M Kates’ SABR Books, Part 1

THE SABR CONVENTION BOOKSHELF

AKA: M Kates’ SABR BOOKS, Part 1

(Part I: 2001 to 2007)

By Maxwell Kates

Maxwell Kates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. (Tax season!)

First of all, it occurred to me that one of my earlier columns contained an error worth exorcizing. One year when the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, Harold Reynolds admonished Canadians for our inability to catch foul balls. I would most certainly support that stereotype. We’re equally skilled at missing players in columns about Astros Hall of Famers. I missed Ivan Rodriguez, who played briefly for the Astros in 2009 and was inducted into Cooperstown in 2017. Pudge hit his 300th career home run in a Houston uniform at Wrigley Field off the Cubs’ Rich Harden (now there’s a Canadian – he may have even caught a foul ball or two).

Ivan Rodriguez and Greg Lucas

Last year at this time, I wrote a two-part essay for the Pecan Park Eagle about twelve reasons to attend a SABR convention. This year, I am also writing about SABR conventions, but this article is about books associated with the twelve I have attended. After preparing a short review of each of the twelve books, I relate it back to the convention in order to justify the association. Now “books associated with SABR conventions” are not necessarily the same as “books on the history of the team from the host city.” There is one team history but otherwise the books are drawn from genres as diverse as biography, fiction, law, and even a couple that are not about baseball. So without further interruption, may I introduce to you the SABR convention bookshelf.

DOWN IN THE VALLEY

SABR 31 – Milwaukee, WI – 2001

Down in the Valley

For the 2001 SABR convention, the first I attended, I have selected Down in the Valley: The History of Milwaukee County Stadium by Gregg Hoffmann. First authorized in 1938, Milwaukee County Stadium was built in the early 1950s in order to attract a major league team. The operation succeeded in spring training 1953 when the Boston Braves announced the move west to Wisconsin. Over the next 48 years, County Stadium became home to the Milwaukee Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and for a very brief time, the Chicago White Sox. Being a Wisconsin book, there is also a requisite chapter on the Green Bay Packers. Until 1994, the Packers split their home schedule between Green Bay and Milwaukee.

By the time the Ken Keltner chapter hosted the SABR convention in July 2001, Milwaukee County Stadium had been demolished. Not only was 2001 the maiden campaign of Miller Park, but it also marked the centenary of the American League The SABR convention included a bus trip to Pere Marquette Park in downtown Milwaukee to celebrate the birthday of the junior circuit. Chuck Comiskey II had travelled north from Chicago to unveil an historical marker on the site of the Republican House Hotel. Meanwhile another Chuck – Chuck Brodsky – performed a baseball music concert. I may have been the only one who didn’t attend the unveiling ceremony, opting instead to spend time chatting with Hoffmann and former Brewers outfielder Gorman Thomas at a vendors’ table. Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Hassenpfeffer Incorporated!

HUB FANS BID KID ADIEU

SABR 32 – Boston, MA – 2002

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

Literary giant John Updike was 28 years old when on September 28, 1960, he took a break from his writing to attend a baseball game in his adopted hometown of Boston. It would be the final opportunity for the Fenway faithful to watch their hero clad in his flannel uniform wearing number 9. And he did not disappoint. With the Red Sox trailing the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 4-2, Ted Williams stepped to the plate with one out and bases empty. He sliced a Jack Fisher fastball over the centre field fence for his 521st and final home run.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu is a personal essay about Updike’s impressions of Ted Williams, focusing on his tenure with the Red Sox and his monumental final game. It was in the context of this essay that Updike penned the timeless phrase, “gods don’t answer letters.” Perhaps not, though it is worth noting that the Splendid Splinter uncharacteristically doffed his cap after the round tripper. Williams’ home run proved to be the margin of victory, as the Red Sox came from behind to win 5-4.

As the Boston chapter prepared to host the convention in 2002, Teddy Ballgame did not have much time left. Williams labelled SABR as “the best kept secret in baseball” as was the Society’s highest profile member. For the first time since 1971, a convention forewent the standard keynote address. Instead, the banquet was followed by a panel called “Talkin’ Ted Williams.” Moderated by Bill Nowlin, author of many books about ‘the Thumper and indeed his SABR biography, the panel held on June 29 featured Red Sox teammates Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio, along with Joe Cronin’s daughter Maureen.

