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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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