Over at Verb Plow, Glenn Stout tells “A Glove Story.”
Here’s Glenn Stout on Race, Jackie Robinson and the Red Sox:
At approximately 10:30 in the morning on Monday, April 16, 1945, Boston city Councilman Isadore Muchnick and sportswriter Wendell Smith and three African-American baseball players from the Negro leagues arrived at Boston’s Fenway Park. One month earlier the Red Sox reluctantly agreed to hold a tryout for African American ballplayers. Shortstop Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs, second baseman Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars and outfielder Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes came to Boston nearly a week earlier in anticipation of the tryout.
The audition of the three players took a little over one year to arrange and lasted only ninety minutes. Yet the fallout from that day echoes through Red Sox history almost to the present as an example of the institutional racism practiced by the ballclub under the tenure of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Only in the last few seasons, at the conclusion of the Yawkey era, did the ballclub begin to shed a reputation for racism that many trace to that April morning.
Still shrouded by significant misconceptions and errors of fact, that day deserves examination. Not only do the facts of the tryout deserve explication, but the manner in which both the press and the ballclub reacted to the episode and portrayed it since then is telling. By calling into question the details of the event the defenders of Yawkey and the Red Sox attempted to use it to absolve the ballclub, the owner, and by extension, the city of Boston for any racial liability, perverting the significance of the tryout.
Over at The Classical, Kevin Koczwara has a nice piece on our pal Glenn Stout:
As the series editor of The Best American Sports Writing, Stout’s eyes and opinion are important, and his up or down vote is one that can help advance a career, or not. He doesn’t have final say on what goes into each book, but he has the first say on a story. With each year, Stout’s reading load grows—there are more outlets, more submissions, more worthy stories. He culls those thousands of submissions and passes them on to that year’s guest editor. The edition editor then picks through the smaller batch and selects what he or she likes most; those final stories go into the book. Theirs is the last vote, but Stout’s comes first.
“There’s a certain aspirational sports writing that is being done that is more ‘I’ oriented that I think, rightly or wrongly, has been impacted [by] growing up reading this book,” Stout told me. “And that’s something that could not have been foreseen when this book began. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I mean, I love it when the writing works. But when I see the aspirational that doesn’t work then I hope I’m not responsible.”
[Photo Credit: NBC]
There is a war in baseball that rarely comes up on the field of play yet rages in the stands, the press box, in print and online 365 days a year.
On one side of this battle are those that consider baseball a science and believe that numbers tell us more about the game than any other approach. On the other side are those that consider the game an art and hold that baseball is an activity far too complicated and discreet to be contained in a series of calculations.
Neither side speaks much to the other, and when they do those discussions usually degenerate into a series of playground taunts between straw men, Science eschewing the Art crowd as ignorant louts and esthetes blind to logic, and Art denigrating the practitioners of Science as socially stunted denizens of their parent’s basements.
I delicately wandered into this battle a few weeks ago when, in responding to a Facebook discussion Charlie Pierce was involved in on the merits of Mike Cameron versus Dwight Evans I quipped that “Baseball is an art not a science.” Moments later the esteemed Joe Posnanski and a few others gently reprimanded me, one wagging his finger and writing “They don’t keep score at the ballet, Glenn.” Of course I realized the question was not as simple as either comment decreed, so rather than throw dirt bombs back and forth over the back fence I decided to step back, analyze the structure of the disagreement and try to determine if that tells us anything about the veracity of either approach.
[Photo Credit: Fecal Face]
From our pal Glenn Stout:
It’s over, but we’ve been through this before, baseball and I, and I’m sure I’ll survive the winter soon to come. I know even as the whoops and hollers of baseball’s newest world champion fade that somewhere in the silence that follows, another season will start to make its sound.
There will be trades, Tommy John surgeries and free agent signings for too much money. Even though there will be snow upon the ground, there will also be talk about pitchers and catchers reporting, aging veterans and rookie phenoms. Something deep inside me will start to stir, and then I’ll hear it again; a voice on a playground, a bat meeting a ball, a cheer and a slap on the back. At first it will be faint and far off, but as the days get longer the sounds of baseball will be back beside me. Soon enough, we will both be ready for another season.
There is at least one thing Red Sox fans can look forward to this fall and that’s the publication of Glenn Stout’s new book. But it’s not just for Sox fans, it’s a story that will appeal to seamheads everywhere. In a review for The Christian Science Monitor, Nick Lehr writes that Stout’s “narrative could have easily become bogged down in a never-ending sequence of truncated game recaps, culminating with the World Series; however Stout’s greatest triumph is his ability to manage the pace of the 152-game season, breaking up game summaries by delving into the lives of the teams’ larger-than-life characters.”
I got a chance to talk to Stout before he lit out for Boston on a book tour. Here’s our chat.
BB: You’ve written about the Red Sox before, many times, most notably in Red Sox Century. But that was an overview of a long period of time. What was it like to tackle a more concentrated narrative?
SG: It’s far more fun to take on a concentrated narrative, but that doesn’t mean that you just get more detailed, or use detail for detail sake. With a big survey history like Red Sox Century or Yankees Century (which, incidentally, is still in print and still selling after more a decade), I have to be very disciplined and contained. Inevitably at times I have had to race over some good stories or just tell them in shorthand, because the focus of those books is a longer sweep of history. There is very limited space to veer off the main highway and follow a story down a side road, no matter how interesting, unless it carries the larger narrative farther along. In a book about single event, or in this case, a season, there is more freedom to follow the stories that naturally occur. Truths can be revealed organically, over a much more natural span of time, rather than all at once. Take the story of Smoky Joe Wood’s 1912 season, in which he goes 34-5. In a book like Red Sox Century there was no space to do much more than cite the details of his season, touch lightly on the famous early September pitching matchup with Walter Johnson, jump into the World Series against John McGraw’s New York Giants, and then boom, the next year he hurts his arm. Wood appears as some kind of comet, suddenly great, then gone.
But the full story is more nuanced, and in this kind of book I get a chance to tell those kinds of stories. In this case I show Wood’s personality, how and why Wood was so much better in 1912 than before, and how and why he improved over the course of the season; his manager made him change his windup with runners on base and injuries to two catchers thrust rookie Hick Cady into the lineup. He was much better defensively and Wood was much more comfortable with him. And Wood’s arm was already going bad in 1912. There are many, many references to that over the course of the 1912 season, and it was no surprise when he was hurt in 1913. In a book like this, I can get to stories that otherwise go untold, or are overlooked, and use those stories to create characters. The history becomes much more layered, immediate and three-dimensional. In that way it is possible to write a book with wider appeal, one for people who love baseball, and baseball history, not just Red Sox fans. Fenway, like other classic ballparks, transcends the fan base of a particular team and I think Fenway 1912 will be a breakout book this holiday season. It’s about a place and an era, not just a team.