Once again, the Hub fans had bid the Kid adieu. Ted Williams passed away less than one week later, on June 5, 2002. John Updike died seven years later, on January 27, 2009. A decade later, Bill Nowlin’s Ted Williams biography appears in The Team That Couldn’t Hit, a new book about the 1972 Texas Rangers which he co-edited with Steve West.

The Team That Couldn’t Hit (1)

RED LEGS AND BLACK SOX

SABR 34 – Cincinnati, OH – 2004

Red Legs and Black Sox

Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series was Susan Dellinger’s second book. In 1989, Susan had written Communicating Beyond Our Differences, a business manual on how ‘Psychogeometics’ may manage office personalities to maximize effective teamwork. Fifteen years later in Cincinnati, Susan attended her first convention, along with her husband Bob. Roush, who in 1969 was voted the Greatest Reds’ Player of the Century, was born Oakland City, Indiana in 1893 and died suddenly at a spring training game in Florida in 1988. Red Legs and Black Sox focuses on the infamous 1919 World Series, ‘throwing’ complexities to narratives proposed in earlier tomes such as Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out. Susan relies upon interviews and other primary source material to offer Roush’s interpretation to what actually happened in 1919. The book alludes to possible fixes on both teams, associating certain individuals such as Hal Chase who were neither identified in the newspapers nor banned from baseball, and whether two Cincinnati pitchers were themselves corrupted by the gamblers.

If there was anyone to have the authority to write the life story of Edd Roush, it was Susan Dellinger. She happened to be Roush’s granddaughter. Susan participated in a Baseball Relatives panel in Cincinnati; two years later in Seattle, she gave a research presentation on her historiographical methods used in Red Legs and Black Sox. Also appearing on the Baseball Relatives panel were surviving family members of Cincinnati baseball legends Gus Bell, Ted Kluszewski, Cy Rigler, and Slim Sallee.

Bizarre as it may sound, as the Baseball Relatives panel was taking place, I was researching whether I would have qualified to participate. When my uncle, the late Sidney Green, passed away in April 2001, we were told in the rabbi’s eulogy that in 1944, he received a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. If 15 year old Joe Nuxhall could graduate from high school to the Reds, then why not a 24 year old righthander with a proven record pitching in His Majesty’s service. The only problem was that we knew my uncle was a storyteller. None of his six surviving sisters had ever heard this story before and nowhere was the invitation ever written or documented. My curiosity directed me to write Irwin Weil, a professor of Slavic Studies at Northwestern University. Born in Cincinnati in 1928, Irwin was the son of Sidney Weil, who owned the Reds from 1929 to 1933. Irwin had a 101 year old aunt who had worked for the Red and could access their archives. Her name was Lee Levy and Irwin encouraged me to write her my research request. Was Sid Green ever invited to attend a tryout with the Reds? The results were returned inconclusive.

Edd Roush and the Class of ’62

DIAMONDS OF THE NORTH

SABR 35 – Toronto, ON – 2005

Diamonds of the North

The history of baseball in Toronto from 1886 to 2001 may be reviewed in just two books: Louis Cauz’ Baseball’s Back in Town and Eric Zweig’s Toronto Blue Jays’ Official 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book. When SABR awarded Toronto the convention for 2005, the host committee made it clear that it would celebrate baseball not just in ‘the Big Smoke’ but all across Canada.

Which is why I’ve selected Diamonds of the North by William Humber as the baseball book for SABR 35. Beginning in 1979, Bill Humber taught a community college course in Toronto called ‘Spring Training for Fans.’ He has written several books on baseball in Canada besides Diamonds, became the first Canadian to sit on SABR’s Board of Directors in 1983, and engineered the “Let’s Play Ball” exhibit at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum in 1989. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.

Written in 1995, Diamonds is best described as “a concise history of baseball in Canada.” The title even alludes to Donald Creighton’s Dominions of the North, which for decades was considered the definitive history of Canada. Besides chapters on the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos, Diamonds explores minor league baseball ‘from sea to shining sea,’ Canadian members of the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, Canada’s role in the integration of baseball, a glossary of Canadian players – even a few words on Terry Puhl – and the Vancouver Asahi, an all-Japanese team which played from 1914 to 1941.

