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Book Review: 'Johnny Evers: A Baseball Life'

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A fascinating look not only at a man, but at an era of baseball.

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Some of you have wondered, at times, why Johnny Evers is a Hall of Famer, beyond the "Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance" connection. His playing numbers were pedestrian even by the standards of the Deadball Era. His one MVP award was given for reasons we wouldn't likely consider today (leadership, mostly).

So why is he in the Hall and considered one of the best second basemen ever? Dennis Snelling's biography, "Johnny Evers: A Baseball Life", published by McFarland, explains within its first few pages:

What has been forgotten about Johnny Evers, the lifetime .270 hitter awarded a plaque in Cooperstown, is that he changed the way second base was played, literally writing the book on the position. He developed the snap throw and the sweep tag when those techniques were unknown or rarely employed. He was scientific in his approach, working out calculations to give his team an edge in every conceivable situation.

While loved by neither teammates nor opponents, he served as captain, and chief enforcer, of the best defensive team of his era, and was an energetic and exciting key player for a team that enjoyed the most successful five-year run of any major league baseball team -- and he was a member of the last two Chicago Cubs World Series champions, more than a century ago.

Well. That last part, of course, we hope to have changed in the next few years. But the point, I think, is important -- that Hall of Fame recognition can be given for influence in baseball that transcends statistics.

As for Evers, he came into baseball in the way many in his era did -- from a rough upbringing in a blue-collar town, in his case, Troy, New York. It was a city he called home even after his baseball career ended. The book details his rise quickly through amateur and minor-league baseball and to the Cubs, and how he, Joe Tinker and Frank Chance were the centerpieces of those winning Cubs teams. You've likely heard about the feud between Evers and Tinker and how they didn't talk off the field for many years. Snelling says this was overplayed, and gives detail on how it happened in the first place and how it was resolved.

Evers missed considerable time during his career due to various injuries, which happened primarily because of his all-out style of play. Snelling details these and also the possible cause of a nervous breakdown that caused Evers to miss most of the 1911 season.

What Evers wanted most after he was done playing was to become a winning manager, like Chance, his mentor. Though he did manage parts of four years -- for both the Cubs and White Sox -- he found himself an outcast eventually, shunned by the people in baseball he had hoped would embrace him.

This is a well-written biography that hits both the highlights and lowlights of a man who had a better baseball career than he's given credit for, and who helped to make the game what it is today. It was a nominee for the Casey Award for best baseball book of 2014. Well worth reading.