Book Review – Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends

So, what in fact happened one October afternoon in 1932 as the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees battled for the World Series title? Did the larger-than-life Babe Ruth really call his shot as legend has laid claim? That is just one story explored by baseball author and ESPN writer Rob Neyer in his latest book, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, The Lies, and Everything Else.

Like my grandfather, who loved to spin tales of the unnamed hurricane that struck New England by surprise in 1938, there are many baseball figures, well-known and otherwise, who have woven countless stories about young rookie, seasoned veterans and coaches, the men in blue, or the defining moment of a game, a series, or a season. The question Neyer asks is: did it really happen? To answer that question, he spent countless hours doing entensive research through a variety of sources to see if he could separate the facts from the myths while also giving us a deeper insight into the lives and careers of several ballplayers, famous and then-some.

Neyer’s purpose is not to make some well-known legends like Tommy Lasorda, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Greg Maddux, and Fred Lynn, among others, look foolish. Rather, as he explains:

…I think the truth is just as interesting as the myth. Actually, I think the myth is plenty interesting by itself, because of course every myth contains a kernel of truth (or so we’ve been told). But when you pile some literal truth on top of the truthiness? Delicious as frosting on a sugar cookie.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote comes from Mickey Vernon, who spoke about an encounter between Red Sox legend Ted Williams and pitcher Tommy Byrne. In the margins of that text was another story regarding an encounter between another former pitcher, Pedro Ramos, and Williams, and a similar version of the same story between Tigers ace Dizzy Trout and the Splendid Splinter. In each instance, the story ends with the head-strong Williams getting the last word in on their rivalry. Of course, did they really happen? Well, to learn that, you need to pick up a copy of the book.

Ed. note — Many thanks to Allan Wood from The Joy of Sox for turning me onto this book. Please take a moment to check out his great site!