"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Bronx Banter Interview: Mike Vaccaro

People talk about the electricity of a heavyweight title bout, the spectacle of the Super Bowl, or the madness of the NCAA basketball tournament, but for my money there is no greater championship than baseball’s World Series. In those years when we’re lucky enough to see the game’s two best teams engaged in a closely fought series, we witness a battle which stretches out over more than a week as the Series lives and breathes with context and texture unmatched by any other sport’s championship. Because of this, the greatest of these Series live etched in our memory, and even those which were merely good become the subjects of books.

We all remember the ecstasy and the agony (not to mention the Mystique and Aura) of the 2001 World Series; we know the significance of Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough; we’ve mimicked Carlton Fisk’s frantic waving from 1975; and we’ve seen the grainy newsreel footage of Mazeroski’s clinching home run in 1960. Because we are fans of the Game, we feel like we know all there is to know – or at least all we’re supposed to know.

But what if we don’t? Enter Mike Vaccaro and his latest book, The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs and Politicos Who Re-Invented the World Series in 1912, an engaging look at a World Series you’ve never heard of. As he describes the Hall of Fame players and personalities on both sides, as well as politicians and gamblers lurking on the sidelines, Vaccaro argues that this was the series that gave the World Series its place in our national psyche. He was kind enough to talk with me about it for a bit recently. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. (Note: As I opened the book, I had no idea of how the Series eventually turned out, and I enjoyed this added suspense. In order to preserve this for any readers who might like a similar experience, the author and I did not discuss the outcome. Where indicated, some of the links will give the result.)

Bronx Banter:  Have you always been a baseball fan? Did you play as a kid?

Mike Vaccaro:  Yeah, absolutely. Baseball was always a pretty important part of my childhood, and now it’s an important part of my adulthood. I played through high school and was never terrible, but never terribly good. Always just enjoyed it. I like to stay close to the game.

BB:  So what teams and players did you follow as a kid?

MV:  I was a Mets fan growing up. Most of my childhood they were awful and then later on they kinda gave us a nice shining moment in ’86, so that was my team growing up, for sure. I was a big Tom Seaver fan, as I’m sure almost all kids of my age were.

BB:  I suppose for a lot of your life you were probably hoping for a career playing baseball. At what point did you decide on a career in journalism?

MV:  When I realized that I not only couldn’t hit the curveball, I couldn’t throw the curveball, I could barely identify a curveball. If I was gonna do anything at all in terms of professional experience, it would have to be from the sidelines in some regard. Writing was something that I enjoyed, so it was a natural marriage.

BB:  Here’s a question that I always look forward to asking journalists: are you still a fan? Can you be a fan – not just of the game, but of the Mets, for example – and a journalist at the same time?

MV:  I’m a fan of the Mets in the sense that when they play well it’s a lot more interesting story to cover, I think. I do think that the occasional train wreck is also an enjoyable story for people to read, but let’s face it – Mets fans would prefer to read stories that have to do with the Mets doing well, just as Yankees fans do also. So I do think that it’s probably fair that when you’re working the press box you root for good stories first before you root for teams or anybody, but I do think they go hand in hand. And I do try to look a little bit through the prism of a sports fan, even though that’s hard to do. You do obviously have access fans don’t have, and so therefore you have to take advantage of that telling your own stories, but I like to think I understand what sports fans bring to the game. I try and have that color my writing. I don’t believe in the complete detachment of emotion when it comes to writing. I know a lot of people like to say, “I hate the games, I don’t like the games, I don’t care about the games,” but I think if you do that, that really informs your writing and I think it really lessens it as well.

BB:  I think I’d agree with that. So with this book, what was your research process like? Where did you get your information, how long were you researching, and when did you sit down to write?

