Opinionated pieces by Wall Street Journal and Salon.com columnist Barra (Inventing Wyatt Earp, 1998, etc.) lovingly examine baseball’s most enduring controversies.
The dozen or so long-standing arguments examined here, all now a part of baseball lore, are not squabbles over brushback pitchers, lost homerun balls, or pine-tar incidents, but involve our more or less permanent understanding of the stature of baseball’s greats. Barra ponders whether Babe Ruth truly deserves his legendary fame; compares Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams; imagines how much greater Jackie Robinson would have been had he been allowed to compete in the Major League sooner; revives the debate about whether Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays was the greatest ballplayer of the ’50s; revisits the Maris/Mantle homerun derby of 1961; elevates the often underrated Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt to be a candidate for “Player of the Century”; and mourns the premature demise of the fluky, lovable 1986 New York Mets. Using statistics to bolster his arguments, he re-evaluates the scandal-brushed 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” and their leader, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson; draws favorable comparisons between pitcher Roger “The Rocket” Clemens and such legendary hurlers as “Lefty” Grove and Sandy Koufax; and champions the majors’ first Latin star, White Sox outfielder Minnie Minoso. Barra argues that while baseball fans like to think that today’s players can’t match up to the heroes of yesteryear, greater demographic and ethnic inclusion in the game at the highest levels and superior diet and training have actually created more consistently superb ballplayers. He also refuses to share the common view that expansion has thinned out Major League talent. A knowledgeable sportswriter and radio personality who strives to bring fresh perspectives to his criticism, Barra is in top form here, and his obvious passion for his material makes him unfailingly fun to read.
A bit technical and statistics-oriented for the uninitiated, but sports buffs and bleacher bums will delight in Barra’s unconventional essays.