BB: There seems to be a cottage industry of sports books that are about a specific season. Your new book is not just about the 1912 season but about the creation of Fenway Park. Still, can you explain your approach to this kind of story? Do you any hard rules about creating the narrative from the facts and maybe stretching some things to fit a dramatic arc?
GS: I just try to follow the facts as I find them, and not create a narrative arc ahead of time and make the facts fit or enhance it. My proposal for this book was one paragraph – to tell the story of the building of Fenway Park and its first season. Beyond that, I had little idea what I would find, but I trusted in the truth – the truth tells the better story anyway. If it doesn’t, that’s because you haven’t done enough research. There’s never, ever any need to put words in anybody’s mouth to make things “more colorful.” Dry history is the fault of the writer, not the event. And by building the story from actual events, rather than trying to use the events to fit a story, you inevitably uncover new information, so that even a place as familiar as Fenway is surprisingly revealing. In this book, I just tried to track the whys and hows of Fenway Park coming into existence, then track it during its first season to see what that told me. I was quite surprised, for instance, to see how Fenway’s personality, the same personality that in many ways is still in effect in the park today, was revealed over the course of the 1912 season and World Series. Even though the game was much different, the personality of the place was already visible.
BB: As a writer how do you avoid clichés when writing about a game? How much of a challenge is it to make a game recap sound fresh?
GS: You have to be vigilant, because there are times you just have to take the reader from point A to B so you have context for something more important you really want to write about – why and how the score is 2-1 entering the ninth inning for instance – and there’s a great temptation to take the easy way out and get lazy. To avoid that I have to think backwards and ask “What does the reader really need to know entering that ninth inning?” Than I have to deliver the game description to that point economically and without distractions, and that’s the argument against clichés – they are distractions. Staying simple is best, just straightforward reporting without reaching to create any false drama or using writing that calls too much attention to itself. It’s far better to be a bit spare than too florid, because florid writing not only takes readers out of a story and restrains the imagination, More spare, restrained writing leaves room for the readers’ imagination to expand and fill in the blanks.
Then, for texture and context, which is always needed, I try to make use of period sports reporting. Something can be said better by a reporter at that time that if said by the omniscient narrator would sound stupid, or hackneyed or forced. I mean, at one point during the Series Joe Wood is in shock after being shelled. But I don’t write, “After being shelled, Wood was in shock.” I use the reporting of baseball writer Paul Shannon of the Boson Post. He wrote that “A place at the right hand corner of the Red Sox bench was taken by a stopped, wilted figure [SWF]. The SWF was Joe Wood.” I loved that. Another strategy I use throughout Fenway 1912 is that I drop appropriate headlines throughout the text, simply to provide that kind of textural change and period flavor. I guess the short answer is don’t try to write like you’re wearing a fedora and chewing on a cigar. That never comes off as authentic.
BB: Is being spare in your prose something that you come by naturally from your background in poetry? Do you arrive at that kind of clear, straightforward prose after many drafts or at this point is it something you achieve early on?
GS: To a degree I guess, because in general I’ve always been more drawn toward plain speaking and work that works when listened to rather than poetry that is more mannered and academic. In prose, I aim for transparency. In many instances I almost want my actual writing to be completely invisible, so submissive to the story that you don’t notice it. I want the readers’ first reaction to be “great story” and then realize that it was the writing that delivered that experience.
BB: Did you read a lot of the other material–not from the period but since then–on the 1912 season and the building of Fenway? Was there anything that you tried to avoid repeating?
GS: There was very little that was worthwhile. It hadn’t been written about much before and so much of that was just factually wrong or incomplete. Obviously, I tried to avoid using information I knew not to be true, even it contradicted prevailing wisdom. In places I even correct what I had written before when I had depended on a secondary source that I discovered was incorrect. Here’s an example. Years ago, when I write the official 75th anniversary story about the park for the Red Sox yearbook, I had used a secondary source that called Fenway’s architectural style “Tapestry.” In this book, I learned that was incorrect – “tapestry” is simply the commercial name for the style of brick used, and after consulting with some architectural historians I was eventually able to identify Fenway’s architectural influences. That’s why you try not to use secondary sources.
Frankly, no one had ever written anything in depth about the beginnings of Fenway Park before, so there weren’t too many misconceptions to counteract. It’s funny, but it has been around so long that I think most people, and certainly most Boston baseball writers, had simply assumed that there was nothing left to be known about the origins of the park so they had never bothered to write about it. Historians, even architectural historian, had never viewed it as an object worthy of scrutiny. In reality, the opposite was true. It was virgin territory.
BB: What is the new research that you are bringing to this book? And, as a former librarian, how much do you enjoy the hunt for new stuff?
GS: I love doing the research. There is nothing better than discovering something new about a subject that everyone thinks they already know everything about. And there’s no trick to that apart from putting in the time. Today, with so much material available online, many history writers don’t bother going beyond what is readily available, but it becomes even more important. Here’s how it can work. I discovered one key document that I don’t think anyone has ever used or even seen in nearly one hundred years. I only found it because, over time, I realized that there were many different euphemisms for ballparks, and for the Red Sox. So instead of just searching “Fenway Park” I literally spent t an entire day searching for material online under different combinations of euphemisms. I was several hundred Google search pages into it when I found one obscure reference in an index dating from 1912 that seemed like it might be about Fenway. Then I had to find out what library holds the publication, and then physically go find it.
BB: Do you have researchers that work for you or do you do the legwork yourself?
GS: I do about 99% of my research myself and use a researcher to a very, very, very limited degree, and then only when my life schedule or location makes it impossible for me to look things up myself. In this case, I spent weeks in libraries looking up things on microfilm, and untold hours doing the same with sources that were available on-line and in books. There’s no substitute for that, because what inevitably happens is that when you are locked in doing research, you find things and make connections that you never, ever would have made if you were just contracting out to someone to do it for you. I recently heard from a writer who has researchers do almost everything, including interviews, and he had questions concerning a subject he had a researcher interview, but the interviewer apparently hadn’t asked all the right questions. The subject has since passed away, so now he will never know. I can’t imagine doing that. I really question the veracity of any book where the writer doesn’t do the vast bulk of his or her own research.
Generally, I’ll only use a researcher when I’m on deadline or toward the end of a project, to fill in blanks I might discover at the last minute. I live on the Canadian border in northwest Vermont and it’s not always possible to run down to New York or Boston – I have a family, animals and responsibilities, and a real long driveway I have to plow in the winter. For instance, there was one point where I was writing about the 1912 World Series when I suddenly had more questions about a particular event took place that. I already had accounts from four or five different papers, but what took place still wasn’t exactly clear. So I asked Denise Bousquet, a young woman from my town up here in Vermont who went to college in Boston and now works at Harvard, to look up some additional accounts for me. She’s done that for my last few books, and she also does some fact-checking, mostly on numbers and stats, because it’s way too easy to trip over those, and even then, stats from various sources don’t always agree. Many people think publishers fact check – they don’t. It’s the responsibility of the author, but there are discrepancies everywhere, even in data sources like Retrosheet and baseballreference.com. A book of this size – almost 200,000 words, probably contains 30,000 different facts. You try as best as you can to get it right.
