Category Archives: MLB

A few more articles

It’s Tuesday which means I have a new edition of “Cooperstown Chances” out for Sporting News. I’m also going to post a link to last week’s column, which I’ve neglected to do and links to my two most recent articles for Dugout Legends.

At some point, I’ll get back to posting original articles here, I promise. For now, four articles to check out:

As always, thanks for reading.

A glut of articles

It’s Tuesday, and I have two new articles out today. I also realized I’ve neglected to post a few other links here.

Let’s go down the list:

  • First off, today’s the 37th anniversary of Thurman Munson’s death in a plane crash. For Sporting News, I took another look at his Hall of Fame case;
  • For The National Pastime Museum, I wrote about Johnny Frederick, a crack hitter from the early 1930s who couldn’t last in the majors. I’m doing a live chat about this article tomorrow at noon PST. I’d love if anyone free could come out. It should be fun;
  • Last week at Sporting News, I evaluated a series of recent Hall of Fame rule changes and what they could mean for players like Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, and Buck O’Neil;
  •  Finally, over the past month, I’ve started contributing at another baseball history website, Dugout Legends. I’m doing shorter, quicker articles for them, the kind of stuff I used to do a lot here but have gotten away from. It’s nice to have an excuse to be doing these kinds of articles again. Anyhow, I’ve written four articles so far for them and am contributing weekly.

That said, happy reading!

Join me for a live chat about baseball history

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday that I probably should have…

The National Pastime Museum hosts one-hour live chats each time it publishes a new article. I’m having one at 9 a.m. PST for my Benny Kauff article.

I wanted to invite anyone interested to come take part. It should be a fun discussion about banned players, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and whatever else people are in the mood to discuss.

Two tragic figures: Billy Martin and Benny Kauff

I have two new articles out today, and while I didn’t plan the scheduling, they correspond a little. I wrote about two of the more tragic figures in baseball history, even if the tragedy in each case might have been partly of their doing.

First, for Sporting News, I wrote about Billy Martin’s Hall of Fame case. It’s been 26 years since Martin died in a friend’s drunk driving accident, and I explored if his Hall of Fame window might be closing. The thought: Martin, who’s been a candidate at least six times, might still have a shot, but he’s going to have competition yet again this fall with Jim Leyland newly eligible.

Then for The National Pastime Museum, I wrote about Benny Kauff. Many baseball history fans might know the story of Kauff’s banning, how Kenesaw Mountain Landis made an example of him after his 1921 acquittal for allegedly participating in a car theft ring. What might not be as well known: Kauff’s life after banning, which included numerous arrests, a short playing career, and, finally, redemption. I had fun researching this one.

As always, thanks for reading.

A month’s worth of columns– and why I haven’t been updating

My apologies.

I’ve been busy with various writing obligations and just realized I’ve neglected to post here since April 26. It’s sometimes hard to prioritize this site since, to be blunt, I don’t make any money at it and couldn’t earn anywhere close to a living even if I allowed advertising and pulled out all the stops. There simply isn’t enough interest in baseball history.

If I had a day job or was retired or financially dependent on another person, I might write frequently here. I think most baseball history bloggers fall into one of those three categories. But I’ve been making a living since October as a freelance writer and editor, which has meant focusing on paid work. I know in a given week how much money I need to make and what work I’ll need to do to make it. Most weeks, it’s a hustle.

At some point, I’d like to carve out an hour or two a day to write regularly here. I’m not there yet, though.

That said, here’s a month worth of Sporting News columns:

Again, my apologies. I’ll try to get back to posting links to my columns as I write them.

A few contemporary Hall of Fame cases

It occurred to me that I haven’t been providing links to my recent Sporting News columns here. Thus, I’m going to offer links to a few articles this morning.

Anyone who reads me regularly knows that over the past few months, I’ve been interviewing long-retired candidates like Dale Murphy, Bobby Grich, and Dwight Evans. With the MLB season getting underway though, my editor and I thought it might be good to focus on some active players. Hence, over the past few weeks, I’ve assessed the cases of Buster Posey, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander.

