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15 of the Greatest Teams Ever,
This review is from: Baseball Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All Time (Paperback)
I purchased this book because it was written by Rob Neyer, whose columns I'd been reading on the ESPN website for several years, usually with an equal mixture of fascination, amusement, and frustation. I was interested in seeing his sometimes-technical take on baseball applied to the great teams of the past, whereas co-author Eddie Epstein I knew not at all.
"Baseball Dynasties" is on its face an examination of 15 of the greatest baseball teams ever, ranging from the deadball-era 1906 Cubs, to the "Team of the Century" 1998 Yankees. It's longer and more detailed than most commercially-available "best teams ever" books, and probably the first one I've seen that's not aimed at kids. "Dynasties" is equal part historical research and statistical argument and, depending on where your interests lie, some parts of the book will be more interesting than others.
Neyer's sidebars and sidesteps tend to be the freshest. The historical research shows best in the articles with his name attached. His game recounts are fresh, his player biographies are original. The 1906 and 1912 World Series summaries come to life in a way that makes you believe Roger Angell was actually there and sending back reports. He's the first author I've ever seen detail just who Walter Beall was, beyond the fact that he pitched one inning for the 1927 Yankees.
Neyer, and mostly Epstein, use the Standard Deviation of a team's runs scored and runs allowed, to compare the great teams of different eras. They never tell us how "SD" is calculated, so those of us with adding machines can't play along at home -- I neglected to take statistics in college but love calculating ERAs and Pythagorean theorems as much as the next baseball nut. I won't blame them for my math shortcomings but they did promise to provide the formula at an early point in the book.
Epstein's portions are less interesting. His prose is dry and peevish. His elaborate defenses of Reggie Jackson and Davey Johnson seem unnecessary, his use of the data unoriginal. Boldly proclaiming that a batter with 563 career HRS and 10 different playoff appearances is "productive", strikes of myopia. Worst of all is his discounting of postseason games, and in spite of his saying "Games are not played on paper", he's still trying to reopen the books on the 1969 World Series.
Another of the book's rare missteps is a sidebar castigating a factual error about the 1986 Mets in Doc Gooden's autobiography. Fine, fine, but in the same pages Neyer misreports the scores of two playoff games from that same year.
On the whole "Baseball Dynasties" is a terrific fit on my baseball bookshelf. It's more interested in presenting the facts, anecdotes and numbers -- unindexed, it's not a handy reference tool, and is best consulted during slow games or phone conversations with friends. Their final rankings of the 15 teams seems desultory -- they reach a logical but unsexy result I've seen argued in other books -- but when it comes to teams such as these, any answer is the "right" answer.