The book: “The Seventh Inning Stretch: Baseball’s Most Essential and Inane Debates”
The author: Josh Pahigian
The vital stats: Lyons Press, 294 pages, $23.95 (paperback)
The pitch: Pahigian’s previous entry on our list, “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out,” gives him plenty of street cred in our book, which helps when you’re supposed to believe the arguments put forth in these pages. You know where it’s coming from, you trust he’s done his homework, and knows his history. Otherwise, this book falls apart at the binding and it’s not even worth browsing through on the store shelf.
Here, Pahigian presents 50 baseball debates – not really debates, per se, because he gives his side, trying to be his own devil’s advocate on presenting all sides. Had he put himself and a few other people into position of having a real debate over these 50 topics, and then published the transcript, it might have been more a more lively read, but twice the size. But then, we’d be up for it.
“Although I’ve tried to put aside my personal preferences and rooting interests and to be as objective as possible, most of the inquiries pursued in this book delve into inherently subjective territory,” Pahigian writes in the intro, “so please feel free to disagree with as many of my picks as you’d like. The fact is, if each essay merely explored a question with an obvious answer or one that could be looked up and solved in a book of baseball statistics, then the reading experience wouldn’t be very much fun.”
Very much agreed.
First, he picks things first that you’ve most likely argued about with your friends and family already – what’s the best team that never won a World Series? Who’s the best player not in the Hall of Fame? What’s the best baseball song?
Then he really goes exploring.
Who’s the worst big-league hitter ever? Mario Mendoza? Gotta go much deeper.
Who’s the worst Hall of Famer? If not Bill Mazeroski, try a catcher for the 1919 Black Sox who hit just .259 with 11 homers and 259 extra base hits in his career.
Who’s the best commissioner the game has ever had? Not Bowie Kuhn or Bart Giamatti? You’d be surprised.
The worst hot-headed manager? Let’s look at the list of those who’ve had the most ejections. Joe Torre is No. 8 on the career list, ahead of Lou Pinella? But the person who wins this argument didn’t even make the Top 10.
The worst baseball card error of all time? Ask Billy Ripken.
The best gaijin (American-born player in the Japanese League)? Ever hear of Wally Yonamine? He’s in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame (and the subject of a 2008 book, linked here).
The best ballpark treat in the majors? If they’d only bring back Kool-A-Koos. But that’s not it.
To our delight, the last list is of the Best Baseball Books. After expanding on the importance of “The Natural” (1952), “Bang The Drum Slowly” (1956), “Shoeless Joe” (1982), “Ball Four” (1970), “Veeck – As in Wreck” (1962), “Eight Men Out” (1963), “The Glory of their Times” (1966) and “The Boys of Summer” (1971), Pahigian ultimately decides on Lawrence Ritter’s “Glory” but adds: “After picking so many winners and losers over fifth chapters, I can get away with one noncommittal chapter, can’t it?”
How it goes down in the scorebook: The very best book about baseball fans’ natural instinct to have a difference of opinion escallate into a full-blown war of words? That’s debatable. Nor is it the intent. A keeper? No argument here.
Also: In an essay about the Worst Ballpark Tragedy, Pahigian recounts many grim episodes but settles on an incident that has itself attracted several books: The 1920 beaning of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, fracturing his skull and resulting in his death of blog clots.
Adds Pahigian: “Given the game’s history of tragic and near-tragic events, it seems likely the Grim Reaper may someday infiltrate the American ballpark again, especially if today’s batters continue swinging the thin-handled maple bats that have been shattering with increasing frequency in recent years.”
Sorry, we had to add that voice the warning signals we’ve been trying to send the last couple years as well.
More: From Pahigian:
== “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out” (linked here)
== “The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan’s Guide to Major League Stadiums” (linked here)
== “The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip: A Fan’s Guide to AAA, AA, A, and Independent League Stadiums” (linked here)