It’s fun to shift gears a little and write about players that a lot of contemporary readers care about. That said, I’ll probably do another round of interviews before too long. Ideally, when the Expansion Era Committee releases its ballot for Cooperstown in the fall, I’d like to have interviewed every player on it.

10 tips to make a living as a freelancer

A little over a year ago, I moved back from Oakland to Sacramento, where I grew up, to be with my girlfriend. When I left the Bay Area, I worried I’d be turning my back on my writing career. After all, in my time there, I wrote for places like the San Francisco Chronicle and Sports On Earth. I was never able to consistently make a living at writing in the Bay Area, but it always seemed to offer the allure of being possible at some point down the road.

A few days after my move, I began working in a coffee shop in Sacramento. I also began to pick up freelance writing gigs: a baseball history website; an alt-weekly that I’d freelanced for years before; and Sporting News. Frustrated about my coffee shop job, which was never a great fit, I also posted a resume online and secured a couple of copywriting clients: a plumber with multiple websites not related to plumbing (because few people really want their day jobs) and a Bay Area publishing concern.

In late September, I had an epiphany: I had enough freelance work to quit the coffeehouse. I had set an hourly rate for copywriting work that would allow me to eventually write full-time. But I didn’t think that things would come together as quickly as they did. With some trepidation, I handed in my two weeks’ notice and worked my last evening of coffee on October 18.

Six months to the day, I regard my decision to quit coffee and write and edit full-time as the best move of my professional life. I’m 32 and wasted years in day jobs: sales, food service, manual labor, call centers, you name it, all the while avoiding trying to make a living as a writer. For anyone who might be in the same position that I was, here are 10 tips on how to make a living as a freelance writer and editor:

1. Ask for work. I got to where I am now because, after years of not doing it enough, I started putting myself out there more. I contacted editors I wanted to write for, sending emails and making cold calls. I posted my resume online. Even after I had clients and places to write for, I still kept asking for work. I pitched stories and projects I could do. In time, editors and clients began coming to me with assignments. But six months in, I’m still seized with conviction that if I’m going to make a living as a writer, it’s on me.

2. Be realistic about what you need to charge. The last time I tried freelance writing full-time a few years ago, I charged $15 an hour and ran out of money aggressively fast. This time, I got an idea of what others charge for copywriting. I wrote out a monthly budget of my expenses. Figuring on 1,000 hours of freelance work per year and that I would need to set aside 30 percent of my gross for taxes, I set a rate that was competitive and would allow me to meet expenses.

I’ve tinkered with this model over the past six months as I’ve begun to accept more journalistic work, where the pay is often by the piece or per word and typically less than copywriting. But I’m always clear about how much I need to gross in a month so as to not have to get another office or coffee job.

3. Know what to set aside for taxes. Many freelance and contract workers get popped the first time they file taxes. Some years ago, I took a contract job, put aside no money, and eventually had to go on a payment plan with the IRS. This time, I was cautious. Months after starting with the assumption I’d lose 30 percent of my gross to taxes, I used Google and a worksheet from my tax guy to determine I’d be fine setting aside 25 percent.

It’s important to know how to roughly calculate taxes for two reasons: 1) Freelance workers who earn at least $10,000 in a year have to make quarterly estimated tax payments, with penalties at tax time for not having paid enough through the course of the year; 2) The amount you pay in taxes goes up when you earn more.

4. Be realistic about how much time you can spend on stories. Before I made a living as a writer (or had a girlfriend), I had no problem spending inordinate amounts of time on stories. I still do this sometimes. My recent Sacramento News & Review cover piece, for instance, took me two weeks longer than I thought it would. I lost money on that story because I knew it was worth it. Generally, I’m careful about my time and aim to hit the number of billable hours that I need each week. I also am careful to generally not take on unpaid work, though there are exceptions (such as this post.)

5. Be versatile. My passion’s baseball history. If money were no object, I’d spend all my time digging through online archives, talking to former ballplayers, and writing stories, both mainstream and esoteric about baseball. Alas, money is an object. I’ve found that making a living as a writer requires a willingness to tackle a variety of subjects: local government, outdoor recreation, automobiles, and much, much more. I’m fortunate that a good chunk of my living comes from writing about my passion. Maybe in time, all of it will come this way. Until then, I’ll write about as many things as I have to.

