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Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century Hardcover – May 3, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barra's primary intent with his latest book is to spark intelligent, well-reasoned debate about some of the most contentious, if essentially insignificant, issues in pro sports. And who better to make such an effort? Writing for both the establishment (the Wall Street Journal) and the counterculture (Salon.com), Barra constantly challenges his readers to think outside the bounds of conventional sports analysis, using a seemingly innocuous but ultimately deadly combination of statistics ("the life blood of the sport") and common sense. Barra writes for thinking people, not simply by slaughtering baseball's sacred cows, but by demonstrating to the reader that anything less would be dishonest. Barra rips Babe Ruth's record to pieces, demonstrating at once that Ruth was a tremendous hitter, but that the accepted account of him as savior and "lively ball" progenitor of baseball is "an American creation myth." He uses a dazzling array of statistical comparisons among second basemen to vividly illustrate that the most popular argument against Jackie Robinson's inclusion in the Hall of Fame that he wouldn't be there if he had been white is nothing but racist rhetoric. Barra even manages to undermine his own religiously held belief in the superiority of Willie Mays, using a thorough statistical analysis to demonstrate Mickey Mantle's incomparable greatness. It is a rare sportswriter who can cite Branch Rickey and Irish writer/revolutionary Se n O'Faol in in the same work, but Barra does it with ease for an audience that has learned to demand nothing less.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Barra, a popular sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Salon.com, holds forth on a variety of baseball subjects and debates, from the mysterious disappearance of the high leg-kick by pitchers, to spirited comparisons of all-time greats like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, Roger Clemens and Lefty Grove, and Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, to an unveiling of Barra's stealth candidate for Player of the Century. (You'll never guess.) With an introduction by Bob Costas and even a couple of football opinion pieces thrown in for good measure; for all sports collections.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (May 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312265565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312265564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,325,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book reviews a lot of baseball myths and debates and sheds new light on ones the experts thought were settled. As a Yankee fan from the 1950s and 1960s I was particularly interested in the chapters on Ruth and DiMaggio and questions about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Barra address questions such as: Was Mays really a better all-around player than Mantle? Should Joe Jackson be in the Hall of Fame? Should Roger Maris be in the Hall of Fame? Was the asterisk on Maris' home run record a myth? Would Jackie Robinson have made the Hall of Fame if he were not black? Was Juan Marichal slighted when compared with Koufax and Gibson? How great was Mike Schmidt? Barra address these and many other issues with sometimes startling but always convincing agruments and statistics to back up his points.
Many of the debates have been clouded by emotion and Barra tries to take a very dispassionate and objective approach to the issues. The result is some new and refreshing ideas that provoke thought and controversy!
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Format: Hardcover
This book has a great premise, which is to use statistics to question some of the "great" debates of baseball and generally shed some new light on the subject. It is a fascinating idea. However to me it feels rather poorly executed.
The chapters seem to go from statistics to anecdotes, to statistics, to anecdotes with no clear path. The problem with this approach is that Barra never even settles on one or another as being his criteria for settling his dabates. On this level this book is highly unsatisfying. For example in comparing Ted Williams to Joe DiMaggio he "proves" that one batter was clearly the statistically only to decide that he would choose the inferior player for intangible reasons if he could go back in time. Considering that in other chapters he uses numbers almost exclusively, to argue that the 1919 Black Sox shouldn't have been favorites no matter takes away the necessary bias. Essentially the author uses numbers that prove his point, but often only presents the data he puts forth in his argument.
In the chapter I found most unsettling the author examined the legacy of the 1986 New York Mets. He does nothing less than insult Sid Fernandez for his weight problems and dismisses Dwight Gooden's career tail off as solely due to drug and alcohol problems. He compares Gooden's early career to that of Roger Clemens and rightly points out that Gooden was the better pitcher at the end of 1986 based on statistics and essentially relates his subsequent pitching performances to his personal demons. However if the reader were presented with career statistics they would see that Gooden pitched approximately 500 innings in his first 2 seasons. The man led the National League in innings pitched in his second season with 276.
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Format: Hardcover
The book's jacket makes it sound like some revolutionary tome that uses completely original thinking to slaughter baseball's sacred cows. But a quick flip through the text reveals a collection of ideas that Bill James was bandying about back in the 1980s. Tim Raines was a great player? Mike Schmidt was one of the greatest of all time? Statistical analysis favors a peak Mantle over a peak Mays? Babe Ruth wasn't as much of a God and savior as many believe? Valid points all, but these ideas, each the subject of a Barra chapter, can all be found in James's Abstract work. So this book seems oddly stale to me, and will feel the same, I think, for many well-read baseball fans.
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By A Customer on May 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the sullied craft of journalism the best, most insightful writing can always be found on the sports page. In Allen Barra we have one of the finest sportswriters in America today. Always asking the hard questions and giving in return uncompromising answers, here is a writer who has given us a book that might restore our fundamental appetite for sports as we once knew it. The questions we argued about as kids. I recall reading somewhere that if we had the answer to the Mays-Mantle-Snyder question, the universe would be a simpler more orderly place. Well, here is Barra's answer, hopefully making our universe a more orderly place. I thoroughly enjoyed this pleasurable book.
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Format: Hardcover
Allen Barra, a terrific columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Salon, unfortunately disappoints in this book. Most of the book consists of recycled,unoriginal conclusions. Yes, most knowledgable baseball fans know Babe Ruth didn't save baseball single-handedly and was a womanizer, Mantle was a better offensive player than Mays, Ted Williams was a better hitter than Joe Dimaggio, etc... As another reviewer pointed out, most of these ideas were originally proposed by Bill James years ago. I cannot recommend this book.

Furthermore and far worse, Barra makes several factual errors in Clearing the Bases. In his misguided attempt to tear Babe Babe Ruth down, he incorrectly states that Ruth benefited from good homerun parks in Boston and New York. This is absolutely false. One thing Barra didn't learn from Bill James: Fenway Park in 1919 was a very tough homerun park. Ruth hit 20 of his 29 homers on the road. For his career Ruth had more homers on the road. I sent the author an e-mail informing him of this fact, which he has not acknowledged. Another misstatement occurs in the Lefty Grove section. Barra says that Grove missed time in 1934 because Connie Mack was overusing him. That would have been unlikely, since Grove was traded to Boston before the season and wasn't being coached by Mack that year. Barra can do better and I hope he will try again. Don't waste your time and money on this book.
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