M Kates’ SABR Books, Part 2

Marty Appel at Casey Stengel Book Signing

THE SABR CONVENTION BOOKSHELF

 

(Part II: 2008 to 2017)

 

By Maxwell Kates

 

Maxwell Kates and the Mensch on the Bench

Last month, we revisited six SABR conventions by turning the pages on books about Milwaukee County Stadium, Ted Williams, the 1919 World Series, baseball in Canada, the Seattle Pilots, and Flood v. Kuhn. Not too shabby in terms of baseball history coverage. We’re going to start this month’s column in Cleveland through the eyes of a sportswriter who covered the Indians from Mel Harder to Rocky Colavito.

PLAIN DEALING

SABR 38 – Cleveland, OH – 2008

Plain Dealing

Plain Dealing is James Odenkirk’s biography of Cleveland sports journalism pioneer Gordon Cobbledick. The title is a pun on the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cobbledick’s newspaper for over 40 years. Born on the final day of 1898, Cobbledick ultimately became sports editor from 1947 until he retired in 1964. He covered the Battle of Okinawa as a war correspondent and in 1966, wrote a biography of Rocky Colavito entitled Don’t Knock the Rock. Cobbledick died in 1969 and was awarded his J. G. Taylor Spink Award posthumously in 1977.

Baseball and the media was one of the themes inherent to the Cleveland convention. Bob DiBiasio of the Indians moderated a Baseball Media Panel attended by broadcasters Tom Hamilton and Rick Manning along with sportswriting legend Russ Schneider. A second panel, specific to broadcasters, was moderated by Curt Smith. Hamilton appeared on this one as well, alongside mike men Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper of the visiting San Francisco Giants. Merle Harmon was also scheduled to appear on the Broadcasting Panel, only to cancel because of a conflict with an ecclesiastical commitment in Dallas that weekend.

An added bonus to my copy of Plain Dealing was the inscription I found when I opened the book. Odenkirk had signed and dedicated the copy to Paul Gustafson. A native of Gig Harbor, Washington, Gustafson was the first person I ever met at a SABR convention. He was born in 1941 and died in 2005.

512 and ROY SIEVERS

SABR 39 – Washington, DC – 2009

512 and Roy Sievers

Like Houston, Washington boasts a strong local network within the parameters of SABR. It was at the Washington convention that I got to know several members of the organizing committee, including Dave Raglin, Barb Mantegani, Mark Pattison, Gary Sarnoff, and D. Bruce Brown. It was through my Washington connections that I learned about the Talkin’ Baseball Book Discussion. Moderated by Dave Paulson, the book discussion takes place on the first Saturday of every month in Columbia, Maryland. I attended twice, once in 2015 and again in 2018. Accordingly, the two books I have selected to represent the Washington convention are the two presentations I attended in Columbia.

The speaker at the 2015 discussion I attended was Ralph Peluso, whose novel 512 answers the question “What would have happened in Babe Ruth had played his entire career as a pitcher?” The title should provide a clue. The 2018 session featured Paul Scimonelli, author of Roy Sievers: The Sweetest Right Handed Swing. Whether Scimonelli’s claim that Sievers is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown is a matter of debate. On the other hand, Sievers did provide Washington fans something to cheer for at a time the franchise finished “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” I was fortunate to have purchased one of only 240 copies of the book Sievers was able to sign before his death in late 2017.

No story about the Talkin’ Baseball Book Discussion would be complete without the following anecdote about Dave Paulson. Years earlier, in 2003, he contacted me to enquire if I could ask Fergie Jenkins to autograph a first day cover in his collection. Paulson told me that his daughter was actually engaged to a Canadian, but that they had to postpone the wedding due to the SARS outbreak which shut down Toronto in March and April 2003. I replied, “Funny you should say that. My parents have friends whose son is engaged to an American woman. They too had to postpone their wedding on account of SARS.”

On my next visit to my parents’ house, I saw the wedding invitation. The bride’s parents was indeed from Columbia, Maryland and their names happened to have been Dr. and Mrs. David Paulson!

