Whenever I review an audiobook, I comment on both the book itself and the narration, as poor narration can make or break a book, even if it's a good one in print.
Books like this lend themselves especially well to audio format, as they're essentially a collection of stories. If done well, it's like listening to an eloquent old-timer tell fascinating stories from his past. If done poorly, it's a bit like the auditory equivalent of watching grass grow. While I wouldn't say the narration here is quite as bad as the latter analogy, it's closer to it than to the former. Michael Kramer is dry and passionless in his narration. He inject no color into the stories. He's simply... reading. Quite boring. These professional narrators just leave me cold. They have clear voices and good diction, but no character. They would have been much better off getting someone from the baseball world to read the book. Veteran broadcaster Charley Steiner, who narrated the excellent umpiring chronicle, "As They See 'em" would have been perfect.
As to the book itself, it's a little boring as well. Perhaps it's just because I've been involved in baseball all my life, but most of the codes were pretty obvious and well-known. The book is heavy on anecdotes, many of which are not nearly as interesting as one would think. Anecdotes are a good thing, but he provides too many of them for each of the "codes." He seems intent on having about five – lengthy! – examples for each one, where one or two, perhaps three, would have been fine. This makes the book drag on a bit, and leaves the reader often thinking, "okay... I get it!" It could have been more effective by grouping them into themes rather than specific "codes," and then having different examples within the theme.
If you're new to baseball, yet very interested in it, you will probably enjoy this book – if the narration doesn't put you to sleep, you will probably enjoy it. If you're a baseball veteran, you won't find too much new inside.
Both veteran umpires and casual baseball fans alike will find much of interest in this book. It's well written, thoroughly researched, and the narration is perfect (it's always better when they get people involved in the subject to read – Charley Steiner is a veteran baseball broadcaster – rather than one of all those bland, dry "professional narrators"!). If you like baseball, even if you don't consider yourself a fan of the umpires, you will enjoy this book.
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