The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

The Authenticity Project is a wonderful book that sucked me in from page one. It begins with aging artist Julian (more on that name to come) who decides to write down the truth he’s been denying to himself in a notebook and leave it for a stranger to find. The notebook is read by others who then share their truths and quite a few lives are changed in the process. In honor of the spirit of the notebook, this post will tap into the authenticity of my selection and this blog.

In the name of authenticity I will share that this is the first time I have gone out of order on a post. In fact, if I’m sharing my truth, I’ve finished five books since The Poet and haven’t felt like writing any of the posts for them. There’s a half completed post sitting there waiting to be finished. But The Authenticity Project was so enjoyable for me I decided to be true to how I actually felt and allow myself to focus on this book that was more fun.

As for the bookmark selection, there’s some truth to be told there, too. Soon after starting the book, I needed a bookmark and hadn’t come up with an obvious choice yet. I grabbed a 1988 Score Tony Phillips card that I had used on a previous book that was lying around. As I continued reading, there was nothing that pointed to a different pick. So I just kept using Tony Phillips. And, if I’m being honest, it was just easier to stick with Tony Phillips. So I did. That was my authentic choice.

And I like Tony Phillips. My friend Terry and I have talked about how Phillips was underappreciated during his playing days. Had his career begun a decade later he would have been a hero in the A’s Moneyball era. Phillips hit just .266 for his career, but his .374 on base percentage is 202nd in Major League history, one spot behind Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. His career WAR was 50.9, which places him 24th on the list of second basemen, ahead of Hall of Famers Nellie Fox, Johnny Evers, Tony Lazzeri, Red Schoendienst, and Bill Mazeroski. Tony Phillips’ best season was 1993 when he hit .313, scored 113 runs, lead the league with 132 walks, and had a career high .443 on base percentage. (He became the first, and still only, player to have 100 hits, runs, walks, and strikeouts in a season). That 1993 Detroit Tigers team was actually the Moneyball A’s before Moneyball. One of the biggest focuses of the book was how Billy Beane and the A’s recognized that on base percentage was an undervalued statistic and could therefore exploit the market inefficiency. But, when it comes to on base percentage, the 2002 A’s came nowhere close to the 1993 Tigers. David Justice lead the 2002 A’s with a .376 on base percentage, a full 67 points below Phillips’ season. The 1993 Tigers had four players with a higher on base percentage, and three with percentages higher than .368. The team’s on base percentage of .362 was 23 points higher than the 2002 A’s. Just to round out how ahead of the time the Tigers were, Rob Deer had 367 plate appearances despite hitting just .217. But he walked a lot to bump his on base percentage up over .300 and also slugged 14 home runs in just 90 games.

Tony Phillips homered on his 40th birthday. Considering very few players are productive offensive players into their forties, this seemed like quite an accomplishment to me, and I assumed he was likely the first and only player to do so. But, not only was he not the first, he wasn’t the second or even the third. And he isn’t the last, either, as Chipper Jones became the fifth big leaguer to homer on his 40th birthday in 2012. At the end of his career Tony Phillips wore number 73, a number he chose specifically so players wouldn’t ask for his number anymore after Albert Belle requested number 8 from him upon his arrival to the White Sox. Personally, I wouldn’t have given up eight.

Before I completely gave in to sticking with Tony Phillips I considered several other players. The first was Julian Tavarez in honor of Julian, the first author in the authenticity notebook. And he would work because despite what I had always assumed, Tavarez pronounces his first name with the hard J. There’s the San Francisco connection, too, where Tavarez was a key member of the bullpen from 1997 to 1999, pitching in a league-leading 89 games during their 1997 playoff run. But, he gave Giants fans as many heart attacks as clean innings, so he wasn’t always well-liked.

The only other idea I could come up with from a book set mostly in England with absolutely no connection to baseball was Austin Riley in honor of Riley, a character from Australia who is one of the authors in the authenticity notebook. Austin Riley is a young player for Atlanta who shows a lot of pop but strikes out a lot. I’m pretty sure I have his card, too. But, since I’m being honest here, I really didn’t care to look for it.

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