Rob Neyer, an analyst and writer for ESPN and ESPN.COM, recently released his latest book, “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders: The Complete Guide to the Worst and Stupidest Moments in Baseball History”. The book is part anthology and part analysis, mixed with a good dose of history and “what if?”
To start at the beginning, what is a “baseball blunder”? First off, Neyer makes it very clear that a blunder is not a “blooper”. Bloopers are funny errors, mistakes, and slips that entertain crowds between on Jumbotrons between innings. Jose Canseco turning a fly ball into a home run by having it hit off his head and clear the fence is a blooper. A blunder is not an error or other split-second decision that goes badly. A costly error a throw to the incorrect base is not a blunder.
A blunder is a move made after careful consideration of the facts, and made incorrectly. A blunder can be made by a player, but is often made by a team’s manager, general manger, or owner. For example, Bill Buckner’s costly and famous (or infamous) error in the 7th game of the 1986 World Series was not a blunder. Red Sox manager John McNamara having an aging and injured Buckner in the game to make the error, however, was a very costly blunder. A bad trade can be a blunder, but isn’t always. The key is that the deal has to have been a bad decision at the time, not with hindsight. Hindsight is cheating in baseball trades.
Neyer and his team of co-writers and researchers look at close to 50 blunders from throughout baseball’s history, from the famous (The Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees) to the obscure (owners reject Charlie Finley’s “cure” for free agency). Bad trades, bad free agent signings, poor managerial moves, bad moves by owners (such as collusion in the late 1980’s, and even poor decisions by players are all looked at this book at stretches almost 300 pages, but remains a quick read.
While some of the blunders go back as far as 1917, most are focused in the last 50 years or so. This makes sense, since more was written and recorded about transactions and personalities in recent years than in the early days of the game.
Each blunder is given an objective review, using both information available at the time, and results that only came out after the fact. Bad trades are looked at in terms of how many (if any) championships they may have cost the “losing” team in the trade. Managerial moves are examined based on what went wrong, what the managers other options were at the time, and how things might have turned out differently. Neyer tries to remain as objective as possible, and shows how some infamous moves weren’t as bad as they seem, and how some quickly forgotten moves had serious and far reaching consequences.
Sprinkled in among the blunders in the book are a series of “Interludes” that cover a large range of topics, from teams that just missed the playoffs (and how they could have made up the difference) to bad trades not covered elsewhere, to managers who probably shouldn’t have been.
Throughout, the book is packed with information and statistics, but thanks to Neyer’s friendly, conversational, and humorous writing style, it is still a quick and enjoyable read. In writing a book that is both packed with information and ideas, and making it very readable, Neyer’s writing reflects that of his former employer and friend, Bill James. The fact that each blunder and interlude is it’s own free standing “chapter” makes the book great if you get your reading in only in short bursts.
I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of baseball, especially if you are a fan of Neyer’s writing on ESPN.com.