"Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits." — Tommy Edison
Tom Hoffarth is a sports journalist in Los Angeles, born and raised (reared is the correct phrase, but it just sounds wrong) and specializing in the sports media business. A USC graduate from the School of Journalism (it still exists, somewhat) in 1984, he is also available for service at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomhoffarth/
Year after year after year, we find ourselves lured into fixating on one certain year in baseball.
Check your calendars. Then check your interest level.
Many an author has taken on a challenge to revisit the historical impact of one team in one particular season, or one particular World Series. Magicians such as David Halberstam could compose “October 1964,” or a Tom Adleman can tackle “Black and Blue: The Golden Arm, the Robinson Boys and the 1966 World Series that Stunned America” released in 40 years after it happened in ’06.
Others find more of a challenge to connect dots with a broader approach – a start-to-finish environmental impact report on how the game endured amidst all that was going on. But without a real foundation of believe ability, they can sound like a publisher’s marketing department filling in the blanks of a Mad Lib press release:
(Fill in the Year) was the most (Important/Pivotal/Astonishing/Awful/Eye-Opening/Prodigious/Rare/Phenomenal/Incomprehensible/Marvelous/Jaw-Dropping/Shocking/Surpring) season baseball has ever (experienced/seen/endured)! Go back to see how (list the events) reshaped the sport (like never before/never to go back/pushing it into the next century).
Nostalgia, and history, and “where you when when …?” can be compelling enough to sell. Especially if that was right around the time of your birthday. What was happening in the game, and around it, when you landed here?
Before offering at a pitch to read David Krell’s “1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK,” we took that tweet above as an opportunity to do more research into this sub-genre of baseball historical recordings led to a list of books that a) feature a year in the title and b) o explain why that period of time was most memorable (in chronological order of the year covered):
So if we were to circle back to ’62, with all that history documents into this kind of framework, what might we glean? Are we missing something, because it’s not one of those years that jumps out at redefining much of anything, but we’re always open for interpretation.
The publishers’ salescrafters, in their best-push-foward approach, have presumed to be “a watershed year” where “events and people came together to reshape baseball like never before.”
OK, show us.
This was a season that saw another Yankees’ World Championship, pitting Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays at opposite sides and a memorable ending to Game 7.
There were two NL expansion teams with the Houston Colt .45s (yes, named after a gun) and the New York Mets (who lost 120 games and brought Casey Stengel back to life) to balance everything out, and everyone gets a 162-game season. There was the opening of Dodger Stadium. There were five no-hitters (one by Sandy Koufax, against the Mets, at Dodger Stadium), a critical three-game National League playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants … anything else?
The part where Krell is “weaving the 1962 baseball season within the social fabric of this era,” there is the aura of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Camelot, more of the Cold War and the Space Race with Cuban Missile Crisis overlapping with the Mercury astronauts and John Glenn’s orbit of earth amidst all that right stuff, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the launch of the “Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Jetsons,” a push for civil rights, John Wayne and Henry Fonda and Sean Connery and Rod Steiger in “The Longest Day,” Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Peter O’Toole and Alec Guinness in “Lawrence of Arabia.” …
The blurb insists Krell “delivers a fascinating book as epochal as its subject.” Not that we don’t understand fancy words like “epochal,” but here’s a bit of a mundane epiphany: Krell’s SABR bio gives credence to his understanding of history and baseball over many years. His website frames him as an author, journalist and commentator, with books done about the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Mets and New York Yankees’ connection to pop culture.
Krell says in his acknowledgements this project started as an idea to write about how the Mets and .45s came into being but it “morphed into an exploration of a pivotal year in America.” But because Krell was taking a Non-Fiction Book Proposal class, he was encouraged to broaden the scope. Nice idea.
Again, on some levels, that seems sell-able just on face value. But the execution is a meandering disjointed journey of research. Baseball’s lack of fitting into this premise seems to materialize in how there are 12 chapters – one for each month – and the game can’t be expected to fill it out to the edges amidst everything else.
There is even more confusion in the photos chosen to illustrated, which only hurts the credibility.
Only a few shots culled from various libraries are actually from 1962 – including key moments from baseball that could have easily been tracked down.
One in particular jumps out at us: In trying to highlight how the Dodgers’ Maury Wills was the NL MVP of ’62, there is a photo from April, 1960, showing the Giants’ Orlando Cepeda (wearing No. 30) sliding into second base in a game at Candlestick park. The caption from the photo taken by the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin that we found in the San Francisco Public Library: “ORLANDO CEPADA (sic) flies through the air with the greatest of ease for one of the Giants’ three steals of second base in yesterday’s 1-0 victory over Los Angeles. Shortstop Maury Wills leaps for Roseboro’s wide throw.” But the caption in the book for this same photo reads: “ ‘Go! Go! Go!’ The shouts filled the air at Dodger Stadium in 1962 whenever number 30, Maury Wills, took a lead off first base. That year Wills set a new single-season record with 104 stolen bases. His defensive play in the infield often gets overshadowed by his base-stealing acumen.” Was that last sentence added as a way to tell us that isn’t Wills, No. 30, stealing second base, but actually Wills on the other end taking the throw?
Was it that difficult to secure the color pix of Wills stealing his record-breaking 104th base against the Giants in that playoff at Dodger Stadium (see above) that locked up his MVP honors (just edging out Willie Mays)?
One more that we can’t let go: In writing about the no-hitter that the Angels’ Bo Belinsky threw “in front of 15,886 fans at Dodger Stadium — the Angels’ home field from 1961 to 1965 …” fails to realize the Angels’ inaugural ’61 season was at L.A.’s Wrigley Field.
The transitions between what’s going in the world, and then in baseball, come with many rough edges as well. We don’t see another of cause-and-effect happening as we expected, but just some interesting overlaps – specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis starting in mid-October parallel to the World Series.
Does it all mesh during this unmethodical mix-and-match? The reader can decide if it brings back memories, or just muddles what you already may recall.
How it goes in the scorebook
A 1-9-6-2 output.
Which seems rather clumsy (but not all that impossible) if you can imagine a ball hit back at the pitcher ricocheting off his leg and rolling into right field (because of an exaggerated shift to the left side), the right fielder scooping it up and throwing to the cutoff man, who turns and goes home as a runner tries to score from second base. That also implies there was an out recorded at the end. But we’re still trying to discover that resolution.
You’ve seen those birthday cards that tell you all about things that happened in the year you landed on the planet? Take that, add about 300 pages, and you’re on your way.
Listen, if you’re selling this just as a title, it has merit. Otherwise, we’re just watching a ball slapped around the yard with little context.
And really, it’s a year too early to really land with some distinction. Why not have this come out in 2022 — the 60th anniversary of that season? Kinda sums up what we’re dealing with here.
Back cover reviews from others we respect include Mitch Nathanson, author of the Jim Bouton biography (“In Krell’s capable hands, everything old feels new again”) and from Peter Goldenbock (“Krell … prodigious research to bring you the events, the issues and the famous personalities of 1962”).
But even reading between the lines of those blurbs, it’s not a ringing endorsement.
