Book Review: The Stark Truth

Who’s the best first baseman ever? Who’s the worst second baseman of all time? What pitcher has a big name, but doesn’t live up to it? Which outfielder is unheralded, but always delivers in the clutch? These are the questions Jayson Stark attempts to answer in his book, The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History (Let the Debate Begin!).

This isn’t just bar room talk—this is a definitive ranking of the most over and undervalued players at each position and don’t for a second think this list is ‘click bait’. As any lover of baseball will soon realize as they read through the first section of the book, Stark took his time and assignment of compiling this list seriously. There aren’t any hap-hazard choices. For each person, whether they be over or under-rated, Stark provides compelling reasoning as to his logic and guidance as to why a player ended up on either side of the leger.

As if reading through the top and bottom ranked players at each position isn’t enough, Stark also compiled a list of the three overrated and underrated players all time for each team at the back of the book. These lists are relatively brief, but each mention of a player does come with a short comment of Stark’s thoughts.

For each position category, Stark chose to go five deep on both sides of the scale. Here are the positions he rated:

  • Right-Handed Starting Pitchers
  • Left-Handed Starting Pitchers
  • Relief Pitchers
  • Designated Hitters
  • Catchers
  • First Basemen
  • Second Basemen
  • Third Basemen
  • Shortstops
  • Left Fielders
  • Center Fielders
  • Right Fielders

This reviewer found it particularly interesting that Stark chose to rate each outfield position and also divided starting pitchers up by which arm they used.

For an idea of how Stark went about picking these players, here are a few of the rules he came up with to help him decide (details for the rules will have to be found in the book):

  • Book A Cruise Every October
  • Beg for a Pay Cut
  • Spend Your Career in the Central or Mountain Time Zones
  • Take Boredom Lessons
  • Demand to be Traded to the Royals
  • Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Elected to the Hall of Fame

This was one of the most enjoyable baseball books this reviewer has had the pleasure of reading. Read cover to cover in one sitting, it is a page turner, unlike many non-fiction baseball books that are informative but tedious. Stark does a great job adding his perspective, yet relying on concrete statistic and real world situations to back his ratings. Each page that went by, I became more intrigued by whose name I would see pop up next on either side of the line. Add to this that I was pleasantly surprised to see my favorite player of all time, Omar Vizquel, listed as one of the most underrated shortstops of all time. This work is highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a baseball guru or just even just a casual fan of the game.

Stark spent 21 years as a writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer before joining ESPN in 2001. His tenure as a senior writer at ESPN ended this year.

The work was published in 2007 by Triumph books. The 206-page hardcover version retails for $24.95.

Baseball Reflections Rating: 5/5

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