MV:  It was actually a fairly swift process. I suppose one of the good things about writing a book in which all the characters are dead, is that you’re kind of on your own schedule, not anybody else’s schedule. (Laughing.) So it was just a matter of getting my butt to the library, to the archives, to the Hall of Fame, and all these places where you could find the information that I wanted to find. It’s interesting. In a lot of ways it was easier to write a book about that era than it even would be about the 50s or certainly today, because there were so many newspapers, there were so many stories written, there were so many of these players that were first-person reporters in their own right for all these newspapers. It was almost… I won’t say there was too much information, but there was certainly enough there to be able to weave a tale out of it. From the first moment I arrived in the library with a blank notebook trying to start taking notes, to turning in the final manuscript was probably about nine months, start to finish. And the funny part about book publishing is that it actually was longer between turning in the final manuscript and publication than the actual book itself. That’s partly because instead of having a release date earlier in the year they decided on one to coincide with the playoffs, which was a smart marketing decision, I think.

BB:  Something you just mentioned I wanted to ask you about. We have this idea today that there’s media saturation with all of the TV networks and ESPN and sports radio…

MV:  I would agree with that.

BB:  But whenever I read something from this era, or maybe the first half of the last century, like you mentioned, the newspapers, there are just so many newspapers. What was that like with all the papers in that era?

MV:  It was like going to a buffet table with a bottomless appetite. There were fourteen newspapers in New York and six in Boston, and you have access nowadays to the archives of a lot of papers from around the country to get a gauge of what it was like outside of the two primary cities. It was fascinating. There were two corresponding big stories going on at that time. The World Series, and the big murder trial with Charlie Becker, the rogue cop. In New York, at least, it was essentially a split front page. You had baseball at the top, and the trial at the bottom, and the next day they would flip-flop. There’s a newfangled TV expression, “If it bleeds, it leads,” but I think that in those days newspaper sales were based in large part on the two Bs: blood and baseball. And certainly with those two stories you had a little bit of both, and it was the heart of the Pulitzer and Hearst war, so you had the World and you had the Journal American and it was as fierce a battle as today with the Post and the Daily News. We like to think we go at each other in a cutthroat manner, but really comparatively speaking, it’s relatively tame compared to the way it was back in those days. Hearst and Pulitzer were kind of playing varsity ball back in those days. As a result of that intense competition, it’s incredible what you had there. When you think of the writers who were actually filing the copy for these stories, you had Damon Runyan, you had Grantland Rice, you had Fred Lead, you had all these famous writing names. It was really kind of fascinating to think that every day, the days I was reading, I was reading Damon Runyon, you know? You kind of think of him as being something of a mythic figure and then you see him with his byline in a newspaper, so that was kind of cool. My problem is that I happen to be a guy who loves to do this kind of research, so my problem, if I had a problem at all, was that I would go there and I would get too lost in those papers. I would want to read more about what was happening in Persia at the time, what was happening on Wall Street, and I kind of had to discipline myself to stay with the matter at hand because there was so much information that I had to get to.

BB: I consider myself a huge baseball fan, a fan of baseball history. But I have to admit that before opening your book I knew nothing about the (spoiler alert) 1912 World Series. So tell me what drew you to this in the first place. What did you know about this series, going in, that made you want to start this project?