More new books with years in the title to consider
== “1930: The Story of a Baseball Season When Hitters Reigned Supreme” by Lew Freedman (Sports Publishing, $24.99, 224 pages, to be released June 8, 2021). The blurb: “The 1930 baseball season was the flip side of 1968, the hitter’s version when 78 players batted .300, when the entire National League averaged .300 and some of the greatest individual performances established all-time records. The 1930 season is a wild, sometimes unbelievable, often wacky baseball story.”
== “1996: A Biography: Reliving the Legend-Packed, Dynasty-Stacked, Most Iconic Sports Year Ever,” by Jon Finkel (Diverson Books, $17.99, 288 pages, released May 11). It was 25 years ago when “the big bang of modern sports” happened. From the baseball world, there was Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. … but with that was Jordan, Shaq, Iverson, Kobe, Gretzky, Tiger, Griffey, Jeter, Tyson, Deion, the Cowboys, the Yankees, the Bulls, The Rock, Stone Cold, Kentucky, Florida, Agassi, Graf, the Williams Sisters, Happy Gilmore, Space Jam, the Olympics in Atlanta, Muhammad Ali, the Magnificent Seven… From Si writer Steve Rushin: “Part time machine, part fax machine, this book brings the ’90s vividly back to life, with all the insight and hindsight of the athletes who made the era so memorable. Finkel makes a strong case that 1996, like 1776, was revolutionary.”
The 20 things we learned, never considered possible, might have forgot and are now reminded, or we were just duped into thinking otherwise as they related to the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and its proceeding consequences, thanks to Don Zminda’s quest to clarify and rectify how things went south for the southside of Chicago’s American League after it gave away a World Series to the Red Legs:
2 >>>>> Weaver’s connection was just his desire to hang out in Venice and play some golf in L.A. in the off season. McMullin lived on Elmyra Street in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood near downtown L.A. and went to Los Angeles High School. Gandil moved to L.A. from Seattle and played baseball in the area on amateur teams when he was 16, including one sponsored by the Los Angeles Herald Newspaper. He came back and lived with his wife and her parents in an area called Los Angeles Massa. The home at 5314 Chesley Avenue was a two bed, one-bath place worth about $8,500 in 1915. It still stands. As Zminda notes, it’s valued at close to $800,000, in an area now called Park Mesa Heights — just northeast of the Inglewood Park Cemetery running between Florence and Slauson, not far from Crenshaw High and the current Nipsey Hussle Square.
3 >>>>> J.R. Hunter of Hunter’s Secret Service reported to Comiskey in May, 1920 that his team, led by agent known as “E.W.M.,” had “located three different players in and around Los Angeles … However, nothing developed from this angle to throw any additional light on the matter under investigation … there were no additional points developed that would lend credit to the rumors referred to.”
4 >>>>> Harry A. Williams of the Los Angeles Times was “one of the few mainstream reporters who took the fix rumors seriously” and quoted Gandil in a Nov. 18, ’19 story as saying team owner Charles Comiskey was “influenced by the talk of bettors who lost on the White Sox. I have given the Chicago club my best at all times,” and attributed his poor performance in the 1919 World Series to an injured hand. He wanted his release so he could play in the Pacific Coast League.
5 >>>>> The Pacific Coast League had its own 1919 game-fixing scandal, and on Aug. 4, 1920, the league commissioner William McCarthy indefinitely suspended first baseman Baker “Babe” Borton of the Vernon Tigers, who played their games not far from downtown L.A. in the city today known as a meat-packing area). Borton played for the White Sox in 1912 and ’13.
6 >>>>> Perhaps it was no coincidence that several players on the Black Sox (Gandil, McMullin, Weaver, Risberg and Williams) had played in the West Coast’s PCL for several years prior to going to Chicago.
7 >>>>> The PCL scandal was of keen interest to an outraged William Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs as well as his PCL team, the Los Angeles Angels (playing at L.A.’s Wrigley Field), and which lost the league title that previous year to the Vernon Tigers. “When the Cubs heard a report of game-fixing involving members of their own team (including one on Aug. 4 when the Cubs played the Phillies) they took swift – and public – action. The result was the formation of the grand jury that finally broke open the Black Sox scandal,” Zminda writes.
8 >>>>> The Cubs were sued by player Lee Magee for breach of contract for the 1920 season, and his trial to recover $9,500 in damages came up on June 7 of that year. The Cubs’ lawyers contended Magee and Hal Chase conspired to commit an act of treason against the Reds and the game. Chase was accused of going to a betting commissioner and learning that players could put up any amount of money against their own team. A jury ruled in favor of the Cubs. But that lawsuit involving a Chicago jury set the stages for the Black Sox investigation. (FWIW: Magee, born Leopold Hoernschemeyer, was a teammate of Chase with the 1918 Reds, and was sold to the Brooklyn Robins/pre-Dodgers prior to 1919.)
9 >>>>> Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a U.S. federal judge from 1905 to 1922, may have carved out a plague in the Baseball Hall of Fame because he was the first Commissioner of Baseball in late 1920, serving until his death in 1944 at age 78. He was responsible for banning the eight players from the White Sox, as well as Joe Gedeon from the St. Louis Browns, who placed bets based on knowledge from his friend, Risberg. But earlier that year, on Feb. 14, 1920, Landis removed his name from consideration to be the head of what was called the National Commission (not wanting to be part of it as long as Yankees owner Colonel Ruppert was involved). The three-person committee oversaw the comings and goings of organized baseball from 1903 to 1920 and was empowered to enact and enforce fines and suspensions.
It is fascinating to speculate how the investigation of the Black Sox scandal would have changed had Landis assumed a major role in baseball – most likely as the head of the National Commission – at the start of 1920, rather than at the end of the year, when he agreed to become baseball’s first commissioner … with dictatorial powers. The truth might have been uncovered far earlier, and many reputations might have been saved major damage. That includes Charles A. Comiskey, assuming that Comiskey had been willing to share the results of his investigation with Landis (something he was decidedly unwilling to do with Ban Johnson).”
10 >>>>> That Chicago jury found the eight White Sox players brought up on charges not guilty, but that “had little relevance as to whether they should have been allowed to play Major League Baseball,” Zminda writes on page 272. “Merely throwing games was not a crime in Illinois.” As David Fleitz wrote in Joe Jackson’s biography: “Judge Landis suspended the eight players, despite the fact they had been acquitted in court, because he held the reasonable position that team sports must be held to a higher standard of conduct than the law allows.”
11 >>>>> It is “pretty certain that the White Sox were fixing games in 1920,” Zminda writes on page 270. “Three of the Black Sox – Cicotte, Weaver and Felsch – admitted it at one point or another. .. so did players on opposing teams. (Why?) It’s more likely they were being blackmailed: Go along with this or harm will come your way (including possibly leaking the story of the 1919 World Series) … I agree … it was likely a fairly small and concentration of fixed games in 1920 toward the end of the season when gamblers wanted to keep the White Sox out of the World Series … No one will ever know for sure, but without much question, fixed games cost the White Sox the 1920 American League pennant.”
