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Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders

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Yesterday, I finished reading Rob Neyer's most recent literary item, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders. As he points out while discussing Fred Merkle's boneheaded play in 1908, blunders were actually once commonly referred to as boners. It is my hope, and probably the hope of many, that a sequel entitled Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Boners will hit the shelves in the near future. However, as Rob points out in one of his footnotes, it would almost certainly have to be of the self-published variety.

Steve Treder recently wrote a comprehensive review of the book at The Hardball Times. I agree with Treder's sentiment that Neyer did a fine job of not committing too many of his own blunders within the book. Other than the incorrect facts located in the chapter dedicated to the 1964 Phillies (which I hadn't noticed until Treder pointed them out), the information is conveyed with few objectionable errors. The content within the book is divided into 47 essays, each one devoted to a particular blunder. Moreover, Neyer included six interludes and an introductory chapter, along with sidebar content included throughout the book. Such a setup may seem somewhat tedious to read, but I appreciate the fact that its organized nature makes it easy to sift through the material in a non-chronological manner. As Treder mentions in his review, it's a great book to spend five or ten minutes leafing through every now and again.

The writing style Neyer uses throughout the book is analogous with the style he uses in his articles on espn.com. It has an overall light-hearted feel to it, though he's terse and direct when the situation calls for it. As a result, it lends itself to being a light, enjoyable read, but one that is also undeniably informative. In addition to being a wonderful source of interesting tidbits of information, the authors (some of Neyer's colleagues included essays of their own) offer their own insightful perspectives on each of the different blunders. For example, the entire Black Sox scandal of 1919 could very well have been avoided had the White Sox not foolishly traded Jack Fournier for Chick Gandil, who wound up being one of the scandal's ringleaders.

Frankly, we can't know that Fournier wouldn't have been "mixed up in such a filthy mess." But without Gandil, there probably wouldn't have been a filthy mess. The details of the scandal remain murky, of course, but the general consensus is that Gandil conceived the conspiracy in the first place.

It's certainly possible that if Gandil hadn't been around, somebody else would have figured out a way to throw the World Series. But it's incredibly unlikely. When the White threw over Jack Fournier for Chick Gandil, they cost themselves a few games over the next few seasons because Fournier was much the superior hitter. But what they really lost was the World Series in 1919 and the American League pennant in 1920 (when the scandal broke on September 28, the Sox were only a half-game out of first place, but lost two of their last three games and finished two games behind Cleveland).

As Treder points out in his review, the book is rife with opinions, which makes it much more interesting than mere descriptions of historically significant blunders.

Okay, so the book is good, and arguably very good. But in which areas could it improve?

Well, for one, more blunders could have been included. Now, that's not meant as a knock against Neyer, because he did cover almost every important one, but it would've been interesting if a few of the following found their way into the book:

  • Blunders associated with hiring GMs. In today's chat on espn.com, Neyer acknowledges that he probably should have included a section dedicated to this.
  • More blunders associated with free agency signings and contract extensions. The Darren Dreifort contract, for example, should have found its way into the book. The contract looked like a glaring mistake by Dodgers management at the time it was signed, and history merely proved that it inevitably was.
  • Any important blunders he may have overlooked. For example, one glaring omission to me was a chapter dedicated to player strikes, particularly the most recent one. Surely an event as drastically chaotic as that could have been avoided. Surely someone committed a blunder, be it the players or ownership, or perhaps both. I wish it had, at the very least, been mentioned in passing.

To Rob's credit (and this is a path that many more writers should follow) he dedicated a portion of his website for others to retort and rebut what's found in his book. As of now, there are four essays, of which I've unfortunately only read two (I'll try my darndest to finish the others soon). I completely disagree with Bill Deane's essay, which attempts to defend Grady Little's infamous handling of Pedro Martinez in game seven of the 2003 ALCS. Deane's an accomplished writer for whom I have a lot of respect, but the essay never offers any concrete arguments. Instead, I found myself constantly waiting for the main thrust of his argument to present itself.

Perhaps Rob will add some essays dedicated to blunders he feels he unfairly omitted. For example, in today's chat on espn.com, he mentions that he probably should have included the Mets' misuse of Dwight Gooden, whose career petered out much earlier than it ever should have. These are minor quibbles, of course, because I find the overall product to be to rather excellent.

Like many others, I was introduced to the statistical aspects of baseball through Rob Neyer's columns on espn.com. Through his work, I was directed towards other websites and books, which have led to a substantial increase in my overall enjoyment of the sport. Anyone interested in the history of baseball, which is as deep and diverse as any other sport's, should read this book at some point down the road. I look forward to Mr. Neyer's next book, which I hope will manifest itself before long.