BB: The mini biographies are always some of the most compelling sections of a book like this. Can you talk a little about the architect of Fenway Park, James E. McLaughlin and the builder Charles Logue? Also, I know you had experience in construction as a young man, and that you compiled an oral history about construction workers at Ground Zero. How much of your personal experience informed how you presented the relationship between McLaughlin and Logue?
GS: Fenway is perhaps the best known sporting facility in the country, yet both the architect and the builder were essentially unknown. McLaughlin and Logue had never been written about in any detail – even architectural historians knew virtually nothing about McLaughlin. Well, I bring them back, and show how both the design and building of Fenway Park was influenced by each man’s personality and philosophy. Both were immigrants. McLaughlin was Nova Scotian and Logue was Irish. McLaughlin’s practical and understated architectural philosophy was expressed in his design of Fenway. Before this book no one had ever decoded the specific architectural influences in the design of Fenway Park, or related Fenway to McLaughlin’s other buildings or to other nearby buildings built in the same era. I do, and that is one of the reasons why Fenway still works today – it fit the city then, and still does. And because I spent a number of years working in the construction industry, specifically working with concrete and reinforcing and structural steel, I understood the challenges that building Fenway created for Charles Logue, and spoke with his great grandson to give some sense of the man behind the name. My construction background was of immeasurable help in translating what would otherwise have been arcane construction and engineering information into English, and experienced how builders and architects interact. I think I make it possible to envision Fenway Park being built, and that in the end the reader walks away with an intimate understanding of the place that simply was not available before. After reading Fenway 1912 the reader will never be able to look at Fenway Park the same way – I guarantee it.
BB: You mentioned having to get rid of details sometimes if they take the reader away from the larger story. Even in this book, where you could afford to be more in-depth than in a general history book, were there things that you liked that had to be left on the cutting room floor?
GS: Only a little. It would have been nice to use another 20,000 words to better flesh out some characters, and perhaps to give those who are unfamiliar with Boston a bit more to hold on to, but I managed to squeeze in almost everything I wanted, either in the main text or in the endnotes, which are substantial.
BB: What was the most difficult part about writing this book?
GS: The story, to a degree, told itself, but the research was daunting, particularly in trying to pin down exactly how Fenway was built, and precisely when things took place, because I had to look in multiple newspapers and other sources every day over a six month period, never knowing if there would be a story or a picture that would be useful. Sometimes I’d spend all day and only find a sentence or two of information, but that one sentence could tell me something new. That’s how I found out the groundskeeper supervised the transfer of the sod from the Huntington Avenue Grounds to Fenway Park, which is the scene that opens the book. It took place in October, just after the 1911 season ended and work was just starting at Fenway Park, but I found the reference in a story written in late January of 1912, just a sentence.
BB: I loved your book on Trudy Ederle and I remember talking to you about how you spent long hours alone on a lake in an attempt to have some small understanding of what she must have experienced swimming the English channel. How did this experience, strictly from your writer’s perspective, compare with that?
GS: Completely different. For the Ederle book I had to bring myself up to speed about an experience I knew very little about. I didn’t have to do that for this book because I am very comfortable writing about both baseball and construction work. I already have insight into those subjects – I mean I’ve poured concrete day after day after day, pitched with a torn rotator cuff and from other projects already knew a great deal about the time period and the City of Boston during that time.
BB: Can you talk about the alterations that were made to the park during the 1912 season?
GS: There were two Fenway Parks in 1912. The park that opened and the park that was altered for the 1912 World’s Series. They were radically different. The park that opened was a very Spartan facility – just a small concrete and steel grandstand that barely extended past the dugouts with a tiny, ramshackle press box stuck on the roof, a mostly wooden “pavilion” that extended down the right field line, then a standalone block of wood bleachers in center field. There were no stands in right field at all, just a plain plank fence at the back edge of the property, and no stands down the left field line. In left was the earthen embankment that became known as Duffy’s Cliff and a long plank wall that extended to center field, the precursor to the “Green Monster.” The whole place seated just 24,500 people, that was it.
With the Series approaching, the club realized that Fenway was already obsolete. Overflow crowds that had been allowed onto the field during the regular season had been problematic and the National Commission told them they wouldn‘t allow that during the World Series. So while the Sox were on a road trip in September, in only a couple weeks they built 11,000 more seats, adding wooded stands down the left field line and stands in right field connecting the bleachers to the pavilion, giving the field of play the same basic footprint it has today. Fortunately I have a wonderful drawing in the book that shows those changes. And when the park was renovated and reconstructed after the 1933 season, that same footprint basic was retained.
BB: One of the incredible things about Fenway Park is that it has changed over 100 years, and although it may seem antiquated, the current Red Sox ownership has done a lot to add modern touches without tearing the place down. Can you talk about some of the most significant alterations the place has seen and why it continues to last.
GS: Fenway Park has lasted because until quite recently they never really tried to preserve it. There was little waxy nostalgia about the place until the 1980s. If they needed to change something, they just changed it. In that way the ballpark was allowed to evolve, and, except for the original grandstand, was almost entirely rebuilt in 1933/34 anyway. Significantly, I think, is that despite all the things they’ve done recently, they’ve left the interior footprint of the field alone. That allows fans to imagine they’re in the same park where Ruth and Williams and Yaz played, and where Fisk and Bucky hit it over the wall, and to connect that history. That’s mostly a fantasy, but an effective one. So despite the fact that I find Fenway far too busy these days – there are signs EVERYWHERE, and a constant barrage of noise – in many ways the park more resembles the retro parks that were built in imitation of Fenway more than the original Fenway Park – fans can still have a unique and memorable personal experience. A significant number of fans at any given game are tourists, and tourists will even find cramped seats and posts charming.
BB: Fenway and Wrigley are the only two old timey parts left. Do you think they’ll still be around in ten years?
GS: Wrigley, certainly, and Fenway probably, although at a certain point, particularly now that the 100th anniversary is about to pass, the benefits of Fenway to the franchise may begin to play out. As long as Fenway is full for every game, the park will be retained, but economically, they need it to be full. When it isn’t is when I think you’ll start to hear whispers that it’s no longer financially viable that they can’t “compete,” in Fenway. Then the drumbeat for a new park will start. Yet in this political climate replacing Fenway isn’t real viable either, and ballclubs are loathe to pay for new parks without substantial governmental help. A new ballpark in Boston, including surrounding infrastructure, would be a billion dollar project, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.
BB: Did you visit Fenway at all during the writing of the book or did you rely on your past memories of the place?
