My 10 favorite baseball books

1. The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter: When this book was updated in 1985, a reviewer wrote, “This was the best baseball book published in 1966, it is the best baseball book of its kind now, and, if it is reissued in 10 years, it will be the best baseball book of 1995.” I don’t know how any baseball book can top this one. Ritter spent five years interviewing roughly two dozen former ballplayers from the Deadball Era and beyond. More than providing unique historical perspective, their stories are entertaining, funny, and inspiring to a writer like myself. There must be more of these stories out there.

2. Baseball by Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward: I got this book for Christmas in 1994, a few months after watching the accompanying PBS special, and I still open it occasionally. I don’t know if I’ve read every word, but some of the stories I’ve read countless times. So much of my ethos and knowledge base as a writer and baseball historian comes from this book, which covers more than a century of the game’s history. I’ve even used the bibliography, a veritable who’s-who of great baseball books, to gauge how much of the sport’s essential literature I’ve gotten to.

3. Ball Four by Jim Bouton: Bouton wrote this diary of the 1969 season, and while many of the then-groundbreaking revelations seem tame by today’s standards (players in the book pop amphetamine pills and womanize), I still get great replay value from it. Bouton’s writing was fresh, honest, and entertaining in 1970, it doesn’t seem dated today, and it’s almost weird some of the book’s players have passed, like Greg Goosen whose death was announced Sunday.

4. Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker: Wilker’s memoir is told through his childhood baseball cards, and as someone who collected almost obsessively as a child, it could well have been my life story. It helps that Wilker’s writing is vivid, humorous, and well-influenced. When I emailed Wilker in preparing a review of his book, he told me he drew inspiration from one of my favorite writers, Tobias Wolff.

5. Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam: Halberstam brought the approach of a Harvard graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam reporter to the story of the 1949 American League pennant race, interviewing almost every living member of that year’s Red Sox and Yankees when he wrote this book in the 1980s. Seemingly, only Joe DiMaggio stiffed Halberstam, though Ted Williams provided wonderful material.

6. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn: I like The Boys of Summer a little less than Summer of ’49, because Halberstam was able to remove himself more from the work. But that’s also part of the magic with Kahn’s work, as much a memoir of his time as a young reporter covering the Brooklyn Dodgers as it is a chronicling years later of the players in retirement. Duke Snider’s death on Sunday reinforced the historical value of Kahn’s efforts, as did the deaths of fellow Brooklyn greats Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and Jackie Robinson.

7. The Lost Ballparks by Lawrence Ritter: While not on the same magnitude as Ritter’s first work here, this is a fun book which has been in my collection since childhood. It features the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, and many more bygone parks, telling how they stood, when they were demolished, and what remains of them today. My grandparents own a ranch near Tracy, California, and I used to enjoy exploring some of the derelict old buildings on their property as a kid, wondering what remnants of the past I could find. That part of me finds books like this fascinating.

8. Baseball As I Have Known It by Fred Lieb: Lieb published this book in 1977, approaching his 90th birthday, recounting everything in his baseball writing career from its beginnings in 1911. There’s so much baseball history here that Lieb witnessed, from the death of Ray Chapman to the career of Babe Ruth to the illness and death of his friend, Lou Gehrig. This is another one-of-a-kind book from a writer with a unique life. The only sportswriter I can think of who worked longer was Shirley Povich who wrote for the Washington Post from 1923 to 1998.

9. Game of Shadows by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada: Williams and Fainaru-Wada built this book out of their reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle on the BALCO steroid scandal which implicated Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield among others. I don’t know of a more sober, comprehensive look at baseball’s biggest scandal in 20 years.

10. The Last Boy by Jane Leavy: I’ve been remiss on posting something here about this book, which I received a review copy of in the fall and finished last month. I should hopefully have a longer piece up in the next few weeks. For now, what I’ll say is Leavy set the standard for baseball biographies with this book, taking five years to interview more than 600 people connected to Mantle and craft an evenhanded look at the controversial Yankee center fielder.

Baseball topics I'm sick of

My last couple of columns have been feel good about baseball things.

It was, as always, getting to be a long offseason and baseball withdrawal was setting in and getting the better of me. With the smell of another spring fast approaching, my thoughts tended to drift towards the nostalgic and naive times of my youth (Editor’s note: That’s a common theme on this site.)

