Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else

by Rob Neyer
     
 

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The latest and greatest in ESPN.com baseball guru Rob Neyer's
Big Book series, Legends is a highly entertaining guide to baseball fables that
have been handed down through generations.


The well-told baseball story has long been a staple for baseball fans. In Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, Neyer

Overview


The latest and greatest in ESPN.com baseball guru Rob Neyer's
Big Book series, Legends is a highly entertaining guide to baseball fables that
have been handed down through generations.


The well-told baseball story has long been a staple for baseball fans. In Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, Neyer breathes new life into both classic and obscure stories throughout twentieth-century baseball -- stories that, while engaging on their own, also tell us fascinating things about their main characters and about the sport's incredibly rich history. With his signature style, Rob gets to the heart of every anecdote, working through the particulars with careful research drawn from a variety of primary sources. For each story, he asks: Did this really happen? Did it happen, sort of? Or was the story simply the wild invention of someone's imagination? Among the scores of legends Neyer questions and investigates...

  • Did an errant Bob Feller pitch really destroy the career of a National League All-Star?
  • Did Greg Maddux mean to give up a long blast to Jeff Bagwell?
  • Was Fred Lynn the clutch player he thinks he was?
  • Did Tommy Lasorda have a direct line to God?
  • Did Negro Leaguer Gene Benson really knock Indians second baseman Johnny Berardino out of baseball and into General Hospital?
  • Did Billy Martin really outplay Jackie Robinson every time they met?
  • Oh, and what about Babe Ruth's "Called Shot"?

Rob checks each story, separates the truths from the myths, and places their fascinating characters into the larger historical context. Filled with insider lore and Neyer's sharp wit and insights, this is an exciting addition to a superb series and an essential read for true fans of our national pastime.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416564911
Publisher:
Touchstone
Publication date:
04/01/2008
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
369,090
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends
The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else


By Rob Neyer
Fireside
Copyright © 2008 Rob Neyer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743284905


1991-2005

GREG MADDUX & JEFF BAGWELL

Leading 8-0 in a regular-season game against the Astros, Maddux threw what he had said he would never throw to Jeff Bagwell -- a fastball in. Bagwell did what Maddux wanted him to do: he homered. So two weeks later, when Maddux was facing Bagwell in a close game, Bagwell was looking for a fastball in, and Maddux fanned him on a change-up away.
-- George Will in Newsweek (April 25, 2006)

Bagwell played in fifteen seasons, which is a long career but doesn't come close to that of Maddux (who has five seasons on Bagwell at the beginning of their careers and, at this writing, two seasons and counting at the end). In all fifteen of Bagwell's seasons he faced Maddux at least once, so we might as well start at the beginning, which was 1991.

One may, with the help of the SABR Baseball Encyclopedia, quickly look up not only the dates of Bagwell's 449 homers, but various other details. But of course he hit a lot more homers than Maddux gave up, so it's easier to check Maddux's log instead. Which I will now do, looking specifically for Bagwell as the hitter and leaving the other detailsfor later.

Bagwell did not homer against Maddux in 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994. But in 1995, when Maddux gave up only eight home runs all season, Bagwell hit two of them within a week, on May 28 and June 3. Next came single homers in 1996, 1998 (one of three Maddux gave up in one game), 1999, 2004, and 2005. That last bomb is particularly notable; on April 29, Bagwell played his last game until September, and hit his last home run. Maddux gave it up and pitched six otherwise solid innings to beat Roger Clemens.

So we've got (or rather, I've got) the specific dates of each home run, and the play-by-play accounts are just a few clicks away. Remember, we're looking for a game that's in the late innings, with Maddux's team -- the Braves, until 2004 -- comfortably ahead of Bagwell's Astros. Did one of these home runs come in a situation like that? Let's check each of them. First I'll list the date, then the inning, then the score (with Maddux's team listed first), then the number of runners on base...

