Some of you may prefer to skip these next few pages. Just dive right in. And I wouldn't blame you for a Manhattan minute.
But my editor's a pretty sharp guy more on him in the acknowledgments and he thinks that all sorts of baseball fans will wind up with this book in their hands. He also thinks that this introduction should speak to all of those different sorts, from the casual fan to the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member who spends much of his spare time poring over microfilm of baseball's early history.
If you are a casual fan maybe you'd never heard of this Rob Neyer character until now, or never read a baseball book my advice is to start with your favorite team and enjoy the memories. When you see who I've picked as the franchise's worst defensive third baseman, close your eyes and try to see him at the hot corner, a ball bouncing off his chest or his throw sailing into the stands behind first base. Of course, if I picked some guy who last played in 1914, you're probably going to have a tough time with this particular exercise. But you get the point. My hope is that even if your interest doesn't range far afield from your favorite team, you'll find some names that evoke fond memories. Or even not so fond, because those have their place, too.
I suppose if this book has a target audience, it's the fans who are not obsessed (like I am) with baseball, but who check the standings every day in August, enjoy a trip to the ballpark more than a few times a year, and probably have played Rotisserie or tabletop baseball at some point. You probably watch Baseball Tonight, and you think Peter Gammons is something close to God.
You're the sort of fan who has to buy this book if it's going to sell, because there are a lot of you out there. Millions of you.
And if you're one of those SABR guys or rather, if you're one of us SABR guys, because of course I'm one, too then I suspect you'll find something to argue about on virtually every page.
Chuck Tanner once said, "Baseball's just an opinion." I disagree with Tanner, because reducing something to "opinion" means that there's no right answer, and if I didn't think there were right answers, I wouldn't have bothered with this book. That said, I'm certainly aware that all of my answers aren't right, and you're going to become aware of that, too. I'm pretty easy to reach, so if you want to argue about something, I'll be ready. I'll be posting some of these arguments at www.robneyer.com, and if I'm lucky enough to publish another edition of this book someday, I'm sure I'll have a long list of new people to thank.
Why did I write this book, and what's in it?
I wrote it because I wanted to read it, and what's in it is just about everything that I could think to put in it.
Not specific enough? Okay.
You want books that rate players? No problem. There are enough to stock a good-sized bookcase. The "problem" is that all the players in all those books are compared to each other. I mean, there are certainly plenty of good reasons to compare Lou Gehrig to Jimmie Foxx, or Eddie Collins to Joe Morgan. There are plenty of books that do this well, and I probably own all of them. But there's another kind of book that nobody's written, a book that compares Lou Gehrig to Don Mattingly, and Eddie Collins to Nellie Fox. When you tell the story of baseball, as often as not you're telling the story of the teams, and so I figured there must be room in the bookcase for one book that compares players to their teammates.
And that's what this is. You'll have to look elsewhere if you want to know who was better, Gehrig or Foxx. But if you want to know who played better for the White Sox, Collins or Fox...well, you've come to the right place.
What's in it? Every team that's been around since at least 1977 gets the full treatment. What's the full treatment? An all-time team, a runner-up team, a single-season team, an all-rookie team, an all-homegrown team, an all-traded-away team, an all-defense team, an all-lousy-defense team, an all-bust team, and an all-used-to-be-great team. Most of the time, the full treatment also includes an all-nickname team. These various teams are accompanied by text sidebars, and each chapter concludes with a longer essay (more about the sidebars and essays later).
The four most recent expansion teams get something less than the full treatment, simply because there's not as much material to work with.
There is also some variation in format among franchises that have moved. In a few cases, where the franchise's first home didn't last long, I considered both homes in one chapter. The only notable instance is with the Rangers, who spent more than a decade in Washington before moving to Arlington. One could certainly make a case for not combining them, but the fact is that the great majority of the franchise's interesting players have played in Texas. So there wasn't a lot to be gained by considering the Rangers alone, and then doing a separate chapter on the franchise's entire history.
That is, however, what I did with six other franchises: the Athletics, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Orioles, and Twins. In the chapters on the other twenty-four franchises, I also included a list of great seasons and great managers. For these six, I held off on the great seasons and great managers until the chapter on the entire franchise. Got that? This will make sense once you actually see it all laid out.
THE TEAMS: I was pretty strict about picking a left fielder, a center fielder, and a right fielder for each lineup, as opposed to simply picking three outfielders. A couple of years ago, the Boston Globe published the All-Centennial Red Sox team, as selected by the newspaper's readers. The three outfielders? Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice. Three left fielders.