6. Keep regular hours where possible. Some freelancers feel like they always have to be available. I say that’s nonsense. Any copywriting client worth your time will figure out a way to call you during normal business hours. Journalistic work is sometimes harder to fit into these hours. That said, I try not to work too many evenings and am generally careful to take at least one weekend day off per week. After all, I live with my girlfriend who works normal hours. My work isn’t so important to regularly sacrifice time with her. I also worry about burning out if I work too much.

7. Keep your pipeline filled at least a week or two out. A list sitting next to my keyboard as I write this tells me that over the next two weeks, I have five stories to write for one publication, two stories for another, and 7.5 hours of copywriting work that my client prepaid me for. Generally, at least once a week, I create a list like this. When it doesn’t have the target number of billable hours that I need, I call my clients and editors and ask for more work.

8. Know how to market yourself. This is definitely a work in progress for me. I just set up a showcase page for some of my best baseball clippings. My LinkedIn profile needs some work. My girlfriend sweetly had business cards made for me in December, though I still haven’t gotten in the habit of keeping a few on me at all times.

Marketing is perhaps my greatest challenge as a writer. I like to think I do a lot of good, original work, but it’s a challenge sometimes conveying the value I can offer a client or editor. I think a lot of writers struggle with this. That said, I know my value and how to sell myself as a writer well enough to have gotten this far. I’ll get better.

9. Keep meticulous records. Being a freelancer means I typically get paid 10-15 times a month and am continually setting money aside for taxes and having opportunities to deduct business expenses. I’d go crazy if I tried to remember everything come tax time. Thus, I keep a spreadsheet where I log all of my earnings, deductions, and money I’ve put aside for taxes, among other things. Some freelancers opt for software that automatically does this, though I’m apprehensive about this.

10. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do this. This is last and probably most important. I put off going freelance for years because I worried it would be too difficult, too fraught with the potential for me to lose all of my money and have to be bailed out by my parents. To be sure, freelance work is tenuous and stressful at times. But, with a bit of planning and sober realism, it’s very doable. In fact, all things considered, it’s probably easier than keeping a crappy day job.

Why few African-Americans play baseball– and the people working to change this

With Jackie Robinson Day a week from tomorrow, I have a cover story out today for the Sacramento News & Review about why few African-Americans are playing baseball– and what’s being done to change this.
(On a semi-related note, I forgot to share my Sporting News column here this week. It’s about why Buck O’Neil still isn’t a Hall of Famer.)

I spent a month reporting my cover story, doing more than 30 interviews from Little League coaches to former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent. I focused on people like former MLB manager Jerry Manuel, who’s founded a free baseball academy in the Sacramento to get more blacks playing.

I believe this is an important story, worthy of a national audience. Please give it a read if you have a chance. Any help getting the word out would be appreciated as well.

I went on MLB Network with Brian Kenny

Last August, I pitched Sporting News on doing a column about the Hall of Fame. In emailing with an editor, I mentioned the Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? column that I (and a number of other writers) did here a few years ago. I wrote to the editor,  “I found even on my modestly-trafficked site that the column drew readers back each week and stimulated discussion. I can only imagine how it would resonate on a major site like yours.”

What I promised seems to finally be coming true. Brian Kenny had me as a guest on his MLB Network show “MLB Now” earlier today. He had me on, via satellite from a studio in Sacramento where I live, to discuss the “Cooperstown Chances” column I’ve been doing for Sporting News for six months now. Brian and I talked for five minutes about the recent interviews I’ve been doing through my column of Tommy John, Bobby Grich, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Jim Kaat, and Billy Wagner.

I’m still amazed as I write this that I got to go on MLB Network or that I didn’t totally go to pieces on live, national television. I could feel my heart thumping as I sat in the chair in the dark, windowless studio waiting to be patched in– I worried that the microphone on my tie would pick up the noise. Thankfully, Brian Kenny regularly brings writers onto his show who’ve done little or no television, and he’s great at putting people at ease. My friend Adam Darowski, who went on the show two weeks ago, had a similar experience.

