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The Stark Truth

A new book spurs thoughts of who's earned their legacy
07/23/2007 2:40 PM ET
By Phil Pepe / Special to YESNetwork.com

Paul O'Neill ranks on Stark's underrated list.(AP)
If you're a baseball fan, you like to read and you still have not had your summer vacation, let me recommend the perfect book to take on your trip. It's light, it's breezy, and it's fun.

It's The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated & Underrated Players in Baseball History from Triumph Books, written by Jayson Stark, who writes lovingly and joyously, with wit, insight, curiosity and, occasionally, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, for Baseball America.

In this book, as the subtitle reveals, Stark chooses those players that in his opinion don't deserve the lofty perception they have achieved, and those that deserve a better place in the game's firmament than they have been accorded. You may agree or disagree; you may think Jayson is Stark-raving mad, but one thing is certain: you will be amused and entertained.

Stark chooses the five most overrated and five most underrated players of all-time at each position and, in a back-of-the-book addendum, the three most overrated and three most underrated players from each Major League franchise. For our purposes, we'll confine discussion of Stark's selections to those who were Yankees.

THE UNDERRATED

1. GOOSE GOSSAGE: Stark wonders how Hall of Fame voters have failed to recognize for eight elections what American League hitters of his era knew -- that Gossage was the most fearsome, intimidating closer of his time; maybe of all time.
Comment: Will Gossage be removed from this list next year when he's almost a cinch to finally get the Hall call?

2. YOGI BERRA: Most people today know Yogi as the guy in the barber's chair who talks to a duck, not as one of four catchers in baseball history (along with Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk) with 1,000 runs scored, 300 homers, 2,000 hits and 1,200 RBIs, or for his ability to hit balls over his head or at his toes and to come up big in the clutch.
Comment: If you saw him hit and catch, or played against him in the 1950s, you never would call him underrated.

3. PAUL O'NEILL: He was to the Yankees in the 90s what Berra was in the 50s; i.e. an indispensable man.
Comment: Obtaining O'Neill in a trade for Roberto Kelly may be, next to the purchase of Babe Ruth, the greatest deal the Yankees ever made.

Also on the underrated list: Babe Ruth (as a pitcher and a Red Sox, not a hitter and a Yankee), Oscar Gamble (how can a man be overlooked with that hairdo?), Joe Gordon (why isn't he in the Hall of Fame?), Derek Jeter (not underrated in New York and not by teenage girls), Joe Torre (as a player not as a manager), Tim Raines, Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Bonds and Johnny Callison.

THE OVERRATED

1. PHIL RIZZUTO: Stark contends Scooter made the Hall of Fame not on his playing record, but largely because of his broadcasting career and his enormous popularity -- not only in New York -- and his likeable personality.
Comment: Rizzuto made the Hall of Fame because PeeWee Reese made it before him. I'm not sure either of them belongs, but I'm glad they're both in.

2.DAVE WINFIELD: Stark expected more from a guy who is 6'6", 220 pounds, was a dominant pitcher in college and was drafted in baseball (the Padres), the NFL (Minnesota Vikings), the NBA (Atlanta Hawks) and the ABA (Utah Stars).
Comment: What's 3,110 hits, 465 homers and 223 stolen bases, chopped liver?

3. DON LARSEN: He's condemned because his career (81 wins, 91 losses) could never measure up to one October afternoon in 1956.
Comment: Nothing could measure up to that one day, but for that one day he did it better than anybody ever has ... or ever will.

Also on the overrated (Stark's, not mine) list: Tommy John, Davis Wells, Dave Righetti, Ron Blomberg, Reggie Jackson, Steve Balboni, Cecil Fielder, Steve Sax, Bobby Richardson, Graig Nettles, Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, Bobby Abreu and Darryl Strawberry. Comment: If you don't like it, write to Jayson Stark, not me.

Former Yankees beat writer and acclaimed author Phil Pepe is a regular contributor to YESNetwork.com.
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