GS: I’ve seen some, but not all the changes that have taken place over the last decade because I’ve only been back to Boston a few times since I moved up here, and as you know they’ve made substantive changes to Fenway almost every season. But what they’ve done to Fenway recently is only a very small part of this book, and I was familiar enough with the park from when I did live in Boston for what I needed. I used to attend twenty games or so a year, and for a while had a pretty regular gig on NESN as a commentator on Red Sox history and got to roam around a lot. In the late ‘80s I narrated and did a walk around for a big special they did on the park and got to go all over the place – they showed it during rainouts for about a decade. I’ve covered a few games as a reporter, both in the old and new press boxes, snuck in a few times as a fan, taken batting practice there, and been in the dugouts and clubhouses, on the roof and in the lux boxes, under the bleachers when the batting cage was there, that kind of stuff.
BB: I know if this tangential to the book but you do mention in the introduction your own relationship with Fenway and how a ballpark is more like a civic institution, it’s a landmark for generations of people. Can you share some of your experiences at the park, and also, how you used to read poetry outside of it?
GS: Well shortly after I moved to Boston I decided to do something that would combine my two major interested – poetry and writing. I had collected a fair amount of baseball inspired poetry from Casey at the Bat to contemporary stuff, borrowed a little Pignose amp and microphone from a friend, put on an old baseball uniform, sent out press releases, filled a liter soda bottle with Bloody Mary’s and set up shop about 9:00 am on Opening Day and started reading. Back then, people would line up on Lansdowne Street to but bleacher seats.
It was fun as hell. People wondered what the hell I was doing out there, but no one told me to stop or tried to punch me in the face. A few heckled, but some people would actually stop and listen and every once in a while drop a few dollars at my feet. A couple TV and radio stations covered me, and columnists wrote about me – I met George Kimball that way – he did a story on me one year, and so did Peter Gelzinis of the Herald and Bob Hohler, before he was with the Globe. I met Bill Littlefield of NPR that way as well.
So I kept doing it, and did it for nine years. Eventually my friend Scott, who I now live across the road from in Vermont, joined me out there, and people started expecting us. My Mom even made us old style Boston uniforms, and by the end there would be six or eight of us who would all go to the game together afterwards. One poem I would always read was by Tom Clark, a great poet who also wrote the Charlie Finley bio “Champagne and Baloney, called “To Bill Lee.” Wouldn’t you know it that one year, after we stopped and took our seats in the bleachers, who sits down next to us but Lee – this was only a years or two after he had stopped playing. I told him what I did and showed him the poem, which he knew and said, “That’s a great poem!” Which it is. I’ve met Bill a few times since and he remembers it.
It sounds crazy, but if I hadn’t done that, I might never have ended up writing for a living. Reading poetry in public really empowered me, and convinced me that there was a way to combine my interests in writing and baseball.
You know, I moved to Boston because I wanted to live in a city with an old ballpark, and I write that Fenway Park is the kind of place that can change your life. And I mean that, because it changed mine.
Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year is available everywhere books are sold.
From Glenn Stout: “Hangovers were instantaneous, severe and violent.”
I wondered about being hungover as I passed this guy today and felt the ground vibrate.
Mike Torrez screamed “I’m off the hook!” Darrell Johnson was sprayed with champagne in the Met clubhouse. Bill Buckner danced a jig on his ranch in Idaho, while Carl Crawford, Jonathan Papelbon and a cast of thousands not named Jacoby Ellsbury pushed Pesky aside, their careers distilled into a single moment, the lead of their obituaries already written. The whole 2011 roster elbowed their way past Stanley and Schiraldi and Galehouse and Willoughby. Don Zimmer, Joe McCarthy, Joe Cronin, John McNamara and Grady Little welcomed Terry Francona to the brotherhood while Joe Maddon looked on in sympathy, Buck Showalter grinned and pushed the pin into the voodoo doll a little deeper and Theo Epstein felt the pain and tried to peel the target off his forehead. Robert Andino joined Aaron Boone and Mookie and Bucky as an improbable villain and regional epithet. The dark corner deep in the heart of all Red Sox fans everywhere, the one that appeared to have healed got ripped open and suddenly seemed a little darker, a lot more crowded, and a whole lot more unpleasant.
More than one Boston fan woke the next morning and either logged on or turned on the television or clicked on the radio to confirm that the ultimate nightmare had indeed taken place. It had.
In memory of 9.11, please check out the first chapter of what I think is probably Glenn Stout’s best book, “Nine Months at Ground Zero: The Story of the Brotherhood of Workers Who Took on a Job Like No Other.”
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Times]
Last month, there was a discussion in the comments section here about two of the Yankees’ current African-American stars: Curtis Granderson and C.C. Sabathia. But no mention, if memory serves, of Derek Jeter who is half-black. In an op-ed today in the Daily News, Glenn Stout gets to the heart of the matter:
Jeter is both the game’s first postracial superstar and the Yankees’ first African-American icon, reaching a status that even Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, was unable to achieve.
No, his biracial heritage alone doesn’t make Jeter any better than either black or white superstars to come before him – but the matter-of-fact embrace of his background even before Barack Obama became our first biracial President is culturally significant and should not be a mere footnote as we celebrate his great achievement.
…From the very first day, Jeter seemed totally at home in pinstripes, the Yankees’ next “Everyman.” Coming of age at a time when racial labels don’t mean as much as they once did, he was the child of a black father and white mother. He neither downplayed that fact nor promoted it. It was simply a part of who he was.
Of course, the emergence of Jeter has been nowhere near as racially important as Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color line. That was a cultural earthquake, this a barely detectable tremor. But for those of biracial heritage, Jeter’s quiet success has spoken loudly precisely because of how little it has been remarked upon – by how little news it has made.
It’s something, isn’t it? But true. Race is virtually never discussed when it comes to Jeter. Go figure.
[Painting by Kevin McGoff]
Our man Glenn Stout is the latest writer to be interviewed by Chris Jones over at Son of Bold Venture. I love this bit:
CJ: As either a writer or an editor, you’ve had a hand in more than eighty books. Your blog is called verbplow. I get the sense that you must treat words like work, like a more manual brand of labor—that during the course of most days, you must sit down and force yourself either to read or to write something. How do you make yourself do it?
Glenn Stout: That’s funny you ask about that because just the other day I had this realization that all the things I’ve ever really liked to do are activities that require me to use my hands and my brain simultaneously. You are right that in a sense I do see writing as manual labor, and the metaphor in verb plow is intentional, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valued, or necessarily laborious, because there is also that “labor of love” thing. I love doing what I do and can’t believe I get to do this every day. Growing up the idea of becoming a writer was unimaginable. We didn’t have a lot of money. My parents didn’t read much. Words saved me. They took me away, sent me to college, delivered my life. Now I get to mine the language every day, and talk and work with other writers—that’s dreamland stuff.