MV:  I swear, the only thing I knew about 1912 at all was the idea of the Snodgrass muff, and I didn’t even know any of the details about that. It was just one of these things. You can be a big, big, big baseball historian, but I think it’s sometimes hard to have a completely encyclopedic appreciation, understanding, or even a desire to know… I think if we consider ourselves big historians, we know a lot about the 40s and the 50s and the 60s, which in some ways is ancient history, but in some ways happened yesterday. You know, I was lucky. My editor at Doubleday, Jason Kauffman, when we were thinking about my next project he said, “Why don’t you see if you can find a World Series you think would be interesting enough to write a book about, but one that hasn’t been done to death.” Just about every World Series since the 30s, if you want to know something about it, somebody has either written about it, or there’s newsreel footage about it, so you really have to go back to the real black and white era. The first superstar team is the ’27 Yankees, so you have to use that almost as the delineation point between quasi-modern understanding of the World Series. And when I did that I boiled it down to two. One was the ’26 World Series, which was the Yankees and the Cardinals and was most famous for Grover Cleveland Alexander walking in, reportedly hung over, in the seventh inning and striking out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. And on top of that, the series ended in the bottom of the ninth when Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base, which I’ve always found fascinating. I try to bring that forward and think about what the uproar would be like if that was Alex Rodríguez ending the World Series in 2010. Just imagine what that would be like! But you know what, the more I looked at that, it was more of a baseball series. People have read a million books about Babe Ruth, and a million books about Lou Gehrig, and there’s been a movie made about Grover Cleveland Alexander, so you really weren’t going to be touching new ground. The more I looked at 1912, though, the more I realized the characters involved were tremendous: John McGraw, Christy Matthewson, Tris Speaker – these are historic names. And the more I looked at the World Series itself, the more I realized this was a great World Series. Not only did it go the distance, it went beyond the distance because there was a tie game so there was an extra game. And then the last game goes extra innings, which has only happened one other time before, in ’97. So that interested me. And I had done a book previously about sports in 1941, and the reason I liked doing that book so much is because I was able to use sports as kind of a window into what was happening in the world, and I liked that. To me, if you’re gonna tell a story about history, it can’t just be about your own subject. You’ve gotta give context and tell what the world was like, what it was like to live back then, what people were doing back then, which is why I enjoyed doing that book. So I was kind of hoping to present that alongside the main story in this book, and was fortunate enough to have the trial. Probably until the O.J. trial came along, it was probably still considered the trial of the century in many ways, because it was that important. And beyond that you had a presidential race, and beyond that you had Teddy Roosevelt getting shot during the World Series. You had all these other ancillary issues which to me just made the story more potentially rich. Because it wasn’t necessarily a book that was born in my brain, I went into it thinking it was a good subject, and as I went on I realized it was a great subject, and I was lucky in that regard. Because the last thing you want to do when you’re investing as much time as you need to invest in writing a book is to fall less in love with the product as you go along. I was lucky enough to fall more in love as I went along.

BB:  What’s interesting is that my experience as a reader was really similar. My first thought was, oh, the 1912 World Series, what’s this? And as I started out, it was, okay, this is kind of interesting, and then by the end I really couldn’t put it down.

MV:  That’s great to hear, and that’s interesting. I’ve been really lucky. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing. This is by no means The DaVinci Code, but it has sold beyond expectations, because when people read it, they like it. Books are funny, even more so than movies or record albums – oh, my god, I’m aging myself, calling them record albums – you get word of mouth on a book. People who are inclined to read, want to be told, yes, this is something you want to read. It’s a real fortunate thing that’s gone on with this book.

BB:  Very often when you read about baseball during this era, the main thing you come away with is how different everything was – the fields were awful, the ball was heavy, the gloves were terrible, etc. – but it seemed like you made a conscious choice keep the game as a constant. Is that accurate, or did I make that up?

MV:  It is. It’s a very basic tenth grade history credo, but I really believe that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s what makes history fascinating, is finding out that things that happened in the 1500s weren’t, but for the way things were done, the modern advancement, weren’t that different than they are now. And the same thing applies with baseball. It really is the same game. And like you said, there have obviously been improvements that have helped beautify it a little bit, and certainly people hit more homeruns now than they ever did and so forth, but in terms of how the game is played, it’s interesting. People tend to think that in the good old days people played for the love of the game and getting paid was secondary. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, these guys were more obsessed with money than today’s athletes are. Partly because they weren’t getting as much of it, and partly because everything was more accessible. You know from reading the book that gamblers and bookmakers were as omnipresent as peanut venders in stadiums there, so if you ever wanted to supplement your income it was fairly easy to do. Things like winner’s shares and how much that winner’s share would be were taken very seriously by these guys because nowadays a guy wins the World Series, he gets a $300,000 share and it’s equivalent to the money he finds in his couch. In those days you won $4,000 in the World Series, and a lot of times it was more than you made in the whole season. These guys really cared about money, and that really kind of made them more accessible human beings because you’re able to see them less as these demigods and more as regular people who easily could’ve played today if they’d only been born eighty years later.