So we’re clear: Without Sporting News (or the support of the woman I love), I doubt any of this happens. I don’t know if I’d have interviewed half the players I’ve talked to. I know how to cold call and send query emails, and old ballplayers love to talk; but I also have this golden ticket every time I call a player, being able to name drop a publication that’s existed since 1888 and still has a solid presence online, even if it no longer has a print edition. I also don’t know if someone like Brian Kenny would have seen my work had it not run on Sporting News. It’s a tough world these days for independent sportswriters.

I’m on the ride of my life right now as a writer. Every week seems to bring some new awesome experience that I never would have bet on five years ago and still seems utterly ridiculous as I write about it. (I haven’t mentioned this, but I’ve been fully self-employed as a freelance writer and editor since mid-October. It’s a post for another time, but I’m actually solvent four months in. It’s almost as surreal to me as seeing myself on television.)

If anyone is in the position I was in not long ago, working hard in obscurity, I say: Keep at it. Keep doing what you love, even if it very reasonably seems like no one’s reading. Keep working hard. Results will come, in ways you wouldn’t predict.

That said, I hope this is only the beginning. I’m going to keep working to see what unfolds. I want to talk to more players, many more. I want to have articles in places like Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the New York Times. I want to write a book.

It goes almost without saying, but thanks to everyone who’s read my work since I launched this site in May 2009. I wouldn’t be doing any of the things I’m doing without a lot of help and support.

The Second Coming of Joe DiMaggio

I posted yesterday about a chat I will be doing at 11:30 a.m. PST today to promote a new article. The article’s live this morning, and if you enjoy my writing, this one might especially be of interest.

I wrote about how Joe Marty got hyped as the second coming of Joe DiMaggio, his teammate from the Pacific Coast League and why he failed to live up to it. This was a fun one to research and write. Marty’s near to my heart, as I grew up and live in Sacramento, where he’s from.

Please let me know what you guys think of my piece, good or bad. No one’s been commenting lately, and I want to make sure I’m writing things that are of interest. If not, maybe it’s time for me to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to create better articles. I don’t want to waste my life churning things out that no one reads.

Join me for a live chat about baseball history

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to have a new freelance piece dropping at The National Pastime Museum entitled “The Second Coming of Joe DiMaggio.” It’s about how DiMaggio’s teammate in the Pacific Coast League, Joe Marty drew comparisons to him when he debuted in the majors in 1937. In general, I’m intrigued with players who get heavily hyped or compared to all-time greats and then don’t live up to it. Marty was also from my hometown of Sacramento.

The National Pastime Museum has started doing something interesting recently whenever new articles appear. It’s having its authors host live chats to promote them. I’d like to invite anyone interested to take part in my chat tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. PST.  The National Pastime Museum publishes a lot of good writing about baseball history and offers fair pay for professional writers, so I’d like to see it succeed. I also think this chat should be a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys baseball history.

To sign up for the chat, simply go to this page and RSVP. You’ll get an email reminder 15 minutes before the chat.

The chat will last for one hour and primarily be about Joe DiMaggio and my article. That said, I invite people to take part regardless of if they’ve read my piece and also to ask me any question under the sun. If people would prefer to spend an hour talking about the Hall of Fame, I’m cool with that. I’m happy to talk about anything people want, as long as we’re talking baseball history.

Please feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com with comments or questions about how to sign up or anything else related to the chat. That being said, I look forward to chatting with as many of you as possible tomorrow.

I went on AM 1570 in Baltimore

Writing for Sporting News has a few perks. One perk is that it dramatically increases my chances of appearing on the radio. Something about the Sporting News name lends instant credibility that I could never dream of in my years simply blogging at this website.

Anyhow, I have an almost 20-minute clip to share from WNST AM 1570 in Baltimore yesterday morning. I talk a lot in the clip about my love for Candlestick Park, the Hall of Fame, and more. Let me know what you think if you listen.

If you’re reading this and you have a radio show, podcast, or television show, I’d be happy to appear on it free of charge. Feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com if you’re interested.

The baseball book that changed my life

I have another freelance baseball article out today. Work has been brisk lately, as I want it. I struck out one on my own as a full-time writer and editor about three months ago, and I need all the work I can get.