THE BILKO ATHLETIC CLUB

SABR 41 – Los Angeles, CA – 2011

The Bilko Athletic Club

Before the Dodgers moved west from Brooklyn, the Los Angeles area hosted two Pacific Coast League teams. There were the Hollywood Stars, who played at Gilmore Field, and then there were the Los Angeles Angels, who played at Wrigley Field. Established in 1903, the Angels were a top minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs for decades. The California version of Wrigley Field opened in 1925 and was modeled after 1060 West Addison. The calibre of play in the Pacific Coast League was exceptional to the point that in 1952, it abandoned its AAA status in favour of an ‘Open’ classification, with the hope to ultimately become a third major league.

Gaylon Hooper White’s The Bilko Athletic Club tells the story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels. Managed by Bob Scheffing, the Angels went 107-61, demolishing the opposition en route to the Pacific Coast League pennant. The only thing on the field more colossal than the Angels’ performance was the larger than life presence of Steve Bilko. The gargantuan 1st baseman from Pennsylvania won the Pacific Coast League triple crown, hitting 55 home runs and driving in 164 while batting a robust .360. Bilko also rapped 215 base hits, scored 163 runs, and most importantly, had a television series named after him.

To sports fans of a particular age in the Southland, the Pacific Coast League was at least as important as the major leagues. One of the hallmarks of the Los Angeles convention was a tour of five ballpark sites, including Wrigley Field. In 1957, the Cubs surrendered its affiliation with the Los Angeles Angels to the Brooklyn Dodgers, which helped pave the way for the franchise’s move from the Borough of Churches a year later.

Phil Silvers (TV’s “Sgt. Bilko”) Meets Joe Bilko.

THE CAMERA NEVER BLINKS (TWICE)

SABR 44 – Houston, TX – 2014

The Camera Never Blinks

One of the greater challenges in preparing this exercise was to arrive at an appropriate selection for Houston. Most of the readership of the Pecan Park Eagle is from Houston. Therefore, the majority of baseball books about the Bayou City would fall into the category of “one few people outside of Houston have ever heard of and everyone from Houston has already read.” Then I found a two-volume series written by a Houston sportswriter about a former broadcaster for the Houston Buffs. A-Ha!

The books are The Camera Never Blinks and the Camera Never Blinks Twice, by Dan Rather and Mickey Herskowitz. Volume 1 was written in 1977 and follows an autobiographical format. Born in Wharton, Texas in 1931 and raised in Houston, Rather was graduated from Sam Houston State University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1953. After a two-year tour of duty with the Chronicle, Rather called football play-by-play for the University of Houston Cougars, and one season of Buffs’ baseball in 1959. Rather also describes his tenure at Houston’s CBS affiliate, in particular his coverage of Hurricane Carla in 1961. Rather departed Houston for New York a year later, where in 1975, he became a correspondent for 60 Minutes.

By the time The Camera Never Blinks Twice was written, in 1994, Rather had succeeded Walter Cronkite as the anchor for the CBS Evening News. Volume 2 is thematic rather than chronological, focusing on the world events Rather covered in the 1980s and early 1990s, including Afghanistan, Tiananmen Square, and the time Mr. Gorbachev “tore down that wall.”

Mickey Herskowitz was a speaker at the Houston convention, appearing as part of the Colt .45s Panel moderated by Greg Lucas. Dressed in a lime green suit, Mickey and I had a lengthy conversation about Howard Cosell after the panel. That’s when he noticed Toronto on my badge. He pointed, exclaiming that “You know, I’m half-Canadian!” I rolled my eyes and thought “Right you are.” Returning home after the convention, I found an online article about Mickey. True enough, Milton Leon Herskowitz’ mother came from the small but vibrant Jewish community in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Happy birthday Mickey on April 4!

Mickey Herskowitz

BOBBY MADURO AND THE CUBAN SUGAR KINGS

SABR 46 – Miami, FL – 2016

Author Lou Hernandez and  Subject Bobby Maduro

Bobby Maduro and the Cuban Sugar Kings is a new book, written by South Florida author Lou Hernandez. Maduro was born in Havana in 1916 and by the age of 30, had established himself as a Cuban baseball executive. One of the builders of Gran Stadium in Havana, Maduro believed that baseball was the bridge of diplomacy to link the United States and Latin America. Maduro was a visionary whose ultimate goal was to bring a major league team to Cuba. By 1953, he was the majority owner of the Havana Cubans of the Florida International League. A year later, the AAA Cuban Sugar Kings played their inaugural season (and it is the Cuban Sugar Kings). The high water mark for the franchise took place in 1959 when the Cuban Sugar Kings defeated the Minneapolis Millers to win the Junior World Series. Political turmoil beyond anyone’s control forced the International League to transfer the franchise to Jersey City in July 1960.

