Neifi Perez and I inspire Joe Posnanski

I have a chapter in a new baseball anthology called Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time, which is out this week from Da Capo Press.

I wrote about Neifi Pérez, who infuriated fans of the Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers in a long career that started with the Colorado Rockies, for whom he put up ballpark-aided, deceptively half-decent offensive numbers, and ended with his suspension for using amphetamines.

The piece is not sarcastic. I really did come to admire Neifi Pérez.

To be a guy like that, to be a guy who makes fans in four cities tear their hair out, to be possibly the single worst regular player in the major leagues in multiple seasons, to last for a dozen years in the big leagues, start more than 1,200 games, get caught stealing an astonishing 45 times in 102 attempts, you have to be a hell of a ballplayer.

The worst player in the major leagues is a hell of a ballplayer. The worst player in the history of the major leagues, whoever he was, was a hell of a ballplayer. Neifi Pérez was a hell of a ballplayer.

The chapter was excerpted this week by my employer, Salon.com, and many former readers of my old sports column showed up in the comments to say kind things about being glad to see my byline and wishing I would bring the column back. I would if it were up to me, but Salon is a business and it makes business decisions, and that’s about it for now.

Part of my job these days is to improve the headlines and coverlines of the pieces that run in Salon, and I did that to my own piece. Well, I changed the headline. I’m not sure I improved it. I forget what it was originally but I changed it to “Neifi Pérez: Bad baseball Hall of Famer.”

I’m gratified to say that this phrase, “bad baseball Hall of Famer,” inspired Joe Posnanski, whom I admire quite a bit, to call on his blog for the formation of a Bad Baseball Hall of Fame. He asks for nominations. Go on over and nominate someone, but be warned, Johnnie LeMaster has already been nominated. A lot.

And while you’re clicking around, why not go buy the book? Here’s that Amazon link again.

Funny thing about having the chapter excerpted in Salon: The readers quickly spotted an error that both I and the book’s excellent editor, Sean Manning, had missed in our multiple, in my case dozens of, readings of the piece. Here it is: “[Dusty] Baker and Detroit’s Jim Leyland have their critics, but they’ve each won more than 1,000 games and three division titles. Baker has won a pennant, Leyland two pennants and a World Series — the latter with Neifi on the postseason roster.”

Of course, Leyland’s World Series win came in 1997 with the Florida Marlins, not in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers and their ineffectual utility man, Neifi Pérez. Not sure how I got myself turned around in that sentence, but there it is, captured for posterity, a mistake I must have read right over 50 times without catching.

I always said my readers at Salon were the best editor in the world. There they go again.

Did I mention you can buy the book? I don’t get royalties or anything. But it’d be nice if a book I contributed to sold a few copies. And it’s good too, a fun read. Roger Kahn’s piece on Jackie Robinson is almost worth the cover price alone for the way it portrays Robinson, whom Kahn both covered and worked for, as a real person, not the paper saint we’ve come to know in the last 20 years.

I’ve read about 15 of the 25 chapters, and there’s not a dog in the bunch yet. Even my old pal Buzz Bissinger’s piece on Albert Pujols isn’t bad.

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