The Baseball Talmud is a book for Jewish baseball statistic geeks. That said, it should be added that the book, like the Talmud, is sprinkled with lively anecdotes and wry observations worthy of a stand-up comic.
Howard Megdal, baseball writer for the New York Observer and several baseball publications, uses sophisticated sabermetrics and other research to identify and rank all 160 Jewish major leaguers, less than 1 percent of 16,696 players who have made it to the bigs. Megdal’s definition of Jewish is, to use his word, expansive, but his standards are exacting and based on such measures as Baseball Prospectus’ WARP3 (wins above replacement player) and formulas that adjust for differences between baseball parks and eras.
After selecting the greatest Jewish baseball player — Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax?— Megdal ranks the remaining top ten and fearlessly predicts the top ten years out. He then ranks all the Jewish players by position, noting a lack of good second basemen. And for the finale Megdal names the all-time Jewish team and classes it, adjusted for parks and eras, unbeatable.
All in all The Baseball Talmud will make for endless arguments on off-season Shabbos afternoons. Although Megdal is serious about his stats, he has a light touch with language, and his asides and anecdotes provide a neat balance to his pursuit of statistical affirmation. Glossary, illustrations, index
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.