Baseball fans love to argue. They love to compare and compile lists. In no other sport are fans so deliciously geeky.
If Harold Baines can get elected to the Hall of Fame, how come Gil Hodges hasn’t been enshrined? Can Mariano Rivera become the first unanimous selection in Cooperstown, or will it be Derek Jeter? Or, no one at all?
Who was the New York Yankees’ all-time center fielder – Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio?
That last question is part of the weighty debates addressed by Tom Stone in his new book, Now Taking the Field: Baseball’s All-Time Dream Teams for All 30 Franchises (ACTA Sports; paperback; $18.95; 614 pages). Certainly, this kind of analysis has been done before, but Stone takes a more cerebral approach, relying on statistics – old and new – to provide a clearer picture of who belongs on each major-league franchise’s dream team.
Stone devotes a chapter to each of the 30 major-league franchises, using several formulas — including Wins Above Replacement, or WAR — to present a clear-eyed look at the best of the best.
As a reader, you might disagree with some of Stone’s conclusions — is Robinson Cano really the all-time second baseman for the Yankees, as Stone suggests? Really? — but more often than not, Stone is right on the money. He analyzes each position and presents several nominees. Stone also includes the opinions of other authors before giving his final decisions.
I will give Stone kudos for mentioning Horace Clarke, even if just in passing. Horace was a switch-hitter who couldn’t hit from either side of the plate, but he was a grinder -- and a symbol of the Yankees' wandering through the wilderness from 1965 to 1975.
At the end of every chapter, Stone chooses one man as that team’s “franchise player.” I found myself trying to guess who it might be before finishing the chapter. Happily, our opinions were pretty much along the same lines. He also suggests starting lineups, tailored against right-handers and lefties.
Unlike some books, Stone does not go through the teams in alphabetical order. He starts with the teams that have had the most success, like the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals. That makes it more interesting, because these are the teams that have earned the most postseason glory. It’s a savvy move.
Stone includes the top WAR seasons for each team, and his depth chart at the end of every chapter provides an easy visual for the reader.
The only quibble I have with the book is when Stone makes apologies. “With all due respect to Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner, and Willie Stargell, it seems clear that Honus Wagner remains the best the Pirates have ever had,” Stone writes in one example.
There is no need to apologize. The numbers are clear, and Stone presents them logically. There is no question who the franchise player should be in several cases: Wagner (Pirates), Willie Mays (Giants). Tony Gwynn (Padres), George Brett (Royals), and Mike Schmidt (Phillies), to name a few. Stone's choices for the Cubs and Athletics are surprising, but not unreasonable. And, his choices for the Reds and Dodgers were reached with some good thought, statistics and the player's impact on the game.
Stone gives the reader plenty to chew on. From my standpoint, I believe he has figured out who the best players are at each position, and while his choices are open to debate, they are hard to argue with.
Still, it’s the hot stove time of the season. So, argue away.