I don’t see my work as a chore, and only rarely does it feel forced—I want to do this and by now it’s all a part of my life, like breathing. I spent a number of years doing actual manual labor and I have to say I learned as much about writing from pouring concrete and hauling steel as I ever did in any workshop, or any course. Manual labor teaches you to work in increments, to maintain, to stick to things, to finish what you start, and that’s what I do. On a practical level, I’ve been on my own, completely independent as a writer, mostly working on projects that I think have real value, for almost twenty years. I’m not on the faculty somewhere, on the staff of some publication, or living off a trust fund. For every second of the last twenty-one years I’ve always had book contracts to fulfill and deadlines to hit and either I take that seriously or I’m done, out of work.
Serving as Series Editor for Best American Sports Writing is like a part-time job at minimum wage, and is only a small part of what I do. People assume I’m incredibly disciplined, and in their terms, maybe I am, but I’ve never understood writers who say that they write 2,000 words a day, like punching a clock. I mean, good for them, but I don’t work that way, I can’t be that rigid. I think every writer has to discover that what works for others might not work for you. For me it’s like the old Earl Weaver line: “This ain’t football; we do this every day.” A significant part of doing anything stems from getting up early and putting your ass in the chair every day, and I do that. The rest is experience—learning how not to sabotage yourself.
Right on, Big Dog. Or as Woody once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
Check out this fine post by Chris Jones at his blog, “Son of Bold Venture” (named after a horse in W.C. Heinz’s classic column, “Death of a Racehorse”).
It’s probably the hardest lesson in writing: learning when you’ve already written enough.
We’re taught to believe that words have a value, a power, a weight. Logically, then, the more words, the better the sentence or paragraph or story. But writing isn’t always a logical exercise. Sometimes—most of the time—it’s about things that are harder to measure.
My editor, Peter—he will hate that I’m about to praise him in public—is one of the best in the business. He’s particularly good at carving the little excesses from a story that might either push it into sentimentality or turn the screw a little too hard. Because I’m often writing about emotional subjects, I’m especially dependent on Peter’s eye and knife. He just seems to know when even the smallest trim will serve the story. Peter understands restraint. He knows the value and power and weight of the words that aren’t there.
I e-mailed Glenn Stout, editor of the Best American Sports Writing series, about Jones’ post. He replied via e-mail:
Well, I’ve always thought it important to note that “In the beginning was the word…” Not “In the beginning was the words…” Although I wouldn’t necessarily say that more stories are ruined by underwriting rather than overwriting, because I see a lot of work in which the writer appears to have missed an opportunity, I will say that more ambitious stories could probably use more restraint. That’s one of the reasons I think that writers of any stripe should read poetry – it not only teaches tangible things like economy, sound and rhythm, but it also teaches that the negative space in writing – what’s not there, and the heartbeat of recognition that takes place over the empty space at the end of a line or a phrase – is as important as what is on the page. The way we connect with a piece of writing is how our brain fills in the blanks.
It’s like backing away from a painting rather than standing too close.
I understand negative space when it comes to painting, like in Giorgio Morandi’s wonderful still life pictures, but have only recently come to appreciate it in writing as well. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy expressionists, just that I am more drawn to writers like Heinz and Pat Jordan, Elmore Leonard and Pete Dexter.
My pal John Schulian also sent the following e-mail:
The interesting thing about this is that Chris Jones writes with such restraint in the first place. For him to go public with a confession that even he needs an editor to keep his prose from going over the edge is truly remarkable. And instructive. Every writer caves in to his worst instincts sooner or later. Problem is, not every writer has an editor as sharp as Jones’s Peter (I assume he means Peter Griffin, Esquire’s deputy editor). Also, not every editor is working with a writer as wonderful as Chris Jones. Not that the wonderful-ness of a writer would stop some editors from screwing up their prose. But the trims that Peter made were as artful and restrained as what Jones wrote. They eliminated the unnecessary and, just as important, preserved the rhythm of Jones’ prose. Peter heard the music and left no fingerprints, and that, perhaps, is the ultimate proof of his artistry as a line editor. No wonder Jones saluted him.
It is not easy to find a good editor. Jones has it good and seems to know it. Perhaps the most instructive book I’ve read about editing is Susan Bell’s “The Artful Edit.” It’s an essential guide for me and rests next to “The Elements of Style” on my night table. Bell uses the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Maxwell Perkins throughout her text.
Dig this one example from “The Great Gatsby.” First, from a rough draft:
They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just blown in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments on the threshold, dazzled by the alabaster light, listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.
And then revised for the the final version:
They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.
Fitzgerald dropped “dazzled by the alabaster light…” a vivid, but ultimately, distracting flourish. Man, you’ve got to be ruthless to murder your darlings. It is nothing short of inspiring when the great talents have the conviction to do just that.
[Painting by Girogio Morandi]
To celebrate the publication of the 20th edition of The Best American Sports Writing, I sat down with series editor Glenn Stout. Dig our chat.
Bronx Banter: How many pieces do you read each year, and how do you find all the stuff?
Glenn Stout: I can’t answer this any more specifically than to say “many thousands.” I don’t waste time counting. But understand, a lot of what I read I only read until I say to myself “This is not going to make the book,” so I stop. Suffice to say that I read enough of every submission, and enough of every significant story in every publication I receive, that I don’t stay up nights worrying if I read enough. Almost without even thinking about it anymore, I read a couple hours a day. It’s like feeding the dogs or working out – part of the fabric of the day.
I find things by looking and by being easy to find myself and by trying to make it clear to every writer that he or she is encouraged to submit material. Several hundred magazines and newspapers are sent requests for submissions and/or complimentary subscriptions. I subscribe to a healthy number of publications myself, a few good friends, like yourself, and even readers, recommend stories to me, and I send out a mass e-mail request to a mailing list I’ve put together over the years. I also read some blogs and check some message boards to see if there are any stories people are talking about. But most importantly, I just keep my eyes open. A story like one by Pam Belluck in the New York Times a few years ago – “How to Catch Fish in Vermont,” wasn’t a submission, and didn’t appear in the sports section of the Times. I stumbled upon Belluck’s story while looking for something else. The same thing happened this year when I found Eric Nusbaum’s story “Death of Pitcher” from his blog, pitchersandpoets.com. I was looking for something for Fenway 1912, my book on the first season of Fenway Park which will come out next year, and I stumbled on his story. There are probably eight or ten stories each year that get sent to the Guest Editor that I “find” accidentally. But they are “on purpose accidental” because I leave myself open to finding them. I’ll steal a magazine from a doctor’s office if there is a story in it that might be good for the book.
BB: Has the process changed at all over the years?
GS: The biggest change is that 20 years ago all my browsing took place in hard copy. I worked at the Boston Public Library then and had access to where the past years’ magazines and newspapers were kept. I’d go in the occasional Saturday and spend the whole day reading. Now, with the internet, coupled with the fact I no longer have direct access to what, until recently, was one of the world’s greatest public libraries, means I spend much more time online. But I don’t think the flow rate of the word river has changed all that much.
