Book Review: Flip Flop Fly Ballby Kevin Lai
July 05, 2011
In my perfect world, infographics should be designed to tell a story. To make a point. They should be well thought out and displayed in a way that makes sense to the reader. It can be a slippery slope for the designer to incorporate too much artistic design to the point where the graph does not lend any valuable insight. Other times, it might feel like we're in a board meeting on the 46th floor.
In Craig Robinson's infographic baseball adventure, Flip Flop Fly Ball, Robinson is able to please both sides of the spectrum by displaying graphics that are easily readable, but also visually appealing to the masses. Robinson, an artist originally from the U.K., has a great point of view as a fan that didn't grow up with baseball; he's able to ask questions that others would not have thought of.
With his background, he's able to use graphics in unique and simple ways that make sense and are enjoyable to view at the same time. He's able to present well designed graphics for baseball's complex team history. In other graphics, he shows the reader in the quickest way, why he loves Ichiro, or the relevance of the wave at baseball games.
Without a doubt, the trivia found in this book will even have the most hardcore fan feeling satisfied or amazed by a new fun fact. I know I had many 'I didn't know that...' moments.
Through many of his graphics, Robinson tries to tackle many historical topics in baseball. In one specific graphic, he shows the movement of teams in baseball, and how the flow of leagues in American professional baseball has gotten to its current location.
While this can be quite a daunting challenge, especially when given just one page for a layout, Robinson does so in a way that allows the viewer to easily follow it. For instance, the Atlanta Braves' roots coming from the Boston Red Caps. Robinson uses the same technique of following teams from their roots for three major international leagues (Japan, Korea and Taiwan) and other independent leagues in the U.S. (i.e. the All-American Girls Professional League and the Pacific Coast League).
Though I can get the same information from reading Wikipedia pages on teams' movements from one city to the next, Flip Flop Fly Ball has all the history on one clean looking graphic. I believe all viewers of these graphics will have the same type of satisfaction I have had. I finally have a clear visual to explain to a friend how the jumble of organizations rotated out of the cities of Washington D.C. or Milwaukee.
One thing you will also notice about some of Robinson's graphics is his great likening of baseball events in terms of distances. For instance, he equates Barry Bonds' career total walks into one straight line that would take him from AT&T Park all the way to central California. Or how Alex Rodriguez's annual salary could be seen from outer space if stacked in pennies.
The point of all these distance equating is simple; it gives context or perspective into just how large these figures are. It adds a bit of humor to the topic as well. We can be amazed about a player's talent in terms of distances, or just how far pitches are thrown by pitchers over a course of a season, if added up all together (I won't give you the answer, but just know it's across the globe).
Another one of Robinson's main topics is his infographics on stadiums and ballparks. I find these graphics the most useful and relevant, as I haven't been to many of the major league's greatest ballparks. From these graphics, I can learn neat trivia on these ballparks that I would never have even have thought of to ask.
I now know which base line each home team's dugout is on. I now know the home plate orientation of each ballpark (and I'm still very curious as to why none are facing west - my best guess is the league wants to limit glare in batters' eyes?). I strangely know which ballparks allow smoking, in case I ever desire to pick up the habit. I also know the Green Monster at Fenway is comparable to the O from the Hollywood sign, or NFL regulation goal posts.
Another type of graphic found in Robinson's baseball adventure can be described as simple statement graphics. They range in terms of topic, but they all share the same quality: the viewer will understand Robinson's point of view or opinion on the matter in an instant.
These serve more as a basis for humor, as many of them conjure up one of those 'that is so true!' type of feelings. Some of them almost act like inside jokes to fans, like the land of Bradenia graphic, or how you can be a fan of the psuedo-yet-highly-popular team, Whoever Beats New York, which hails from all over the U.S. outside of the Tri-State area. He even writes a short narrative as the bird who was hit by Randy Johnson's fastball.
Robinson also includes some shorts stories that I found very interesting and unique; it's not everyday you hear about an Englishman's journey to becoming an adult baseball fan. My favorite is his narrative on his first major road trip visiting several ballparks. It was great to live vicariously and also listen to his descriptions of ballparks I have been to and compare my experiences to his.
All in all, Robinson mixes in a great combination of graphics that will satisfy a wide range of fans. It's a great book for the coffee table (I bet I will see it soon at the counters of Urban Outfitters), as casual fans will definitely appreciate the trivia and visual aesthetics of Robinson's infographics. It's also a book that packs a ton of information for real fans—I find myself looking at the graphics over and over because I know I will find more value each time I pick up the book up.
References and Resources
Flip Flop Fly Ball comes out today, July 5.
If you would like other examples of Craig's infographic work, be sure to take a look at his work here. He also maintains a blog where you currently get a glimpse of life in Mexico City and going to Diablos Rojos games.