Top critical review
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on February 13, 2009
I'm a huge Rob Neyer fan. I've read almost every (free) column he's published on the Internet since 1997, and I've read most of his books (and plan to buy and read ALL of them, past and future). So it's with a little regret that I give this one a mediocre review. (I'd give it 3.5 stars if possible.)
First of all, it's called "Big Book of Baseball Blunders," which would naturally lead you to believe that it will be a ranking (or chronological list) of the biggest "mistakes" in baseball history. We get a clarification very early on that it's not about on-field mistakes or "boners," but rather premeditated errors, usually made by management. OK, so far, so good: Rob Neyer makes fun of stupid front offices with the benefit of hindsight AND a logical mind. That should be fun, right?
But once the book starts, you realize that this is NOT Rob's personal ranking of the biggest blunders in baseball history. Rather, it's a list of moves that were considered blunders by historical consensus, and then Rob does some research and evaluates whether they were truly blunders. (This is the same M.O. he uses in the later "Baseball Legends.") So it's more like "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Famous Alleged Baseball Blunders and His Analysis of Whether They Were Blunders or Not."
Fair enough, this could also be a good book if the opinions were interesting or eye-opening... but they're really not. A disappointing proportion of them end up with Rob meekly concluding: "We can't really tell one way or the other." This diplomatic response may make Rob seems like a "nice guy" (so many stats-oriented baseball writers come off as smug and arrogant, and I think he was specifically trying to avoid that) but it makes for a disappointingly flat baseball book. A little controversy isn't bad! I'm able to come up with NO OPINION without reading a book, thank you very much.
This book is also a victim of some careless copyediting. It's not as bad as the typical edition of "Baseball Prospectus," but there are a lot of little typos and a few actual mistakes that should have been caught. And if you've already read his earlier "Big Book of Baseball Lineups" (a superior product IMHO), there's quite a bit of thematic repetition.
On the positive side, Neyer's prose is always readable, he's a good storyteller, and there's some valuable baseball history in here. I definitely learned some stuff from this book, and it wasn't a chore to get through. But Neyer is capable of much better -- I preferred "Baseball Dynasties" and "Baseball Lineups," and his mid-'90s columns on ESPN.com completely changed the way I look at baseball.
Fine for the fanatic or Neyer completist, but not an essential book. I'd recommend "Lineups" or "Dynasties" before this one.