The anticipation of a new season was growing stronger with each day, knowing I was one step closer to the joyful cry of “play ball” once again. My email from MLBtv.com would find my in basket any day now, announcing the renewal of my subscription. Before the end of this week, I’d be watching split squads and college players, guys with numbers in the high 90’s and names I’ve never heard of and might never again.

Maybe finally, those columnists lucky enough to be syndicated could begin to focus on the game itself. Granted, the pressure to come up with something relevant and interesting each day can be intimidating.

I’ve been put in that position myself in the past and the tendency to drift off into tabloid-like writings and ramblings can become difficult to avoid.

With all that in mind, here are some topics I would like to see put to bed:

Myth 1.  Albert Pujols Needs $30 Million Per Season for Eternity

No he doesn’t. End of discussion-end of topic. Stop asking. The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have to do anything with Pujols as he is already under contract for this season. If he doesn’t get his money at a later date the union will decry collaboration and the owners will have to pay a fine somewhere down the line for, on this occasion anyway, being sensible. There is no team out there with an opening at first base who could afford to gut their farm system in a trade for Pujols  let alone pay him what he wants.

Myth 2.  Derek Jeter Cares More About His House Than Winning

Well you have to admit, it looks like a very nice place to live.  I’ve never lived there but an apartment in New York, no matter how nice, doesn’t seem to match up very well. Granted, there are probably more corner stores and McDonalds in New York but plan ahead for those late night snacks. I don’t need to read anything else about it. Besides, we all know the Steinbrenners are nut cases anyway.

Myth 3. Michael Young Thinks The Texas Rangers Are Stupid

I can’t disagree with you on that one Mike. The Rangers, in order to improve their team, didn’t resign Cliff Lee or Vlad Guerrero because for some reason he was uncomfortable in World Series competition as their right fielder, signed Adrian Beltre ignoring the fact that he seldom makes any effort until the walk year of a contract, and alienated a hard-nosed, very productive, face of the franchise player, by moving him to third, then DH, then utility man. Management was surprised when Young publicly complained and asked to be traded.

Myth 4.  Two of Baseballs Zillionaire Owners Are Having Problems

Yeah well so am I, and I’m thinking I’m not alone. Greedy and crooked investments and marital problems seem to have the baseball writing world all in a tizzy. But not to worry-the owner’s best friend and compatriot, Bud Selig, will step in and make it all go away. You will be able to keep your mansions and yachts and condos and women-all in the best interests of baseball, and continue to complain about your publicly funded stadiums, luxury boxes and player salaries. You won’t have to take public transit or sit in the $20 bleachers, eat $6 hot dogs or drink $10 beer. I promise.

Can we please now just get on with it?  Thank you.

An Unusual Alliance: Rogers Hornsby, Stan Lopata and Alex Cora

In 1954 Stan “Stash” Lopata, the hard-hitting Philadelphia Philles’ catcher, was stuck in a prolonged slump. When the Phillies were in Cincinnati, Lopata’s teammate Johnny Wyrostek bumped into Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s most respected hitting experts as attested to by his .358 lifetime batting average and his .424 mark in 1924. Wyrostek had played parts of 1952 and 1953 with the Reds when Hornsby was manager.

Wyrostek asked Hornsby what his friend Lopata was doing wrong. Hornsby said: “Well, I’ve seen him on television and he swings and he misses the ball too often.” Hornsby’s message was to get a piece of the ball every time you swing the bat—not necessarily a hit but at least a foul ball.

Hearing Hornsby’s advice, Lopata adopted a crouched stance to more easily follow the pitched ball and banged out a couple of hits.  Then, spurred on by his initial success, the next day Lopata tried a more radical crouch, saw the ball even better, and got another handful of hits. By the year’s end, Lopata hit a solid .290, up from his 1953 .239 average.

Whether or not Alex Cora has ever heard of Hornsby is not known. But Cora certainly is a living example of the Rajah’s wisdom.

On May 4, 2004 when the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Chicago Cubs, Cora had an 18-pitch at-bat against the Cubs starting pitcher Matt Clement. Facing a 2–1 count, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches before finally hitting a two-run home run.

