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Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends...and a Steve Dalkowski story...

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  • Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends...and a Steve Dalkowski story...

    Currently reading this one and liking it. However, I have two things to note: one basic (and pretty inexcusable) error on Neyer's part and the one legend about Steve Dalkowski.

    First the error. In the chapter where it says Tommy Lasorda was chasing the all-time International League wins record, Neyer correctly notes that Lasorda's career total of 107 weren't even close to some of the Baltimore Orioles from the 1920's-1930's (a team that has always captured my interest), especially John Ogden, who won 213 games. Neyer says that Lasorda said that he thanked God for getting him though that last win. "But he couldn't do much for Curley Ogden." No, I suppose he couldn't. But there's one problem: John "Jack" Ogden and Warren "Curley" Ogden were not the same ballplayer. The Ogden brothers both pitched with Baltimore during the 1920's, but writers were careful to distinguish them. In fact, in the 1933 Goudey baseball card set, each brother is given a baseball card noting his success with Baltimore and giving his professional career win totals. Curley won only 84 games and had retired by the time the card was printed.

    Now, for the Steve Dalkowski story. Well, no, not quite yet. Before we go there, it should be noted that until about 2006, Steve's memory was so faulty (alcohol-induced dementia...he is recovering very well) that second hand sources were the only ones to be relied upon. Of course, this resulted in more than a few historical errors. Milt Pappas once claimed the radar gun reading on Steve's test at Aberdeen was 104 mph (it was 93.8, though Steve was exhausted when he threw the pitch). Stories of Steve hyperextending his arm rather than feeling a pop in his elbow as the cause of his injury are out there, too. And the batter whom he faced when throwing that pitch have ranged from Hector Lopez to Jim Bouton (despite Steve and his sister insisting for years that it was Joe Pepitone...Steve even said he was trying a drag bunt). But to make a long story short(er), I talked with Steve and his sister on July 13, 2008. A LOT of the things once believed true about Steve were myths. I'm currently compiling an article on that, so I won't give away everything. Anyway, let's get back to Neyer.

    Rob Neyer notes that in 1973, Pat Jordan wrote in The Suitors of Spring that Steve Dalkowski had faced Ted Williams and struck him out (it was reprinted from an article Jordan wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1970, something Neyer does not note). Williams was purported to have said "I'll be damned if I ever face him again unless I have to." Problem: this never happened, which Neyer correctly identifies. But then we have three interesting twists. The first was Steve himself placing the date in 1960. "It was Williams' last year and I was assigned to Stockton that year," he said. Interestingly, Jordan places the date in 1958, which seems awfully odd.

    Jordan also insists it happened in Spring Training. Neyer points out that this is unlikely because in 1958, the Orioles trained in Scottsdale, AZ. The Red Sox trained in Sarasota, FL. From then on, in Dalkowski's career, the Orioles trained in Scottsdale, AZ and the Red Sox trained in Miami. But from Steve's account, it didn't sound like a Spring Training game. Rather, it sounded more like a scrimmage where he was facing a few Red Sox hitters.

    This fits in well with a story Walter Youse, an Orioles scout, told in John Eisenberg's oral history of the Baltimore Orioles, where Steve pitched to some Red Sox batters before a game for show. Whether or not he was throwing batting practice is unclear, but also unlikely. Although a date isn't given, it could be that it happened in 1960. But then, Neyer claims the story "bothers" him because he was surprised the Orioles they let Steve "throw batting practice full speed?" But Neyer's incredulity at the story is itself incredulous. You need only look two inches to the sidebar to see an example of where Dalkowski did EXACTLY that against Cincinnati...and Neyer says this story can be backed up.

    Then there's another twist. Although the story about Steve blowing away Williams is oft-repeated, here's something you probably haven't heard: Steve faced Ted Williams in the same game or scrimmage or whatever it was in 1960 once more. "The first time he came up," said Steve, "I threw a slider outside with two strikes on him. He hit it so far that it must still be going." This would seem to fit. It also reinforces even further the year of 1960. Steve claims it happened before the season started. Well, Williams struggled (for Williams) on inside pitches in 1959 and early 1960 due to a neck injury, only regaining his stride around the time the 1960 season began. But he could still mash the outside corner. And Steve? Well, he really started making extensive use of his slider in mid 1959. By 1960, it was a plus pitch.

    Steve then said that Williams faced him a second time and struck out. The first pitch was a fastball. Second pitch was a fastball. The third pitch was a fastball "high and a little in." Williams swung at it and missed. Steve said Williams claimed he couldn't see the final pitch (considering he couldn't fully turn his neck and the pitch was inside, well...), but added "I think he saw the first two. Took the first one and just swung at the second."