12 >>>>> On Friday, Oct. 1, the White Sox took the field against St. Louis minus seven indicted players for their final series of the season. Yes, as the season is happening, and the White Sox (95-56) are trailing the first-place Indians (96-54) by just a game and a half. A few days earlier, Cicotte won his 21st game of the season. The White Sox then lost two of three to the Browns, and that 96-58 finish computed to a .623 winning percentage. As Zminda notes: Through 2019, only the 1917 (.649) and 1919 (.629) American League champions had a better winning percentage in Sox franchise history. “One could only imagine how much better that win percentage might have been had the 1920 White Sox played it straight all season,” Zminda adds. The Indians (98-56) won the AL by two games with Ruth’s Yankees in third at 95-59 — as the 25-year-old smashed a league-record 54 homers and drove in 135 runs, hitting .376.
13 >>>>> Going back to 1919: The National League acquitted Cincinnati Reds first baseman “Prince” Hal Chase of fixing games. Chase was another former PCL player, with the Vernon Tigers. The White Sox employed him in 1913, before he jumped to the rival Federal League. He came back in 1916 and won a batting title with the Reds (a .339 mark and a league-best 184 hits) “before lapsing into familiarity suspicious behavior,” as Zminda notes. The Reds and manager Christie Mathewson suspected him of game fixing in 1918 but NL President John Heydler exonerated Chase.
“While his handling of the 1918 Chase case deserves some sympathy, Heydler would be more culpable for his – and the National Committee’s – failure to vigorously investigate the 1919 World Series,” writes Zminda.
(Chase was not on the 1919 Reds team that defeated the White Sox five games to three in the eight-game World Series, instead finishing his career with the New York Giants as a 36-year-old first-sacker.)
14 >>>>> The Collyer’s Eye, a gambling magazine, was the first to report inklings of a 1919 fix and reported the names of all eight being investigated, in its Dec. 13, 1919 issue.
15 >>>>> Since 2009, the Society for American Baseball Research has had a Black Sox Scandal Committee, launched by the late Gene Carney and including members Jacob Pomrenke, Bruce Allardice, Bill Felber and Bill Lamb. If there’s anything that has needed proof of verification over the last few decades, you can bet it has gone through here. At the SABR website, it has a link to review the most common errors and misconceptions about the Black Sox Scandal.
16 >>>>> What are we to make of poor White Sox owner Comiskey in all this (who actually has his own Hall of Fame plaque based on his playing career)?
Zminda writes on page 271: “The notion of Comiskey as a skinflint who invited the scandal by abusing and underpaying his players had been seriously in error … I began this project as a Comiskey sympathizer, thinking that he sincerely felt that he did not have enough evidence to banish the eight players. I have changed my opinion in good part through the work of, and my own personal interactions with, historian and former prosecutor Bill Lamb .. I feel great sympathy for for Charles Comiskey as I do for most of the banished players (well, not so much for Gandil, Risberg and McMullin). But I am compelled to say that bringing those seven players back in 1920 was a great failing on Comiskey’s part … a great moral failing.”
18 >>>>> There was other news in 1920 that shook the game to its core: Babe Ruth was sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees, a deal finalized while he was in L.A. trying to make a movie and golfing at Griffith Park with Weaver. Ruth played in a few games against the suspicious White Sox in that ’20 season – but he missed a few games because of an insect bite that occurred in New Jersey when the team let him shoot a movie during the day as long as he’d be back in time to play that night. Ruth almost nearly killed himself in an auto accident in July ’20 – drinking and driving, with his wife in the car as well as two teammates and a team coach, Ruth went into a ditch, overturned and was pinned under the car. Somehow, no one was hurt seriously, although there were already a New York newspaper headline screaming: “RUTH REPORTED KILLED IN CAR CRASH.” He played the next day and hit a triple.
19 >>>> Also in 1920: In the World Series that the White Sox may have fortunately figured out how not to be part of, Cleveland’s Indians won it all despite still reeling from the death of shortstop Ray Chapman after he was hit in the head with a pitch by the Yankees’ Carl Mays in August. On the losing end: The Wilbert Robinson-managed Brooklyn Robins (pre-Dodgers). Who were not free of controversy. Robins pitcher Rube Marquard was arrested for trying to sell eight box tickets with a face value of $52.80 to an under cover detective for $400. Marquard, who lost Game 1, was fined $1. The Indians, led by Tris Speaker and Stan Coveleski, beat Zach Wheat’s Robins, winning five of the seven games.
20 >>>>> Oh, right. Also in 1920: Prohibition started. But after all this, we could use a strong sip of something.
He says he benefited from delays in this project because more information was easier to obtain with current technology, and he’s become a better writer over that period as well.
For this one, we tracked Zminda down again, still based in L.A., to see how this latest project unfolded:
Q: What’s been some of the noteworthy response to your book over the last couple of months since its release?
A: I’ve been most pleased that the book has been well-received by baseball historians and researchers who are knowledgeable about the Black Sox and that turbulent period of baseball history: people like Jacob Pomrenke (editor’s note: enjoy reading his blog), Bill Faber, Rick Huhn, Steve Steinberg, Mike Sowell, Mike Lynch, and Craig Wright. It is always gratifying to have the respect of your peers.
Q: If someone would decide to tackle a book today about something that happened 100-or-so years ago, no matter what the subject, what mechanisms are in place to help facilitate that kind of project that you discovered to be most helpful? What is not so helpful?
A: The fact that so many newspapers, magazines, and documents are available digitally makes it a lot easier to write about the events of 100+ years ago than was possible even a few years ago. There are also organizations like the Society of Baseball Research that allow people who have done research in a particular period to share their knowledge and interact with one another. At the same time, there is an enormous amount of material that is still not available digitally, such as many of the newspapers of the period. Telling the full story often necessitates traveling to where the materials like newspapers on microfilm can be accessed. That is not always easy or cheap to do. It would be fantastic if there could be some sort of funding to help digitize big-city newspapers currently available only on microfilm (with the source material often in fragile shape).
Q: The process of finding a publisher for such a work as this: Did you get turned down by anyone who didn’t find value in resurrecting this story?
A: I was fortunate that I had written a previous book —The Legendary Harry Caray — for Rowman & Littlefield that book was well-received. R&L was happy to work with me again on DPs & DCs. One of the good things about sports books these days is that publishers like Rowman, McFarland, and University of Nebraska Press seem to have found a market for books centering on sports history and research, even though most of them are not going to sell thousands of copies. It’s much more of a challenge if you want to get published by a big-name, high-print-run publisher.
Q: Was the goal to have this out by 2020, when the 100th anniversary of that 1920 season was upon us?
A: Ideally, yes, but it was always going to be a long shot. A lot of my time during the first half of 2019 was spent trying to promote and market The Legendary Harry Caray; I didn’t really get going on Double Plays and Double Crosses until the second half of the year. When the pandemic hit, it pretty much eliminated any chance that the book could be published during the 2020 calendar year, as Rowman was one of many publishers that had to scale back their operations for a period of time. On top of that, I fractured my wrist in March of 2020 and had to type one-handed for about six weeks. That delayed the completion of my work.
Q: After all those years working in research, has it been nice to flex and extend your college journalism muscles and become known as more of a writer/author?
