"The lifeblood of baseball is statistics, numbers and records," says Allen Barra, author of "Brushbacks and Knockdowns" and the "By the Numbers" columnist for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Barra has the courage of his convictions, and his latest book features a bounty of numbers and tables that never fails to support his largely contrarian views.
That's not to say Barra's arguments are either dry or dogmatic. But he's at his curmudgeonly best when he backs off the stats and shoots from the hip, challenging the decisions and wisdom of Commissioner Bud Selig or decrying what he admits to be the circumstantial case against steroids as "a cancer eating at the core of the game's integrity."
It's comforting that Barra remains a fan at heart, but he seems to view the world through pinstriped lenses that distort any fair view on competitive balance. Not that I'd ever want to argue numbers with Barra, but in the chapter "Don't Blame the Yankees," Barra seems to protest just a bit too much. Can it really be just a coincidence that baseball's most expensive roster has made six of the past eight World Series?
Despite this bias toward all things Bronx -- Barra also makes a compelling case for a Yankees catcher named Yogi as the best team player ever -- the book provides plenty of fodder for fans old and new.
From analysis and argument as to who was better, Babe Ruth or Ted Williams (and check out Williams's numbers when extrapolated to include his war years), to a chapter most appropriately titled "The Strange Case of Barry Bonds," Barra's modus operandi is counting the beans. While his statistics are unlikely to be the final word, any argument based on Barra's evidence will always be lively and well informed.
-- Jim Hage