The Toronto convention featured presentations and delegates from all across Canada. George Bowering, a poet laureate from Penticton, British Columbia, attended the convention, as did John Carter of the St. John’s, Newfoundland Carters. Presentation subjects included the Canadian connection to the Black Sox Scandal, Elston Howard’s 1954 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and yes, Bill Humber answering “How Baseball Explains Canada.” There was even a pancake breakfast with Sam Holman, the Ottawa man who sold his maple bats to Barry Bonds each winter.

If you ask Bill Humber to sign a copy of Diamonds, don’t be surprised if he inscribes it “Keep cheering for the home team.” On the surface, it might seem like an encouragement to support local sports. But no, he’s telling people not to throw away his first book, which was called Cheering for the Home Team!

Bill Humber and Cheering for the Home Team

BECOMING BIG LEAGUE

SABR 36 – Seattle, WA – 2006

Becoming Big League

There have been several books written specifically about the Seattle Pilots. Most recently, Bill Mullins authored Becoming Big League: Seattle, the Pilots, and Stadium Politics. Mullins links the Pilots and their short history back to 1962, when dreams of a major league team emerged after Seattle hosted the World’s Fair. The American League gambled when in 1968, it placed an expansion franchise in Seattle. The ownership contingent, led by British Columbia-born Dewey and Max Soriano and underwritten by Cleveland railroad magnate William Daley, was grossly underfunded. The Pilots boasted the highest ticket prices at a time Boeing was slashing 25,000 jobs from the local economy. Protracted wrangling by local politicians about the construction of a domed facility relegated the Pilots to play in a moribund venue aptly named Sick’s Stadium. After finishing in last place in the American League West with a record of 64-98 in 1969, the Pilots did not know where they would open the 1970 season. Only on March 31, one week before Opening Day, was the decision made to transfer the Pilots to Milwaukee. The King County Domed Stadium was completed in 1976; only after the threat of an antitrust lawsuit did the American League vote to expand once again to Seattle for 1977.

The Pilots became a strong focus at the Seattle convention. Jim Bouton appeared both as the keynote speaker and as a member of the Seattle Pilots panel. Mike Marshall participated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement panel and also presented a workshop on kinesiology. Dave Baldwin, a systems engineer who went to spring training with the Pilots in 1970, presented a research project entitled “Nickel Patterns on Pitches,” while Pilots’ pitching coach Sal Maglie was the focus of a second research project.

A precis of Mullins’ book appears in Time for Expansion Baseball.

A WELL-PAID SLAVE

SABR 37 – St. Louis, MO – 2007

A Well-Paid Slave

One of the more popular topics of discussion at the St. Louis convention was a new book called A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. Written by Washington lawyer Brad Snyder, A Well-Paid Slave provides a thorough examination of the Flood v. Kuhn lawsuit. Born in Houston and raised in Oakland, the 31 year old Flood was at the top of his game in 1969. One morning in October, he was awoken by a telephone call from St. Louis sportswriter Jim Toomey. This is how Flood learned that the Cardinals had traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood sat out the entire 1970 season and forfeited his $100,000 salary in the process. Instead, he sued major league baseball on the grounds that the reserve clause violated federal antitrust laws. Ultimately, the Supreme Court voted to stand by things decided, ruling 5-3 (with one abstention) in favour of Major League Baseball.

Snyder appeared at the convention and copies of his book sold like hotcakes. Moreover, in 1993, two years before Flood passed away, George Will wrote a famous essay about the case called “Dred Scott in Spikes.” Dred Scott was a slave who in 1846, unsuccessfully sued his master, by the name of Sandford, on the grounds that he and his family had lived in Illinois and Wisconsin where slavery was illegal. The St. Louis court house where Scott v. Sandford was heard is located only blocks from the Adam’s Mark Hotel which hosted the St. Louis convention.

Tune in next month as we look at Part II.

 

Editorial Note: Thanks for another great piece of reporting, Maxwell Kates. Tax season or not, the world of baseball researchers and readers reap the dividends from your passionate investment in the history of the great game.

~ Bill McCurdy, The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “M Kates’ SABR Books, Part 1”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    Ted Williams characteristically did not doff his cap after homering his last time up. I believe Updike makes that clear.

  2. maxwell1901 Says:

    Whoops! Guess my memory’s not as reliable as it used to be!

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