Category Archives: writing

The Examined Life

Reggie Jackson, Cardboard Gods, and Satchel.

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game – and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. – Jacques Barzun (I used to think this often abridged quote wasn’t really saying anything; that it was just empty words.)

Bios: I’ve read a couple of baseball biographies this year as well as a memoir. I like them as a method of learning or relearning or remembering a particular era. I’ve dabbled in the form myself on a much smaller scale than a book. You may notice on that list one that wasn’t completed; one on Bowie Kuhn. I was reading some Robert Caro a couple of years back and his subject wasn’t necessarily LBJ or Robert Moses. It was power. How to acquire it. How to use it. How to keep it. I was overly ambitious and thought about writing about Kuhn in the same vein and show how not to acquire, use, or keep power. I took copious notes but haven’t much to show for it. A few people asked “Who would buy such a book?” The queries I sent out weren’t promising. I did dash off a couple of pieces at THT that were fruits of my research. But enough about me for the moment.

Dayn Perry’s Reggie Jackson and Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods cover an era I wanted to tackle by writing about Bowie Kuhn. And Larry Tye’s Satchel was probably a better history lesson on the Negro Leagues than any book I read where that was the goal.

I was curious how a writer like Perry would tackle a bio. His background as a writer isn’t traditional, to say the least. He wrote for Baseball Prospectus and is sort of FOXsports answer to Rob Neyer.

Perry’s bio of Reggie Jackson was really good. I tried reading the recent bio of Willie Mays, but it didn’t capture my fancy. This one does. I liked it better than the Willie Mays bio by James Hirsch I tried to read earlier. Told Bethlehem Shoals that I found the Mays bio ponderous. 500 pages. I don’t need all that to learn that he might’ve been a good shooting guard or QB instead of a baseball player, but baseball was the only game in town when he was growing up. I didn’t need all that to tell me he could hit, run, field and throw. Or that when he ran, it was like gliding. And that’s the stuff I’m interested in.

Maybe being shorter helps, but Dayn’s book seems to flow well. I did find myself skimming over game accounts, but I usually do that in bios. Dayn was the guy who reminded me to user strong verbs and nouns but he also uses good adjectives. At one point, he said magma hot instead of hot. And his book is subtitled The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October. If you’re interested in baseball of the 70s, I recommend the book. It mainly covers his career up to 1981 or so then peters out when it gets around to his Angels career and second tour with the A’s. I learned a bit about Steinbrenner and Martin (and Bowie Kuhn) that I didn’t know. Dayn used Golenbock’s bio of Martin as a source and I never read that*. The book also portrays Jackson as some sort of racial opportunist. That really isn’t a subject I’m all that comfortable about but I’m getting a better understanding of it as time goes on. Oddly enough, I learn more about it from reading about sports than anywhere else.

I also read Cardboard Gods this summer. I’ve praised the blog before. The book had some material that wasn’t part of the blog and was more organized into an overarching story of Wilker’s childhood and other parts of his life. Josh is almost exactly the same age as me, so I relate to a lot of what he wrote. He’s also an inspiration for me, as I believe we’re both sort of late bloomers. Did I mention that he was a fellow Red Sox fan? I loved the chapter on Dewey Evans because Josh refers to this game. That was a crazy 12th inning. I called Doug DeCinces error before Joe Castiglione did. My brother can testify to that in a court of law if need be. That Sox-Angels tilt was one of my favorite games of all time. Amy Tan and Bill Nowlin put together a book of great Red Sox games in history. I nominated that one, but don’t think it got accepted.

Nowlin and I have different ideas about these bios. He’s more into relying an oral history than I am. I prefer to see what the journos have to say about someone at the time. Call it the Bill James influence, if you want. Also, I try to capture the times. I talk on occasion to a friend of mine and he also says that that’s one thing he looks for in a bio. That was a strength of Larry Tye’s book Satchel. It won SABR’s prestigious Seymour Award. I said earlier that I’ve read books specifically on Negro League history, but I think I got a better sense of that history through the prism of Satchel Paige. And a better sense of 20th Century American history to boot. Maybe Jacques Barzun was right after all.

