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Reveling in the blunder of it all

Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders
Rob Neyer
Simon & Schuster, 288 pp.

Perhaps this is a violation of book-reviewing protocol, but I'll give you the truth anyway: I did not read ``Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders" from beginning to end. Simply could not do it. Wasn't happening.

This is not meant as a criticism, however, but as a sincere tip of the ol' ballcap to this remarkably fun and informative book, a worthy addition to any fan's summer reading list.

Oh, you may attempt to read Neyer's gem conventionally, cover to cover. But soon you'll catch yourself thumbing through the chapters and even to the index, scanning for familiar names, eager to discover the author's fresh take on the goats and goofs you remember so well.

Neyer, an ESPN.com baseball columnist, made his reputation as an Igor to sabermetrics creator Bill James's Dr. Frankenstein. James once defined sabermetrics as ``the search for objective knowledge about baseball," so it's no surprise that his protégé doesn't settle for rehashing tired, half-true stories and mocking the usual scapegoats; Neyer clues the reader in to the motivations and backstories and roads not taken. With meticulous research pinch hitting for conventional wisdom, he seeks the truth behind the blunders.

Wisely, the author defines a blunder broadly; it permits him to touch all the bases chronologically through the game's history, from an ill-conceived trade by the 1917 White Sox that laid the groundwork for the Black Sox scandal, through the 2003 postseason.

The penultimate chapter is titled, bluntly, ``Little Kills Sox," and at one point Neyer creatively revisits the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series through the incredulous words of the Fox television broadcasters.

The chapter is one of many set against a Red Sox backdrop. Regrets . . . you, me, and John McNamara know the franchise has had a few. Yet Neyer manages to veer off the path of the most familiar turf, making fresh tracks:

He makes a convincing case that Don Zimmer's insistence on playing a woozy Dwight Evans down the stretch in 1978 was the most damaging of the Sox manager's countless poor decisions that season.

He explains how Red Sox and Yankees history might be different had the 1972 Danny Cater-for-Sparky Lyle deal never been made.

And he reveals that the Astros asked for such luminaries as Kevin Morton, Scott Cooper, Phil Plantier, and David Owen (who?) in exchange for journeyman relief pitcher Larry Andersen in August 1990. To his eternal torment, Sox general manager Lou Gorman ``said no to every name until Jeff Bagwell's came up."

Now that is a blunder.

Such recollections might make for excruciating reading had the Sox not enjoyed their ultimate redemption in 2004. But with all ghosts exorcised, revisiting the Littles, Caters, and Zimmers almost feels like getting reacquainted with old friends. Neyer's engaging retelling of their blunderful stories will have you enjoying every page.

No matter in what order you read them.

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