Reviewed by Jim Melcher, June 2009Jayson Stark is one of the best known baseball writers working today, both because of his writing and because of his frequent media appearances. He has written selections published in books before, but he now has written his own first book, The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated & Underrated Players in Baseball History. With a title like that, most fans would probably think “Ah–an argument starter”. That’s exactly what Stark sets out to do in this book. While he uses baseball statistics well in the book, Stark makes clear that this is not intended to be a purely scientific approach (and since “overrated” and “underrated” are inherently subjective, that’s to be expected).
The other thing that’s to be expected out of this sort of book is that people won’t respond well to their favorites being called “overrated”. Stark is sensitive to this issue–perhaps a bit too sensitive. he takes pains in many places to note that calling a player overrated (Lou Brock, for example) doesn’t mean he isn’t a very good player all the same. His “apologizing” to the reader is understandable at first, but gets a bit repetitive. He also admits that he will jiggle his lists a big to get players he likes at times included among the underrated, and that some players will put on the overrated list because of their “guilt by association”; that is, for being known for their excellence in statistics Stark chooses to value lightly (marking Lee Smith as overrated largely because he thinks saves are, themselves, overrated as a statistic).
Stark’s evaluations seem very much influenced by the development of sabermetric analysis of baseball statistics, particularly that of Bill James. Like them, Stark tends to argue players known for excellence in a single area (Hack Wilson with RBIs, Lee Smith in saves, etc.) are overrated and players with a more even degree of excellence across a range of statistics tend to be underrated. Many of the assessments made by Stark here are very similar to those made by James in The Historical Baseball Abstract. Both, for example, regard Tim Raines, Bobby Grich, Ted Simmons, Darrell Evans, Craig Biggio and Lefty Grove as underrated, and they have similar taste in overrated players as well.
Stark’s evaluations are debatable, and he would be the first to say so–he seems to want to “stir the pot” and spark a conversation about baseball. His effort to do so is very well-informed and shows great knowledge of the game. Stark write both well and entertainingly, and fans of baseball history will sail through the book, even as they want to argue with him. Think of this book as a discussion with a smart fan at a ballgame or a tavern–one who wants to convince you he’s right, but who knows you won’t always agree and wants to have fun talking about it. You don’t have to agree with every conclusion Stark draws in The Stark Truth to have a truly good time reading it.
—Jim Melcher, June 2009