A: It’s very satisfying. I was lucky enough to work full-time in sports research (for STATS LLC) for over two decades, but as enjoyable as that work was, it wasn’t writing. Now that I’m retired, I can work on what I love best.
Q: How do you view now the movie “Eight Men Out,” as opposed to when you first may have seen it years ago? Should it be rebranded as something not “based on a true story” but, as you note, a nonfiction novel?
A: Funny you should ask. “Eight Men Out” was broadcast on one of our local PBS channels a couple of weeks ago, and I watched it with my wife, who had never seen it; I hadn’t watched it myself in over a decade. It’s a very entertaining movie from a quality director, John Sayles, but it’s based on the book of the same name that frankly got a lot of the story wrong. I find it hard to be too critical of either Sayles or Eliot Asinof, the author of the book, because much of the truth about the scandal did not start to come out until early in this century. For example, both Asinof and Sayles truly believed that Charles Comiskey was a skinflint owner who greatly underpaid his players, and that made some of the players susceptible to the lure of easy money from selling out the Series. We now know that this scenario was completely wrong. Even “based on a true story” doesn’t quite capture it, because the story as told by Asinof and Sayles is far from true. But I’m sure they meant well, and the story as told by them makes for a good movie.
Q: There’s a key point you make about how the Black Sox scandal could have been far less messy if Judge Landis took the position of National Committee president and headed an investigation, rather than turn that down and eventually become the first commissioner of the game later in 1920. Any more thoughts on what could have happened in subsequent years with big league baseball if that first scenario occurred? Would the commissioner’s office perhaps be different now?
A: By the time that Landis became commissioner in November of 1920, the scandal had broken open and baseball’s ineptitude in dealing with it had come to light for all to see. The magnates needed a respected authority figure like Landis to clean up the game, and if he wanted basically unlimited power, they really couldn’t push back. But I think Landis would have insisted on unlimited power at any point that he was offered the job, even in, say, February of 1920. So I don’t think his commissionership would have played out much differently. But I do think that the revelation of the scandal would have come out much earlier, and I think we might have been spared things like the Black Sox continuing to play during the 1920 season —and dump games along the way, as the evidence seems to indicate.
Q: Obviously, you couldn’t interview actual subjects of this book. If there were a couple you would have wanted to go back in time and probe more deeply, who would it have been? Who fascinated you the most about connecting all these dots?
A: I don’t think it would do much good to talk to the eight banished players. They spent most of the rest of their lives trying to minimize their involvement in the scandal. That includes Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, the most sympathetic members of the group. Both of them spent their post-scandal lives improving their stories to make them seem more innocent. However, I would definitely want to talk to Charles Comiskey and his attorney, Alfred Austrian, on their decision to bring the suspected players back in 1920 — they didn’t bring back Chick Gandil, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. Even if they didn’t have airtight, court-of-law evidence against these guys, didn’t they know enough at the very least not to want to have guys like Gandil, Risberg and McMullin on their team? I would also to like to talk to the team leaders among the “Clean Sox” — Eddie Collins, John (Shano) Collins, Ray Schalk, Red Faber — about why they didn’t speak up until the very end. Schalk apparently did, but then denied his comments. I suspect that this was likely due to their loyalty to Comiskey, but I would still like to know.
Q: As for the three players who had a connection to Los Angeles – Weaver, McMullin and Gandil – as well as their history of playing in the Pacific Coast League, also involved in a game-fixing scandal about that time … was there any other interesting tidbits you found out about them in relevance to Southern California?
A: They all had pretty interesting SoCal connections. Gandil lived in L.A. and bought a house with the money the gamblers paid him. I believe the house is still standing and have been meaning to drive out and get a look at it. Weaver spent the winter of 1919-20 in L.A. and was a pal and golf partner of Babe Ruth, who was in town making movie shorts. Both of them had two years left on their three-year contracts, and spent that offseason trying to renegotiate — Ruth succeeded, Weaver did not. There’s also a story in the book that Ruth hit a 340-yard drive at the Griffith Park Golf Course in L.A., but that Weaver had topped that with a 370-yarder (must have been a downhill hole)! Fred McMullin, the most little-known among the banished players, lived in L.A. for most of his life, worked at the Universal film studios for awhile, and wound up working as a deputy marshal!
Q: Where about do you live in L.A. now and what is it about this area that appeals to you versus your past residences?
A: I lived in the Chicago area until 2000, when my wife and I moved to L.A. when STATS was acquired by a division of the Fox Network’s parent company. We live on the west side of town, right on the edge of Santa Monica. Both Chicago and L.A. are great, but while most of my relatives and lifelong friends are in the Chicago area, I would not move back. The Southern California weather is a big reason, of course, but there’s more than it; it’s just a fun place to live in and do things.
Q: Do you think game fixing could be pulled off in 2020 – perhaps incentivized with all the new gambling apps and legalized betting that takes place these days all in the name of good, clean fun?
A: I don’t think 1919-style game-fixing would be possible in baseball today because the players make too much money. Think about the 1919 World Series fix: the players were vulnerable because they were being offered more than their entire baseball salaries to lose the Series. There’s no way that could happen in baseball today. It would take way too much money to tempt players with millions of dollars in guaranteed contracts. I suppose gamblers could try to pay off a player to pretend he’s hurt so that he’d miss a series and thus affect the betting odds, but even that seems far-fetched. Even paying off the umpires wouldn’t work because of replay and video surveillance.
How it goes in the scorebook
It’s all on the up and up.
And maybe more truth will set us free to refer to this one as the complete, unbiased researched account on what went down.
As author (and West Coast League commissioner) Rob Neyer says in the forward, the Black Sox story has been “almost uniformly (at best) glossed over or (at worst) ignored.” Maybe even more worse, falsely passed down through the years as facts to hang your derby on.
Neyer, who in this 2001 piece for ESPN.com wrote about how it would be a sad day for the game if Shoeless Joe Jackson was allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame, adds: “Even after devouring ‘Double Plays and Double Crosses,’ I’m not going to promise you I’ll never read another book about the Black Sox. It’s a pretty safe bet, though.”
If not, someone will surely fix that.
More to cover
Zminda also talked to the Pandemic Baseball Book Club with these highlights:
FYI: From the Washington Post’s 2008 obituary of author Eliot Asinof: “Mr. Asinof’s book grew out of an abortive screenplay for live television about the Black Sox scandal, commissioned by producer David Suskind in 1960. When then-Commissioner of Baseball Ford C. Frick got wind of the project, he persuaded the program’s sponsor, the DuPont Company, to kill it, arguing that it would besmirch baseball’s image. “ ‘Suskind didn’twant to pay Eliot for his time,’ his son (Martin Asinof) recalled, ‘but he had a friend in publishing who asked him if he could turn the screenplay into a book.’ After three years of research, which involved traveling thousands of miles to interview members of the forever-tarnished team, he published what some reviewers have called one of the best baseball books ever written.”
