Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century

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Who was better, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays? At their peak, who was more valuable, Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams? If Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, and Roger Clemens had pitched at the same time against the same hitters, who would have won the most games? If Jackie Robinson had been white, would he be deserving of the Hall of Fame? Who was the greatest all-around player of the last century?

Clearing the Bases is the first book to tackle these and many other of baseball's most intriguing questions and offer hard, sensible answers-answers based on exhaustive research and analysis. Sports journalist Allen Barra, whose weekly sports column "By the Numbers" attracted millions of fans and whose outspoken opinions are discussed regularly on National Public Radio, takes on baseball's toughest arguments. Using stats and methods he himself has developed, Barra takes you to the heart of baseball's ultimate question-"Who's the best?"-in this, the ultimate baseball debate book, one guaranteed to spark thousands of heated discussions and to supply the fuel for thousands more.

About the Author:
Allen Barra is a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, and the New York Sun and is the author of several books, including The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant and Big Play: Barra on Football

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Relive baseball's greatest controversies as Allan Barra, sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal, explores the facts surrounding each case. From heated comparisons of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams to the true worth of the Babe, Clearing the Bases presents Barra's opinionated, passionate perspective on baseball's longest-running debates. Backing up his views with stats and technical analysis, Barra manages to blend a fact-filled rehashing of these hot topics with an entertaining commentary on the nature of the game itself.
The New York Times
“If you love the game for what it is . . . step up and dig in.”—New York Times
The Houston Chronicle
“[Barra] goes about the job with meticulous care, with energy and delight. Every conclusion is supported by a wealth of data, well-balanced. Great book for the armchair athlete.”—Houston Chronicle
The Boston Globe
“A real hackle raiser, but utterly fascinating.”—Boston Globe
NY Times Book Review
If you love the game for what it is...step up and dig in.
Publishers Weekly
Barra's primary intent with his latest book is to spark intelligent, well-reasoned debate about some of the most contentious, if essentially insignificant, issues in pro sports. And who better to make such an effort? Writing for both the establishment (the Wall Street Journal) and the counterculture (, Barra constantly challenges his readers to think outside the bounds of conventional sports analysis, using a seemingly innocuous but ultimately deadly combination of statistics ("the life blood of the sport") and common sense. Barra writes for thinking people, not simply by slaughtering baseball's sacred cows, but by demonstrating to the reader that anything less would be dishonest. Barra rips Babe Ruth's record to pieces, demonstrating at once that Ruth was a tremendous hitter, but that the accepted account of him as savior and "lively ball" progenitor of baseball is "an American creation myth." He uses a dazzling array of statistical comparisons among second basemen to vividly illustrate that the most popular argument against Jackie Robinson's inclusion in the Hall of Fame that he wouldn't be there if he had been white is nothing but racist rhetoric. Barra even manages to undermine his own religiously held belief in the superiority of Willie Mays, using a thorough statistical analysis to demonstrate Mickey Mantle's incomparable greatness. It is a rare sportswriter who can cite Branch Rickey and Irish writer/revolutionary Se n O'Faol in in the same work, but Barra does it with ease for an audience that has learned to demand nothing less. (Apr.) Forecast: With readers coming from both Salon and the Journal, Barra's take on baseball debates will reach a broad baseball readership. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Barra, a popular sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal and, holds forth on a variety of baseball subjects and debates, from the mysterious disappearance of the high leg-kick by pitchers, to spirited comparisons of all-time greats like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, Roger Clemens and Lefty Grove, and Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, to an unveiling of Barra's stealth candidate for Player of the Century. (You'll never guess.) With an introduction by Bob Costas and even a couple of football opinion pieces thrown in for good measure; for all sports collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Opinionated pieces by Wall Street Journal and 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 MajorLeague 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.
From the Publisher

"Using hard evidence as a snowplow and logic as a compass, Barra pushes aside the accumulated debris of a century's assumptions to see things as they were. Bill Russell did not beat Wilt Chamberlain; stop saying that. It is easy for living sportswriters to be bullied by dead ones; they were so large when we were small. Barra calls on us to stand on our own two feet and wrestle with the hard questions left over from the generations of sports history. A wonderful collection of thoughts and essays."--Bill James, author of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

"If my sins at last caught up with me and I were confined to the smallest room in my house, I can think of no finer companion there than Allen Barra's engagingly contentious Clearing the Bases."--Roger Kahn, author of The Head Game and The Boys of Summer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803217638
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Allen Barra is also the author of the critically acclaimed biography Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. In addition to his column for The Wall Street Journal and, he is a monthly columnist for American Heritage magazine and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Playboy, The New York Times, and The Village Voice. He is also heard regularly on Major League Baseball Radio.

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Table of Contents

Foreword   Bob Costas     vii
Introduction     ix
Getting Tough with Babe Ruth     1
The Most Underrated Team of the First Half of the Twentieth Century     25
Gary Cooper vs. John Wayne     31
What If Jackie Robinson Had Been White?     45
One-on-One, Once and for All: Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays     65
61*-Or, Should Roger Maris Be in the Hall of Fame?     93
Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson: A Reassessment     101
My Player of the Century     115
The Most Overrated and Underrated Players over the Last Thirty Years-Pete Rose vs. Tim Raines     133
The Dynasty That Never Was: The 1986 Mets     141
Grove, Koufax, and Clemens: A Comparison Across Time     153
Minnie Minoso: The New Latin Dynasty     175
Competitive Balance Through the Century     183
On-Base Averages     193
Baseball's Greatest SLOBs     199
Why Can't They Go 9 Anymore?     207
Ranking Don Shula     215
Pro Football's Greatest Quarterback     221
The Great Forgotten Running Back of the NFL     229
Barry Sanders: Pro Football's Greatest Runner     239
Walter Payton: Pro Football's Greatest Player     243
Wilt vs. Russell: A Reassessment     249
Notes     263
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