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

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About the Author

Rob Neyer has written about baseball for 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,, contains additional material related to this and his other books.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



Leading 8-0 in a regular-season game against the Astros, Maddux threw what he had said he would never throw to Jeff Bagwell -- a fastball in. Bagwell did what Maddux wanted him to do: he homered. So two weeks later, when Maddux was facing Bagwell in a close game, Bagwell was looking for a fastball in, and Maddux fanned him on a change-up away.
-- George Will in Newsweek (April 25, 2006)

Bagwell played in fifteen seasons, which is a long career but doesn't come close to that of Maddux (who has five seasons on Bagwell at the beginning of their careers and, at this writing, two seasons and counting at the end). In all fifteen of Bagwell's seasons he faced Maddux at least once, so we might as well start at the beginning, which was 1991.

One may, with the help of the SABR Baseball Encyclopedia, quickly look up not only the dates of Bagwell's 449 homers, but various other details. But of course he hit a lot more homers than Maddux gave up, so it's easier to check Maddux's log instead. Which I will now do, looking specifically for Bagwell as the hitter and leaving the other details for later.

Bagwell did not homer against Maddux in 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994. But in 1995, when Maddux gave up only eight home runs all season, Bagwell hit two of them within a week, on May 28 and June 3. Next came single homers in 1996, 1998 (one of three Maddux gave up in one game), 1999, 2004, and 2005. That last bomb is particularly notable; on April 29, Bagwell played his last game until September, and hit his last home run. Maddux gave it up and pitched six otherwise solid innings to beat Roger Clemens.

So we've got (or rather, I've got) the specific dates of each home run, and the play-by-play accounts are just a few clicks away. Remember, we're looking for a game that's in the late innings, with Maddux's team -- the Braves, until 2004 -- comfortably ahead of Bagwell's Astros. Did one of these home runs come in a situation like that? Let's check each of them. First I'll list the date, then the inning, then the score (with Maddux's team listed first), then the number of runners on base...

28 May 1995 8th 2-0 0
3 Jun 1995 5th 0-0 0
18 Sep 1996 6th 6-1 0
2 Sep 1998 2nd 1-0 0
11 Aug 1999 3rd 5-1 1
26 May 2004 3rd 0-1 1
29 Apr 2005 3rd 2-1 0

I enjoy tables. You might not. So let me sum up. In his career, Greg Maddux gave up seven home runs to Jeff Bagwell. None of them came when the score was 8-0, or 7-0. Five of those seven homers came in close games, the two teams within two runs of one another. Leaving aside the specifics of the story, would a competitor like Maddux groove a fastball in a close game? You sure wouldn't think so.

Which leaves two games: September 18, 1996, when the Braves were up 6-1 in the sixth inning; and August 11, 1999, when the Braves were up 5-1 in the third. Neither situation makes a lot of sense, but we'll start with those games and look for the last specific: it's two weeks later -- okay, it's any point later in the season -- and Maddux slips a third strike past Bagwell in a key spot.

Except -- and by now you're probably way ahead of me -- both of these games were relatively late in the season, which means few (if any) chances for Maddux to have struck out Bagwell. In 1996, after September 18 Maddux made only two starts, both against Montreal. In 1999, after August 11 Maddux made eight starts...but none against Bagwell's Astros.

But wait! (And if you're ahead of me here, kudos to you, sir.) What about postseason games? Might Maddux have struck out Bagwell in October? Not in '96; the Astros didn't qualify for the derby that year. But in 1999, the Braves and Astros faced off in a Division Series, and Maddux started the opener.

In the first inning, Bagwell struck out with nobody on base. In the third inning, he flied to center field. In the fifth, he singled. In the top of the seventh, he flied to center. And in the bottom of the seventh, Maddux got bumped for a pinch hitter. Maybe that first-inning strikeout is what we're looking for, though. The game was close; it was zero-zero.

But that's all, folks. There's nothing else to see here. I don't doubt that Greg Maddux, in some fashion or another, set up Jeff Bagwell at some point during their long careers. Or rather, I don't doubt that Maddux believes he did that. And maybe he did. Pitchers have been telling stories like this one for nearly as long as there have been pitchers. But believing you did something and actually doing it are sometimes different things.

Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer

1952 - 1956


Another reason I enjoyed beating the Dodgers was the competition with Jackie Robinson. There was a black lawyer in Berkeley by the name of Walter Gordon, who helped my mother when I was a kid. He had also helped Jackie, so when we played in the Series, I always wanted to show Walter that I was a better second baseman. That was my real challenge. And always I outhit, and always I outplayed him. Every Series we played in.
-- Billy Martin in Number 1 (Martin & Peter Golenbock, 1980)

Martin played for the Yankees from 1950 through the middle of the '57 season. In those years, the Yankees played the Dodgers in four World Series: 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956. In '52, '53, and '56, Martin was the Yankees' top second baseman during the regular season, and the only Yankee second baseman during the World Series.

In 1954 he was drafted -- for the second time -- and spent all of that season and most of the next stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, where he played for (and managed) both the base team and a semipro team in Goodland, Kansas. The Yankees' five-year pennant streak got busted by the Indians in 1954. The Yanks won again in '55, but Martin wasn't supposed to be discharged until a few days after the World Series. According to an Associated Press story dated August 29:

Billy Martin's chances of playing in the world series appear slim, even if the Yankees make the grade.

The Army granted today a request by the 27-year-old second baseman for a thirty-day furlough, effective at once. This furlough, however, will expire at midnight Sept. 28 -- the day the world series is scheduled to open.

Authorities at Fort Carson, where Martin is winding up his military duty, made it plain they would expect the baseball star back on time -- world series or no world series.

Martin, a corporal, is due for final training and processing for discharge. His separation date from the Army is Oct. 8, and the world series will end Oct. 4, even if it goes the full seven games.

The fort's information officer, Capt. W.G. Newkirk, said that so far as he knew "There is no way to get out of" the final processing and completion of training.

"I don't see much chance of Martin getting to play during that period," he said.

Somehow, though, Martin eventually was excused from duty during the World Series (so were five of his buddies from Fort Carson, who attended the Series as guests of the Yankees). Running through each of the Martin-Robinson matchups...

In 1952, Martin's first Series as more than a bench player -- he'd appeared just briefly in the '51 Series -- he played in all seven games and batted .217. He did hit a three-run homer in the Yankees' 7-1 win in Game 2. Robinson also homered, but hit even worse than Martin, going just 4 for 23 (.174). But the most famous moment of the Series came in Game 7 and involved both men. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Yankees led 4-2 with two outs, but the Dodgers had the bases loaded. Robinson lifted a soft pop between the mound and first base, and it looked as if the ball would drop when first baseman Joe Collins lost the ball in the sun. Martin, though, dashed over to make the catch, and the Dodgers never threatened again.

In '53, Martin was the big star of the Series. He tripled twice, homered twice, and batted .500. In the ninth inning of Game 6, his twelfth hit of the Series -- which tied the all-time World Series record -- drove in Hank Bauer with the game- and Series-winning run. And Robinson? He played well, tying for the team lead with eight hits.

In '55, of course, the Dodgers finally broke their long jinx against the Yankees. Didn't have much to do with Jackie, though; he scored five runs, but his .182 batting average was the worst on the club. Meanwhile, Martin batted .320.

In '56, as usual, Martin and Robinson both started every game. And as usual, Martin outplayed Robinson. Robinson batted .250 with one home run; Martin batted .296 with two home runs. So Martin undoubtedly was right: he did outplay Robinson every time they met.

Before Martin reached the majors, Robinson did play in two other World Series, both against the Yankees. In 1947, he batted .259 and scored three runs in seven games. In 1949, he batted .188 and scored two runs in five games. The Dodgers, of course, lost both Series.

In his career, Robinson played in thirty-eight World Series games. He batted .234, scored twenty-two runs, and drove in twelve. But Robinson's got a lot of good company. Willie Mays, for instance. Mays played in twenty-five postseason games and batted .247 with just one home run, scoring twelve runs and knocking in only ten. It happens.

Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer



One of the first moves I made was to recall Ron Santo. He'd been a catcher in the minors, but I moved him to third base. Don Zimmer, who was nearing the end of his playing career, had been playing that position and helped Santo make the switch -- and in effect, helped Santo take Zim's job.
-- Lou Boudreau in Covering All the Bases (Boudreau with Russell Schneider, 1993)

At this ... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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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: #869,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Hal Jordan VINE VOICE on March 29, 2008
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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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on June 15, 2008
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By outdoor mom on July 17, 2008
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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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeffster on January 11, 2009
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By WDX2BB on February 25, 2014
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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 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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