The next day the Dodger club house was abuzz over Cora’s 14 minute epic confrontation against Clement. When Cora came to the plate, Clement had thrown 86 pitches. When he was pulled after Cora’s home run, his total ballooned to 104.

Said Dodger manager Jim Tracy: “I’m still in somewhat of amazement with that at-bat I saw last night. I’ve never seen a better at-bat against a pitcher of that caliber, the way he was throwing the ball. It’s not easy to foul 14 pitches off in a row, I can tell you that.”

The next day Cora said, “I was very relaxed and I didn’t rush myself. I was very calm and just got the result.” Since his classic at-bat, the Puerto Rican-born Cora has played for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Texas Rangers. On September 10, 2010 the Rangers released Cora.

No one will ever confuse Cora and his lifetime .244 career batting average with Hornsby. But the Rajah would have been delighted with Cora’s performance and attitude on that historic day.

The Great Friday Link Out VIII: When it rains in San Francisco, it Snows

We’re going to do things a little different this week. Generally, I provide a brief intro and then link to some posts. My first link, however, requires some back story.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Daniel Greenia, a reader, occasional commenter, and voter in my project to find the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Daniel told me J.T. Snow wouldn’t be on this year’s Cooperstown ballot despite last playing in 2006 because he signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Giants in September 2008. In a post for BaseballThinkFactory.org, Daniel offered more details, and while Snow isn’t a serious Hall of Fame candidate now and won’t be whenever he’s on the ballot, what Daniel said bears mention here.

Daniel wrote:

For Snow himself there is a downside to his final bow. He actually last played in a MLB game for Boston on 6/18/06. Normally this would allow him to appear on the HOF ballot in 2012, the upcoming election. However, because his appearance in 2008 is technically a Game, the Hall of Fame has indicated that Snow cannot appear on the ballot until 2014. This decision seems a little at odds with Rule 3.C of the BBWAA Election Rules which says: “Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election….” Snow didn’t try to work himself into game shape in 2008; his intent was never to actually be an “active player”, but to be honored in a Giants uniform.

Rule 10.20 is actually inconsistent with another rule. Rule 10.23(c) tells us that Snow’s Game in 2008 is not sufficient to continue a consecutive-game playing streak. For that he would actually have to play a half-inning on defense or complete a time at bat. Well, why not use that same rule to define what constitutes a continuation of a career? Add this sentence to Rule 3.C of the election rules: Unless a player plays at least one-half inning on defense or completes a time at bat, in the regular season or the post-season, he will not be considered to be an active player in that season for purposes of HOF eligibility.

I also suggest that MLB should modify Rule 10.20 and credit a player with a Game played only if they are in the game when something happens. I think that precipitating a pitching change or some other managerial move by your announced presence does not constitute “being in the game when something happens.” A Game played should be credited when a player is in the game and on the field when either 1) one pitch is thrown, 2) one fielding chance occurs, or 3) a base is gained.

Makes me wonder who else could be effect under current rules….

Other good stuff:

Any player/Any era: Ralph Kiner

Editor’s note: For anyone who likes this column, be sure to check out my debut piece at The Hardball Times.

What he did: Last week, I wrote how Mike Schmidt might have hit 600 home runs on the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920s and ’30s, playing in a better era for hitters. A reader suggested this might have been unrealistic at Forbes Field, that the vast dimensions of the old Pirates ballpark may have given the speedy Schmidt many doubles and triples but taken away homers. It made me pause and wonder if there had ever been a great power hitter at Forbes, and then I remembered Ralph Kiner.

Selected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, Kiner may have been the best slugger in the National League for several years after World War II. He led the circuit in homers his first seven seasons, had the top OPS+ three times, and just missed the Triple Crown in 1949 when he posted a league-leading 54 home runs and 127 RBI to go with the fifth-best batting average, .310. Because his career was relatively brief, 10 years, his 369 homers rank distantly down the leader boards, though Kiner’s rate of one homer for every 14.11 at bats is eighth-best ever.

More impressively, Kiner thrived on mostly losing clubs. Imagine how he’d do in better environs and in an era where more runs were scored per game and hulking sluggers ruled.

