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Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else Paperback – April 1, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Michael Lewis

Author of "Liar's Poker" and "Moneyball"

Rob Neyer is one of those writers who can make his subject more interesting than anyone ever imagined it could be. He has written a delightful book for ardent baseball fans, but even people with a casual interest in baseball will find something to think about here.



"Rob Neyer is the best of the new generation of sportswriters. He knows baseball history like a child knows his piggy bank. He knows how to pick it up and shake it and make what he needs fall out."

-- Bill James

About the Author

Rob Neyer has written about baseball for ESPN.com since 1996 and appears regularly on ESPNews. He has written four baseball books, including The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (with Bill James) and Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups. His website, www.robneyer.com, contains additional material related to this and his other books.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743284909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743284905
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the third of Neyer's "Big Books" and, I think, the best. (His Big Book of Baseball Lineups and Big Book of Baseball Blunders are also quite good - as is his lesser known Feeding the Green Monster; The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers is his one clinker.) In this book, he takes a large number of baseball "legends" and discusses whether or not they are true. I put legends in quotation marks because, although he includes an account of whether Babe Ruth really called that home run during the 1932 World Series and a few other famous incidents, most of the entries are really more stories than legends. Many are from autobiographies, newspaper or magazine stories, or sometimes just casual remarks made by television or radio play-by-play announcers. I really like Neyer's approach. Rather than just tell us what someone claims Bob Feller or Willie McCovey or Bob Gibson said or did, and then give us a quick summary of the results of his research - which would have resulted in a pretty short book - he takes several pages to relate what information is available to check the story, the blind alleys he went up, and the different approaches he took to confirm or refute the story. This more leisurely approach gives the reader a good feel for the variety of sources that exist for doing research on the history of baseball and also provides more context for each story - most of which are really not about earthshaking events. As it turns out, most of the stories he checks were at least roughly true, with only a relatively few apparently having been made up out of whole cloth.

One caveat: like many books of this sort, this one is best read a few entries at a time spread out over a couple of weeks, rather than in one sitting.
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Format: Paperback
This is certainly an enjoyable book--but take it in small doses! It does a fine job--anecdotally--of addressing the problems of memory and embellishment and "improving" on stories. There are about 60 chapters, each of which presents a story--usually a recollection from a book about how player X did this-and-that. Neyer then tries to check out the validity--the internet and other resources are a great help. So, for example, Tris Speaker says that the Indians were leading the Yankees by 1 run in the 9th inning, the Yankees had the tying run on second base, and George Uhle issued an intentional walk to Mark Koenig in order to pitch to Babe Ruth. Neyer is able to use the internet and other resources to check the story out. There was a game--with Speaker getting an intentional walk, and with the score 3-1 (in Cleveland's favor) in the 8th inning, Combs singled, Koenig walked, and Ruth flied out. So memory here is partially correct, but also partially quite faulty.

In addition to the 60-so chapters, most chapters have margin stories that may relate to the story in the chapter. So the total number of tales looked at is probably about 150 to 200. Many of these are fascinating, but some are not so memorable. There are a few errors--there's a "Last Note of Humility" about Chance and Harper, which belongs with an earlier chapter, for example. The most troubling tale (which I had never heard before) is "Lou Gehrig & The Imposter" about how Gehrig's consecutive-game streak had been broken, with Danny Kaye wearing Gehrig's uniform. Neyer tracks down the story to a men's magazine and finds a piece by Scribbly Tate describing the events. Scribbly Tate--an obvious pseudonym--is Rob Neyer himself, using his favorite alter-ego: he received $[...] for the story in 1951.
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This is the perfect gift for the man or woman you know who has enjoyed baseball all of their lives. Whether reading about the famous players or actually having lived during their times, it brings it all vividly home to the reader. There are wonderful anecdotes and stories and scenes painted for those legends that grow only stronger over time.
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My first impression was that book would only be for baseball nerds who enjoy puncturing myths/good stories. But the style is not negative at all. The stories are good reads, many of which I'd never heard before and even if they don't always hold up to contemporary records, it's fun to read about what really happened.
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Can't say there's been a baseball book quite like this one before.

"Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends" is sort of like reading the diary of a fact checker. Neyer, a writer for ESPN.com and the author of some good baseball books, here takes an approach that must be unique. He has gone through all sorts of material -- autobiographies, other baseball books, newspaper accounts, television commentary, etc -- and tried to find out if they were true or not.

You'd expect that something like Babe Ruth's called shot is examined here, and it is ... in great detail. But all sorts of other stories are checked out, in no particular order. Neyer obviously put a lot of work into this project.

Let's take an example to show you what's going on here. Jim Palmer tells a story about charting a game involving teammate Mike Cuellar, who was facing the Minnesota Twins. Cuellar had given up a leadoff hit, with Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew coming up next. Palmer told manager Earl Weaver that Cuellar had thrown 135 pitches. Weaver responded by saying, "I'll let you know if he's tired."

Neyer went back through Cuellar's starts on Retrosheet, and discovered that Cuellar had 21 starts against the Twins while pitching for the Orioles. The author couldn't find anything that came close to matching that set of circumstances. Neyer concludes that while there's probably some bit of truth in there somewhere, he couldn't find specific evidence of it.

That's something of a theme for the book. The Internet is a great resource for such research these days. Neyer also has a huge baseball library, and access to records from the Society for American Baseball Research and the Hall of Fame (among others).
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