28 May 1995 8th 2-0 0
3 Jun 1995 5th 0-0 0
18 Sep 1996 6th 6-1 0
2 Sep 1998 2nd 1-0 0
11 Aug 1999 3rd 5-1 1
26 May 2004 3rd 0-1 1
29 Apr 2005 3rd 2-1 0

I enjoy tables. You might not. So let me sum up. In his career, Greg Maddux gave up seven home runs to Jeff Bagwell. None of them came when the score was 8-0, or 7-0. Five of those seven homers came in close games, the two teams within two runs of one another. Leaving aside the specifics of the story, would a competitor like Maddux groove a fastball in a close game? You sure wouldn't think so.

Which leaves two games: September 18, 1996, when the Braves were up 6-1 in the sixth inning; and August 11, 1999, when the Braves were up 5-1 in the third. Neither situation makes a lot of sense, but we'll start with those games and look for the last specific: it's two weeks later -- okay, it's any point later in the season -- and Maddux slips a third strike past Bagwell in a key spot.

Except -- and by now you're probably way ahead of me -- both of these games were relatively late in the season, which means few (if any) chances for Maddux to have struck out Bagwell. In 1996, after September 18 Maddux made only two starts, both against Montreal. In 1999, after August 11 Maddux made eight starts...but none against Bagwell's Astros.

But wait! (And if you're ahead of me here, kudos to you, sir.) What about postseason games? Might Maddux have struck out Bagwell in October? Not in '96; the Astros didn't qualify for the derby that year. But in 1999, the Braves and Astros faced off in a Division Series, and Maddux started the opener.

In the first inning, Bagwell struck out with nobody on base. In the third inning, he flied to center field. In the fifth, he singled. In the top of the seventh, he flied to center. And in the bottom of the seventh, Maddux got bumped for a pinch hitter. Maybe that first-inning strikeout is what we're looking for, though. The game was close; it was zero-zero.

But that's all, folks. There's nothing else to see here. I don't doubt that Greg Maddux, in some fashion or another, set up Jeff Bagwell at some point during their long careers. Or rather, I don't doubt that Maddux believes he did that. And maybe he did. Pitchers have been telling stories like this one for nearly as long as there have been pitchers. But believing you did something and actually doing it are sometimes different things.

Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer

1952 - 1956

BILLY MARTIN & JACKIE ROBINSON

Another reason I enjoyed beating the Dodgers was the competition with Jackie Robinson. There was a black lawyer in Berkeley by the name of Walter Gordon, who helped my mother when I was a kid. He had also helped Jackie, so when we played in the Series, I always wanted to show Walter that I was a better second baseman. That was my real challenge. And always I outhit, and always I outplayed him. Every Series we played in.
-- Billy Martin in Number 1 (Martin & Peter Golenbock, 1980)

Martin played for the Yankees from 1950 through the middle of the '57 season. In those years, the Yankees played the Dodgers in four World Series: 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956. In '52, '53, and '56, Martin was the Yankees' top second baseman during the regular season, and the only Yankee second baseman during the World Series.

In 1954 he was drafted -- for the second time -- and spent all of that season and most of the next stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, where he played for (and managed) both the base team and a semipro team in Goodland, Kansas. The Yankees' five-year pennant streak got busted by the Indians in 1954. The Yanks won again in '55, but Martin wasn't supposed to be discharged until a few days after the World Series. According to an Associated Press story dated August 29:

Billy Martin's chances of playing in the world series appear slim, even if the Yankees make the grade.

The Army granted today a request by the 27-year-old second baseman for a thirty-day furlough, effective at once. This furlough, however, will expire at midnight Sept. 28 -- the day the world series is scheduled to open.

Authorities at Fort Carson, where Martin is winding up his military duty, made it plain they would expect the baseball star back on time -- world series or no world series.

Martin, a corporal, is due for final training and processing for discharge. His separation date from the Army is Oct. 8, and the world series will end Oct. 4, even if it goes the full seven games.

The fort's information officer, Capt. W.G. Newkirk, said that so far as he knew "There is no way to get out of" the final processing and completion of training.

"I don't see much chance of Martin getting to play during that period," he said.

