Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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An amusing look at baseball’s worst
Posted Mar 23, 2013 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Apr 6, 2013 at 03:04 PM
This is the kind of fun book about baseball that works so well. Because baseball is so statistics-oriented, it’s easy to compile lists of the best and worst. Pick a category. You can create a list, back it up with statistics, and then let the debates begin.
That’s what longtime New York Daily News columnist Filip Bondy does in “Who’s On Worst? The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes” (Doubleday, hardback, $24.95, 255 pages). It’s a book that will make you laugh — unless you happen to be listed in the book.
Bondy, who has been at the Daily News for 20 years, breaks down the book into 15 chapters and writes with a sharp wit. Several chapter titles will make the reader laugh: “$23,000,097 per win,” which lists the most overpaid New York Yankees; “Too Fat To Bat,” which lists the most overpaid players who did not play for the Yankees; and “Even Steroids Didn’t Help,” which lists players who had lousy stats even after taking performance enhancing drugs.
Chapters discuss the worst players, pitchers and fielders. In “Bonehead: The Greatest Goats of All Time,” you know who’s No. 1: Bill Buckner and the ground ball that eluded him in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Fred Merkle’s base running gaffe in 1908 is second, and Mickey Owen’s passed ball on what would have been the final pitch in Game 4 of the 1941 World Series also is mentioned.
Ralph Branca and Donnie Moore are included in this category for allowing memorable home runs balls and so does Steve Bartman’s swipe at a foul ball during the 2003 National League Championship Series.
Bondy does give equal time to the game’s luckiest players, leading with Brian Doyle, who was a postseason hero for the 1978 Yankees. Al Weis, Bucky Dent and Elrod Hendricks (remember that phantom tag at the plate in the 1970 World Series?) are mentioned, along with Nippy Jones (“polished player,” writes Bondy devilishly, as it was Jones’ shoe polish that helped the Braves win Game 4 of the 1957 World Series). And Jeffrey Maier is included; no doubt, as a counterpoint to Bartman.
Worst teammates include Ruben Rivera, who stole Derek Jeter’s glove from the locker room during 2002 spring training in Tampa and sold it to a memorabilia dealer for $2,500. Sure, Rivera bought the glove back and returned it to Jeter with an apology, but the Yankees rightfully cut him. Other mercurial teammates include Jimmy Piersall; John Rocker and his racist rants; Dave Kingman; who once sent a live rat in a box to a female sportswriter in the press box; Eric Show, who once passed out literature for the John Birch Society; and Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, who famously traded their wives and families.
I will disagree with Bondy’s characterization of Jim Bouton being among the 10 worst teammates (he’s actually tied for 10th with Jeff Kent, Dick Allen and Manny Ramirez). Bondy writes that Bouton was the “first one to tell all, and break with tradition.” But as Bouton even wrote in “Ball Four,” his book was not a secret to his teammates, who on occasion would urge Bouton to “put that in your book.”
And “Ball Four,” while controversial when it was published in 1970, seems almost tame now in comparison to the books written by current athletes.
The chapter about the worst managers of all time, titled, “The Phold,” should give the reader inkling about Bondy’s top candidate.
“The Oddest Ballplayers of All Time” chapter opens with Eddie Gaedel, the St. Louis Browns’ 3-foot-7 pinch hitter in 1951. Herb Washington, the designated pinch runner who was picked off in Game 2 of the 1974 World Series, is also included. So are Chuck Connors (“The Rifleman”), Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson (played baseball and football) and Dave DeBusschere and Danny Ainge (played baseball and basketball). But where is Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1945. Certainly, Gray was a courageous player who hit .218 and had three outfield assists and only seven errors in 172 chances. But one-armed outfielders are unusual, if not odd.
The final chapter, “Beyond the Boss,” lists the 10 worst owners of all time. Marge Schott made the list. So did Harry Frazee, Frank McCourt and Jeffrey Loria. And who’s No. 1? It’s not who you might think.
The end of each chapter lists the top 10, with Bondy providing a comment for each “winner.”
“Who’s On Worst?” is a fun and entertaining read. Bondy does some good research to unearth some very obscure characters, and he provides some very colorful stories, told in rich detail.