Era he might have thrived in: Since we had Schmidt at Forbes Field, we’ll put Kiner in Schmidt’s home park, Veterans Stadium. It’s not much of an upgrade to Forbes, but it’s the price to get Kiner on a far better team than he ever had in Pittsburgh. Playing in 1993, Kiner might have been the strong bat Philadelphia lacked after Schmidt retired in 1989 and particularly needed in the World Series.

Why: There’s an unusual stat about the ’93 Phillies. They scored 877 runs, a fairly high total historically, but had no player with 30 home runs, being led in homers by Darren Daulton and journeyman Pete Incaviglia with 24 each. This is rare.

Of the 105 other teams since 1900 that scored at least 877 runs, 82 had a 30-home run hitter. Just 11 modern teams with as many runs scored as the ’93 Phillies had a lesser home run champ, and since the late 1930s, there have been only two such clubs: the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers who scored 879 runs and were led by Gil Hodges and Duke Snider with 23 home runs each; and the 1996 Minnesota Twins who scored 877 runs and were led in homers by Marty Cordova with 16.

There’s some temptation to place Kiner on those Twins, and the stat converter has his 1949 season converting to 62 home runs, 154 RBI, and a .332 batting average for Minnesota in 1996. But the Twins finished 79-83 because even as they scored 877 runs, they allowed 900. The season was bittersweet, the first after Kirby Puckett’s retirement, and while Kiner might have been another great plodding slugger for a franchise that’s featured Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, and Jim Thome, I couldn’t see him changing things much for Minnesota.

But Kiner could be the difference in Philadelphia in 1993. His 1949 season converts to 54 home runs, and he’d add new dimension to a lineup with .300 hitters Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk, but no player with a .500 slugging percentage. In the World Series, only Dykstra offered much clout, hitting four of his team’s seven homers, and Philadelphia lost to Toronto on Joe Carter’s walk-off. Perhaps with Kiner, the World Series never would have lasted that long.

Kiner would benefit here, too. In naming Kiner one of the 20 best hitters all-time, Ted Williams noted how Kiner often played on losing clubs, frequently being pitched around and getting 100 walks six times. Pirates general manager Branch Rickey famously told Kiner upon his trade to the Cubs in 1953, “We finished last with you and we can finish last without you.”

Of course, in 1993, Kiner wouldn’t have Kiner’s Korner, the Forbes Field quirk that kept the left field fence 30 feet closer to accommodate him as a right-handed hitter. And he wouldn’t have Hank Greenberg, who was traded to Pittsburgh for his final season, 1947. Greenberg recounted in The Glory of Their Times, “Ralph had a natural home run swing. All he needed was somebody to teach him the value of hard work and self-discipline. Early in the morning, on off-days, every chance we got, we worked on hitting.”

Kiner noted in an essay years ago that Greenberg changed his stance, moved him up closer at the plate, and lobbied for him not to be sent down during an epic slump. Kiner recovered and, late that season, hit eight homers in four games. Kiner wrote of Greenberg, “His friendship and his example had an indelible effect on my life. He taught me how to live ‘the right way.'”

Greenberg was a Hall of Famer as a hitter and as a cultural icon, the first great Jewish ballplayer and a World War II stalwart to boot. But I like to think there’s a Greenberg in every baseball generation, at least someone who can step up, if needed. Perhaps in the early ’90s, that man could have been Schmidt, who’s serving as a spring training instructor for the Phillies as we speak.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Stan Musial, the Mexican League and $$$ Left on the Table

In my last post I lamented the ugly negotiations between Albert Pujols and his St. Louis Cardinals employers.

The unpleasantness was interrupted for one day only when Cardinals great Stan Musial received his well deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Musial thinks of the salary goings-on given that they are light years away from conditions that existed during his playing days.

Once there was a time, back in 1946, when Musial was fresh out of the U.S. Navy, married and with a growing family but earning only $13,500 despite being along with Ted Williams one of baseball’s best hitters.

Nevertheless, “The Man” turned down a ten-fold increase in his salary to stay put with the Cardinals. In those days, the Reserve Clause kept players tied to their team. They had no union and no retirement benefits. Veteran players, especially those who had given up their peak playing days to serve in World War II, grew angry.