BB: Are there certain kinds of stories that are more likely to make it? Magazine profiles, newspaper columns?
GS: I don’t think so, but other people do. I’ve gone back and checked and the stories I set aside each year for further reading break down about 60% – 40% between magazines and other long form formats and newspapers (which includes weeklies and the handful of Sunday supplements still published). Although these days, of course, with so many newspapers cutting space, cutting back, and/or closing, I’ve noticed a drop in submissions from newspapers and their writers, and there are clearly fewer “take-outs” being written. Since it is impossible to browse hundreds of daily newspapers, newspaper writing is probably more dependent on submissions than work from magazines that can send me subscriptions. And I have to say, newspapers and newspaper writers are, for some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, hesitant to make submissions. There are some major, major newspapers that have never responded to a request for material. I can’t consider what I don’t see. And even when papers do make submissions, there have been times we’ve picked a story that the writer submitted and the paper did not. What they submit is often very telling. One very well thought of sports editor at a major paper never sent me material from his staff – but submitted his own very pedestrian work every year.
I’ll admit that longer form pieces probably have a bit of an edge – extra space is a gift to a writer — but that’s also part of the media of putting a book together. Longer form stories hold together better in a book. Obviously, there are some kinds of stories that I personally don’t care for, but in every batch of material I send to the Guest Editor, I always include a few stories that I might not like at all, but understand that someone else might.
BB: There aren’t very many accounts of single games or events. Is that by design? Do you find that the art–and of necessity–of game recaps has been devalued with the rise of technology?
GS: Very few games stories and column – I find – provide the information needed to stand alone a year or more later when the book comes out. Often there just isn’t enough context in the story, and they often depend on a great deal of assumed knowledge. That may be understandable when the story was first written, but can no longer be assumed a year or more later. And some are just plain dated. This isn’t a contest for the writers, but a book for the readers, and if a story doesn’t give the reader enough, or is dated by changing events, it’s not going in the book no matter how well written it might be. And stylistically, few game stories or columns today are written with much real form – there is a lot of radio banter and one-liners masquerading as writing. I’m not sure that technology is the reason for that, but when considering game stories, I think that when the computer allowed writers the freedom to do constant updates and re-writes, and writers became accustomed to doing so, many stopped writing stories that actually told a story.
The Best American Sports Writing turns 20 this year. Peter Gammons is the guest editor and the book will be available in a few weeks. As always, it’s a must-read for anyone who cares about good writing.
To celebrate, here’s an excerpt from the forward by series editor Glenn Stout (I’ll have a Q&A with Glenn up shortly).
Twenty years ago, in the foreword to the inaugural edition of this book, I repeated an anecdote I heard Tim Horgan, long time sports columnist for The Boston Herald, tell at his retirement dinner. He said that when he was approached by aspiring students of sportswriting he always asked why he or she wanted to write about sports for a living. Invariably the students would respond to Horgan by saying, “Because I love sports.”
“Wrong,” Horgan would admonish. “You have to love the writing.”
I have never forgotten those words. They are the reason, as I explained in that first edition, why this book is called The Best American Sports Writing, two words, and not The Best American Sportswriting, the compound word, which would be a different collection entirely. First and foremost this is and has always been a book for those who love writing. That the writing is about sports is, of course, not insignificant, but my goal has always been to seek out stories that are so well written that the subject matter hardly matters, stories readers will enjoy, not simply because of the topic, but, just as a non-athlete can enjoy the artistry of an athlete, because of the artistry displayed by the writer,
A great deal has changed since I began the work of this book twenty years ago, both for me personally and in the field of sports writing. When I began serving this book as series editor, I had just turned thirty years old and lived in an apartment in Boston’s South End and freelanced while working as a librarian at the Boston Public Library. Over the ensuing twenty years BASW world headquarters have moved, first to a house in the suburbs and now to Vermont, hidden in the fields and woods alongside Lake Champlain near the Canadian border. I have married, buried both my parents and watched my daughter grow up amid the clutter of this book for each of her fourteen years. Eighteen years ago I quit my job and have been a full time writer ever since. I rehabbed an old rotator cuff tear, started playing baseball again, pitched in over-30 baseball leagues for ten years, and retired once more. I have coached girls softball and Little League, learned to ski and snorkel and kayak and skate, make my own beer, maple syrup and applesauce, given dozens of talks, visited scores of schools, written hundreds of columns and features, over forty juvenile books, a full dozen adult titles and edited several other anthologies. I’ve made some friends I’ll have for the rest of my life, and lost track of some because, quite frankly, the curse that every writer lives with is that every hour and minute we spend doing what we love are also hours and minutes we spend away from those who we care about. I easily spend six or eight hours almost every day writing (I usually have to ask my daughter, to her amusement, what day of the week it is), and hours more each day reading, usually for this book, sometimes while sitting on an exercise bike, or on the porch, or at the kitchen table eating, or in my chair watching a ballgame. The work of this book never ends, but has surrounded me for so long I sometimes barely notice.
In an earlier edition of the book I told the story about how I came to be selected to serve as Series Editor, something for which I am forever grateful and still a bit mystified, because, to be honest, I did not know how to do this when I started. I cannot imagine that anyone would know how to do this, really. Like the act of writing, this is a “learn by doing” experience.
My first editor, undoubtedly trying to impress me with the magnitude of my task, told me that the series editor for another Best American title kept file cards of publications and dutifully checked them off each time they arrived, notated the cards in regard to their contents, and that I should do the same. I bought a big box of file cards and dutifully began creating a similar card file system.
Then I looked at the pile of material waiting to be read and decided that anything that got in the way of reading should probably be ignored, and tossed the cards. I have kept things simple and never used any kind of grading or ranking system for the stories I read over beyond this: stories I want to read again go in one pile. Stories I don’t go into another, and when that much larger pile topples over, those stories either get recycled or go into my woodstove. As the deadline approaches I keep going over the “read again” pile until it gets small enough to send to the guest editor.
Of course, any changes in my life pale when compared with the changes that have taken place in writing and journalism. Twenty years ago – before anyone had ever called me “sir” – I had just made the transition from writing features and other freelance assignments in long-hand and then going into work early to type them out on an electric typewriter. I was beginning to work on a Magnavox Videowriter, a first generation word processor that, to a non-typist like myself (I use my thumb and two fingers on each hand and type at the speed of my mind, which is not very fast) seemed absolutely magical. When I was selected to edit this annual collection it came with the caveat that I had to buy a computer. It cost most of my advance and now my wristwatch probably contains more computing power.
