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Book Notes

May 2, 2013

'Who's on Worst?' reveals the ugly in baseball

The Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the greatest players, managers and owners from our national pastime. Any of us who have watched major league baseball have inevitably seen some of these immortals practicing their craft. But we have also likely witnessed a sample of their opposite brethren, players who shouldn’t have been in the major leagues. Has there ever been a definitive source that “celebrates” the non-accomplishments of the worst that major league baseball has to offer?

There have been a scattering of writings on possible “Hall of Shame” prospects, but a new book by Filip Bondy, a columnist for the New York Daily News, puts them in their proper perspective. “Who’s On Worst? The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History” provides a summary of the worst in the game in several different categories and how they managed to leave a stain on the sport.

One likely misconception about this book is that it is funny. It is not. Most of the cases of disastrous play do not result in happy endings. A single bonehead play can mark a player for life. Just ask Bill Buckner. A lot of long-term flops were players who signed huge contracts and couldn’t live up to the hype. The pressure overwhelmed them and their lives often ended up in despair.

Usually the big-money busts are the fault of the owner or general manager who view average players through rose-colored glasses. What ballplayer is going to turn down a long-term, multi-million dollar contract even if deep down he knows he’s not worth it? Sometimes you wonder how some general managers ever keep their jobs considering their ineptitude when spending money.

Some teams are more trigger happy than others. The New York Yankees merited a chapter of their own on this subject. Their general manager, Brian Cashman, has a history of throwing gobs of money at underachieving players. He survived because the Yankees are a successful franchise and can afford to misspend their huge fortune. Cashman also worked for an owner, George Steinbrenner, who didn’t mind rolling the dice on a prospect.

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Book Notes
  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014

  • Documentary proves Butch, Sundance still enchant "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the most popular films of all-time. The 1969 Western is based on the real life exploits of two infamous outlaws whose specialty was robbing trains. They became folk heroes because they supposedly never shot anyone.

    June 12, 2014

  • Pohl's call-up reminds me of Feinstein book We recently learned that Cooperstown native and professional baseball player Phillip Pohl was promoted to the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics where he played for nearly a month. For those that don't know, AAA is the highest minor league before reaching the major leagues.

    June 5, 2014

  • Movie gives clues into real Disney Everyone has heard of Walt Disney. How can you not when Disneyland and Disney World are the most popular family vacation spots around. Add in his historic cartoons and animated features and you have a Hollywood legend. But how many people know what the man himself was like?

    May 29, 2014

  • Wooden bio by Davis feels definitive Any long-time observer of college basketball knows that one school and one coach stand out above all others. In the 1960s and 1970s the John Wooden-led UCLA Bruins won ten championships in twelve seasons. Their level of achievement is so remarkable that it will probably never be equaled. Forty years after his last championship the ghost of John Wooden still reverberates at the university.

    May 22, 2014