Are we seeing double: Just FYI — There is a 2019 fiction book written by Croix Ben Lazzara also called “Double Plays and Double Crosses.” The synopses: “When Casey Cassidy, the hard-drinking manager of the Tampa Smokers baseball team, goes missing days before the final game of the championship series with the Havana Cubans, his girlfriend, Veronica Baird, is frantic. … The police think Casey is just out on a binge, so she hires Ybor City private eye, Benjamin Blanc, and his sidekick Chino, to find her sweetheart. Blanc has his doubts about her story too, but he takes the case anyway.”
It’s official: There will be no curious case of why Mike Trout will be able to muscle his way through the front door of the Baseball Hall of Fame someday with a lifetime pass.
No doubt, his WAR-boggling achievements amassed by the yet-to-turn 30 year old Angels centerfielder – a three-time American League MVP (’14, ’16, ’19), the 2012 AL Rookie of Year, eight-time All Star (nine, if one was played in ’20), two-time All-Star Game MVP – are the obvious bullet points toward his resume building. A Twitter feed called Mike Trout Slash Line even lets us know on an at-bat basis what his career numbers are trending. There may be some otherwise vague set of guidelines about what constitutes a Cooperstown-caliber career, which continues to baffle writers such as Forbes’ Bernie Pleskoff, but Trout can’t reasonably be pooh-poohed.
But as of the 2020 campaign, Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs.com pointed out last July, Trout has satisfied the Hall of Fame’s eligibility rule 3(B) of having played in “each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons.” (even if there’s some gray area about what a “championship season” entails — didn’t 1994 end without a championship?).
This requirement — however it came about — isn’t something to take for granted.
Trout’s first child was coming due and before the MLB braintrust trusted everything was in place to start an abbreviated campaign in late July, Trout himself wasn’t convinced he’d come back, calling it “a tough situation .. honestly I don’t feel that comfortable.”
A few high-profile players did sit things out. Trout eventually played, and was fifth in the AL MVP voting.
We know this in part because Bill Deane does the list of Awards Voting for SABR and it is posted on Baseball-Reference. … It’s all here.
In the preface of this new book documenting the careers of players who either came up short of a Hall of Fame career because of circumstances beyond their control, “Baseball’s Who’s Who of What Ifs” author Deane — and can we thank the editors for making correct use of apostrophes? — begins with the idea that famous people who die young create an aura of fascination in pop culture and beyond.
As Deane continued:
Along the same lines, much has already been told and written over the years about athletes who might have become immortals if only fate hadn’t intervened. Unlike participants in other sports, a baseball player has to sustain excellence for a long period of time to qualify for its Hall of Fame. Bill Walton played just 468 NBA games, less than six full season’s worth, yet was elected to the Naismith Baseball Hall of Fame. Gayle Sayers played just 68 NFL games yet made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But to qualify for Cooperstown, one must have played in at least 10 major league seasons (if Mike Trout had been killed by COVID-19 before the 2020 season, he wouldn’t have been eligible) and, for all practical purposes, excelled for at least a decade. Short-term stars need not apply.”
So, where do we start with dismantling that paragraph?
* Walton’s Basketball Hall induction obviously takes into consideration his legendary college career achievements at UCLA. By the way, the 1977 NBA Finals MVP, the ‘77-78 NBA regular season MVP and 1986 Sixth Man of the Year, playing on two title teams, is honored at a facility in Springfield, Mass., that is not called the NBA Hall of Fame.
* Sandy Koufax hardly meets that suggestion that one has to have “excelled for at least a decade” and “short-term stars need not apply.” In his 12-year MLB season, the first six look like a reason why one should retire early. The last six created his legend, and there’s only more wishful thinking of what would have happened if he didn’t retire after his age-30 season, after leading the league in wins, ERA, innings pitched and strike outs, plus another NL pennant.
*“If Trout had been killed by COVID-19 …”
Let’s sit with that one for a second.
That’s about as insidiously insensitive and distasteful a way to try to emphasize the apparent rigidness of this 10-year eligibility requirement.
Somehow, we’re having a tough time getting past that sentence. The hors d’oeuvre has almost lose our appetite for going further.
Listen, all things considered, if something did happen to tragically end Trout’s career (including his life), the hope is that the Hall trustees, sensitive to the plea of the fans and the goodness of the game, would figure out a way to make sure Trout was immortalized with a plaque? (It won’t hurt that the soon-to-be-departing Hall president, Tim Mead, is a former long-time Angel employee/assistant GM known to make things happen). We have examples of players fast-tracked into the Hall after tragic circumstances — see Roberto Clemente and Roy Halladay, even though both played well past the 10-year mark and amassed plenty of measurable achievements.
Let’s get a tongue-scraper and trudge on …
In the interest of not assuming someone’s first 10 years of playing time is a slam-dunk for Hall of Fame induction, there was once a recent can’t-miss Cooperstown inductee who starred in center field and, in something that surpasses Trout, helped make his team appear in the post-season all 10 of his first seasons.
From 1996 to 2006, Andruw Jones was an NL Rookie of the Year, nine-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All Star, leading the majors with 51 homers and the NL with 128 RBIs in ’05 at age 28 when he was runner-up in NL MVP voting. He had also been in 75 playoff games in his first 10 seasons.
At age 30, he exercised his free-agency rights and went to the Dodgers (as Ned Colletti got Scott Boras to a agree to a two-year contract worth $36.2 million, with $9 million in ’08, $15 million in ’09, and a $12 million signing bonus.).
It was one big mess from that pivotal point forward.
The team decided to eat the rest of his contract following one injury-plagued season (75 games, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs, .158 average), a $20 million-plus dump. Jones/Boras then duped the Rangers, White Sox and Yankees to keep him employed through 2012, allowing him to walk away at age 35 with 434 homers, almost 2,000 hits and a modest .254 career average. And more than $120 million banked in contracts.
Ten great seasons. Seven sloppy ones.
Still, a 62.7 WAR that ranks 108th of all time and is something that weighs far more in someone’s favor these days than before. As you see, in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, Jones may have only received 7.3 percent of the votes, barely hanging in to stay on the ballot. But in 2021, as his voting percentage jumped to 33.9 percent, as it could be time to reconsider his entire body of work rather than just how it ended.
Maybe a player like Trout also makes one think twice about someone like Jones.
There are 40 players Deane decided to take a deeper dive into their careers, trying to explain with research and little polished prose how their Hall trajectory was somehow diverted. Jones didn’t make that list – perhaps because his case isn’t closed yet.
Deane says his criteria was “difficult” to create, but at the essence, the player can’t be in the Hall because of “circumstance or tragedy.” It can’t be self-inflicted (the steroid suspects, and the drug users, and … Pete Rose).
That assumption, then, leads to the assessment that without a bad break or two — including an untimely death, but then again, when is death really timely? — a player would have had a real decent shot of being voted in based on career stats accumulated.
That can be a huge leap.
In the Top 40 here, we’re led to believe players like Rick Ankiel, Lyman Bostock, Tony Conigliaro, Mark Fidrych, Ken Hubbs, Mark Prior, J.R. Richards, Dickie Thon and Brandon Webb were on a HOF trajectory.