Anyhow, one of the websites that I write for, The National Pastime Museum has a cool series called, “The Baseball Book That Changed My Life.” My contribution to it just came out a little while ago this morning. I wrote about The 20th Century Baseball Chronicle, a massive book of baseball trivia that my grandfather gave me when I was eight. To read why it changed my life, be sure to check out the essay.

Feedback as always is welcome. Thanks for reading.

Nine months of content is missing from my website

Any new visitors to this site may notice that it looks a bit bare, with the most recent published article from March 14 as I write this post. My site went down over the weekend, and though it’s back online, roughly nine months of content is missing.

I hate when this happens. In the six and a half years my site has existed, this is maybe the third time I’ve lost content over what I presume is a server crash. The last time, two years ago, I lost three months of articles. This is the most that’s disappeared in one fell swoop. I feel nauseous writing this.

Every article I publish is automatically sent to me via WordPress, so I have the option to manually republish everything. I really don’t want to do this, for a number of reasons. But I’ll try and get at least a few big posts from the past several months up.

If anyone has ideas about how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, I’m all ears. I’m really tired of this happening.

Babe Ruth, the White Sox, and what might have been

In the summer of 1914, 19-year-old Babe Ruth emerged as a star pitcher for Baltimore of the International League, and a bidding war quickly developed for his services. Robert Creamer wrote in his landmark 1974 Ruth biography of Baltimore owner Jack Dunn offering Ruth to Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack and failing to contact New York Giants manager John McGraw, who had interest.

There were other potential suitors as well, such as New York Yankees owner Frank Farrell who offered Dunn $25,000 for Ruth and three other players just prior to Ruth’s sale in July 1914. Dunn turned it down, hoping to get at least $30,000. The Baltimore owner was sometimes notorious for holding out on selling players, most notably perhaps with Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove a decade later.

Another offer Dunn received may have changed baseball history had he moved on it. In reporting the sale to the Boston Red Sox of Ruth, Ernie Shore, and Ben Egan, theAllentown Democrat [Allentown, PA] noted July 11, 1914 that the Chicago White Sox had offered $18,000 for Ruth alone.

I tweeted a little while ago about finding this article, and my friend and editor Rich Mueller, whose website Sports Collector Daily I contribute to, showed me a piece he wrote in 2012. In uncovering correspondence from White Sox scout George Earl Mills, Mueller found that team owner Charlie Comiskey could have had Ruth and five other players for $18,000, but turned it down thinking the price too high.

Mueller wrote:

Had Comiskey been willing to open his checkbook a little more for the recent refugee from St. Mary’s Industrial School, baseball history would have been forever altered.  The White Sox may have become the dominant team in baseball during the 1920s.  The Black Sox scandal may never have happened–or Ruth could have been caught up in it.

I like to think Ruth could have turned the tide in the 1919 World Series on his own. It’s rare in baseball that a single position player has the power to change the course of events, but Ruth was more or less a one man show for Boston in 1919. It’s one of the more underrated seasons in baseball history, even if it paled in comparison to what came later for Ruth.

Ruth was so much better than the rest of his team and the rest of his league in 1919 it’s ridiculous. In just his first full season as a position player, Ruth offered a 217 OPS+ and shattered the home run record with 29. He hit all but four of Boston’s home runs, scoring or driving in about a third of Boston’s runs. Ruth also hit 12 percent of all homers in the American League in 1919. For context, Barry Bonds’ 73 homers represented just 2.5 percent of all National League homers in 2001.

So I like to think Ruth could have beat the Cincinnati Reds and eight conspiring teammates on his own in 1919, but who knows. Then again, heroics by Ruth may never have brought to light the gambling problem in baseball, which was endemic over the first 20 years of the 20th century, maybe longer. In that respect, I’m glad things played out as they did. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what might have been.

An interview with Greg Vaughn

This evening finds me sitting in the press box at Raley Field, home of the San Francisco Giants Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats. I covered the River Cats as a freelance journalist in 2004 and 2005, and one thing I learned early on is that there are often interesting, unexpected people to be found in press boxes. In my time here a decade ago, I crossed paths with Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers and Moneyball author Michael Lewis, among others.