BB:  That kind of leads into my next question a bit. It seems like things were so different off the field than they are today, and one of the things you mentioned was the gambling. How prevalent was gambling, and how prominent were the big gamblers and bookmakers?

MV:  They were incredibly prominent. What’s interesting is John McGraw was business partners with Arnold Rothstein, which is a little tidbit I didn’t know until I started researching this book. Arnold Rothstein, of course, is the guy who masterminded the 1919 fix. They owned pool halls together, and you gotta figure that people discussed more than 8-ball in those establishments back in the day. I’ve always been fascinated by the Black Sox also. Obviously the great Eliot Asinof book and the movie was tremendous, the subject matter was great. But in doing the work for the this book, it was obvious that it wasn’t only understandable why that happened, but it was almost inevitable that something was going to happen in that regards. When it’s that accessible, when it’s that easy, when you have so much hubris among owners… You know, Charlie Comiskey is the guy who goes down in history as the guy who kind of inspired the Black Sox scandal, but really any owner could’ve qualified. Just the hassle and the haggle over the extra game they had in this World Series with the National Commission. It was everywhere, it really was. And it wasn’t just that the bookmakers were in the stands and prominent. During batting practice, if you wanted to you could find a floating crap game in the stands, or a poker game. It really was as much a part of day to day life in most big league cities as anything else, and like I said it almost makes it inevitable that something was gonna happen, and it just so happened that it was 1919 and it happened to the White Sox. Even among these games, as you know from having read the book, as great as the games were, they weren’t always played on the level, for different and various reasons.

BB:  With all of this gambling out in the open, and players openly talking about betting on games that they were playing in and even mentioning it in the newspaper columns they were wrting, how did the public perceive this?

MV:  The public wasn’t affected by it at all because they took part as much as anybody else did. That’s the funny part of the way things progressed through history. The headline anticipating the World Series wouldn’t say “Matthewson to Face Off Against Smokey Joe Wood” it was “Sox the 8 to 5 Choice.” Christy Matthewson, who was as much a paragon of virtue as any ballplayer ever has been, in his own column would talk about who the gambling favorite was and who the underdog was, and those weren’t just terms. It was a part of the culture in the same way that gambling is at a racetrack. I suppose there is a small element of people who go the racetrack because they like to see the horses run around, but 98% of the people who go there, go there with the idea that it’s a place where money is exchanged. I get the sense it was the same way that people approached going to ballparks in those days, that it was as much a sport among the players in the stands as it was among the players on the field.

BB:  So at this point in 1912, baseball seemed to hold a powerful grip on the public, through the game itself and the gambling opportunity it provided. How did the people of Boston, New York, and the rest of the country view baseball in 1912, and how excited were they for this series?

MV:  It’s a great question, because certainly in New York and Boston baseball was king, it really was. It was unrivalled in terms of sporting passion, for sure. What’s interesting about this World Series, and the reason why I came to the title that I came to, is from ’03 to ’11, for the most part, the World Series was something that people around the country would read about in the newspaper and there would be some interest in it. In the cities where the games took place it was over the top excitement, if it was in Pittsburgh or Chicago or wherever else it was. It was a very parochial event. 1911 kind of changed it a little bit. The Giants and the A’s were both recognizable teams with recognizable names, but 1912 really kind of brought it to another level. For one thing, these were probably the two best teams ever assembled at that point, and it was pretty obvious they were gonna play each other from early September on. There were a lot of personalities people knew about, there was a lot of advance hype as a result, and really the excitement about the series was everywhere. One of the neat things that they had in those days was that outside newspaper buildings they would have these pitch-by-pitch updates with little figurines going around the basepaths.

BB:  That was one of my favorite things about the book.

