- Bobo Newsom: Baseball's Traveling Man by Jim McConnell
When authors undertake a biography they often become a mouthpiece for a person who the author feels is vastly underappreciated. Moreover, in becoming that mouthpiece, they sometimes fall short in presenting a well-rounded work because of a loss of objectivity. That is certainly the case with Jim McConnell's treatment of Bobo Newsom.
On one hand, McConnell, who is a reporter for the Pasadena Star-News and a two-time winner of the SABR Research Award, does present an insightful look into the life and times of the consummate baseball journeyman pitcher. Because of this, readers will learn how Newsom was a pitcher who was traded [End Page 228] fourteen times in twenty years and had patches of success during that time that made him a wanted commodity and a sometime national star. Moreover, they will learn that Newsom was capable of unabashed self-promotion. His number-one rule, according to McConnell, was, "Never tell the truth when a lie will get you more attention" (3). Thirdly, the reader will see that tied to his talent and his self-boosterism, Newsom had an infinite belief in his own abilities. This allowed him to never be ashamed to ask for a raise from his employers despite mixed results on the field. These traits combined to make Newsom one of the most remembered men in his corner of South Carolina thanks in large part to friends and family who keep his story alive.
On the other hand, despite the good insight that comes from his work, McConnell's staunch opinion, often grounded in unsupported statements of perceived fact, that Newsom is a player of who deserves Hall of Fame consideration because of his playing ability and his willingness to fight for expanded players' rights, detracts from all the good that he does.
It is true that every author has the ability and the obligation to give their opinion on why their subject is historically important. However, that opinion should be grounded in a certain degree of fundamental fact. McConnell's opinions on Newsom being worthy of induction into Cooperstown are largely not. For instance, McConnell points out that "there have only been a handful of All-Star caliber pitchers who were able to extend their Major League careers beyond 20 years, and with few exceptions all are in the Hall of Fame except Newsom" (5). The problem is, he doesn't tell the reader who these pitchers are, so his point becomes pure speculation unless the reader feels like doing some research of their own.
McConnell even comes up short when he does ground an argument in fact. In this case, he argues that Newsom and Dizzy Dean were virtually the same person. Both had a braggadocios side. Both were great pitchers. To McConnell if there was a difference, "Dean might have had a slight edge in ability, but Newsome had him beat nine ways to hell in terms of durability" (5). At face value, this is a true statement. Both men were prone to boosterisim and often played the hayseed to cause the press to underestimate them. McConnell is even correct in his assessment that Dean was skilled and Newsom's career was grounded in longevity. Where he misses the mark is that longevity equals pitching excellence. It is true that Newsome would win 211 games in his twenty-year career. Meanwhile Dean won 130 in twelve years. These simple numbers belie one huge fact however. Newsom also lost 222. Moreover, when modern statistical information is taken into account, Newsom does not show any better. For much of his career, his Wins Above Replacement would make [End Page 229] him an average starter on average teams. Not a hall of famer. Dean, on the other hand, was an all-star.
Overall, however, this should not totally cloud McConnell's work. The strength of the book lies in the fact that McConnell does a fine job of showing the vagabond side of professional baseball. Therefore, if the reader is looking for insight...