Writers for newspapers and magazines were making – or had just made – a similar transition to computers, and there was, of course, no such thing as the online world which has changed almost everything everywhere, but few places more so than the commercial worlds of newspaper, magazine and book publishing. There is no point to hash over the obvious here, but anyone involved in any of these businesses knows that everything has changed, and in the last few years of economic recession, not for the better. There are, unquestionably, fewer print outlets for writing than there were twenty years ago, and space in those that remain has become more precious. The online universe, which did not even exist, now offers outlets to everyone, ranging from purely commercial platforms, to the virtually non commercial world of the blog. This is both a bad thing, because the best writing is generally done by professionals, and a good thing, because the best writing is not always done by professionals. Quality, not bylines, matter.
It has never been easy to earn a living as a writer, and it is particularly difficult now, but it probably never been easier to write. Resources are instantly accessible. In an hour I can research what used to take me weeks to do. But those same resources are now also at the fingertips of the reader, who does not always want or even appreciate the care and talent it takes to turn raw facts into fine writing.
In these pages we argue otherwise, because the only thing that has not changed over the last twenty years is the most important thing of all – the quality of the writing. I am amused that every three or four years some magazine (or, now, website) sees fit to run a story that bemoans the “death of sportswriting,” or some similar, “get off of my lawn” nonsense, and then sends it to me for consideration in next years’ edition.
Although I agree that a great deal has died over the last two decades, and perhaps a small portion of that compound word “sportswriting” has reached an end, I am something of a historian of both genres and believe that rumors of the demise of either are highly exaggerated. While I have yet to meet the writer who has become better at his or her craft by going on television or the radio, there always have been and continue to be great writers who value the written word above all others. But the notion of some kind of “Golden Age” of either sportswriting or sports writing is simply the kind of selective nostalgia that still prefers Mom’s meatloaf to any other.
From my chair sports writing seems to be doing quite well. The reason, of course, is the writer. Despite the conveyor belt of change, both in technology and the marketplace, that has been rocketing past, the writers who have appeared in this book and who I read each year have neither cowered in fear before the word and nor been frozen into silence.
Quite the opposite. Many of us who retain faith in the page probably write more and better than before. It’s in the blood, and despite all the logical arguments that can be made against pursuing writing of any kind as an avocation, at the end of each year I end up with a box of about two hundred stories that I want to read again, stories that I worry over as the pile gets smaller and the decisions more difficult, just as I did twenty years ago. At the end of the process, I still seem to find seventy stories or so that I feel are worthy of being sent to the guest editor. Unless they have collectively chosen to lie, each has had a difficult time selecting the twenty to twenty five stories that eventually appear in this book, not because they can’t find enough stories, but because they have a hard time paring the number of stories down to a manageable size.
Now I am the one who regularly gets phone calls or letters or emails from aspiring writers who call me “sir” and approach me in much the same way they approached Tim Horgan. I tell them the same thing he did; you have to love the writing. That, among all else, has not changed and I do not think it ever will.
Foreword” by Glenn Stout from THE BEST AMERICAN SPORTS WRITING 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
For more on BASW, peep Glenn’s website.
Sorry about this folks, but the Banter is taking the day off on the count of I’m sick at home. I twisted my lower back over the weekend and am in no position to be doing much of anything.
To keep you busy with baseball news, don’t forget to check out these spots:
Oh yeah, and check out this piece by Glenn Stout on Josh Beckett’s historically bad season:
How bad has Josh Beckett been? Using ERA and a minimum of fourteen starts as a measure, every other pitcher in Red Sox history – with one notable exception – has been NABAB – Not As Bad As Beckett. Matt Young in 1991? Sixteen Starts and a 5.18 ERA, but Not As Bad As Beckett. Danny Darwin in 1994? Thirteen starts and 6.30 – NABAB. Frank Castillo in 2002? NABAB. Ramon Martinez in 2000, Jerry Casale in 1960, Gordon Rhodes in 1935, Frank Heimach in 1926? You can look ‘em up, NABABs all. Even the immortal Joe Harris, who went 2-21 for the 1906 Red Sox, was NABAB – his ERA was a sparkling 3.52, a number Josh Beckett and Theo Epstein would both kill for. And the list goes on and on and on and on.
Somehow this historic achievement has gone unnoticed. In a season best defined by the disabled list it has been easy to overlook Beckett’s expressionless appearances on the mound. Then again, they’ve often been so brief he’s been easy to miss. The fact is even with all the injuries, if Josh Beckett was pitching like an average starting pitcher, rather than a historically bad one, the Red Sox would be making plans for October.
We’ll have a game thread up tonight for the game…
[Picture by Bags]
And while we’re talking fathers and sons, do yourself a favor and check out this post by Glenn Stout:
Most of my memories of my father are somehow wrapped around a baseball – playing catch, him taking me to games or watching me pitch. It was the one way we really connected. But in high school I tore my rotator cuff and had to stop playing. We didn’t have as much to talk about after that.
Almost twenty years later my shoulder healed and I joined an adult league, one in Boston and later, another in Worcester County, where I then lived. For three or four years I was in both leagues and played fifty, sixty games each summer, usually pitching and playing first or third.
I’d call home every week and for the first time since I was a kid my conversations with my father were wrapped around baseball again. I sent him the ball after I won my first game since I was sixteen years old, and a t-shirt I got for making the league all-star team. I was as proud of each as of any book I’ve ever written, and so was he.
Fine work by Glenn, as usual.
Some disturbing news via Glenn Stout’s blog, Verbal Plow:
Red Sox history is being sent in exile. The city wants to close the Microtext Department at the BPL which cares for, services and houses newspapers and other collections on microfilm, the department that literally provides access to the history of not only the Red Sox, but the Bruins, the Patriots, the Boston Marathon, the Boston Garden, Fenway Park, the old Boston Arena, the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Harvard Stadium, Boston College,…you get the idea. The city wants to close the department, move some of the film to West Roxbury, disperse the rest to other BPL departments, can the staff, squander decades of institutional knowledge, and use the space they recently spent gazillions renovating for the department, for, oh, I don’t know, weddings or cocktail parties. Once they do that the ability to do the kind of research it takes to write a serious book about Red Sox history becomes almost impossible – having the resources you need in one place, at one time, is invaluable and irreplaceable.
I know this not just from my own experience, but because when I was at the BPL I helped local sports writers like Steve Buckley and national guys like Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford use these resources. I remember one guy in particular I helped – named Halberstam. Won a Pulitzer Prize that helped stop the Vietnam War and wrote a really great book about the Red Sox–Summer of ’49. Ever heard of him?
He could not have written that book without the BPL, and neither could Dan Shaughnessy have written The Curse of the Bambino, Howard Bryant Shut Out, Richard Johnson and I Red Sox Century, Ed Linn Hitter, Leigh Montville The Big Bam or any other author, like Buckley or Bill Nowlin or Bill Reynolds, who have written anything worthwhile about Red Sox history. None of these books – none – could have been done without the newspapers on microfilm at the Boston Public Library. Fenway 1912, which I just finished and comes out next year, would have been impossible.
