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Book Review: The Hall of Nearly Great

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Sports commentary, like most pop news, rarely cares for nuance. Players are either the greatest of all time, or are terrible, or even worse, completely forgettable. It is perhaps the nature of the continuous loop of sporting seasons. There is so much output that we have to tag some things as extraordinary lest it all meld together into an unremarkable monument to a wasted leisure class. To combat this entropy, we create highlight shows, and best of lists, and awards, and Halls of Fame.

The vast majority of players never are even considered for the Hall, as they shouldn't be. But a lack of Hall of Fame worthy credentials does not then mean that a player cannot be be good, or even great. Sometimes a player will shine for a season or few, then disappear as far as the public conscience is concerned.

To the collected authors of the book The Hall of Nearly Great, this is a shame. They submit the false premise that a player outside the Hall of Fame will be forgotten, ignoring that of the 297 people enshrine it is likely a majority are also forgotten or ignored. Of course, the authors don't argue for inclusion to the Hall, or an expansion of criteria. They wish merely to celebrate players who were very, very good.

The results are uneven at best.

It can't have been easy assembling the book. First is the problem of finding talented writers, ones who can put out a piece worth reading. The hyper-focus of the book, however, requires also the act of balancing an interesting piece with one that fits the premise of 'nearly great' baseball players. The book does not consistently achieve either goal.

The list of contributors is largely a "who's who" of the New Baseball Writing World, which is largely young, web savvy, numbers influenced or driven, and steeped in irony and glib turns of phrase. For a good or great writer, these attributes can be turned into something wonderful. Writers like Will Leitch or Joe Posnanski consistently write at a high level, or if we're considering non-baseball writers I submit Mary HK Choi. Other writers, however, are trapped within these attributes and have little hope of escaping the repetitious voice of our bloggy cohorts.

Of course, even considering the uneven talent level, there's the problem of a lack of interesting stories. I'll admit that I did not have much prior information about many of the players featured. After reading their stories, I can't say that status changed. The best stories were the ones that moved beyond lists of accomplishments and instead tried to tell a story (I felt the Fernandomania piece was one of the better in the collection).

The worst in the collection suffered either from a particularly uninteresting player, or from a writing trying to hard to be funny or interesting. That's about what I except from blog writing, but at $12 for an ebook I'm hoping for higher standards. That price is nears the upper limit I'm willing to pay for an ebook, so I find it difficult to recommend a book such as this for that price.

It's not a bad book. It's not a waste of your time. But it's not a strong recommend. I can't tell you if $12 for an ebook is too much for you, but to me that feels more than a few dollars overkill.