    Whatever the circumstances, it seems likely that Steve faced Ted Williams somehow and somewhere. But those circumstances have never been properly reported.
    "They put me in the Hall of Fame? They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel!"
    -Eppa Rixey, upon learning of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Motafy (MO-ta-fy) vt. -fied, -fying 1. For a pitcher to melt down in a big game situation; to become like Guillermo Mota. 2. The transformation of a good pitcher into one of Guillermo Mota's caliber.

  • #2
    Full Review...

    Finished this one up and I must say, I expected better. In some instances (not a lot), but some (and I'll give examples), he just goes out of his way to try and disprove a completely ironclad story. I've been trying to see it from Neyer's angle and how often things were wrong; just coming to distrust everything. But he just overdoes it. Here's a few examples (aside from the rather odd distrust of Walter Youse [vs. Pat Jordan] on Steve Dalkowski)...
    -Neyer spends an entire chapter on Billy Martin trying to outhit Jackie Robinson in the World Series (which he does and is quite proud of). He exhausts every possible "couldn't-have-happened" scenario until he backs himself into a corner and pretty much has to admit that it happened. But then, he says something to the effect of "well, Willie Mays didn't do well in the World Series, either," as if he's got something against Martin.
    -Neyer doubts that Harvey Haddix pipelined a pitch to Hank Sauer during his MVP year when he was battling Ralph Kiner for the homerun title (the Cardinals didn't like Kiner). He points to only two things to back up his doubts. First, Sauer doesn't mention it in his memoirs (although Neyer conceeds he wrote very little of that year because his wife had a baby that year). And second is Neyer's opinion that Haddix's control wasn't good enough yet (he was a rookie) to pipeline a pitch (which is absurd...Haddix only walked 10 batters in 42 innings that year). Yet Neyer concedes that Haddix, when recounting the tale, pinpointed the date, the inning, and even the count when he pipelined the pitch (2-2) and then K'ed Sauer.
    -Danny Litwhiler's tale of being motivated to hit homeruns for suits must be false according to Neyer because Litwhiler hit 6 homeruns in the month of August, not 8, before being hit by a pitch and injured (which again, Neyer concedes). He hit two more the last week of the season. The ONLY discrepancy is the number of homeruns, and Neyer's willing to completely write it off? A bit too sweeping, don't you think?
    -Oh, and more about Billy Martin. Neyer claims that Martin had no impact on baserunning aggressiveness in the 1965 season because the disparities in extra outs resulting from trying for an extra base weren't that much from 1964 to 1965. But what about Stolen Bases? Bizarrely, Neyer overlooks this completely. I've read the chapter three times to make sure I didn't miss anything I was so stunned. Stolen Bases in 1964 for the Twins? 46. In 1965? 92. Okay, how about caught stealing? In '64, 22 Twins are caught. In '65, that number goes up to 33. Perhaps Martin merely encouraged more base stealing, which still qualifies as baserunning aggressiveness.

    Neyer has some TERRIFIC chapters (the ones on Lawrence Ritter and Babe Ruth "Doing Something" [the supposed called shot] are great reads), but he also has some very weak ones (I know Scribbly Tate is his idea of a joke, but couldn't he at least find a more subtle way of inserting him?). The editing is VERY poor; to add onto Curley Ogden and Jack Ogden being mistaken for the same guy, a lot of times Neyer accidentally forgets to put a player's FIRST NAME in. For example, in a proven true story featuring Jack Harper and Frank Chance, neither one of the player's first names is given. While Chance was easy to identify, I had to go to BBRef and spend a few minutes there to find out what he was talking about regarding a pitcher named "Harper." In fact, I was shocked at just how bad some of the typos were and how ponderous certain sentences got.

    I'd like to see this book republished with the following:
    -Better editing.
    -Better fact-checking (while Neyer is generally pretty comprehensive, on certain chapters, you'll just kind of shake your head and go "huh?!?").
    -The elimination, condensation, or limitation to one part of the book of the legends that Neyer finds out to be true (vs. scattering the true in with the false at almost complete random).

    Rob Neyer DEFEINITELY had a great premise while writing this book. And 75% of his stuff lived up to that premise. But then there's the 25% that seemed to be rushed in, as if he were trying to make a deadline. And that's not counting the editing, fact-checking, and nonsensical order of the table of contents.

    I give the book a B, maybe a B- in the end. It could have been an A had Neyer been going for quality and not quantity.
    Last edited by Dalkowski110; 08-04-2008, 10:31 PM.
    "They put me in the Hall of Fame? They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel!"
    -Eppa Rixey, upon learning of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Motafy (MO-ta-fy) vt. -fied, -fying 1. For a pitcher to melt down in a big game situation; to become like Guillermo Mota. 2. The transformation of a good pitcher into one of Guillermo Mota's caliber.


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