Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends : The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else
The latest and greatest in ESPN.com baseball guru Rob Neyer's
Big Book series, Legends is a highly entertaining guide to baseball fables that
have been handed down through generations.
The well-told baseball story has long been a staple for baseball fans. In Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, Neyer breathes new life into both classic and obscure stories throughout twentieth-century baseball -- stories that, while engaging on their own, also tell us fascinating things about their main characters and about the sport's incredibly rich history. With his signature style, Rob gets to the heart of every anecdote, working through the particulars with careful research drawn from a variety of primary sources. For each story, he asks: Did this really happen ? Did it happen, sort of ? Or was the story simply the wild invention of someone's imagination? Among the scores of legends Neyer questions and investigates...Did an errant Bob Feller pitch really destroy the career of a National League All-Star? Did Greg Maddux mean to give up a long blast to Jeff Bagwell?Was Fred Lynn the clutch player he thinks he was?
Did Tommy Lasorda have a direct line to God?Did Negro Leaguer Gene Benson really knock Indians second baseman Johnny Berardino out of baseball and into General Hospital? Did Billy Martin really outplay Jackie Robinson every time they met? Oh, and what about Babe Ruth's "Called Shot"? Rob checks each story, separates the truths from the myths, and places their fascinating characters into the larger historical context. Filled with insider lore and Neyer's sharp wit and insights, this is an exciting addition to a superb series and an essential read for true fans of our national pastime.
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March 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends by Rob Neyer
GREG MADDUX & JEFF BAGWELL
Leading 8-0 in a regular-season game against the Astros, Maddux threw what he had said he would never throw to Jeff Bagwell -- a fastball in. Bagwell did what Maddux wanted him to do: he homered. So two weeks later, when Maddux was facing Bagwell in a close game, Bagwell was looking for a fastball in, and Maddux fanned him on a change-up away.
-- George Will in Newsweek (April 25, 2006)
Bagwell played in fifteen seasons, which is a long career but doesn't come close to that of Maddux (who has five seasons on Bagwell at the beginning of their careers and, at this writing, two seasons and counting at the end). In all fifteen of Bagwell's seasons he faced Maddux at least once, so we might as well start at the beginning, which was 1991.
One may, with the help of the SABR Baseball Encyclopedia, quickly look up not only the dates of Bagwell's 449 homers, but various other details. But of course he hit a lot more homers than Maddux gave up, so it's easier to check Maddux's log instead. Which I will now do, looking specifically for Bagwell as the hitter and leaving the other details for later.
Bagwell did not homer against Maddux in 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994. But in 1995, when Maddux gave up only eight home runs all season, Bagwell hit two of them within a week, on May 28 and June 3. Next came single homers in 1996, 1998 (one of three Maddux gave up in one game), 1999, 2004, and 2005. That last bomb is particularly notable; on April 29, Bagwell played his last game until September, and hit his last home run. Maddux gave it up and pitched six otherwise solid innings to beat Roger Clemens.
So we've got (or rather, I've got) the specific dates of each home run, and the play-by-play accounts are just a few clicks away. Remember, we're looking for a game that's in the late innings, with Maddux's team -- the Braves, until 2004 -- comfortably ahead of Bagwell's Astros. Did one of these home runs come in a situation like that? Let's check each of them. First I'll list the date, then the inning, then the score (with Maddux's team listed first), then the number of runners on base...
28 May 1995 8th 2-0 0
3 Jun 1995 5th 0-0 0
18 Sep 1996 6th 6-1 0
2 Sep 1998 2nd 1-0 0
11 Aug 1999 3rd 5-1 1
26 May 2004 3rd 0-1 1
29 Apr 2005 3rd 2-1 0
I enjoy tables. You might not. So let me sum up. In his career, Greg Maddux gave up seven home runs to Jeff Bagwell. None of them came when the score was 8-0, or 7-0. Five of those seven homers came in close games, the two teams within two runs of one another. Leaving aside the specifics of the story, would a competitor like Maddux groove a fastball in a close game? You sure wouldn't think so.
Which leaves two games: September 18, 1996, when the Braves were up 6-1 in the sixth inning; and August 11, 1999, when the Braves were up 5-1 in the third. Neither situation makes a lot of sense, but we'll start with those games and look for the last specific: it's two weeks later -- okay, it's any point later in the season -- and Maddux slips a third strike past Bagwell in a key spot.
Except -- and by now you're probably way ahead of me -- both of these games were relatively late in the season, which means few (if any) chances for Maddux to have struck out Bagwell. In 1996, after September 18 Maddux made only two starts, both against Montreal. In 1999, after August 11 Maddux made eight starts...but none against Bagwell's Astros.
But wait! (And if you're ahead of me here, kudos to you, sir.) What about postseason games? Might Maddux have struck out Bagwell in October? Not in '96; the Astros didn't qualify for the derby that year. But in 1999, the Braves and Astros faced off in a Division Series, and Maddux started the opener.
In the first inning, Bagwell struck out with nobody on base. In the third inning, he flied to center field. In the fifth, he singled. In the top of the seventh, he flied to center. And in the bottom of the seventh, Maddux got bumped for a pinch hitter. Maybe that first-inning strikeout is what we're looking for, though. The game was close; it was zero-zero.
But that's all, folks. There's nothing else to see here. I don't doubt that Greg Maddux, in some fashion or another, set up Jeff Bagwell at some point during their long careers. Or rather, I don't doubt that Maddux believes he did that. And maybe he did. Pitchers have been telling stories like this one for nearly as long as there have been pitchers. But believing you did something and actually doing it are sometimes different things.