At that moment when the players were the most vulnerable Jorge Pasqual, a Mexican importer-exporter who owned the Mexican League decided to offer Musial a $125,000 five-year guaranteed salary sweetened by a $50,000 signing bonuses. Musial turned Pasqual down flat. In today’s dollars, Musial turned down about $7 million for the entire deal.

Of course, the era was different and the Mexican League was inferior to the Major League, and anyone who played there faced a lifetime ban (rescinded a few years later) from the majors upon leaving. But the circuit wasn’t without its stars. The Mexican League had Negro greats Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Martin Dihigo, Ray Dandridge and Willie Wells.

Still, Musial left a ton of money on the table to stay with the Cardinals, something Pujols is apparently unwilling to do despite his statements to the contrary.

What bothers me most is that Pujols overriding concern is that he wants to be baseball’s highest paid player, an understandable but not particularly admirable goal. I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s always someone out there who can one up you at whatever you think you’re best at whether it’s hitting, making money, or driving faster cars.

As it stands today, Pujols could lock up more than $20 million annually for about seven years, stay in St. Louis and remain a Musial-like hero for the ages. As Mike Shannon once said, “Everybody in St. Louis, every kid in St. Louis, wanted to be Stan Musial. He was the best.”

I feel sorry for Pujols if it’s not enough for him to be remembered the way Musial is– while making $20 million a year.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Darrell Evans

Claim to fame: Darrell Evans played for the Braves, Giants, and Tigers in his long and productive career. Although a ten year career can be sufficient for Hall of Fame consideration, not many Hall of Famers have had such short careers. A few played 12 years or less; most had careers in the 14 to 18 year range. Evans played 21 seasons, with his later years being some of his best.

Evans was a two-time All-Star, first in 1973 and again in 1983 at age 36. Twice he hit 40 or more home runs; in 1973 he was one of three players in the Braves’ lineup with 40, and in 1985, at age 38, his 40 homers for the Tigers led the American League. Evans is perhaps unique in one sense: His late-career productivity was Hall-worthy, while his early-career numbers could leave him short.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Evans was one-and-done, receiving 1.7 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote in 1995. Since more than 20 years have passed since Evans’ retirement, he can now be considered by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Evans had a very unusual career arc. For most players, productivity peaks around age 28 or 29. Age 30 is typically the doorway to decline. Many a 28-year-old All-Star has found himself riding the bench at age 33, or worse, strolling the golf course as a former major leaguer.

Hall of Famers tend to buck this trend, maintaining a high level of play through their early and mid-30s. However, even for Hall members, the decline from late 20s peak performance is usually evident in their stats. In contrast, Evans had no measurable drop-off in performance after turning 30. Evans’ OBP exceeded .350 every year during his 30s. It wasn’t until his last two seasons, in his 40s, that his numbers began to trail off.

Evans’ list of “similars” on Baseball-Reference.com is headed by Graig Nettles, Dale Murphy, and Dwight Evans – good company all, but not Hall of Fame company.  The lone Hall of Famer on Evans’ list is Eddie Mathews at No. 10. Comparing career numbers, Mathews hit for higher average and with more power than Evans, but he achieved this advantage only early in his career, declining dramatically after 1965 when he was 33. In terms of BA, OBP and SLG, Mathews and Evans have virtually identical numbers from age 31 on, though Evans played almost twice as long after turning 30.

Player Career phase G H HR BA OBP SLG
Darrell Evans Age 22-30 995 829 147 .248 .367 .428
Age 31-42 1692 1394 267 .247 .356 .433
Total 2687 2223 414 .248 .361 .431
Eddie Mathews Age 20-30 1634 1690 399 .282 .384 .543
Age 31-36 757 625 113 .247 .351 .431
Total 2391 2315 512 .271 .376 .509


If Evans’ stats leave him just shy of Cooperstown, let’s compare him to some other not-quite Hall of Famers. Jimmy Wynn, Don Mattingly, and Rocky Colavito have all been examined on this blog in recent months. Each had early-career numbers pointing toward Cooperstown, but quicker and steeper declines after age 30 than is typical for most Hall of Famers. In some cases, the decline is fueled by chronic injuries, as was true for Mattingly. In any event, the resulting failure to pass or even approach milestone numbers of hits and home runs undermines the Hall candidacy of such players.

