I can assure you that I'm not going to read every book I purchased for the library as a memorial to Jim. (For one thing, I bought 20 GED books.) But, I am reading a number of the baseball books, because I always enjoyed reading about the sport. And, Sean Manning's collection, Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time, is a thought-provoking, enjoyable sports book.
Baseball fans will understand when Manning says in his introduction, "It's no coincidence that there are twenty-five (players) in total, the same number as an an active roster, nor that Rickey Henderson leads things off and Rivera closes." This is a fascinating collection featuring a variety of authors who select their favorite players. This isn't a collection saying, this is the best player of all-time. It's an idiosyncratic group of opinions and writers. Some of the writers are known for writing about sports, and others are known for other work, such as Laura Lippman, the award-winning mystery author and former journalist. One of the players selected isn't even an actual person.
Knowing so many of Jim's favorite players, it was interesting to read this book, and compare his knowledgeable opinions with that of the writers. He definitely agreed with Lippman that Brooks Robinson was the greatest third baseman. (And, he could recite her Baltimore four.) He would have loved Jonathan Eg's comment about Barry Bonds. "Now, with Bonds, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time struck me as one of the lowest pieces of dung ever scraped from the bottom of a shoe."
This was an outstanding collection of articles. Some stories even made me cry, such as the ones about Kirby Puckett and Jeff Kent. And, I never even liked Jeff Kent! These are thoughtful pieces by writers that truly care about baseball. If you're a fan of the history of the game, the book is a pleasure.
So, I'll end on a personal note. Jim's favorite players were from the days of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine. He loved "Charlie Hustle," Pete Rose, because of the intensity with which he played every game. He still thought he belonged in the Hall of Fame. And, he loved Johnny Bench for his career as a catcher, although we understood he wasn't such a great person in reality. My favorite player? Mike Piazza, a catcher I followed from his days with the Dodgers to the end of his career. And, both of us would have picked a manager. No baseball managers were selected in this group, but we would have picked Jim Leyland, since he's a distant cousin of my mother's. We admired him as a manager, laughed at his post-conference interviews since it was so obvious he was uncomfortable doing them, and appreciated the time he took to acknowledge family when we had a chance to meet him.
So, Sean Manning and twenty-four other authors accomplished just what they set out to do with Top of the Order. They told readers about their favorite baseball players, and provoked thought as to who, and why, we would select our favorite players. It's a book for all fans of baseball history.
Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player ed. by Sean Manning. Da Capo Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780306818554 (paperback), 240p.
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