To me, that's not a team. It's a collection of talent. Which is fine, but I think teams are more interesting than collections of talent. So I don't care how good somebody is; if he was a left fielder, I'm not going to slot him in right.
One big question was, how much is enough? What's better, one great year or three good ones? Three great years, or six good ones? Six great years, or twelve good ones? I didn't answer these questions with any sort of precision. I did decide that for a player to be considered for a franchise's Number One or Number Two team, he had to have spent at least three seasons with the club (I often broke this rule for designated hitters, as few players spend more than a season or two in that role with the same team). And I generally came down on the side of excellence. Three great seasons are better than six good ones...but not necessarily better than nine good ones.
When filling out the Homegrown lineup, I considered only players who got their professional start (or very nearly) with the team in question. So while Joe DiMaggio never belonged to a major-league franchise other than the Yankees, I don't consider him "homegrown," as he was the property of the San Francisco Seals for about three years before the Yankees paid the Seals $25,000 (and five forgotten players) for his contract.
That's an easy case. However, the professional origins of many pre-1950 players are murky, and when I was unable to make a clear (or nearly clear) determination, I erred on the side of caution.
When filling out the Traded-Away lineup, I considered what the players did after the deal. That is to say, I wasn't interested in how good a player had been, but rather in how good he would be. My source for the dates of most pre-1984 trades was Joe Reichler's Baseball Trade Register (Macmillan, 1984). For trades since then, I relied on various editions of The Sporting News Baseball Register.
When determining the value of the players and of course, most of the book is about the value of the players I relied on both the readily available statistics and Bill James's Win Shares, which were published in his book Win Shares (STATS Publishing, 2002). Though I rarely mention Win Shares anywhere in the book but here, I consulted them often, especially when making the tough calls (and there were a lot of them). While my reliance on Win Shares has undoubtedly led to some mistakes on my part, I'm certain that I'd have made far more mistakes if I had not relied on Win Shares to the extent that I did.
THE TIMES: I chose to start this little exercise with the twentieth century. I could list a number of reasons why, but if you're a fan of the nineteenth century, my reasons would ring hollow. If it's any consolation, I suspect that my decision had only a tiny effect on who actually got into the book. And if it's any further consolation, I'll take a look, on my Web site, at who did get left out.
THE SIDEBARS: Within each team chapter are a number of sidebars, which are intended to illuminate the short notes that accompany the listed players. When deciding what to write about, my rule was, "Will my ideal reader already know this?" And if the answer was yes, then I tried to think of something else to write about. So, within the Yankees chapter, you're not going to find an essay on what set Babe Ruth apart from his contemporaries, or about how great DiMaggio was in center field, because I figure you already know about Ruth and DiMaggio. What you will find is a short essay about the defensive greatness of third baseman Clete Boyer, because he's been largely forgotten due to his contemporary, Brooks Robinson.
THE ESSAYS: At the end of each chapter is a longer essay, in which I wrote about whatever struck my fancy. The only rule was that there weren't any rules.
THE REGULARS: After the teams are...right, more teams. Actually, they're the same teams, but presented far differently. I thought it would be fun to see the regulars for each franchise, position by position, year by year, in a huge chart. So that's what we did, and we've presented them in a fashion that's supposed to make it easy to evaluate the stability, or lack thereof, for each franchise at each position over the years.
Otherwise, they're unadorned. But I think you'll find these listings interesting if you take the time, and I'll probably be doing the same.
SOURCES: There were hundreds of them, too many to list here. My primary source for statistics was The All-Time Baseball Handbook (STATS, Inc., 2000), because that tome uses the official definition of on-base percentage. My sources for the lists of regulars for each franchise were Total Baseball and The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball.
The Web site Retrosheet.org was immensely helpful in a number of ways, and Baseball-Reference.com was exceptionally useful for finding statistics for players with particular teams....Wait a minute. That's not strong enough. Without Baseball-Reference.com, I would have missed my deadline by six months rather than three. So, thank you, Sean Foreman (and one of these days, all that hard work's going to make you rich).
For information on nicknames, I consulted Don Zminda's From Abba Dabba to Zorro: The World of Baseball Nicknames (STATS Publishing, 1999) and James K. Skipper's Baseball Nicknames: A Dictionary of Origins and Meanings (McFarland & Co., 1992). The latter of those books is out of print and extremely difficult to find, and I'm indescribably grateful to John Skipper for loaning me a copy of his late brother's masterpiece.
At the end of each chapter, I list sources that were particularly helpful with that particular team.
Okay, now you can dive in.
Copyright © 2003 by Rob Neyer