Three years ago, in March of 2005, in the 24 hours that passed after the first report of [former Red Sox pitcher] Dick Radatz’ death, there were many stories published about Radatz’ match-ups with Mickey Mantle and how often Radatz whiffed Mickey. In those 24 hours, I saw the following claims published in various outlets:
54 K’s in 67 attempts.
47 in 63.
44 in 66.
44 in 67.
44 in 63.
And, 12 in 16.
And, it was that last one which was true. What’s the old saying about when the legend is better than the truth, print the legend? Related, so often, when it comes to baseball stories, facts are stretched, or commingled with ones from other stories, on just they are just flat-out fabricated. And, the older the story, the worse it seems to get.
If you’re like me, and you’re interested in knowing the truth when it comes to baseball history, rather than the fish stories, then you’re going to love “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else” (which goes on sale this week on April 1st).
With this new book, Rob Neyer goes through both well-known and obscure baseball stories found in books, news reports, game broadcasts, and the like, and turns them inside out to determine the truth.
In the lyrics of an ol’ Romeo Void song (“Your Life Is A Lie”) there’s a part that goes “You’re a great silhouette. You cast a shadow. But you don’t stand up to the light.” And, in so many (but not all) of these baseball tall tales, Neyer finds out that they do not stand up to the light.
As a Yankees fan, I’m sure you’ve heard the story about how Thurman Munson, after hearing that Carlton Fisk was leading him in catcher’s assists, went out and dropped a bunch of third-strikes to pad his assist total and pass Fisk. I know that I’ve heard it about a hundred times. Guess what? It never happened – as Rob proves in his book.
There are around 100 great stories looked at by Neyer in “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends” – such as the Munson/Fisk story. Rather than spoil too many of them for you, I’ll just share that they include (but are not limited to) people like Rube Waddell, Ty Cobb, George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Fred Lynn, Jackie Robinson, Harvey Haddix, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Honus Wagner, Hal Chase, Leo Durocher, Pete Alexander, Casey Stengel, Dizzy Dean, Yogi Berra, Bob Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Joe Morgan and some guy named Babe Ruth.
As a Yankees fan, you’ll be interested in two items in this book where Ken Singleton tells a story about Ron Guidry and Willie Wilson and where Michael Kay tells a story about Derek Jeter and Joe Torre – both debunked by Neyer. It’s proof that you can’t believe everything that you hear during a YES broadcast. (It’s O.K. Kenny – you’re still a pleasure to listen too – even if you are loose with the facts some times.)
You can read “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends” from the first page to the last page, or, you can just attack at it and cherry pick the stories that attract your attention first. With either approach, it’s an entertaining and informing read. Along with his other two “Big Books” – “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders” and “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups” – “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else” is a must have for the serious baseball library and just a fun read for the thinking baseball history fan. I highly recommend it.