Academic journal article Nine

Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Players of All Time

Academic journal article Nine

Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Players of All Time

Article excerpt

Sean Manning, ed. Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Players of All Time. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010. 215 pp. Paper, $15.95.

Employing the framework of a twenty-five-man roster, Sean Manning and his authors deliver a pastiche of personalities that span the mostly good, the sometimes bad, and the occasionally ugly. Like a buffet table with an assortment of dishes, this compendium provides something for every fan, although some of the offerings are more palatable than others.

The best of Manning's lineup includes Jonathan Eig on Lou Gehrig, a nicely written piece showing that modern fans can connect to players they have never seen play in person. Eig's research leads him to correspondence between the Iron Horse and his physician written during the debilitating period near the end of Gehrig's life, and while fearful of what he will learn in these missives, Eig comes to understand "the true depth of character" manifest in the stoic Yankee as he accepts his fate (32).

Indeed, "character and integrity," traits aptly noted by Roger Kahn to describe his hero, become loosely woven threads through the book (115). Gehrig is accorded a hero's status, as are Albert Pujols, Brooks Robinson, Jackie Robinson, and Steve Dembowski. Buzz Bissinger's Pujols comes off as a paragon of virtue because of his steroid-free performance on the field, and for the moral commitments he has countenanced and upheld in his personal life. Sans "a mean bone in his body" (23), Brooks Robinson is fondly remembered by Laura Lippman, and Kahn's essay on Jackie Robinson outlines the author's relationship with his proud subject and soberly recollects some of our nation's inglorious racial past. Recounting Dembowski's case, a player whose grit and astronomical on-base percentage--due to his uncanny penchant for being hit by pitches--failed to attract the attention of major-league scouts, Jim Bouton reminds us that bird dogs use all manner of hardware to track the physical abilities of their quarries, but they often overlook "the size of a man's heart" (56). And while Doug Glanville's Garry Maddox surely was not the only player to value "relationships [with] a foundation steeped in trust," it's refreshing to be reminded that pride still counts for something (137). The only catcher present is the fictitious Crash Davis. A fine essay by Carrie Rickey emphasizes Davis's virtue of "park[ing] his ego in the locker room" while playing his role as unselfishly as a grunt in the trenches (160). Vic Power's joviality is evident in Esmeralda Santiago's paean, but it is nonetheless tinged with Power's bitterness at not having been the first black to play for the Yankees.

Christopher Sorrentino's look at Dave Kingman evokes chuckles about the supreme whiff artist, and Pat Jordan's connection to Tom Seaver, which is short on hero worship, commits to paper--sometimes in stark terms--the earthy, macho camaraderie enjoyed only in the closest of friendships. Manning himself offers a curious contribution on Michael Jordan, who in his brief trial with the White Sox in the mid-199os won little but scorn from detractors who delighted in his shortcomings on the diamond. …

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