WHO’S ON WORST? By Filip Bondy. Doubleday. 253 pages. $24.95
It happens every spring; baseball fans believe in a first-place finish, no matter how bad things went the previous season, and baseball players think an All-Star appearance is just a few months away.
This spring, Filip Bondy provides a delightful, quick-read twist on the bests and firsts of baseball culture.
“Who’s on Worst?” is an authoritative romp, humorously spot on, through Bottom Ten lists across the national pastime. The title play on the old Abbott and Costello routine includes the worst hitters, pitchers and fielders “of all time” and then some.
Bondy also evaluates the “Worst Managers,” “Greatest Goats” and “Most Overpaid Yankees.”
Of course, it’s all subjective, which is part of the fun. Why rank Bill Bergen No. 1 on the worst hitters list ahead of Bob Uecker, Mario Mendoza and Rafael Belliard? Well, the Brooklyn catcher did have an 0-for-45 slump in 1909. And he did hit .139 one year, with a .170 lifetime batting average.
Worst fielder? Surprisingly, not Marv Throneberry or Chuck Knoblauch? Almost Jose Canseco, but no. It’s Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, thanks to a big-league record 29 errors at first base for the 1963 Red Sox.
Bondy, a veteran New York Daily News sports columnist, comes through with solid depth to his mediocrity analysis.
Bottom 10 summary lists complete each chapter, and the accompanying one-line comments shine.
Carl Pavano is No. 2 among “Most Overpaid Yankees” (after Kei Igawa). “He had the nerve,” Bondy writes, “to get better again in Minnesota.”
Photo captions offer more zinger opportunities. On Tommy Lasorda, dishonored for the lousy playing career that preceded a nice managerial run: “When he was managing, Tommy Lasorda loved to throw batting practice for the Dodgers. Unfortunately, he did a lot of that while he was still a major-league pitcher.”
Best “Worst” chapters? Tie between “The Oddest Ballplayers of All-Time” (a list that starts with tiny Eddie Gaedel and includes Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders) and “The Worst Teammates Ever” (Jimmy Piersall, John Rocker, Dave Kingman, etc.).
Alas, track star Herb Washington makes two lists: “Oddest Ballplayer” as the Oakland A’s designated runner and “Greatest Goat” for getting picked off first base in the 1974 World Series. But that’s just a sliver of this anti-hero debate.
Reviewer Gene Sapakoff is a Post and Courier sports columnist.