I remember one Yankee disaster in particular because the pitcher in question, Ed Whitson, had once pitched for my team, the Giants, and I knew he was a journeyman at best. It didn’t stop Steinbrenner from lavishing a huge long-term contract on him. Whitson either didn’t know what he was getting into or his judgment was blinded by the money. He faced such abuse from the New York fans that he bought a gun and eventually pitched only on the road.
The steroid age comes under Bondy’s microscope as well. For every Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons who excelled before and after being linked to performance enhancing drugs, there are numerous players who improved just enough to get the big money contact and then tested positive or fell off the edge. Either way they became an embarrassment to themselves and the sport (although a lot richer).
There are the “legal” cheaters who managed to shortchange the game without the use of PEDs. These are the hitters who used corked bats or the pitchers that doctored the baseball. Most of them never admitted their transgressions even when caught red-handed. Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton managed to carve out Hall of Fame careers despite their reputations for scuffing up baseballs.
Not everything in the book is negative. There are the “clowns” that made the most of their mediocre reputations (e.g., Bob Uecker), the one-hit wonders who made history (e.g., Bucky Dent) and the successful managers who couldn’t make it as players (e.g., Tommy Lasorda). Sometimes the “worst” label can turn into something positive.
Bondy does a superb job of identifying the darker side of the game without denigrating it. The lesser lights remind us that baseball isn’t all peaches and cream. It all tells us that that the ones who do it right deserve the accolades and the honor that the National Baseball Hall of Fame provides them.
David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.