When I am asked “What book is on your nightstand?” that is not necessarily a place of honor for books at my house. Most books that have been relegated to my nightstand are not books that are likely to be read cover to cover, because it only takes a few paragraphs at bedtime before I get sleepy. This explains why encyclopedias and reference books are my preferred genre of nighttime reading. Entries are short. You don't feel like your offending an author who has put his or her heart and soul into the prose. And at the end the day, you've learned something new.
For months I have been falling asleep to the Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract, which was first published in 1988 and then revised in 2003. James, who belongs in the writer's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame (being mentioned in the film Moneyball should seal the deal), divides his encyclopedia into three sections. Part One is called The Game and is about how baseball was played in each decade from the 1870s through the 1990s. In Part Two he rates the Top 100 players at each position and finishes the book with a reference section. I spent most of my time reading Part Two.
Of course unless you've been hiding under home plate, you know that this is Larry “Chipper” Jones final season and so the big question on Atlanta fans' mind: is “Where does Chipper Jones rate in the pantheon of all time third baseman?”
The Braves organization is constantly reminding us this season that it is important to share this historical experience with Chipper and that t-shirts and uniforms emblazoned with Jones name and number could become endangered (like my Biff Pocoroba jersey). It is imperative to get to Turner Field during Chipper's farewell season. I've been out three times to see Chipper this year. Until he was named to the 2012 All-Star team, I think Chipper's nickname should have been Crapper since he seemed “down in the toilet” about being hurt, his impending retirement at the end of the season, and problems at home, while being obsessed that the front office needs to add another starting pitcher for the pennant run (which it does). From the stands, I saw him just hang his head walking from the dugout to the middle of the field between innings. At home watching Brave broadcasts, there seem to be constant camera shots of Chipper sitting in the dugout with his head buried in a towel. Lately though, Chipper has been perkier. I think it is smart for him to retire when he is still a very good baseball player (except for his range) and allow players and fans alike in other cities to pay their respects to a future Hall of Famer.
Moreover once he retires, baseball fans can begin to speculate on where Chipper ranks in the all-time list of third baseman?
In the Historical Baseball Abstract using his intricate methods that allows players to be compared in different eras, James ranked Jones 28th right after Tim Wallach, who James considered the poor man's Brooks Robinson. James readily updated the ranking in his postscript that Chipper had a lot of years left and he expected Chipper to move up significantly though James didn't speculate whether Chipper would move into the mid-teens near Craig Nettles (#13) or Ron Cey (#16) or in the Top Ten of all time great third basemen. But here's the weird statistic. According to Bill James, Chipper may be only the third best Brave third baseman of all time.
Here's the list of the Top Ten Third Baseman that James compiled in 2003:
- Mike Schmidt (Hall of Fame)
- George Brett (HOF)
- Eddie Matthews (HOF)
- Wade Boggs (HOF)
- Home Run Baker (HOF)
- Ron Santo (inducted this year, so you can see what a egregious error of omission that was)
- Brooks Robinson (HOF)
- Paul Molitor (HOF)
- Stan Hack (not in the HOF, but James says Hack is better than Pie Traynor who is in the HOF)
- Darrell Evans
Darrell Evans? This is the same Darrell Evans who played third base for the Atlanta Braves between 1969 to 1979 before moving on to the San Francisco Giants, and then on to the World Champion Detroit Tigers, before finishing his career in Atlanta in 1989. James calls Evans, “the most underrated player in baseball history” and cites that despite a low batting average, Evans was exceptional in other offensive categories (walks, RBIs and Runs scored) and at 38 years old he hit 40 homers for the Tigers. Defensively, Evans played both third and first base.
Darrell Evans better than Chipper Jones? It's just the kind of baseball lore to keep you up at night,