cover image BRUSHBACKS AND KNOCKDOWNS: The Greatest Baseball Debates of Two Centuries

BRUSHBACKS AND KNOCKDOWNS: The Greatest Baseball Debates of Two Centuries

Allen Barra, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $23.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-312-32247-2

Barra is like one of those passionate sports geeks who always have a copy of Total Baseball handy to lay a statistical foundation for their arguments, yet his sheer enthusiasm for the sport ensures he never lapses into the pedantic. While his last book (Clearing the Bases ) touched on a wide range of subjects, in this collection of essays he explores issues at much greater length. So when he says the starting lineups for the 2003 All-Star Game were the worst in the game's history, he'll dig up a list of the 20 Hall of Famers from the 1933 game (and the outfielder who should be in the Hall) to show you how they stack up, then give you rosters from 10 more years for good measure. Who is and who should be in the Hall of Fame is a recurring theme; persuasive arguments are made for, among others, outfielder Minnie Minoso and Robin Roberts, "the unluckiest great pitcher in baseball history." Although Barra, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and Salon , is on less sure footing when he addresses broader sociological issues, like why fewer kids (both white and black) are trying out for baseball, he openly recognizes his limitations and even leaves room for fans to challenge him on his strengths. The debunking of the Yankee dynasty myth, buttressed by a firm belief in the current competitive balance among all the teams, is the most obvious topic for fans to argue about this spring, but there's sure to be others. Agent, Jay Mandel. (May)