Day 3 of 30 baseball book reviews for April 2019: Check your lineup cards for some late substitutions

515E+uZX9bLThe book:

“Now Taking The Field: Baseball’s All Time Dream Teams for All 30 Franchises”

The author:
Tom Stone

The publishing info:
ACTA Sports Publications, 614 pages, $18.95, released in December, 2018 with a 2019 copyright.

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com.

The review in 90 feet or less

When he appeared on a February edition of “MLB Now” for the MLB Network, the mild-mannered Stone did a nice job explaining the process by which he came up with these 30 lists.
“I have the advantage of writing this in 2018 with all the modern sabermetrics – wins shares, wins above replacement. So I start there, but I don’t end there.”
It would be easy, of course, to just find everyone’s WAR and let it fall into place. Even their top three WAR seasons. Nope.
“I wanted to look at traditional stats – batting average, strike outs, wins, ERA. I looked at Hall of Fame credentials. I looked at honors and awards. All Star appearances and Gold Gloves. And it’s important to add post-season performance since WAR only covers the regular season.

“I want this to be a bridge book, an attempt to be a popularizer of the modern sabermetrics and use it as a tool to compare players across all eras.”
Right time, right place, and the right publisher. ACTA, the home of Bill James and one that focuses on analytics and evaluation projects, picked this up at a time when Stone writes in the acknowledgements that he thought he would have to self publish just to get it in circulation.
In the past, this kind of mish-mashed attempts at picking all-time teams has been mostly a popularity contest backed up by whatever stats were felt to be important. Stone is wise to include that criteria and he also is diligent in providing lists that were made in the past to give things some context and historical accuracy.
Modern SABR stats often to the loudest talking now, reinforcing our beliefs, but, most importantly, bringing new life to players’ careers that we might have otherwise dismissed from the past. The explanation is further flushed out in the opening chapter.

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The research shows: Stone’s all-time Brooklyn/LA Dodgers team may have been the most balanced overall with pitching and hitting stars — sorry Yankees fans. If there’s even more argument to be had, Stone said he’s talking to companies that do game simulations and he could see a full season recreated with his all-time lineups as another way to determine franchise supremacy.

Back to the interview on MLB Network, Stone said the Dodgers fans are so far presenting the greatest pushback in who he picked as the all-time greatest catcher – Roy Campanella or Mike Piazza – as well as the greatest pitcher – Sandy Koufax or Clayton Kershaw.
“Not to mention Don Drysdale, Sandy Vance and Don Sutton,” added Stone. “I did go with Kershaw over Koufax and a lot of traditionalists … I’ve already got some backlash on radio interviews,” Stone said. “The die-hard Dodgers fans will say, ‘What are you crazy? It’s gotta be Koufax.’”
Or, it doesn’t.

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As for your Angels of Anaheim/Los Angeles/the OC: The franchise has an all-time best player who is the only one a) still active and b) still on his original roster. You don’t have to go fishing long for that answer.
To take that pun/analogy further, the only two franchises named after fish —  the Marlins and Rays — also have an all-time franchise player still active, but they are currently playing in a different uniform.
Think about that.
As for surprises — Nolan Ryan isn’t the all-time best on any of the teams he played with. But he has enough juice, and longevity, to have one of the top five WAR careers with three different franchises – Angels, Astros and Mets. Even so, he didn’t play long enough in New York to make the Mets’ all-time rotation (but Sid Fernandez and Al Leiter did? Egads).

One of the ways Stone creates a loophole in offering up a pure “all-time lineup” is by resorting to a “platoon split” of a hitting lineup that could be fielded against a right-handed or left-handed pitcher. That kind of defeats the purpose in the interest of including more names than necessary. Especially in today’s world where those kind of questionably awkward things might even happen (see: Dodgers’ World Series lineups vs. Boston, 2018).
Also note this bonus from the book’s official website: The player that Stone determines to be the franchise’s all-time best is given at the start of each chapter – but only in a silhouetted outline. Sometimes, it’s easy to guess. Other times, especially when it’s a pre-1940s player, it’s a bit more challenging, but the game is to see how many of the 30 one can ID before getting to the final paragraph.

How it goes down in the scorebook

51AH7bSJyALA high pop up, waiting to come down with much anticipation, only to hit a guidewire high atop the domed stadium, and then waiting for an umpire’s ruling.
What struck us about Stone’s TV spot, as well as the tone of the book, is there seems to be lacking a joyful nature about it. We expect this kind of project to ignite all sorts of energy, passion, surprise. It seems to be a bit flat at moments when some real writing talent could reveal itself and make it a more playful read rather than coming across as a logics class term paper.
You do want decisions made for any all-time list not to be tainted by biases or emotions. But a little injection of fun wouldn’t hurt here.

 

This the third installment of 30 baseball book reviews for the 30 days of April, 2019. For more info check out TheDrillLA.com.

 

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