MV:  Yeah, you could understand certainly how that could become exciting in New York and in Boston, and in fact it was over the top. In Harold Square there would be 40,000 people a day in New York, on newspaper row there would be 50,000 people a day, and it’s hard to even fathom that. In Boston it was the same way in the Common. Now we have PDAs and you can look at updates every fifteen seconds, and it’s staggering to think that it’s essentially what these people were doing. They didn’t have, obviously, a Blackberry to look at, but they did have that ability to get updates as quickly as they did, which is really kind of incredible. But it wasn’t just New York and Boston, though. They had the same availability in other cities starting in 1911, in 1912 it became even bigger. In fact, the story that I really like, at the very end of the book it comes, is outside the L.A. Times office there are a couple thousand people watching this. They hear about Fred Snodgrass dropping a ball, and a woman faints in the crowd and it’s Fred Snodgrass’s mother. So I think that really just kind of shows you how much of a grip the series had on the country. Before that series it was referred to the world series, lower-case w, lower-case s, and this series kind of capitalized it to where we know it now as the World Series, capital W, capital S.

BB:  The narrative in your story was obviously driven by the ebb and flow of the series, but there some pretty interesting personalities, too. The Giants, of course, were led by the largest personality of all, John McGraw. What was he like?

MV:  In the deepest chamber of my heart, I wish I could have covered John McGraw, because he would’ve been great copy. He’s undisputed as being a great baseball mind, certainly ahead of his time in a lot of ways. He was an umpire baiter, he was an opponent baiter. He was not afraid to speak his mind about anything and everything. In a lot of ways he was kind of like Billy Martin, only without the sociopathic tendencies. And a guy with a lot of layers. People think of him as being this fiery, ornery guy, and he was. And yet Snodgrass drops that ball, and the next year he gives him a thousand dollar raise, which is a huge, huge statement in those days. Players alternately loved playing for him and loathed playing for him, alternately loved him and despised him. Just an incredibly rich character who was really in the prime of his career in 1912. He was the kind of guy who’s got an awfully long lineage. One of his protégés was Casey Stengel, who begat Billy Martin, who begat Willie Randolph. In a lot of ways, the John McGraw legacy still continues to this day even though many people don’t know that that’s really where it is.

BB:  He was paired with Christy Matthewson, who had kind of transcended the game, hadn’t he?

MV:  Yeah, he was without doubt the most famous American athlete at the time, and the most beloved, held up as this paragon of virtue, and even to that point was considered one of the best pitchers who ever lived. Even though he was kind of on the downward cycle of his career, he was still pretty good, winning twenty games a year. He just wasn’t what he had been seven or eight years earlier when he was just unhittable. And the two of them were a wonderful contrast. For a while they actually lived together. But even at this point they were great friends and had an inordinate amount of respect for each other that really kind of manifested itself in the way they both wanted so badly to win another World Series. They had gone seven years at that point without winning a World Series even though they fancied themselves the flag bearers for the entire sport.

BB:  And what about the Red Sox, with Smokey Joe Wood and Tris Speaker. How good were they?

MV:  People think of one-year pitching wonders like Dwight Gooden in 1985, but there’s never been a pitcher who had a better single year than Joe Wood: 34-5, 1.90 ERA. At a time when nobody struck out, when it was considered a mortal sin to strikeout, he struck out almost 250 people. Even Walter Johnson, who was renowned as the flamethrower of his era, said there was nobody in the world who threw harder than Smokey Joe Wood, hence the name. It’s really kind of an interesting story, because the next spring he breaks his thumb in spring training, and he’s literally never the same, and he hurts his arm. And while he reinvents himself later on as an everyday player – as a hitter he’s a very good hitter – but he could well have been a historic and legendary pitcher if his arm hadn’t given out. But for that year he was untouchable. And Tris Speaker, I think Tris Speaker is probably the most underappreciated all-time player ever. I think people have heard of the name and they have a hard time placing where he played or what he did. The guy had 3,700 hits and not only played on three World Series winners but managed one in Cleveland. (And also was himself involved in a gambling scandal towards the latter end of his career.) It’s interesting too, because the Red Sox in a lot of ways could be likened to the Bronx Zoo Yankees and the ’72-’74 A’s in that they didn’t really like each other very much. It was definitely split into factions between Catholics and non-Catholics, and there two best players Wood and Speaker were non-Catholics, one from Kansas City, one from Texas, who were perceived from day one there as outsiders, not only by the team but also by the fans. But because they were so good and because they were so successful, they were obviously adopted and for the most part kept something of an uneasy peace among the people on the team, which obviously exploded briefly during the World Series and subtly other times during the year. That also makes this fascinating. We tend to think of old time guys as being one for all and all for one, but these guys were every bit as contentious as the Yankees were in the 70s.