Somehow, though, Martin eventually was excused from duty during the World Series (so were five of his buddies from Fort Carson, who attended the Series as guests of the Yankees). Running through each of the Martin-Robinson matchups...

In 1952, Martin's first Series as more than a bench player -- he'd appeared just briefly in the '51 Series -- he played in all seven games and batted .217. He did hit a three-run homer in the Yankees' 7-1 win in Game 2. Robinson also homered, but hit even worse than Martin, going just 4 for 23 (.174). But the most famous moment of the Series came in Game 7 and involved both men. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Yankees led 4-2 with two outs, but the Dodgers had the bases loaded. Robinson lifted a soft pop between the mound and first base, and it looked as if the ball would drop when first baseman Joe Collins lost the ball in the sun. Martin, though, dashed over to make the catch, and the Dodgers never threatened again.

In '53, Martin was the big star of the Series. He tripled twice, homered twice, and batted .500. In the ninth inning of Game 6, his twelfth hit of the Series -- which tied the all-time World Series record -- drove in Hank Bauer with the game- and Series-winning run. And Robinson? He played well, tying for the team lead with eight hits.

In '55, of course, the Dodgers finally broke their long jinx against the Yankees. Didn't have much to do with Jackie, though; he scored five runs, but his .182 batting average was the worst on the club. Meanwhile, Martin batted .320.

In '56, as usual, Martin and Robinson both started every game. And as usual, Martin outplayed Robinson. Robinson batted .250 with one home run; Martin batted .296 with two home runs. So Martin undoubtedly was right: he did outplay Robinson every time they met.

Before Martin reached the majors, Robinson did play in two other World Series, both against the Yankees. In 1947, he batted .259 and scored three runs in seven games. In 1949, he batted .188 and scored two runs in five games. The Dodgers, of course, lost both Series.

In his career, Robinson played in thirty-eight World Series games. He batted .234, scored twenty-two runs, and drove in twelve. But Robinson's got a lot of good company. Willie Mays, for instance. Mays played in twenty-five postseason games and batted .247 with just one home run, scoring twelve runs and knocking in only ten. It happens.

Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer

1960

LOU BOUDREAU & RON SANTO

One of the first moves I made was to recall Ron Santo. He'd been a catcher in the minors, but I moved him to third base. Don Zimmer, who was nearing the end of his playing career, had been playing that position and helped Santo make the switch -- and in effect, helped Santo take Zim's job.
-- Lou Boudreau in Covering All the Bases (Boudreau with Russell Schneider, 1993)

At this writing, Ron Santo is not in the Hall of Fame. But he certainly deserves to be, and I believe that one day he will. It's not likely that Santo would have been a Hall of Fame catcher, or a Hall of Fame first baseman. If Ron Santo is a Hall of Famer, it's because he combined power and patience at the plate with solid defense at third base. So by extension, Boudreau is essentially taking credit for turning Santo into a Hall of Fame (or Hall of Famish) player.

But did he? Boudreau makes six distinct assertions in the above passage, and all of them are subject to verification.

  • Boudreau was managing the Cubs when Santo reached the majors.
  • Boudreau was responsible for bringing Santo to the majors.
  • Santo was a catcher in the minor leagues.
  • Boudreau shifted Santo from behind the plate to third base.
  • Zimmer had been playing third base before Santo's arrival.
  • Zimmer helped Santo learn to play third base.

Let's take those one at a time...

1. Was Boudreau managing the Cubs when Santo joined the big club? Yes, he was. Santo debuted on June 26, 1960 (and he debuted with a bang, driving in five runs in a doubleheader in Pittsburgh). Boudreau, who opened the season in the Cubs' broadcast booth, had switched places with manager Charlie Grimm on May 5, and he managed the club for the rest of the season.

2. Was Boudreau responsible for bringing Santo to the majors? Actually, this one's not really verifiable. However, managers in the 1960s were not generally responsible for deciding which minor leaguers should be called up. What's more, if this was "one of the first" moves Boudreau made, he sure took his time making moves, because Santo spent more than seven weeks in the minors -- specifically, with Houston in the American Association -- after Boudreau took over from Grimm. Boudreau did not take the job and immediately tell management, "Get me that Santo kid, and get him now!" (Or if he did, management didn't listen.)

