebral? Perhaps, but still a fascinating baseball read, especially if you like the modern game of baseball.

Ron Keurajian is a long-time contributor to SCD and the author of the award-winning Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs – A Reference Guide (McFarland Publishing 2012).