BB:  That’s interesting, because that was going to be my next question. Now you hear about clubhouse that are divided along racial lines sometimes, and you think that these were all a bunch of white guys in 1912 so they probably got along well, but there were divisions – cultural divisions between Northern players and Southern players. Could you talk about that a bit?

MV:  Certainly in Boston, which was a hotbed, even in those days, of Irish Catholicism, of liberalism, a real Northern bastion, and had been the seat of patriotism not so long before, a hundred and forty years earlier. Tris Speaker’s uncles both fought in the Civil War. Smokey Joe Wood was literally raised in the wild west, with stagecoaches and sheriffs and stuff. That’s where these guys are coming from, and this is obviously an era where who you worshipped and how you worshipped was not a secret. People knew if you were Catholic, they knew if you were Baptist, they knew if you were Methodist, they knew if you were Episcopalian, and it mattered to people. To come to Boston, which was as I said, an Irish Catholic hotbed, you had these two Protestants. That was one of the main things that divided people in those days, especially in baseball in 1912. Unfortunately it’s not a subject that I delve into a great deal, but certainly 1912 was very much in the middle of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. It was an all-white sport, so there certainly wasn’t going to be any racial divides in any clubhouses, because everybody looked exactly the same. So I suppose if you look for things that divide you, religion is probably the next best thing to race, and certainly that was there. Probably on almost every team, because that was so prevalent in society, but on that team especially, it became a big deal.

BB:  There’s a lot of drama throughout this World Series, most of it surrounding the players, managers, and even owners. You do a great job of illuminating all the controversies and personalities, most notably through conversations between the principle characters. I read recently a suggestion that you had manufactured these conversations. I read what you wrote about this in your introduction, but I was wondering if you could explain this.

MV:  Yeah, I’d like to, because look, the fact that I was compelled to write an author’s note, that was my idea. I wanted to do that because I wanted to be completely transparent. I mean, look, we are dealing with things that happened almost a hundred years ago, so it was amazing to me what I was actually able to get in terms of verbatim conversations. But you can’t get everything. And to me, the choice was it was either going to be completely written in a narrative or it wasn’t. If it’s not, it becomes a recitation of facts, it’s a textbook, and it’s impossible to read. I would be very comfortable to say that probably ninety percent of the stuff that’s in that book, was stuff that was actually in between quotation marks elsewhere, whether it was in a newspaper story, a magazine story, an archive, someone’s diary, what have you. So that’s ninety percent. In order to complete the narrative, I felt there were certain aspects where you just didn’t have that, where you just didn’t have the actual quotes, where I kind of gave myself license since I knew these characters as well as anybody could, having spent nine months with them. Certainly I wasn’t going to invent the kind of conversation where Smokey Joe Wood, for instance, turns to Tris Speaker and says, “Yeah, I threw that game!” That certainly wasn’t going to happen. To me, it was more to augment conversation, to help move the story along in a way that just wasn’t otherwise available. And I understood that when I wrote that that people were gonna look at that, and certainly I didn’t put that I think that ninety percent of the conversations were accurately recreated because there’s no way of actually putting a number on it. So I know that opens it up to anybody who want to think, well, maybe he invented the whole thing. And they’re welcome to think that if they want. To me, it’s like when you watch a movie. A movie is always based on real life. I wasn’t there in 1912, so everything that I do about the book is necessarily going to be second-hand. So to me, I think what you have to do, is you have to make a choice when you read the book: do I trust this author or don’t I? I would hope that if you read the book, you understand that I not only know these characters, but I happen to like them, and I appreciate them, and I want to try and portray them as accurately as possible, so whatever I augmented was done in the idea of moving the story along. That’s frankly bothered some people who’ve reviewed the book, and I certainly respect that. It’s a worthy and worthwhile subject for discussion. I just chose to do it that way because I think it made for a better book. I don’t think I sacrificed any integrity. Like I said, if I invented conversations to invent new plotlines, I think that would have been unforgivable and I wouldn’t even have considered doing that. But to me it was more of a device that helped to kind of close the circle. If you look at it as a circle and if there are a couple of segments of the circle that are missing, you’re not going to be able to complete the circle. This allowed me to complete the circle. Most of the circle was already drawn based upon legitimate quotes that I drew from other places, but the small aspects that I needed to close the circle I did on my own, believing that I had the license to do that. That’s a long and very windy way of explaining that, but I do think it’s a worthwhile subject. Like I said, I brought it up myself. I wouldn’t have wanted to misrepresent how that came to be.