I came out this evening in hopes of interviewing Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who was on-hand to be inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame. I took part in a group interview with Perry, highlights of which I’ll post tomorrow. Unexpectedly, though, I ran into former All Star and Sacramento native Greg Vaughn, whose son Cory plays for the River Cats opponent for the evening, the Las Vegas 51s.

Unlike Perry, I got to chat with Vaughn one-on-one for about 10 minutes just prior to game time, having a wide-ranging discussion with him. Highlights of our exchange are as follows:

Baseball Past and Present: Are you out here tonight for your son?

Vaughn: Yeah, I’m a baseball fan, and I love the River Cats, but my son’s with Las Vegas. So for me, I wouldn’t miss it.

That’s awesome. What’s he rated as a prospect? Is he in the top 100?

Vaughn: I’m not sure. You know, I don’t look at any of that stuff to tell you the truth. I figure, if he plays the way you’re supposed to play, he’ll get where you’re supposed to get. So if he goes out there and plays and does what Cory’s supposed to do, Cory’ll be in the big leagues. I mean, what good is it to say, ‘Oh you’re a top 100 prospect.’ What’s that mean? You still have to produce.

What does he do best as a player?

Vaughn: Well, I think, he’s a tool freak. He’s a tool box. He can run, he can hit for power, he has a great arm. It’s just being able to process it and do it on a consistent basis, night in and night out.

**************

How much has baseball changed since you retired?

Vaughn: It was always numbers. We were always taught, ‘Put it down in black and white,’ and you can’t take that away from you. But at the same time, I don’t know what OPS is or WAR against replacement and all that stuff. I was taught to hit and produce runs and all that stuff took care of itself.

Were there any guys who were into the advanced numbers?

Vaughn: Probably towards the end of my career all that stuff was coming out, but like I said, thank God I was fortunate enough to play for organizations that knew that they had good baseball people around me. So it wasn’t a computer telling me I was supposed to go up there against Randy Johnson and take three or four pitches and get one swing of the bat. It’s too hard to hit. This game is hard. A round bat with a round ball, a guy that’s throwing 100 miles an hour, and you got the best athletes in the world out there fielding baseballs. I wasn’t that good. I needed three swings, if not more, every at-bat.

**************

How do you think you’d fare in today’s game? I know strikeouts are really high. Do you think your strikeouts would be higher if you were playing today?

Vaughn: I don’t think they’d be higher. They were what they were when I played. I don’t know. I think I’d be okay you throw a lot of fastballs. It just depends what organization I’d be with because If I had to take pitches, I probably wouldn’t do very good. If they were going to let me be me, I think I’d be alright.

Why do you think the strikeout levels have gone up so much in the majors? Do you have any idea?

Vaughn: I just don’t think kids are getting enough swings. Also, coming up, kids aren’t allowed to figure things out on their own. Ever since they’re eight, nine, ten, eleven years old, you have coaches, ‘Don’t swing, don’t do this, don’t do that,’ so you can’t go out in the driveway and play strikeout, learn how to take balls off your chest, rifle them to right field, play where left field is closed, and do all those things. So it’s a situation where as good as these coaches [are] and thankful I am that we have these coaches coaching our youth, they’re hurting them in the sense that they’re not letting them play. They’re not letting them experience certain things that allow them to become players.

You mentioned you’re a coach yourself, right?

Vaughn: Yeah

What do you try to impart to your players?

Vaughn: For me, compete. Play and compete. That’s the biggest thing for me. You know what, go out there and hopefully I can make you better today and it will be fun… We don’t bunt. We teach them how to bunt, and if it’s a certain time of the year and we have to get a bunt down to win the championship, or something, yeah. But I’m not going to bunt on day one of the season just because I’m trying to put a notch on my belt. I’d rather kids learn how to play the right way and how to have fun when they play.

I wanted to ask you as well, yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day, and baseball today, it seems like African American players are represented at some of their lowest levels since integration. Does that bother you at all?