Listed below are five players who had very strong production early, but who didn’t last very long into their 30s. After age 30, Murphy’s career mirrored Mathews’, which is to say it was half of what Evans’ post-30 career was.  The others below were done by age 35. On average they played about a third as much as Evans after age 30, and with less impact.

Player Career G H HR BA OBP SLG
Dale Murphy Age 20-30 1360 1388 266 .277 .355 .491
Age 31-37 820 723 132 .246 .329 .431
Total 2180 2111 398 .265 .346 .469
Jimmy Wynn Age 21-30 1287 1185 203 .259 .361 .450
Age 31-35 633 480 88 .232 .370 .405
Total 1920 1665 291 .250 .366 .436
Mo Vaughn Age 23-30 1046 1165 230 .304 .394 .542
Age 31-35 466 455 98 .267 .356 .481
Total 1512 1620 328 .293 .383 .523
Don Mattingly Age 21-30 1269 1570 178 .314 .359 .491
Age 31-34 516 583 44 .292 .354 .422
Total 1785 2153 222 .307 .358 .471
Rocky Colavito Age 21-30 1326 1302 302 .272 .363 .515
Age 31-34 515 428 72 .250 .345 .415
Total 1841 1730 374 .266 .359 .489


To put the value of Evans’ post-30 career into perspective, let’s imagine that we can combine the early-career stats of each of the above near-miss candidates with Evans’ late-career stats. The result is a set of hybrid players, each with what would have been a long and Hall-worthy career. While none of these hybrids has a stellar batting average (remember each is half Darrell Evans), all have more than 2500 hits, and all but Mattingly/Evans have 470 or more HR.

I’m not saying that if such players existed, each would automatically be voted in, but the Colavito/Evans chimera for example has career numbers that practically match Reggie Jackson’s, minus the post-season heroics, of course. What I am saying is that if any of these hybrid players existed, they would have been taken very seriously as a Hall candidates and would have earned considerably more votes than any of them did in real life as individual entities.

Player hybrid G H HR BA OBP SLG
Murphy/Evans 3052 2782 533 .261 .355 .460
Wynn/Evans 2979 2579 470 .252 .358 .441
Vaughn/Evans 2738 2559 497 .270 .371 .477
Mattingly/Evans 2961 2964 445 .279 .357 .460
Colavito/Evans 3018 2696 569 .259 .359 .470


Evans might never be able to add the letters HOF when he signs his name. And I would wager that few kids in the sandlots these days have even heard of Evans or dreamed of emulating his career. But this much is clear. Any current-day star in his late 20s who has an eye on making the Hall (David Wright, let’s say) would be well advised to aspire to a Darrell Evans-like second act.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

Killing Santa Claus: Abner Doubleday Did Not Invent Baseball

Editor’s note: Please welcome Maria Rainier, a freelance writer, baseball fan, and the first-ever female to guest post on this Web site.

This is the rude awakening in which you learn that Abner Doubleday, the Santa Claus of baseball, did not invent baseball.

Or, maybe not. Maybe you already know about the Doubleday myth. John Thorn made it clear in an interview on this site last spring that the honor goes to neither Doubleday nor the purported real inventor of baseball, Alexander Cartwright. Have you ever wondered, though, why the Doubleday myth got started in the first place? What made Abner Doubleday so apt for the fame that never should have been his?

The All-American

Doubleday was born in 1819 in a small house on the corner of Washington and Fenwick Street in Ballston Spa, New York. His family wasn’t wealthy; they slept in the attic loft of a house that had one room.

  • At this point, the Doubleday myth already gains popularity, often confused with credibility: he’s an underdog who started at rags and ended—at least as far as undue baseball fame goes—riches.  His hometown had neither furreners nor industry—an all-American beginning.

The family had a long history with the military. Doubleday was actually Doubleday, Jr., since his dad was also named Abner and fought in the Revolutionary War.

  • The Doubleday myth gains more popularity; everyone likes a war hero.

The War Hero

After being sent to Cooperstown to attend a private prepatory high school, Doubleday (Jr.) joined the military tradition himself by entering the United States Military Academy in 1838. He wasn’t exactly at the top of his class, but he managed to make the upper cut by placing 24th in a class of 56.