And here’s the really, really awful part. This is supposed to save the city money. But this department, like much the Library, actually earns back every dime a hundred times over. I am just one of thousands of writers who use or have used the Library, who make special trips to Boston just to use the library and end up spending money on a lot of other things, or have lived in Boston, in part, because the Library was one of the places that make Boston a place worth living. Every book written by any writer on any subject who has used the Library – we’re talking thousands of books that have sold millions and millions of copies, here – pours money right back into city coffers every day of every week.
But if they get rid of the Microtext department and exile and disperse Red Sox history, this won’t happen. All those books still waiting to be written about the Red Sox just won’t get written. The neighborhood of baseball – and the City of Boston – will be poorer for it.
To complain, email, write or call Amy Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library email@example.com, or Jamie McGlone, Clerk to the Board of Trustees firstname.lastname@example.org, 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116 617-536-5400, Mayor Thomas Menino,email@example.com, 1 City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201-2013 , 617.635.4500, or attend the BPL’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 8:30am, at the Copley Square Library.
Let’s try to do some good here. I don’t have to tell you what is happening in Haiti and how they are in need of everything, but I was looking around my office the other day and came up with an idea that might give a small measure of help.
Here’s the deal – I have extra copies of some of my books (see list below). In exchange for a donation to the reputable charity of your choice, I’ll send you copy of the book signed by me.
“They blame me,” Yawkey says, ‘and I’m not even a Southerner. I’m from Detroit.” Yawkey remains on his South Carolina fief until May because Boston weather before then is too much for his sensitive sinuses. “I have no feeling against colored people,” he says. “I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club. Actually, we scouted them right along, but we didn’t want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer.”
But then comes the first of two smoking guns: “But they are clannish,” Mann quotes Yawkey as saying of African Americans, “and when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club.”
No single sentence could be more revealing – or more pathetic. First Yawkey offers that all African Americans share the same characteristics – in this case, being “clannish.” That kind of stereotyping is damning enough, but when he states that “when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club,” he fantasy land. Yawkey is making the claim that the reason the Red Sox remained white is the fault of the black ballplayers themselves. He is saying nothing less than “African Americans erroneously thought we were racist so therefore they refused to sign with us.”
Jeter, from day one, became the Yankees’ “Everyman”–everybody’s son, everybody’s brother, everybody’s dream boyfriend. Without even trying, he tapped into every chord of the Yankee mythos like no player since Mantle. He would add a few unmistakable new notes of his own, heralding in a new age for the franchise. Jeter had it all, and from his first day he became the best shortstop in club history. The Yankees couldn’t have invented him had they tried.
Glenn Stout, Yankee Century
When we talk about Derek Jeter we talk about class and dignity and tradition. Those buzz words that sound cliche. We talk about how he is overrated, but maybe underrated too. About how cool and calm he is, how calculatedly dull but dutiful he is with the press. But what I’ll always remember about Jeter is how much fun he has playing baseball. It is his defining quality for me and one that is virtually ignored in the sea of commentary about Jeter.
Have you ever seen him in a big game not smiling and generally enjoying the s*** out of himself? It is as if he’s impervious to the nerves of the moment.
Baseball has a name for the player who, in the eyes of his peers, is well attuned to the demands of his discipline; he is called “a gamer.” The gamer does not drool, or pant, before the cry of “Play ball.” Quite the opposite. He is the player, like George Brett or Pete Rose, who is neither too intense, nor too lax, neither lulled into carelessness in a dull August doubleheader nor wired too tight in an October playoff game. The gamer may scream and curse when his mates show the first hints of laziness, but he makes jokes and laughs naturally in the seventh game of the Series.
Tom Boswell, How Life Imitates the World Series
Jeter is a man defined and consumed by his work, an ideal we’d all love to have ourselves but only few share. It’s part of what draws us to him. But Jeter reminds us that work can be play too. Who wouldn’t like to think of themselves handling themselves like Jeter in tough situations?
Pete Rose may have enjoyed himself as much as Jeter but not more. And it wasn’t easy to share those feelings with Rose. Perhaps the best thing you can say about Jeter is that he’s competitive and has class and dates gorgeous women and he’s not Pete Rose. Jeter does not let us get too close–we don’t know him away from the field–but the beauty part is that he lets us see all we need to know of him on the field.
The play is the thing, after all.
In an e-mail, Stout added:
I’ve always thought that with Jeter it’s actually really, really simple. You know when he was a little, little boy, he decided he wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees – that’s all he ever wanted, and for as long as he can remember that’s all he has ever imagined doing. He’s about the only person on the planet who has never had to scale down his dream, and since he has imagined himself doing what he is doing his entire life, it feels completely normal, the most natural thing in the world – on the field he is completely at home with himself, completely relaxed and happy. Why not smile?
And that’s why he was there to make the tag on Gomez, and the flip to Posada to get Giambi out way back when, and the home runs he hits right after the other team scores and all those other plays he makes – he’s been living these moments in his head his whole life, from the days he laid on his bed and tossed the ball up toward the ceiling. It’s not natural, but it is natural to him – he’s been playing shortstop for more than thirty years.
And what about the Nick Punto play last night? Stout continues:
I loved the Jeter just calmly explained that he saw Punto out of the corner of his eye then waited for him to commit and made sure he threw a ball to Jorge that he could handle, ho hum, on the fly, instant decision that all took place in about 1/2 a second. He’s like the guy that has learned to solve the Rubik’s cube.
It’s the smirk, the enjoying the moment, that I’ll always remember about Jeter. Not every great player allows you to see them having fun–heck even Mariano doesn’t exude that same vibe. But with Jeter you know he’s loving it. And he loves it when his teammates do well. Did you catch the little kid enthusiasm from Jeter after Alex Rodriguez hit that dinger off of Joe Nathan on Friday night?
After the game last night, Mariano Rivera talked about Rodriguez to reporters. “He’s feeling great and he trusts himself,” said Rivera. ”He’s having fun, having fun, having fun and that’s the most important thing. Before, he was trying so hard and you can’t have fun like that. Now, he’s just enjoying it.”
Just like Jeter.
Great post by Glenn Stout on watching baseball in October:
Goodbye, peace. Hello, anxiety. See you later, common sense. Distraction, my old friend, where you been keeping yourself? The playoffs are here and minute by minute my façade of indifference crumbles. The twenty-fifth man on the roster is more important to my life than anything Barack Obama is going to do. I scour the internet for umpire ball/strike ratios. I forget to let the dogs back in, decide the car can go another month before I fix the muffler, and let God rake the leaves.
Dinners out can wait. We see the neighbors way too often. I never liked the movies that much anyway. Sleep is overrated. So is exercise. Forget supper – I’m running to the corner for a six pack. And some Doritos. And some Tums.
Tick tock tick tock.