I know I'm merely reiterating a sentiment that's been recorded a million billion times in the past, but there isn't much of a better way to start a review of a book like this: Part of the big reason people are drawn to baseball is that it seems so humanized. The folks who go to the plate at the very highest levels of the game are are still hoping to be good enough to hit the ball three times out of ten, if even that. Baseball is human. Humans are very prone to mistakes. Baseball is such a challenging sport that greatness in it is decided by still being able to fail more often than having success. Three hits out of ten tries is the best ratio one dares hope for. The last time anyone did better than that was in 1941, and two things stick out about even that accomplishment: The first is that the hitter who successfully did that was still only hitting the ball four out of ten times. The second is that the hitter was Ted Williams, very possibly the greatest hitter of all time.
Is it any wonder we get so fascinated by books which celebrate the worst of the ballplayers? We're not even insulting them, or mocking them, we're celebrating them as regular old joes who make foibles trying to play a sport which demands more minute speed, reflexes, and awareness than any other. We love such celebrations because we realize if we tried to play baseball, we know that the people making the biggest errors could easily be us.
Some of us are also bad at making jokes or puns, such as Philip Bondy, a writer for the New York Daily News who wrote the book Who's on Worst? This is another book celebrating the worst in baseball, and by the standards of what it's supposed to be and what it's trying to do, it's a dandy.
Just when you think you've seen the worst of baseball covered at every conceivable angle, someone comes along and finds new things to spot that are rarely pointed out in baseball conversations. Yes, there are several standards inside Who's on Worst? – the ever-ubiquitous worst hitters and worst pitchers are both in this one. Goats? Yep. Cheaters? Of course. So what's new, exactly? Well, Bondy shows how narcissistic New York City sportswriters are by giving us a chapter on the most overpaid Yankees players. That's not a coincidence; it's an official chapter Bondy justifies by saying the Yankees have overpaid even by today's ridiculous baseball economics. There's a whole different chapter dedicated to the most overpaid players who weren't Yankees. Telling of the era, there's also a chapter full of players who used steroids but still sucked all over MLB.
At the end of every chapter, Bondy gives us his top ten list of the worst, but in the chapters he only expounds on half of them on average. This book could have been a lot stronger if he would have included the details for all of them. Maybe that was something the editor did, but if that's the case, then this book really could have used a different editor. As for the arguments he uses to state his cases, Bondy is great at this. It takes guts to call Gene Mauch one of the worst managers of all time despite being number eight on the list of games won. Mauch's record was 1902-2037 for his career, and he never made the World Series. He was responsible for The Phold while managing the Philadelphia Phillies and blew a couple of great chances with the California Angels. Bondy uses a quote or two to describe Mauch as a little guy who sacrificed more than a couple of wins to keep players in his personal doghouse and overworked his better pitchers.
His list of worst team owners is also pretty unusual. He includes both Frank McCourt and The Wilpons, but Peter Angelos and Jeffery Loria are numbers nine and ten respectively. Charlie Comiskey doesn't even make the cut.
I found it difficult to get Bony's angle on steroids. It's certainly telling that he gives steroid "cheats" their own chapter, but he never seems to condemn it or condone it. He treats them as they're just there, another obstacle MLB has to reckon with. Somehow, Manny Ramirez managed to get himself onto that particular list. Traditional folks on his cheating list include Gaylord Perry, a character asinine enough to try to defend himself while running his mouth about steroids. Others include Kevin Gross and Wilton Guerrero, Vlad's brother.
One of the more interesting chapters is on star players whose relatives weren't quite as good. Hank Aaron's little brother only hit 13 home runs. Pete Rose's boy had a career which didn't run as long as his dad's. There's also chapters on goats and lucky players. I had qualms with these: Steve Bartman is listed as a goat, and Jeffery Maier is listed as lucky.
There's a chapter on the biggest jerks in the league, too. It includes a couple of the usual suspects, like Dave Kingman and John Rocker, but also, surprisingly, Jeff Kent. There's little question that Kent probably deserves to be known as such a jerk, but it's a change seeing him get mentioned because he usually gets overshadowed by teammate Barry Bonds.
There's really not much more to say. Filip Bondy's Who's on Worst is a fun, well-argued book about some of the worst things in baseball. It's definitely worth checking out if you don't mind being copped out by chapter-end lists which were only comprised of half the chapter, and therefore being deprived a several details you would want to know.
Baseball invites books like this with its long history and cross-generation comparable data. Sports columnist Bondy looks at the players, managers, and owners from the bottom up, sometimes using stats to rank his records of infamy, sometime biographies and histories. This is both the strength and weakness of this kind of list. No matter how many stats Bondy uses and how he uses them (not very consistently) these are always purely subjective lists based … more