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Clearing The Bases (2002)

Allen Barra

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Allen Barra, a well-known sportswriter and long-time fan of Bill James [baseball historian and writer known for his extensive use of “sabermetrics,” a combination of statistics and rational analysis], discusses a number of classic baseball debates in this book, including whether Mays was a better overall player than Mantle, whether Joe DiMaggio was a better hitter than Ted Williams, and whether Ruth’s contribution to the game has been vastly overrated.

Barra begins each of his arguments with reference to a chart or list of statistics. He then either describes an opinion drawn directly from his analysis of those statistics, or ventures into the areas of "suppose that…" and "it is reasonable to assume" to reach some fairly broad conclusions.

Controversy is the currency in which Barra deals, and he clearly wrote this book to spawn some of it, spark debate, and encourage disagreement. In many chapters, he is sharply provocative; and in a few cases, he even seems to have an axe to grind! This attitude no doubt sells a lot of books.

Barra's writing is close-up and personal. It feels like he is right there in the seat next to you at the ballgame, talking about the players and teams and statistics, and urging you to think through your arguments and defend your position with logic as well as emotion. Whether his own logic holds up in some of his arguments may be open to question, but, as Bob Costas says in the Introduction, if you want to discuss these issues with other fans of the game, you had better know what is in this book beforehand.

If you are a new fan of baseball (and there must always be some people who are new to baseball), this book is a good way to bring yourself up to speed on many of the important historical and contemporary players, teams, and issues that loom large in discussions of the game.

We did not feel that the chapters on figures from other sports added much to the book, and the unusually large number of editorial slipups -- misspelled and omitted words, and missing and misused apostrophes among them -- was distracting. We would have appreciated an index, as Barra mentions many persons of importance in more than one place in the book. Nonetheless, we recommend this book to all serious fans of the game of baseball. Whether or not we agree with Barra, or find his reasoning compelling, this book is a great read. It is entertaining and will encourage a lot of conversation about baseball, which is a good thing.

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Clearing The Bases

Written by Allen Barra

Published 2002 by St. Martin's Press

ISBN: 0-312-26556-5

Not printed on acid-free paper




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