There are others – Tommy Davis, Jose Fernandez, Jim Maloney, Carlos May, Denny McLain, Don Newcombe, Pete Reiser – that we have some historical reference points, can figure out why they made this list, but we’re still not sold they wouldn’t have been Hall deserving had fate been kinder. Maybe. Just maybe.
Then there are those names that may need more research and context, which Deane provides. Ray Chapman, Herb Score, Monty Stratton, Hal Trosky, Al Rosen and Joe Wood – some of whom actually played 10 or more years and were still turned down by Veterans Committee consideration.
But wait, there’s more.
“Appendix A: Honorable Mention” mentions those Deane considers “pretty good” and had a few notable achievements or awards but still didn’t make the 40 cut. Those 108 names include Jim Abbott, Nomar Garciaparra, Vida Blue, Dean Chance, Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, Thurman Munson, Bo Jackson, Dave Kingman, Darryl Kile, Dontrelle Willis, Johan Santana and David Wright (the later of whom is a seven-time All Star who played in New York and becomes Hall voting eligible in 2024).
And if that’s not enough – and don’t you think it ought to be? — we plow into another group called “Appendix B: Players Who Made the Hall Despite Careers Cut Short” where the likes of Clemente, Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and Dizzy Dean can be explained.
(As a reminder: Robinson, starting his career as a 28-year-old first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, finished as a 37-year-old infielder/outfielder in ’56 with 10 seasons on the back of his baseball card. A .311 career average and all other sorts of reasons led to his Cooperstown induction in 1961 – his first year of eligibility, since the Baseball Writers Association of America were only casting ballots for recent major league players on even-numbered years. Still, Robinson received just enough — 77.5 percent of the votes – to get him in along with Bob Feller, also first-time eligible.)
As for Robinson, Deane writes only one graph, not really explaining what sort of circumstances cut his career short, but only opine that he “accomplished enough” to merit induction. But we do know why it ended, right? Robinson with the Giants would have qualified as a tragedy by a loose definition of the word.
How it goes in the scorebook
A few votes short of a consensus.
It’s not that this is a terrible idea. Subjectivity comes into play, which is key to starting discussion and debate. It’s just that the execution here seems more random, with formulaic research and little room offered for context — something Jaffe does so well in his Cooperstown measurements.
Some times, well-written essays combined with research are a better way to find out what happened to someone’s life and career. For those like Conigliaro and Bostock, they’ve been well executed in book bio form and are worthy of individual expansion.
We leave this feeling it was better suited for an extended magazine story – perhaps in the Cooperstown Gazette – rather than spinning wheels on pages that, once you get past the initial 40, feels like it’s swimming just to fill space, or create a backstop for anyone who thinks his Top 40 had some obvious misses. Interviews along the way with four people from his Top 40 list – Thon, Steve Busby (the former USC star), Carlos May and Boo Ferriss, before his 2016 passing) – don’t add as much depth as we’d expected. Not even Wes Parker talking about Dodgers teammate Davis seems to make strong cases for anything, but they could have.
For what it’s worth, Deane, a longtime SABR contributor, and a Henry Chadwick Award winner, is an actual Cooperstown, N.Y.,-adjacent resident with his family. He has said he enjoys the research part of this far more than the writing. Maybe next time, incorporate a writing partner who can make this a bit more enjoyable and memorable.
Jackie Robinson, 1947, Dodgers … The MLB’s first Black player, and the bigs’ first Rookie of the Year, helps propel his team to first in the National League. But they lose in seven games to the Yankees in the World Series, and their first (and only ) title in Brooklyn won’t come until eight years later.
We suspect you’ve got a pretty decent grasp of that piece of history.
Larry Doby, 1947, Indians … The MLB’s second Black player, and first in the American League, arriving about three months after Robinson tests the waters, doesn’t make quite the statistical splash — just 29 games, 32 at bats, a .156 average — and Cleveland manages a fourth-place finish in the junior circuit.
Then comes 1948.
Owner Bill Veeck ups his game, adding Satchel Paige onto his staff to join up with Bob Feller. Magic happens in a city where, just a few years later, a local R&B radio disc jockey will coin the phrase “rock-n-roll” and introduce the profound licks of Black-influenced music to be embraced by his white listeners.
Doesn’t that seem like a much more entertaining story to tell after all these years?
Before Cleveland rocked, Cleveland rocked the boat with its own fab four.
Our regular check-in on Jackie Robinson Day/April 15 is done to assess what’s new with the life and times of the former Brooklyn Dodger and what his impact remains in today’s world. But to keep that in perspective and context, we’ve always tried to stay in tune with historical projects that led up to that day, and then with what followed it.
With Cam Perron’s “Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players” reviewed on Day 16, there are more stories to document about the lives of those who could have been where Robinson was in ‘47 but fate didn’t have it that way.
Likewise, with Luke Epplin’s remastering of how Doby and Paige were bought together and the result was giving the city of Cleveland a World Series like no other in 1948, we see more immediate and long-lasting effects.
Robinson had a year in the minor leagues in Montreal before the 28-year-old started his first MLB game as a first baseman in ’47. Doby came on the scene as a 23-year-old infielder who didn’t have the luxury of adapting to minor-league play after his Negro League days were done, but was someone Veeck felt was needed ASAP.
By July of ’48, Veeck would be bold enough to add a 41-year-old Paige, who started his pro career more than 20 years earlier with the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons and giving him the first of six years and 179 games of Major League Baseball exposure (ending in ’65 as a 58 year old).
Already on the Indians staff was 29-year-old Bob Feller, already cruising toward a 19-win season with an AL-leading 38 game started and 164 strike outs. In his previous two seasons, coming out of his service in World War II, he had won 46 games, made 90 starts, had 15 shutouts among 56 complete games, racked up nearly 675 innings and faced more than 2,700 batters – all tops in the AL.
When this band got together, what happened and why is it still important?
From page 7:
This is the story of how that team came to be as told through four of its key participants … two white, two Black, diverged in temperament, background and outlook. Each in his own way represented a different facet of the emerging integration saga that had just begun to play out across professional baseball. Their unlikely union … would remake sports as a business and the individual athlete as a brand and would help puncture long-standing stereotypes that so much of what America harbored toward Black ballplayers. As the backbone of a team that epitomized the postwar American spirit in all its hopes and contradictions, Veeck, Feller, Paige and Doby would … (shine) a light forward for a country on the verge of a civil rights revolution.
Epplin ended up interviewing nearly 60 people, including Larry Doby Jr., and Eddie Robinson, the Indians’ first baseman from that 1948 team (16 homers, 83 RBIs) and its last surviving member, still alive at age 100. (To be honest, we wish there was some input from Mike Veeck, Bill’s son, who remains involved in minor-league baseball.)
Epplin also acknowledges that while this “by no means is intended to be a biography of any of these four,” he had plenty of resources to cull from previous works done on them that include:
What meshes together is looking at this history through a new prism — and not to diminish what Robinson and the Dodgers did a year earlier, but to cast a spotlight on what Veeck masterfully achieved by getting the Lake Erie-adjacent ballpark rocking to a new beat.
How it goes in the scorebook
A Hall of Fame effort – as all four have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Here’s also how Publishers Weekly sums it up: “Epplin’s epic saga is simultaneously a riveting drama and a searing portrait of the racism that plagued baseball for decades. This sharp and well-documented history will be a hit with baseball lovers and general interest readers alike.”