3. Was Santo a catcher with Houston? No, he was not. According to the 1961 edition of the Official Baseball Guide, Santo played in seventy-one games with Houston in 1960...all seventy-one at third base. In 1959, Santo's first professional season, he played in 136 games with San Antonio in the Texas League...134 at third base. He was a third baseman.

That said, we can guess the source of Boudreau's confusion. When Santo played high-school baseball in Seattle, he was mostly a third baseman by his senior season, but he also caught some, and (according to Santo) the Cubs' head scout told him, "There's no way you're ever going to be a third baseman in the major leagues, son. Maybe you can make it as a catcher. But that's about it." When the Cubs signed Santo, they signed him as a catcher.

That didn't last long. According to Santo, he got moved to third base in his first professional spring training, "because of the plethora of catchers."

As we've seen, Santo played third base, exclusively, in 1959 and '60.

4. Did Boudreau move Santo from behind the plate to third base? Obviously, Boudreau did not move Santo in 1960. But Boudreau, who did work for the Cubs in 1959 and probably did have owner Phil Wrigley's ear, might have helped convince management to turn Santo into an ex-catcher. It's not likely. But it's possible and would go a long way toward explaining Boudreau's confusion.

Santo does have something to say about Boudreau in his autobiography: "He later told me that had he been the manager in the spring, I would have never gone down to Houston and I would have been the starting third baseman ahead of Zimmer." (Of course, that's exactly what a manager might tell a rookie, in hopes of building the kid's confidence.)

5. Had Zimmer been playing third base before Santo showed up? Yes. Prior to Santo's arrival, the Cubs played sixty games, and Zimmer played third base in forty-one of them (he also played some second base). He'd started at third in the four games immediately prior to Santo's promotion.6. Did Zimmer do everything he could to help Santo? In Santo's book, all he says is "Zimmer, for his part, didn't fully comprehend the switch. He thought he was just being moved to second base for a time to replace Jerry Kindall and he might be back at third at some future time. Well, he would have had to wait until he was 44 before I would leave the Cubs and their third base spot."

Zimmer, in his autobiography, relates the story with a bit more color:

In the middle of the 1960 season, we were in Pittsburgh when Boudreau summoned me to tell me they were bringing Santo up. I had been playing third, but I assumed I'd be moving over to second where Jerry Kindall wasn't hitting a lick. There was no manager's office in the visiting clubhouse in Pittsburgh and Boudreau was sitting on a stool in the corner of the room.

"Santo's coming up," he said to me. "He'll be playing third."

"I figured that," I said. "So I'll be moving over to second?"

"Well, not now anyway," Boudreau said. "We're going to leave Kindall there."

"You mean to tell me I'm not at second either?"

"We just feel right now we want to go with the younger guys," Boudreau replied.

Younger guys? I said to myself. Kindall was like two or three years younger than I was and I was out-hitting him by nearly 100 points.

"What's wrong," Boudreau said. "Don't you want to be a Chicago Cub?"

"Screw the Chicago Cubs if I can't play here hitting .270 when the other guy's hitting .180!"

Actually, Kindall was four years and four months younger than Zimmer. And while Zimmer was hitting .270 -- or, to be precise, .272 -- when he got benched, Kindall was batting .273. Yes, Zimmer was drawing more walks and hitting with more power. But the difference between them, at that time, wasn't anything like what Zimmer remembers. Which I suppose throws that entire conversation into question, doesn't it?

Again, though, while it's possible that Zimmer tutored Santo in the finer points of playing third base, it's telling that neither man mentioned anything of the sort in their memoirs.

Conclusion: Most of what Boudreau remembered -- and perhaps all of it, except Santo replacing Zimmer at third base -- didn't actually happen.

Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer



Continues...


Excerpted from Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends by Rob Neyer Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet 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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