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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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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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Top customer reviews
"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). So if Johnny Bench claimed in his autobiography that he caught a Gerry Arrigo pitch without a glove to make a point, you'd think it would have made some news at the time. But Neyer couldn't find it.
It's fun to follow Neyer along in these quests for correct information. He attacks a specific issue with logic and tenacity. But one question does come up while reading this: What's the point? Bill James even wonders about that, somewhat implicitly, in his introduction. James writes that it's good to remember personalities over times, even if the facts in the stories about them may not completely add up.
There's some fun in reading about a story from a 1936 baseball game and finding different accounts of the same incident spaced over time. Memory does do some strange tricks over the course of time. But does it work as a book?
Hmmm. "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends" may work for some. Just not for everyone. So read about it at amazon.com, and then feel free to make a judgment.
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. Finally, I found his discussion of Lawrence Ritter's oral history of early twentieth century baseball, The Glory of Their Times, to be particularly interesting. Although Ritter claimed that his book reproduced his interviews with baseball's early stars with very little editing, in fact, after comparing the book to CDs of the interviews Neyer finds that Ritter did substantial rewriting. Although Neyer argues that on balance Ritter's improving the old players' reminiscences was acceptable, I think it raises some interesting questions about the distinctions between a "good story" and a "true story" - which, I suppose, is the distinction that lies at the heart of Neyer's book.
The only problem is the formatting on the Kindle. Because there are stories within the stories, the chapters sometimes get broken up and you find yourself reading a totally different story without finishing the current one. It's a little disruptive - they could have formatted it so these mini-stories come after the main one.
Overall - another great read from Neyer.
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I was definitely not overwhelmed.