Especially noteworthy is recounting how after 1948, it was “a long, sobering hangover” for the Indians, and Major League Baseball. The 1949 season started with the Dodgers and Indians as the only two teams still integrated. Doby had trouble buying a home in NIMBY neighborhoods, and spring training still had Jim Crow laws in effect.
Doby, who led the AL in home runs twice and was a seven-time All Star, couldn’t get into the Hall of Fame until 1998, five decades after that title. His plaque notes that his “exceptional athletic prowess and a staunch constitution led to a successful playing career after integrating the American League,” and the face he became the second Black manager in MLB history (after Frank Robinson) because Veeck, who then owned the Chicago White Sox, made that happen in 1978.
Epplin also locked in with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club Q&A exchange:
Among the combined highlights:
Q: When did you first get the idea to write this book?
A: It’s strange to find somebody like me, from rural Illinois, near St. Louis, writing a book about Cleveland. I grew up as a Cardinals fan. But here’s how the germ happened: My grandfather on my dad’s side was hard of hearing, so he didn’t go to World War II. Instead he worked in an airplane factory in St. Louis. He would go to Sportsman’s Park, which at that time hosted two baseball teams: the Cardinals, who were always great, and the Browns, who were terrible. My grandfather was an unusual man, in that he was a big fan of the Browns.
The last owner of the Browns (before they became the Baltimore Orioles) was Bill Veeck, the iconoclastic showman. I wanted to pursue a longer project about him. While researching, I went back to his earlier years owning the Indians. Reading through the archives of The Sporting News at the New York Public Library, I kept seeing these four names coming up: Bill Veeck, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Bob Feller. You had these four men, two white and two Black, and they each seemed to represent different facets of the integration that was happening at the time. I thought, the larger story is to be told here, through these four individuals.
Q: How difficult was to assemble and craft the parts of these stories together?
A: The most unfortunate thing is the book takes place from 1946 to 1948. I started researching it in earnest three to four years ago so by the time I did that, so many principal characters in the book had passed away and limited the first-hand stories I could have gotten. I had to rely on archives. Luckily there has been a lot written. They wrote a lot about themselves and some did more than one autobiography. I figured the way I framed the story and wanted to make it as compelling and entertaining as possible. I think it’s an alternate story of integration than one we are normally told. And when people ask why isn’t this as well known? I think perhaps the narrative has been lost outside of Cleveland and I wanted to tell this in a way that would grab you and make it just as meaningful.
Q: In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
A: It was originally going to start when Doby entered the league with the Indians, on July 5, 1947. I was going to start the narrative right in the middle and do flashbacks as necessary. But as I was researching, I realized you really needed to get the wartime experiences — all of them had experiences then that shaped how they approached the postwar years. And I found these characters were crisscrossing with one another and even colliding before they’re together on the Indians. Feller and Paige first faced each other when Feller was 17. They played against each other dozens of times in barnstorming games that captured the nation’s attention. Feller had it in his mind all those years that he really wanted to join forces with Paige. So I needed to go a lot further back, which is why the book now starts in 1936, to show who these men were before and during the war.
Also of note:
== In 2015, Epplin, who is also a huge fan of Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts,” penned a piece for L.A. Review of Books about the demise of the newspaper cartoon section.
== One more thing to consider about the history of Cleveland baseball, less than 50 years before that ‘48 season:
More to read
* Rocco Constantino’s “Beyond Baseball’s Color Barrier: The Story of African Americans in Major League Baseball Past, Present and Future” (Rowman & Littlefield, $32, 232 pages, due for release May 12, 2021) may already look a bit outdated with a cover photo of Mookie Betts in a Boston Red Sox uniform. Yet inside, there’s mention of how the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts was the first considered to be African-American (he is also part Asian) to lead a National League team to a World Series title — with Betts leading the way. Here, we go back to Black participation in baseball from the 1800s to the present, including its boom of the 1970s through the strike of ’94, when stars like Aaron, Mays and others gained a rightful spotlight and the torch was passed onto the likes of Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Kirby Puckett, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. “While the percentage of African American ballplayers may have steadily decreased in the past 20 years, the impact they have made on the game has not,” writes Constantino, a Santa Barbara resident. “But before all of that was possible, there was Will White, Moses Fleetwood Walker and the subsequent rift that divided baseball along the color line for more than 60 years.” Erik Sherman, author of the latest “Two Sides of Glory: The 1986 Boston Red Sox,” offers this review for the work of Constantino: “Not since [Robert] Peterson’s ‘Only the Ball Was White’ (released in 1999) have I read a more complete, thought-provoking history of the Black experience as it pertains to both the Negro and Major Leagues. Even better, in ‘Beyond Baseball’s Color Line,’ Constantino takes a deeper dive, bringing us full circle from the pre-Jackie Robinson era to today when African American participation in the game is at a multi-decades low. Constantino brings to life the legends and voices of Black baseball—their struggles, their courage, and their oft-untold exploits. A must-read for anyone who wants a more thorough picture of our National Pastime—and our country’s complicated history. An appropriate story for our current, turbulent times.”
Picture this: A photo book of Babe Ruth. Big and glossy. Nothing real in depth. Highlights of his career and all that sort of stuff.
Instant seller? Depends on who’s buying. But if “Yankees” is in the title …
A tweet we came across the other day kind of sold us (again) on the idea that if all you had was a picture of the Bambino with some text-adjacent real estate, someone will glob onto it in hopes of gleaning new information. It can be a fatal attraction.
Or, an opportunity for Babe to have some good, clean fun:
Actually, today is annual Babe Ruth History Day according to those who establish these sort of thing. We were not aware of it until we were in a Ruth photo excavation process of our own to see if photos in this new collection were as un-rare as they appear to be. Had we been more perceptive in our perusal of “The Great Bambino,” we would have seen on page 149 the story about how baseball commissioner Happy Chandler declared April 27, 1947 as “Babe Ruth Day,” as it was obvious Ruth wasn’t going to live much longer with cancer. Ruth appeared that day at Yankee Stadium to be celebrated before 60,000 fans — but it’s not the famous photo you may recall of him standing at home plate with his No. 3 pinstripes and his former teammates lined up along first base. That was June 13, 1948, two months before he died at age 53. That photo is on pages 146-147.
So even if there’s no real official Ruth anniversary of note, no historical feat to celebrate, why not hold this publication up as the latest example of his staying power?
It also brings up the idea: What if someone was to put a book together of all the images produced of Ruth over the years that were created just to sell another book.
It could include:
Annual new books on Ruth over the years have been almost as predictable as those on Jackie Robinson, but with Ruth, it seems the glorification and adoration never ceases to have a point other than to capture someone’s emotions and get them to shell out for another one.
With this one, a slick coated, nicely fonted, tight graphic display to illustrate the 53 years Ruth existed in human form. We are compelled to examine it for historical accuracy and some amusement before trying to assess if it has some redeeming value, all things considered.