  • This is another win for baseball lovers.  Everyone wants a hero they can relate to in mediocrity.

Easily the most convincing reason he became an American hero—Santa Claus as John Thorn put it—is the fact that he already was one. Doubleday served as a general in the Civil War for the Union side.

  • Note that the Union side was the winning side, which adds to the rags to riches theory.  Plus, beginning the sticky issue of race in baseball with Abner was a little sticky in itself.

The oft-told and trite tale is that he fired the first shot at Fort Sumter—the first real battle of the war—and made a name for himself at Gettysburg, although Maj. Gen. George Meade didn’t like the him so much and relieved Doubleday, creating everlasting tension between the two of them.

  • Everyone (but Meade) loves a war hero.

The Fame and the Facts

It’s clear now that Doubleday is the perfect candidate for entering the Invented-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame. There is, however, no evidence for this claim, unless you count the testimony of a man decades after 1839 when Doubleday allegedly created the game. You’ll probably want to take into consideration that the guy, along with being a resident of Cooperstown, was convicted of murdering his wife and spent the final days of his life mumbling to himself in an asylum. Otherwise, there is no written evidence from 1839 or the 1840s, from Doubleday himself or any encyclopedia published in 1911, or Doubleday’s New York Times obituary.

How did the myth come about then? Some would say that baseball needed Doubleday to invent baseball. America’s favorite pastime needed an all-American hero to be its father. Baseball had daddy issues, and so resulted in the Mills Commission (organized by Spalding to put an end to the decades-long argument of who was its daddy) asserting, without evidence or apology, that Doubleday had invented the word and the game of baseball.

Thorn wrote an introduction to a Cartwright biography and told this site last year, “I believe that to this day if you could interview all baseball fans, that 60-70 percent of them would still say that Doubleday invented the game. It’s pretty hard to kill Santa Claus.”

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, playing with the newly revealed degree calculator and researching what college engineering degrees pay best. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Some Baseball Events I've Never Experienced

Editor’s note: I think every fan has some version of a baseball bucket list. Here is Doug Bird’s.

I’ve been a baseball fan (actually fanatic would be more accurate), all of my life but living in Canada has made it any easier, until the advent of the Internet and various television packages.

Sure, there are the Blue Jays, a mere six hour drive from my door, but that is in Toronto, a place reviled by the vast majority of Canadians.

Besides, until recently, the Jays have always struck me as a whiney “look at us we won a game; or we lost, and it’s not our fault” collection of prima donnas. I get enough of that from other sources.

There are four events which still remain on my to do baseball list and although time is certainly not running out (knock on my Louisville Slugger), I would like to cross them off my list in the near future.

Spring Training

I’ve never experienced the warmth of a March day while seated blissfully in the stands, watching my favourite players go through the rituals of exhibition baseball.  There is a relaxed ” we are still tied for first place mentality on the field and in the stands, a kind of let’s get reacquainted with each other” experience, or so I’m told.  It would be a chance to get away from the finances and scandals and any of the other distractions which eventually see the light of day during the regular season.  Besides, it would give me a chance to see my Pirates lose and still enjoy the weather.

Cooperstown

The baseball Hall of Fame is nestled in a quiet corner of northern New York state just far enough off the beaten track on my way to Pittsburgh to causes my wife, the driver, to exclaim, “Maybe next time honey, I only have four days off” I’ve shown her the pamphlet, the pictures of the inductee plaques, the interactive exhibitions and the beautiful grounds yet still I have not ventured onto this sacred place.  Not even the induction of our beloved Montreal Expo Andre Dawson was enough to take that right turn. I’d like to visit before it becomes tainted with the likes of Bonds, Clemens et al.

The World Serious

Not a typo. Football fans can talk about their Super Bowl, (really, a championship game named after something you put chips or tacos in?), the endless NHL and NBA playoffs, or any other championship events– baseball is the one. Why do you think they refer to it as the World Serious?

The difficulty in attending one of these hallowed games, officially called the World Series, is the uncertainty of the participants until only days prior. A game could be on the far away west coast, the only slightly closer Southern coast, or the Midwest or Southwest. Why mention New York or Boston as in the event one could even find scalpers tickets or a hotel room or flight for that matter, well, no one pays me that much money? Maybe the Pirates (that should give me time to save up.)

