The Way of Baseball, by Shawn Green

Shawn Green Way of Baseball

The philosophies of Stoicism and Zen Buddhism have piqued my interest lately, so when I discovered that Shawn Green had a book about his experiences with Zen while playing baseball, I had to check it out. The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness At 95 MPH is a hell of a catchy title, and in this short tome, Green talks about his experiences with finding Zen and stillness throughout his major league career.

Green mentions that he had had some previous interest in Eastern philosophies, but it was during his struggles at the plate early in his career in Toronto that he discovered how it could be applied in baseball. Green talks about hitting off the tee, repeatedly over weeks and weeks until it became a form of meditation. Hence forth, tee hitting became a staple in Green’s career.

When Green made the move from Toronto to the bigger stage in Los Angeles, he lost his hold on the stillness he had found with the Blue Jays. With a big contract and big expectations, Green found himself ruled by ego, pressuring himself to hit home runs, rather than just letting them happen. Consequently, his first year in LA turned out to be a disastrous season, and Green talks about the work it took to let go of the ego and return to stillness.

It’s a fascinating book, overall. If you’re familiar with the fundamentals of Zen, you won’t learn anything new about the philosophy in this book. It is interesting, however, to see those ideas applied to baseball. The book is short and a fairly easy read, too. If this kind of thing interests you, this one’s worth reading.

Swing and a Hit, by Paul O’Neill

I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of former Yankee Paul O’Neill’s memoir, Swing and a Hit: Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me. While I could never bring myself to root for the Yankees, I did enjoy watching O’Neill play during his time in New York. He was one of those player who, when watching, you could always tell that he cared about the game and about playing it well.

This memoir, published in May 2022, focuses a lot on O’Neill’s thoughts and perspectives on hitting. And he talks about everything hitting-related — about his stride, his leg kick, his approach at the plate early in the at-bat versus with two strikes, facing left-handed pitchers, hitting against the shift, his conversations with other players in the game about their own approaches to hitting, and so on.

I found myself glad that I had just read Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting not too long ago, because this book by O’Neill felt very much like a complement to the Williams text. In fact, Paul O’Neill references The Science of Hitting multiple times in his own work. There was little doubt, as I made my way through Swing and a Hit, that O’Neill worshipped Ted Williams. He even goes so far as to a phone call he received from Williams as speaking with “the voice of God.”

The book wasn’t entirely about hitting, though, as Paul O’Neill also chronicles his life and baseball career. He discusses his father’s influence, which was substantial in his life and career. O’Neill also delves into his relationships and views on players and managers around him. He discusses what it was like to be a player with the Reds when the Pete Rose gambling case was making headlines, describes what it was like to play with Derek Jeter, and also what a terrifying experience it was to face Randy Johnson’s pitching.

All-in-all, while I enjoyed the book, I do feel it was a bit lacking on the actual memoir side of things. It felt more like a MasterClass on hitting a baseball — again, like a complement to Ted Williams’s book. It’s worth the read if you’re into that sort of perspective, but if you’re looking for something more personal, this book won’t quite get you there.