Maduro and his family had all followed the Sugar Kings out of Cuba by 1961. He became the President of the Jacksonville Suns, acquiring the territory from the Houston Colt .45s in a trade for outfielder Jim Pendleton. In 1979, Maduro founded the Inter-American League. With teams throughout Latin America from Miami to Maracaibo, the league played AAA calibre baseball until its suspension in June. Maduro passed away in 1986, age 70.

Maduro’s life in many ways mirrors the Cuban American experience of success, resilience, family, multiculturalism, and pride. Cuba formed a significant component of the curriculum in Miami. Lectures included “The Short But Sensational Life of the Sugar Kings,” “The Night Frank Verdi Got Shot,” and “The Five Greatest Myths of Cuban Baseball.” Among those to attended the convention were Maduro’s grandson Jorge. Havana native Jose Ramirez and the late Peter Bjarkman figured prominently at the convention, while Kit Krieger of Cubaball Tours had set up a booth in the vendors’ room. Prior to the Cuban Players Panel, I had asked former infielder Mike de la Hoz to sign a brand new book on Cuban players, speaking to him in Spanish. He replied, “Don’t you speak English?” to which I followed, “Of course I speak English!”

It is also worth noting that Marlins Park is built adjacent to the site of the Orioles’ spring training facility for many years, a venue which in 1987 was re-baptized as Bobby Maduro Stadium. While it was still called Miami Stadium, Baltimore pitcher Mike Cuellar often received parking tickets for stationing in a spot reserved for a local newspaper. Among the dailies to cover spring training in Miami was the Cuban Star. Cuellar defended his parking position by arguing, “That’s me – Cuban star!”

CASEY STENGEL: BASEBALL’S GREATEST CHARACTER

SABR 47 – New York, NY – 2017

20. Marty Appel and Casey Stengel

Marty Appel at Casey Stengel Book Signing.

For a convention hosted by the Casey Stengel Chapter, why not select a book about Casey Stengel? Written by Marty Appel, Baseball’s Greatest Character is the biography of a baseball legend shared by all four of the Big Apple’s modern baseball teams. Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1890, Stengel played nine of his 14 seasons as a National League outfielder with the Brooklyn Robins and the New York Giants. As a member of the visiting Giants in 1923, Stengel held the distinction to have hit the first World Series home run at Yankee Stadium. As a manager, he piloted the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1934 to 1936, the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1960, and the New York Mets from 1962 to 1965. Stengel’s managerial record with the latter two teams is well known, ten American League pennants and seven World Championships in Yankee pinstripes, followed by four consecutive last place, 100-loss seasons with the Metropolitans. Stengel died in 1975.

Marty Appel was an important player of the New York convention. He participated in both the Casey Stengel panel and the Jim Bouton panel. Prior to the SABR game at Citi Field between the Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies, Marty conducted a book signing of Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character. Marty had previously written about Stengel in Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss, and has an additional 20 titles to his credit. There is no word yet on any pending translations of the biography into Stengelese.

CONCLUSION

San Diego Baseball Research Center

Well, that’s my selection for the SABR convention baseball bookshelf. SABR 49 is scheduled for June 26 to 30, 2019, in San Diego. Keep monitoring the website for developments as they become official. While in San Diego, do not hesitate to visit the Sullivan Family Baseball Research Center. Founded in 1998 by the Ted Williams Chapter of SABR and the San Diego Public Library, the Center contains over 6,000 baseball books and DVD’s in its archives. Maybe someone will write a book on baseball in San Diego and call it “The Kid Did Not Doff.” And yes, that is the actual size of a 1962 Cleveland Indians yearbook. According to hobbyist Kyle Boetel, the Indians printed yearbooks with a wingspan equal to the width of three seats at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. In the days when played before a sea of empty bleachers, the thought was that if everyone opened their yearbook at the same time, the crowd would appear three times as large on television. Let’s close with a photo of the Padres emulating Dr. Dolittle as they ‘talk to the animals.’

The Padres at the San Diego Zoo

 

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The following link will take you to Part 1 of this two-column report:

M Kates SABR Books Part One

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

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