Read an Excerpt
One of the most significant moments in baseball history took place in a hotel ballroom the night before the 1969 All Star Game, when the widow of Babe Ruth walked to the podium to accept an award for the Babe as the game’s all-time greatest. Ruth hadn’t played in 35 years when he was awarded that honor.
It’s been 35 years since then. Is Ruth still the greatest?
It has been my obsession the last few years to find out. I found that many people want to believe that Babe Ruth is still the best.
People want to discredit Barry Bonds, who has taken steroids in the later stages of his brilliant career. But Bonds has been a superlative talent for the better part of two decades before steroids were a topic. Bonds was a great base runner, a great defensive left fielder, a patient as well as powerful home run hitter.
I try to take everything into account. I don’t hold it against Walter Johnson (a star of the early 1900s) that it was impossible to accurately measure his fastball.
I don’t downplay the accomplishments of Negro League players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, who were barred in the 1920s and 30s from competing against the best.
I believe that Bonds has accomplished--even if we reasonably deduct from his score for cheating--exceeded what the great Babe Ruth and every other player in major-league history has done.
Barry Bonds has always been the picture of health, who pushed himself in the weight room from the very beginning of his career. He pushed himself too much in that direction, obviously. We as baseball fans applaud the natural talents of Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey, Jr. But Mantle didn’t take care of his body, as he admitted late in his late. Junior never hit the weight room with the intensity of Bonds and others. Were his succession of injuries a possible result? Would Bonds’ place in history been better served by retiring prematurely, or missing hundreds of games with injuries?
These are the issues that fuel Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Baseball?
What I try to also do in the book is to get people to understand these legendary players better by comparing them not only to other players from different eras; but to pop culture figures. I compare Reggie Jackson to racing star A.J. Foyt. I compare Hank Aaron to actor Sidney Poitier. Lou Gehrig is compared to some of the great second-bananas, including Art Carney and an actor from "The Sopranos." Dave Winfield’s analogy is comedian Jay Leno. Willie Mays is NBA-legend Oscar Robertson.
I spoke to dozens of experts, including Commissioner Selig, Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Johnny Bench, Rick Sutcliffe, Bill White, and others. The book is subjective, but backed up by strong facts.
Ultimately, though, as I read through my notes, this is a book about fathers and sons.
It tells the stories of Barry Bonds helping his father Bobby, in the last days of Bobby’s life. It tells the story of how Willie Mays’ father told his son to go into baseball, despite the fact that Willie was a better football player. Willie’s dad didn’t want his son to hurt his knees.
Ty Cobb became a Detroit Tiger in 1905, just three weeks before Cobb’s mother was arrested for the fatal shooting of his father (Cobb’s dad, a Georgia state senator, attempting to catch his wife in an unfaithful act, climbed through the bedroom window of his home and was shot to death by his wife, who mistook him for an intruder). Do you think that may have been why Cobb played with a chip on his shoulder for his entire career?
The poignant stories of other great baseball players and their fathers, including Mickey Mantle, George Brett, and Jim Palmer, to name three more, are told throughout the book.
Who’s Better, Who’s Best? It’s what we as sports fans argue about, from the time we were young.
I am at an age where my friends and I have sons and daughters that are becoming baseball fans. This book is for them. This book tells our kids about--and puts into context--the careers of the greatest players in history.
This book is so much more than "Barry Bonds is better than Babe Ruth." Although that’s a good starting point for an argument. I hope this book gives ammunition to people to defend the positions that they agree with. I also hope that even if you don’t agree with many of my stances, it will make you pause and consider the counter-arguments.