Andrew Torrez has a simple rule of thumb: “You can write something that’s 95 percent correct, and the other 5 percent will attract all of the complaints.” So let’s go with the flow. In his new book, Off Base: New Insights Into an Old Game (Woodford Press, $24.95), Torrez contends that the Baltimore Orioles were ill-advised to have agreed to pay 34-year-old outfielder/third baseman B.J. Surhoff $20 million over four years following a 1998 bidding war with the Pittsburgh Pirates. At that age, Torrez argues, most players are in terminal decline. “Losers,” he smirks at the O’s management.
Oops. At the all-star break, Surhoff was batting .342 and was on a pace to drive in 140 runs. Fortunately, the other 95 percent of Off Base is holding up much better. Not everything Torrez contends is brand-new, but a lot of it is. Even in a field as argumentative as baseball’s hot-stove league, Torrez stands out as an angry young man. “I’m a lawyer,” he says. “Arguing comes naturally.”
Among other things, he proposes leading off the batting order with a team’s best hitter and progressing, batter by batter, to the worst. (It maximizes at-bats for a team’s top talent.) And he blames teams for kowtowing to media sensibilities, shying away from bold but risky off-season moves for fear of attracting criticism.
Torrez, 25, is a commentator unique to the Internet age. A native of suburban Baltimore and a lifelong Orioles fan, Torrez began hanging out in cyberspace back in 1990, the pre-Web dark ages in which usenet message groups and bulletin boards ruled the domain. That’s where Torrez found an active and contentious baseball scene.
“I posted, in an informed way, what the experts in the newspaper had told me—and I got my brains beat in,” he says. “The Internet is unlike any other exchange of information. You state whatever you want to, it’s in black and white, and then people quote it back to you line by line and rebut everything as soon as you pause to think. If you can’t back up every clause of every sentence, you get torn to bits. I think it will change the way a lot of young writers get started.”
It certainly did for Torrez. Woodford Press editor Phil Finch discovered Torrez while reading his searing rhetoric on an Orioles e-mail list. Torrez wrote Off Base while clerking for a Maryland Court of Appeals judge and while toiling on antitrust litigation as an associate with the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling.
Despite his plum jobs and a Harvard law degree, Torrez dons a populist mantle, writing that “most ‘experts’ aren’t any smarter and don’t have any greater access to information than you do.” Living up to that credo, he has set up an e-mail account for critics to write him “hate mail.” (It’s email@example.com.) Even though the book is barely out, he says, “I’ve gotten a few already.” — Louis Jacobson