cover image CLEARING THE BASES: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century

CLEARING THE BASES: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century

Allen Barra, , foreword by Bob Costas. . St. Martin's, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26556-4

Barra's primary intent with his latest book is to spark intelligent, well-reasoned debate about some of the most contentious, if essentially insignificant, issues in pro sports. And who better to make such an effort? Writing for both the establishment (the Wall Street Journal) and the counterculture (, Barra constantly challenges his readers to think outside the bounds of conventional sports analysis, using a seemingly innocuous but ultimately deadly combination of statistics ("the life blood of the sport") and common sense. Barra writes for thinking people, not simply by slaughtering baseball's sacred cows, but by demonstrating to the reader that anything less would be dishonest. Barra rips Babe Ruth's record to pieces, demonstrating at once that Ruth was a tremendous hitter, but that the accepted account of him as savior and "lively ball" progenitor of baseball is "an American creation myth." He uses a dazzling array of statistical comparisons among second basemen to vividly illustrate that the most popular argument against Jackie Robinson's inclusion in the Hall of Fame—that he wouldn't be there if he had been white—is nothing but racist rhetoric. Barra even manages to undermine his own religiously held belief in the superiority of Willie Mays, using a thorough statistical analysis to demonstrate Mickey Mantle's incomparable greatness. It is a rare sportswriter who can cite Branch Rickey and Irish writer/revolutionary Seán O'Faoláin in the same work, but Barra does it with ease for an audience that has learned to demand nothing less. (Apr.)

Forecast:With readers coming from both Salon and the Journal, Barra's take on baseball debates will reach a broad baseball readership.