BB:  At any point in your process did you consider footnoting so that people could see which conversations were quoted elsewhere and which were not?

MV:  I did. In fact, I do have a set of footnotes that I wrote. It was a decision between myself and the editors at Doubleday that it was more appropriate to be specific with bibliography, which I kind of have in my acknowledgements later toward the end, and more of a blanket explanation of how you did it than it was to footnote. That was just a decision that was made. I actually do, in my personal archives, have what would have been the footnotes, but it was just an editorial decision that was made higher than me.

BB:  I think I do agree with your response to this, because nothing seemed disingenuous to me as I was reading.

MV:  I suppose if my intention with the book had been to show how the 1912 World Series was thrown, it would’ve been a little bit harder to do what I did and just dismiss it as something that was a literary device. Even when it comes to the potential shadiness of some of the games, I think I do leave it open ended and open to interpretation. I don’t say that Smokey Joe Woods threw the game, I say this is what happened, what do you think?

BB:  Right, right. I think that was interesting. You just kind of present it as here are the facts, and here’s how he felt going in, and here’s the season that he had, and here’s how he pitched on this day. I think it was even better, because I read it, my first thought was, how come I haven’t heard of this before? This is a pretty big deal, where you’ve got arguably the best pitcher in the game, who’s pissed off at his manager and his owner, and he’s throwing a World Series game.

MV:  Right. We could argue the merits of whether it was justified or not, but I’m asked all the time, do you think he threw the game? I absolutely think he threw the game. Here’s a guy who’s the best pitcher of his day in that year, he’s already stuck it up their ass two times easily in the World Series and the very next day he would come back and do the same thing basically, and here he is throwing thirteen batting practice fastballs. So if you’re asking me, as an expert witness, do I think that he did it? I say yes. Do I think he would’ve been convicted of it? No, because I think the entirety of the case against him was circumstantial.


1 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 26, 2010 1:28 pm

Yes...the World Series is by far the most exciting and significant championship in sports!

In question #14, I assume Vaccaro meant Herald Square. Even so, my understanding has always been that Times Square was the place where crowds would flock for World Series info (see http://tinyurl.com/ycghs6h).

Sounds like an interesting book, but I have to admit that the made up conversations do bother be some. I was considering picking up a copy, but now I am not so sure.

2 dcslb   ~  Jan 26, 2010 2:32 pm

WillNY: Read it. If you are a fan of the game read this book. Vaccaro explains the conversations very well and you should not let them detract in any way from a fascinating piece of baseball history. It would be like not going to your favorite Italian restaurant anymore because they use canned tomatoes in making their sauce--which almost all good chefs do for consistency. He can footnote over 90% of the quotes in the book, if you let your pre-judgement and preconceptions of the book prevent you from reading it then you are costing yourself.

Great interview Hank!

3 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 26, 2010 3:02 pm

[2] Thanks for the suggestion. I guess my problem is not wanting to come away with the impression that something I read was a real conversation when it wasn't. I have a feeling that will be in the back of mind throughout, which could be a distraction.

4 claybeez   ~  Jan 28, 2010 2:52 pm

Very much enjoyed that interview. Thank you. I certainly plan on giving it a read despite some initial reservations about the created dialogue.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver