Baseball America

Book Review: Flip Flop Fly Ball

Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure

By Craig Robinson

Bloomsbury, 2011

List Price: $25.00

We each have a unique relationship with baseball. Some of us can’t get enough of sabermetrics, deriving meaning from intricate formulas that crack open the sport’s mysteries. Others soak in the tradition of Fenway or Wrigley, imagining the ghosts of the greats who performed on the same dirt generations earlier. Many get lost in the acrobatic beauty of a skillfully turned double play or a sweet, smooth swing.

While many fans find both left- and right-brain appeal in the sport, few are better at wedding them than Craig Robinson, who joins baseball and infographics on his quirky Flip Flop Fly Ball website. Through his unique graphics, Robinson draws meaning out of a world of numbers and provides context for a boundless range of matters, many of which you never realized you were curious about—at least until you saw it sketched out in full color.

Earlier this year, Bloomsbury released a hardbound collection of Robinson’s vibrant creations, “Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure.” The book presents a variety of visuals, from graphs measuring each team’s use of starting pitchers and illuminating the decline of the complete game, to maps sketching out how far Barry Bonds walked in his career (43.6 miles on 2,558 free passes) or how far around the world a baseball would travel if you added up every pitch thrown over the course of a major league season (8,318.5 miles for the 2006 campaign).

If some of these sound a little out of the mainstream, welcome to Robinson’s world. An Englishman who found baseball later in life, he views the game from a different vantage point than the rest of us. As Rob Neyer puts it in the Foreword, “It’s not so odd to me that he sees things I don’t see; there are a lot of things I don’t see. What’s odd to me is that Craig sees things nobody else sees.”

Perhaps if he had grown up with the game like most American boys, he’d think more like the rest of us instead of letting his mind ponder peripheral, but often entertaining, questions. If players actually stole the bases that they steal, how much would it cost over the course of a season to replace them? How often has the Canadian anthem been the only one played before a game? What’s the Native American population of Cleveland, home of the Indians? How tall is Fenway Park’s Green Monster compared to other national landmarks?

Were he to simply ask and answer these questions in text format, it would make for interesting trivia and not much more. But his images make it easy to visualize Fenway’s Wall compared to the Statue of Liberty or how tall Alex Rodriguez’s annual salary would be in pennies.

Robinson breaks from the graphics here and there to tell the story of how an Englishman living in Germany became hooked on America’s game during the 2000 World Series between the Yankees and the Mets. Though he rooted for the underdogs from Flushing then, when he came to New York five years later he fell in love with the Yankees. After catching his first game in the Bronx he was hopelessly hooked.

In 2008, Robinson returned to the States with an extensive road trip mapped out: New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego. He logs it all, detailing his travels and off-field interactions with other fans, taken in by his accent and passion for their game. A year later, he planned another swing to hit some of the parks he’d missed, but got stranded in Toronto after being denied a visa to travel in the U.S. Though he wound up spending more time in the SkyDome—oops, Rogers Centre—than he might have preferred, it provided plenty of material for another essay.

Robinson’s writing, like many of his infographics, is irreverent and entertaining. He describes his adventures while traveling the country by Greyhound bus, meeting a young, baseball-loving soldier on his way home to Montana and a racist ex-con in Milwaukee. His favorite parks were Coors Field and Dodger Stadium. His least favorite, Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which has since been replaced by Target Field.

One gets the feeling he’d be a fascinating person to sit next to during a game. He’d undoubtedly lead you into conversations unlike any you’d ever had before at a ballpark. Odds you’ll ever get to sit next to him? Give him a minute and he could certainly calculate that. If you’re patient, he could even diagram it for you.

James Bailey reviews books for Baseball America. He can be contacted at jamesbailey@baseballamerica.com.

Majors | #2011 #Book Guide

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