* Golenbock isn’t much of a deep researcher from my experience. He just let’s the tape record stuff then writes it down. But he is one of the main reasons I am into sports history. His book about the Yankees from their Golden Age is probably the first adult baseball book I read,


Filed under baseball, beisbol, Uncategorized, writing

Game Stories

This isn’t a Red Sox blog, but I am a Red Sox fan. Have been since 1975, so don’t hold the bandwagoneers against me. I don’t write about that that often, though. Enough ink and bits are already spilled about the Old Towne Team. What more can I add? I still watch and listen to the team, albeit not as much as I used to (I’m one of those folks responsible for NESN’s ratings dive.) When I don’t watch or listen, I still want to know what happened. I subscribe to a local suburban paper, but rarely read their game story or the boxscore. (I used to love the scoreboard page when I was 12. I’d absorb it like a sponge with all the boxscores, standings, and transactions. Oh, to find the time to do that today!) I usually read Craig Calcaterra’s “And That Happened.” It’s one or two lines per each major league game, usually, but it gets to the meat of it without the fluff.

Carson Cistulli (Hi, Carson) and other Fangraphers met in NYC over the weekend. I wanted to go, but it was too early in the day for me to make it worth it. I would have had to arise at dawn, drive to New Haven or Stamford, and MetroNorth it in by 9. I stayed up late on Friday and I need my beauty rest. [I was drawing diagrams and contemplating how Jim Bouton might be the center of the universe (more on that, some day.)]

Carson wrote today or last nite about how one of the guest speakers (Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald) has eschewed the traditional game story format. I rarely read the Herald, so I was not aware of this. Here is his story about last nite’s game. Contrast it with the AP report in the Hartford Courant. The Courant used to send a beat writer to Boston, but they don’t do it that often these days. Quite frankly, I find the weekly shopping newspapers more informative these days. Not much difference in style compared to the wire report, as far as I can detect, but Silverman’s piece reads better. It’s a stronger story about how four forgotten pieces of the roster contributed to Boston’s victory.

Yet, I find myself a mite confused. I thought one of the larger complaints by the blogosphere was how mainstream media types try and put storylines into their coverage. I’d be interested in your thoughts. (I’m blegging you!) I suppose I should read more Silverman to compare him and contrast him to other beat writers.


Filed under baseball, beisbol, writing

A Question About EDSBS

Why is Spencer Hall sometimes Spencer Hall and sometimes Orson Swindle?

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Joe Posnanski On Mitch Albom

Joe writes that Mitch was an inspiration for him as a sportswriter. I’ve been more interested in getting a book out than covering events or writing columns. I suppose Bill James was a lodestar for me. Unfortunately, he is the exception. Most of the other guys I read and liked got their starts in magazines and newspapers: Paul Zimmerman and Leonard Koppett; to name two.

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Wages of Win

Notes from a Panel Discussion on Blogging About Sports and Economics

This gets meta, but I eat meta up. Berri also linked to a great story about a dumb criminal.

Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight. What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise. The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest. There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money. Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving. “But I wore the juice,” he said. Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.

In a follow-up article, Fuoco spoke to several Pittsburgh police detectives who had been involved in Wheeler’s arrest. Commander Ronald Freeman assured Fuoco that Wheeler had not gone into “this thing” blindly but had performed a variety of tests prior to the robbery. Sergeant Wally Long provided additional details — “although Wheeler reported the lemon juice was burning his face and his eyes, and he was having trouble (seeing) and had to squint, he had tested the theory, and it seemed to work.” He had snapped a Polaroid picture of himself and wasn’t anywhere to be found in the image. It was like a version of Where’s Waldo with no Waldo. Long tried to come up with an explanation of why there was no image on the Polaroid. He came up with three possibilities:

(a) the film was bad;

(b) Wheeler hadn’t adjusted the camera correctly; or

(c) Wheeler had pointed the camera away from his face at the critical moment when he snapped the photo.

As Dunning read through the article, a thought washed over him, an epiphany. If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.

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WSJ: His Life Was Some Serious Books

The Wall Street Journal on Harvey Pekar. Tom Batiuk is from northeastern Ohio. I wonder how much of an influence Pekar was on him. I read “The Quitter” over two nites last week I liked it and am interested in reading more by him.

Thanks to Mark S for turning me on to him.

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Woody Allen: A Fan’s Notes On Earl Monroe

I found the essay that Bethlehem Shoals mentioned Friday.  It’s here.  Google Books is wonderful.  Incidentally, the title of the essay reminds me that I really should read the Fred Exley book A Fan’s Notes.  It is highly recommended by Josh Wilker.

Allen came to basketball relatively late in life, but once he got into it, he got into it.

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