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Baseball Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All Time Paperback – April 17, 2000
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There are good teams, and there are great teams, and then there are teams that cross into legend where a case can be built for naming them the best team of all time. The Cubs of Tinker to Evers to Chance. The Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig, and later DiMaggio and Dickey, and, later still, Mantle and Maris and Ford, and still later, O'Neill and Jeter and Williams and Cone. The '29 A's, the '55 Dodgers, the '70 Orioles, the Big Red Machine. Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein identify 15 of these powerhouses, assess the overall stats and individual achievements of each, examine the durability of the numbers, and compare and contrast them relative to one another in an attempt to identify the one team that truly lived up to--and exceeded--its potential to stand alone.
It's a fascinating performance, as insightful as it is argumentative. (Neyer, a columnist for ESPN.com, and Epstein, a former baseball exec, don't always see eye to eye, and some of their disagreements are posted as dialogues.) Along the way, they debunk some myths (Mantle's 565-foot home run) and create new stats to test relative performance (one makes Johnny Bench the best catcher of all time--no problem there--with Mickey Cochrane second). Poignantly, they also project some "what-ifs," as in what if Lou Gehrig had stayed healthy for the '39 Yankees.
After parsing and reparsing team after team, Neyer and Epstein arrive at their conclusion, and while they pretty much disagree on places 2 through 15, they manage to present a unified front for No. 1. It's a team in pinstripes, but probably not the first--or second--to come to mind. Given the precision with which way they lay out their case, you'll have to work awfully hard to overturn their verdict. --Jeff Silverman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Baseball teams thrive on arguments. This book will start enough of them to keep the Hot Stove League in session all year long. -- George F. Will
Few athletes are part of one baseball dynasty. I was fortunate enough to be part of two. This book captures the unique characteristics that make great teams great. -- Davey Johnson
It's wonderful to read a book by someone who really knows something about the great teams, knows things that I don't know, knows even important things that I didn't know. This is the book that everybody else who writes about great teams, for the next 30 years, will have to begin by reading, just so they know what they're talking about. -- Bill James
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Authors Neyer and Epstein progress chronologically with their chapters on various teams from the dead ball era to the near term. The teams they profile are the 1906 Chicago Cubs, 1911 Philadelphia Athletics, 1912 New York Giants, 1927 New York Yankees, 1929 Athletics, 1939 Yankees, 1942 St. Louis Cardinals, 1953 Yankees, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1961 Yankees, 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 1974 Oakland A's, 1976 Cincinnati Reds, 1986 New York Mets, and 1998 Yankees. Interspersed among the chapters on these great teams are other chapters on the best of the nineteenth century, the worst teams of all time, the greatest black teams, and the near misses for the list, as well as a chapter in which the co-authors debate among themselves the winner of this best team sweepstakes.
The authors take a sabermetic approach to their analysis of each team; some of those discussions are illuminating. Some of their comments send up red flags. For example, they identify the Hall of Famers on each of these teams and then they offer their assessment of who else from the team should be in the Hall of Fame as well as those inducted who the authors think should not be. As an example, for the 1942 Cardinals both Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter are at Cooperstown, but Neyer and Epstein argue that only Musial really belongs there. For the 1974 A's they question Catfish Hunter's inclusion in the Hall with Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers. This debate is another one that can never be settled, but the debate itself is fun.
Finally, let me say something about the number of times a single team is included as having separate dynasties. The Yankees appear repeatedly, perhaps that is appropriate as much as I dislike that dominating franchise. Various incarnations of that team appear five times. The Athletics are second with three appearances, the two Connie Mack dynasties in Philadelphia and the threepeat champions of the Oakland A's in the early 1970s. Since I co-authored in the summer of 2010 a biography of Charlie Finley, who owned the Oakland A's during that time, I am especially heartened that this last team was included. No other team has more than one chapter, though I would probably add a couple of teams to the mix; perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1970s winning two World Series albeit several years apart. Or perhaps the Cardinals of the 1960s with such Hall of Famers as Bob Gibson and Lou Brock and a superb supporting cast that won three pennants and two world championships in five years. Or what about the Toronto Blue Jays of the late 1980s and 1990s that won several division flags and back-to-back World Series in 1992-1993.
This is an enjoyable book. It is sure to spark debate, and isn't that just so much fun? Enjoy.
The book has its flaws. The attributing of each little section to Rob or Eddie could have been left out and makes the book feel choppy. I think it could have benefited by being written after Bill James' book on Win Shares (then again, so could almost every baseball book). It might even have been preferable for them to talk about lesser-known teams or fewers details but more teams. Do we really need more information on the 1927 Yankees? I didn't think so.
I also think they should have looked at different KIND of dynasties. For example, teams like the 90's Braves, 80's Cards, 60's Reds, 60's-70's Pirates or 70's-80's Royals that weren't particularly dominating in any one year or short span of years, but were consistently good for a long span of time. Interviews with old-timers would have been nice but probably impractical. But I guess these complaints fall under one category -- the book is way too short. This subject deserves a "Historical Abstracts"-like tome that you could really wade into over the course of a few weeks rather than one you can zip through on the weekend.
But the book makes up for these short-comings with the fairness with it treats the topic. You'll realize that the early 50's Yanks weren't that good, despite their five championships. The league was just poorly balanced. You'll realize the early 70's Orioles were truly a great team. It avoids the common trait in "best teams that ever was" arguements of assuming that whatever team dominated the youth of the authors was the best. It's the best book of its type out there.