Big Book of Baseball Lineups
by Rob Neyer, Fireside, 2003.
The first thing I am forced to say about this book is that it isn’t what I expected. Encountered by teasing mentions of the title in Neyer’s ESPN columns, I expected, based on his marvelous book Baseball Dynasties (with Eddie Epstein), to read a nuanced, sabermetric discussion of different ways of organizing lineups- the best leadoff men, cleanup hitters, and so on. That sounds like a good book- but it isn’t this book.
This book is another breakdown of baseball by team, rather than by player. It is very much an apple falling on Newton’s head idea (to me) that baseball analysis more often includes players than teams. To compare with the work of Neyer’s fellow sabermetrician and author Bill James, both the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract and Win Shares are essentially player based systems-systems used to compare individuals. It is interesting that Neyer’s two sabermetric works, Dynasties and the new volume, take teams as the starting point, then moving on to consider players. Baseball Dynasties (another excellent work) considers Neyer and Epstein’s 25 greatest teams in baseball history. The new work considers all of the current baseball franchises, and attempts to construct for each team representative lineups-the best and the second best players at each position, the best players produced by the team’s scouting and development, the worst fielders, etc. And, similar to Dynasties, Neyer supplements each list with notes, commentaries, and addenda that make these works such a pleasure for the reader.
Neyer decided to limit his examination to the twentieth century, which I imagine simplified his task-but missing Hugh Duffy and Cap Anson does leave a small question in the mind of the 19th century follower. Neyer also has to make many narrow choices, and those are bound to cause disputes. But that’s really what baseball books are for, if you think about it. He completes his work with charts of primary starters for all the teams, which doesn’t seem like much, until you look at it closely and see the long string of R. Younts and C. Ripkens that are immensely pleasing to the eye. It also discloses the sudden lack of stability that a departure can cause-I did not realize the trouble the Braves have had finding a second baseman after Mark Lemke.
This book is another fine addition to anyone’s baseball library, and lineups being of such paramount concern to the tabletop baseball gamer, an excellent choice for the Replay player. It seems that the book that I imagined, the role of the lineup in baseball history, would be even better, but Neyer’s book is well worth the price of admission. --Mike Webb