Join me Saturday, September 21 at the Oklahoma Book Festival for a panel discussion about baseball books. We'll be in the Ida Sutton Williams tent at 4:00 p.m. to chat. The Festival is in Oklahoma City at the Boathouse District, and it's a jam-packed day starting at 9:00 a.m. with over 100 writers participating. Should be a lot of fun -- stop by!
As part of the research for The Cy Young Catcher, I interviewed Greg Maddux and asked him several questions about what it was like working with Charlie O'Brien as his catcher. As the interview wrapped up, I asked him about pitching in a day game at Wrigley Field. His response:
"Almost like you're a kid again, and you're out playing again for sheer kicks. Just the history in that ballpark and the fact that they didn't get lights there until '88. This is how baseball was a hundred years ago. You come out here, and there's no lights, you've got to play in the game. The weather always played an impact on the game there, whether the wind was blowing in or out, whether it was forty degrees or ninety degrees. The weather plays a role in that ballpark more than any other ballpark that we played in. Just the fans. It was always sold out. Always a lot of fans. Batting practice: fans came early there, so batting practice was always kind of fun. It's always fun to go out there for batting practice when fans are yelling at you and yelling for you, however you want to look at it, and just the atmosphere there was good. They didn't have the Jumbotron, the TVs, and all that stuff. There were no gimmicks. You just went there and played baseball. There was an organ and a PA announcer, and that was it."
On July 8, 2000, Doc Gooden earned his first win at Shea Stadium since 1994. Charlie O'Brien describes what it was like catching Gooden in the early 1990s:
I was excited the first time I caught Dwight. I had worked with Teddy Higuera, our ace in Milwaukee, who had Cy Young Award caliber stuff. One year, I caught Teddy, and he won twenty-one or twenty-two games. He should've won the Cy, but he was hosed out of it. Even so, Dwight was a notch above. He threw real hard. Liked to challenge guys with his fastball, especially those free-swinging power hitter types. His fastball got to the plate in a hurry. He could throw ninety-five, sometimes ninety-eight miles an hour. Electrifying. Threw up and in the zone a bunch. Hitters had a hell of a time catching up with the ball -- his arm was just nasty. Few guys could throw as hard. On top of his fastball, he also threw a good curveball and changeup. Dwight was another high pitch count guy with lots of 2-2 and 3-2 counts. This was because he threw high in the strike zone. Some guys swung and missed, but some guys would take these pitches, and some would be called balls. That meant that Dwight would have to throw more pitches. When I played with him, I wouldn't call him a control pitcher. I think he refined his control once he went over to the Yankees and mastered his mechanics, knowing that he couldn't rely on power alone. Even so, with the Mets, he wasn't a big walk guy.
Excerpt from The Cy Young Catcher (Texas A&M University Press, 2015).
Fathers' Day is around the corner, and The Cy Young Catcher and Baseball in Alabama are great ways to celebrate dads. My dad Stan, pictured above, agrees. Books are available at top-notch stores like Page and Palette, Church Street Books, and Full Circle Books as well as at Amazon. Enjoy!
On Saturday, November 17, I'll be at the Auburn University Bookstore (1360 Haley Center) from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. signing copies of Baseball in Alabama: Tales of Hardball in the Heart of Dixie. You'll have plenty of time to find your seat in Jordan-Hare for the three o'clock kickoff against Liberty. Stop by and chat, and WAR EAGLE!
The Decatur Daily recently reviewed Baseball in Alabama and encouraged folks to check it out. "If you love the game, you'll love this book." https://www.decaturdaily.com/life/books/book-review-baseball-in-alabama-explored-and-explained/article_eae022ce-d2b5-5185-8c8c-8fc4506de4bb.html
Jerry Reuss made my day when he shared a kind word about Baseball in Alabama: Tales of Hardball in the Heart of Dixie:
"I’m about halfway through your book. So far, I’ve loved everything I read. There’s some great background info on many of the former teammates that I didn’t know. It only adds to their stature as people and not ballplayers."
Many thanks! Check out Jerry's website and his top-notch photography, particularly his images of old ballparks: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jerryreuss/sets
One of the best books I've read recently is Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone. He writes great stories that pull you in, with vivid characters, some of whom make you laugh and others who make you cringe. I was fired up that Lou read Baseball in Alabama and shared some praise:
“Baseball in Alabama is an engaging look at the rich and colorful history of the sport in a state that has produced some great players and stories.”
I'm grateful for the kind words, and I'm looking forward to checking out Lou's latest book, November Road.
As the Red Sox celebrate winning the 2018 World Series, I'm reminded of 2004 and the team's first World Series championship in eighty-six years. In Baseball in Alabama, Birmingham native Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson looks back on the team's 2004 playoff run and clawing back from a three-game deficit in the American League Championship Series to clinch the pennant before going on to win the World Series. Great insight and stories!
Another Birmingham connection to Boston: a new Bham company, Vintage Sports, is selling vintage Fenway gear, from old-timey black and whites to cool stuff made from Fenway's old seats. Check 'em out! https://www.vintagesports.com/collections/baseball
Mark your calendars. The Chris Hammond Youth Foundation is hosting its annual golf tournament (November 5) and fund-raising auction gala (November 4) at Greystone Golf and Country Club. The Foundation's mission supports youth sports by installing lights for a field, providing uniforms and equipment, or doing whatever is needed so kids can participate in team sports. To learn more about the Foundation, check out https://www.chrishammondyouthfoundation.com/
Chris Hammond pitched fourteen seasons in the big leagues. He is profiled in Baseball in Alabama: Tales of Hardball in the Heart of Dixie, and, if you'd like to learn more about him, check out the biography I recently wrote about him: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/233778b7