Rob Neyer, the author or co-author of six books about baseball, currently works as SB Nation’s national baseball editor. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Last year I read a story by ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, with this headline:
Why managing is harder than ever
Within the actual story, Crasnick doesn’t make that argument, precisely. Anyway, his interviewees do most of the arguing. And they’re arguments I’ve seen before, here and there over the years.
As I sit in a coffee shop writing these words, almost exactly two months before Opening Day 2016, the all-time list of real Major Leaguers consists of . . . actually, I’m going to throw a qualifier in here, for a couple of reasons . . . the modern list of Major Leaguers—that is, Major League players since 1901, when the American League joined the National League as an acknowledged “major” league—consists of 16,725 players.*
As a baseball fan, I crave innovation. If it’s innovation that actually gains a real foothold in the sport, great. But baseball, at least on the field, has existed in approximately its current form since . . . oh, about 1920?
Or if you like, pick 1947. Or 1958. Pick any year.
If Fritz Maisel had spent the prime years of his career in the National League, he would at least be remembered. Because if you were well known in the Deadball Era’s National League, you were probably memorialized a half-century later in Lawrence Ritter’s seminal book, The Glory of Their Times.
But that book consists largely of interviews with National Leaguers, so the book contains relatively few mentions of American Leaguers. Especially American Leaguers with just a couple of big years.
Actually, two books changed my life.
One of them was the 1984 Bill James Baseball Abstract. But I’ve written about that one a few times over the years, so this time around I want to write about the other one: Peter Golenbock’s Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1965’s Official Baseball Annual, the top headline on the cover—accompanied by photos of two Los Angeles hurlers—read, “WHO’S THE BEST PITCHER IN BASEBALL?” The candidates? Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax and Los Angeles Angel Dean Chance.
I’ve been following this site’s “My Dream Game” series with great interest, because it’s a question I’ve long considered: “If I could hop in a time machine and see a baseball game, any game at all, which one would I see?”
My colleagues here have come up with some outstanding candidates; in fact, some of their choices have been on my list over the years. Ultimately, though, I’m looking for something I can’t otherwise see, or imagine, really, in any great detail.
In his new memoir, longtime sports scribe Bob Ryan writes, “I’m not like most baseball fans. I have no idea when I saw my first big league game, or even my first minor league game. The fact is I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t going to games. So I have no great story to tell about my memorable first trip to the ballpark.”
I have an idea when I saw my first big league game. That’s easy, because I was never anywhere near a Major League ballpark until I was almost 10 years old.
I don’t remember exactly when I became somewhat obsessed with knuckleball pitchers. I do remember taking some interest in Wilbur Wood’s exploits with the White Sox in the early 1970s. A few years later, I read Jim Bouton’s Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues. I might have realized, then, that without the mysterious and unpredictable knuckleball, the most important book in baseball history almost certainly wouldn’t have existed. Maybe that should have been enough to spur my interest.