The All-Star Game

At least there is lots of advance warning for this game. Baseball designates the host city at minimum two years in advance, plenty of time for me to plan my all-star weekend adventure. I’d spring for the whole extravaganza, the heck with the mortgage money. I’d want to meet all the players I could, get everything signed and maybe even shake the hand of my childhood heroes (if Hank and Willie managed to be there.) I’d like to catch a baseball from the homerun derby. I’d like to step out onto the field, if only for a second or two. Sit down Mr. McCutchen, I’m buying.

One of these days-one of these days.

Turned Off by Pujols, the Cardinals and $$$

The Albert Pujols-St. Louis Cardinals haggling is a massive turn off. All I need to do is hear “Pujols” or “St. Louis Cardinals,” and I change the channel.

I’m not sure whether Pujols, his agent Dan Lozano, or the Cardinals truly understand what they refer to as “the market.”

Since I worked on Wall Street for nearly 25 years, I do understand it. Markets are not static but are constantly in flux.

Unfortunately for Pujols, in today’s baseball climate, there’s no interest in signing a 31-year-old player to a ten-year deal for nearly $30 million annually. As of today, Pujols’ value is $16 million for the remaining year on his contract. The Cardinals apparently offered more but Pujols prefers to gamble that by 2012, an owner will step up and offer him the money he wants.

Historically (see Jayson Werth, Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Kevin Brown, Ryan Howard etc.), owners have anted up. But there’s a certain group mentality among baseball’s big bosses that salaries and contract terms governing length of service have to be drawn somewhere. Pujols may have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Other 2012 possibilities include Pujols wrenching his knee running out an Opening Day ground ball and requiring surgery. Or maybe, under the unpleasant atmosphere surrounding his dispute with the Cardinals he could hit .265 with a corresponding drop in home run and RBI production. If either of those scenarios comes true, Pujols value will drop precipitously.

Pujols is disappointingly hung up on being baseball’s highest paid player. But at the salary levels he’s talking about, what realistically does it matter if he earns more than Alex Rodriguez? I’ll make the seemingly strange (until you stop to think about it) argument that there is no practical difference between $20, $25 or $30 million a year. And if it were up to me, I’d rather not have my name mentioned in the same sentence with Rodriguez.

What the fans are left with is the prospect of an extended, season-long reminder that Pujols wants $5 or $10 million more per year than whatever multimillion dollar deal management has offered.

Whether it’s fair or not, an months-long debate about how many millions more Pujols wants in an era of 10 percent American unemployment puts him by definition in a bad light, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Give me Gil Meche any day! Meche left $12 million of his $55 million contract on the table when he retired from the Kansas City Royals during the off season. Plagued by shoulder injuries last year, Meche went 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA. Even with surgery, there was no guarantee that he would pitch in 2011.

As Meche said during his press conference:

My first reaction is I’m not a guy who’s going to sit here and play baseball for the money. I know you hear a lot of athletes say, `It’s not for the money, it’s not for the money.’

Actually, it wasn’t. And hopefully this does show a lot of guys do feel the same as I do. Yeah, I’ve made a lot of money in my career and I know I’m financially good. My kids are good. That’s comforting for me. I’m not a guy who’s going to go and blow money. The money wasn’t ever, ever a factor in my decision.

Do the math on Meche’s deal. He’s earned $43 million from baseball. At age 32 and assuming he lives to 72 but deducting whatever he’s spent since he signed his contract in 2007, he’s still got about $800,000 a year to live on (in retirement!) plus whatever supplemental income he generated before or after his career.

To date, Pujols has made $111 million and is a beloved figure. Pujols may or may not play out his days as a Cardinals; he could or could not keep his iconic status in St. Louis. But whether he signs with the Cardinals or some other money-minting team, there will always be a lingering and bitter aftertaste in fans’ hearts about what’s truly important to Pujols.

Outside Busch Stadium, 10 sculptures of St. Louis ballplayers stand. They represented the best Cardinals of all time and include Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst and of course Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Stan Musial. Nowhere on their statues is there a mention of how much money they made.