As it says in the sales blurb: “The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The Titan of Terror…Babe Ruth was larger than life! Here is an illustrated history of baseball’s most iconic figure. … “The Great Bambino” is an intimate and beautifully illustrated portrait of a true American icon.”
This time, it’s from an author whose bio on the flap says he roots for “the Boston Red Sox and whoever beats the Yankees. Nonetheless, he begrudgingly respects the pinstripes and is a longtime Babe Ruth enthusiast” who now lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and their cat. Sure, why not.
More investigation of the publisher – a subsidiary of Simon & Shuster – shows that the purpose is really to cranks out oversized books on all sorts of things – kids science, cooking, celebrities – as an eye-catching endeavor. It often works.
For the record, there is also a full page of photo credits, most of them to something called Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images, as well as WikiMedia Commons Images, AP/Shutterstock, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library and, on the spine, black flap and back cover, the notation “TKTKTK,” which in writing code means “information to come.” Nice editing there, guys.
It’s also padded to include chapters (and more photos) of the Yankees’ “Murderers’ Row,” some highlights of other things that have happened at Yankee Stadium, and a tribute to other stars of the game who “dominated their own time on the field,” such as Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Hank …
Hey, why are we doing this again? Oh, right. Babe Ruth.
We’ve suspected for awhile that the lifetime supply of Ruthian photos, from his 1895 birth to 1948 death and all the shenanigans in between, would have reached a saturation point. It can’t be an endless bounty.
With “The Great Bambino,” the point is proven, when it never needed to be. Even with a red circular logo on the cover that claims to add “The Stories, The Stats, The Saga,” we’ve really hit the end of the line.
And that’s OK.
Which one begat the other?
To prove the point about Ruth’s image pulling on emotions to active buying, Centennial Media has also updated a scaled down magazine-style version of this book to sell at the check-out stands at supermarkets. First printed in 2018, it still has a different cover, different title, and calls itself a “Special Collector’s Edition.” It is essentially, in 97 pages at $12.99, a slimmed down version of the same photos and text from the book. With one notable addition: Page 91 heralds the day in Nov., 2018, when then-president Trump awarded Ruth the Presidential Medal of Freedom, handed to his grandson Thomas Stevens. Yes, this fact does tarnish the Ruth legacy a bit — not the award, just the presenter and the opportunistic reasons for bestowing it as a public event.
How it goes in the scorebook
A lazy fly ball to right field, and there may be a collision for those trying to call everyone off for it.
Surely, someone will pick this one up as a Father’s Day gift because they know dad likes baseball, and he probably likes Babe Ruth, and we’ve heard of Babe Ruth, so … There you go.
And if you want more images:
More Yankees/New York related books to acknowledge
On Day 13 of the annual review, we did the roundup of Mets-related books. Because the art of selling more books devoted to Yankees history is always on some publisher’s radar, we have a few more to at least make the buy beware of:
* “The Captain and Me: On and Off the Field with Thurman Munson,” by Ron Blomberg, with Dan Epstein (Triumph Books, $28, 304 pages, released April 20, 2021). So here’s the catch: Does Munson belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Ultimately, aside from all the reliving of glory days, that’s the leads up to the biggest takeaway from perhaps why this book is even considered. Now a former teammate vouches for for the catcher who died while piloting a Cessna plane with his flight instructor and real estate partner (the later two survived) in an Aug., 1979 crash. “I truly believe Thurman should be in the Hall of Fame,” writes Blomberg (still somehow is pronounced as “Bloomberg”) by page 277. “It’s not just because he was my teammate and my friend. In my view, his skills, his accomplishments, his leadership, and what he did for the game of baseball — and especially for the New York Yankees — qualifies him for a place in the Hall. While it’s true that his career wasn’t as long as it should have been, what a career it was! … Unfortunately, Thurman wasn’t the greatest guy in the world when it came to the writers, and I think that hurt him in the end. It took a lot away from his Hall of Fame candidacy, because a lot of writers still look at him as a bully to this day. … To me, it comes down to this: The Yankees are the premier franchise in baseball history, and you’ve got a guy who meant to much to that franchise during a 10-year period, a decade where they went from mediocrity to winning three consecutive AL pennants and two straight World Series championships. If this guy is that important to this important team, how does that not translate to a place in the Hall of Fame.“ Sounds like a case Dodgers fans could make for Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Garvey, Gil Hodges, Maury Wills … Munson never got more than 15.5 percent of the Hall vote. Add this book to the latest campaign to get Munson inducted — or just go to Thurman Munson Hall of Fame for more background. Or CooperstownCred.com. The last time this came up, in 2020, was when Munson was on the Modern Baseball Era Ballot for the veterans committee and still didn’t get in (yet Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller did instead, over him, Garvey, Dwight Evans, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Lou Whitaker). Munson didn’t even appear on half the 16 ballots. (See our review of “Cobra” by Dave Parker for similar results). So there you go. Until next time – 2023. Regardless, it is bound to sell just based on the content, it has already garnished a review in the Wall Street Journal, but mostly to allow the reviewer to gush about his Yankee fandom.
* “Tony Lazerri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer,”by Lawrence Baldassaro (University of Nebraska Press, $34.95, 352 pages, to be released June 1, 2021). If Lazerri was such a legend and pioneer, why nearly a century before a bio is done on him? It wasn’t until 1991 that the Baseball Hall of Fame veterans committee got a plaque for the second baseman who played on six pennant winners from 1926-37, batted .293 with 169 home runs during his 12 seasons. He played until 1939 and died a short time later, in 1946. Thirty years after his Cooperstown enshrinement, this book. It’s a decent read again for those who want more Yankee history running in their veins. In an interview with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, Baldassaro explains: Q: Why this book? Why now? A: About 20 years ago I decided there was a need for a history of Italian Americans in baseball, which resulted in Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, which was published by University of Nebraska Press in 2011. During the research for that book, no figure surprised or intrigued me more than Tony Lazzeri. I had been vaguely aware of him, but had no idea that he was one of the most celebrated figures in the U.S. during the 1920s and ’30s, when baseball ruled the sports world. His contemporaries considered him to be one of the best players of his era. Even as a 22-year-old rookie, it was Lazzeri, not Babe Ruth, who served as the de facto captain of the fabled Yankees lineup—a designation he retained throughout his 12 years with the team. Among the fans, only Ruth could top his popularity. In his 1943 history of the Yankees, Frank Graham, a New York Sun beat writer in 1926, wrote of the rookie: “Lazzeri had the poise of an old stager and a wisdom that must have been born in him, The other players, who for so long had looked to Ruth to lead them, now were looking to this amazing busher.” Lazzeri was also a pioneer, becoming the first player in organized baseball to hit 60 home runs in a season, with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League in 1925. He was one of the first middle infielders to hit with power, and baseball’s first major star of Italian descent, a decade before Joe DiMaggio made his debut. What made Lazzeri all the more remarkable is that he accomplished all of this while being afflicted with epilepsy, which the public knew nothing about. How was it that a figure of such stature during his playing days has become a largely forgotten Hall of Famer, remembered, if at all, for one at-bat: a bases-loaded strikeout against Grover Cleveland Alexander in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series? I realized that his achievements deserved some historical perspective.