It seems that Rob Neyer is still looking for an argument.
Last year he published BASEBALL DYNASTIES, in which he and co-author Eddie Epstein discussed the relative merits of some of the great teams in the long history of the game. Such "absolute" declarations fairly beg knowledgeable fans to take umbrage and offer counterpoint. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Meaningful discussion (i.e., anything that doesn't end with a beer bottle broken over your head) is an ancillary benefit of rooting for your favorites.
The author picks up where he left off with his fun new offering, ROB NEYER'S BIG BOOK OF BASEBALL LINEUPS. A senior writer and baseball columnist for ESPN.com, Neyer takes a very calculated measure of each team in creating these various lists. These include the greatest players for every ballclub (along with an "all second" team); players who enjoyed one especially fantastic year; an all-rookie team; a line-up of players who came up through the organization's minor leagues and another consisting of those traded to other teams; a best-defensive lineup, along with those who sported "iron gloves"; a roster of the worst players and another of those who were great at one time --- for other teams; and finally, a collection of the greatest "nicknames" at each position.
The lists consist of thumbnail sketches elucidating the author's choices and sidebars for those selections requiring a more extensive explanation. Neyer finishes off each chapter with a brief essay on a topic dear to his heart.
The enjoyment (or frustration) begins as the reader thumbs through each section. "Hey, why was Joe Shlabotnick left off of the list of all-time greats?" one might ask. Conversely, the fan might want to know why someone was placed on the "all-bust" squad when it's obvious to anyone who has ever even heard of baseball that this paragon of athletic ability would have done so much better if it wasn't for that pesky ingrown toenail.
Neyer pulls no punches and his style might strike some as bordering the realm of "I'm an expert and you're not," but he makes up for it with a sense of humor and a keen eye for detail. Thanks to a group of contributors close to each team (whom he credits, to his credit), he is able to produce this amusing volume. Long on opinion and short on the litany of statistics that many writers use to hammer home their points, ROB NEYER'S BIG BOOK OF BASEBALL LINEUPS might become one of the most useful collections of commentary to grace a fan's bookshelf.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 23, 2011