Vaughn: Oh without a doubt. Living in Sacramento, living out in the country, it costs $250, $300 for a kid to play Little League now. And then, they have five coaches on the coaching staff. Those five coaches have five kids. So you got the rest of the team battling for four spots. Those five kids are never coming out… African Americans, you know, first of all, if my mom had to pay $250, $300 for me and my brother and sister to play, being a single parent, it wouldn’t have happened. The bats are $400. The shoes, the spikes, the travel, it’s just really an expensive sport.

Do you think the R.B.I. Program is doing enough these days?

Vaughn: Well, I don’t think there’s ever anything doing enough [but] the R.B.I. Program definitely helps. It gives kids an opportunity that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. So, for me, I thank the R.B.I. Program for going into those cities. We need more of them. We need Major League Baseball to help us out and get more of them so we can get more kids in baseball.

One thing there’s been some debate about, even just on my website, is there’s some people who say these days, more African American kids are coming up and they’re playing football and basketball instead. I’ve heard other people say that’s nonsense, if somebody’s really good at baseball, they’re going to play baseball. What do you make of it?

Vaughn: The African American has to be really, really good. You know what I’m saying? He has to be really, really good to get on the field. In those other sports, they’re faster, they don’t have to sit and clean up the field, and I think they have a better opportunity to play, a fairer chance. Because like I said, you got five coaches, you got all the rest of the people vying for four spots, so that African American player is going to have to be really, really good.

As a major league veteran and an African American, is there anything in particular that you try to do to promote baseball among younger black youth?

Vaughn: Yeah. For me, like I said, you know growing up, everyone played when I was coming up, Hispanic, black, white, upper class white, lower class white, the neighborhood as we called it. We need to get back to that. But it’s our job as society to give these kids an opportunity, to give them a fair shake, to let them go out there and hone their skills… A lot of these kids are coming from single parent homes. They never have a dad out there playing catch with them. They’re not going to camps. They might have the tools or more tools than some of the other players, but they don’t have the experience. So now, if they don’t get it done, they’re just going to sit on the bench, and we need to give them opportunity to fail and coach them right.

Hasn’t it kind of always been that way in baseball? I thought even during like the 1950s, if blacks came up in the minors and they weren’t a star player, their opportunity didn’t last as long.

Vaughn: I agree 100 percent. That’s life in general. I don’t play the race card, but it is what it is. What my grandmother told me a long time ago, ‘If he’s right here, if someone’s right here, be three times above that. Don’t make it close.’

That’s gotta put pressure on you hearing something like that. Was it ever intimidating to know in the back of your mind that you had to be that much better?

Vaughn: No, but I expected it from myself. It was something that I think fueled me. It inspired me. It gave me the ammunition to go out there and do better.

With that kind of competitive drive, is it ever tough being retired from baseball? Do you ever miss it?

Vaughn: Oh without a doubt. Competing, you do miss it. But all I gotta do is go to a golf course and it’ll humble me very quickly.

A few more places to read my work

Hi everyone:

Once again, I must offer my apologies on the recent lull in posting here. I’m three days away from moving to Sacramento to be with my girlfriend, and life will hopefully be getting back to normal soon. The last few months have been a blur of work and hunting for an apartment and job in Sacramento while trying to get as much quality time in as I can with my girlfriend.

I apologize to anyone who’s been anxious for new content here. Believe me, I’ve been anxious to write more than I have, though my obligations have taken precedence.

That said, I’ve started contributing weekly at a memorabilia website called Sports Collectors Daily. I haven’t seriously collected sports cards since childhood, though there’s ample opportunity to discuss baseball history in writing about the hobby. I’ve written two pieces thus far, one on rookie cards of popular Hall of Fame candidates and one that went live tonight featuring cards of 15 players who met tragic ends. Please feel free to suggest ideas for future pieces– I’ll of course credit anyone who gives me an idea I use.

Aside from my new gig, I’m also working on a Hall of Fame-related research piece for a site that may be familiar to SABR members. I’ll hold off for now on saying the name of the site here, though I’m excited to write something for it.

Anyhow, my thanks to everyone who frequents this site. I look forward to having a steady supply of new content again soon.

Graham

Keith Olbermann mentioned me on ESPN

I had one of the more surreal moments of my life yesterday.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted a link to my recent piece on Herman Long to Keith Olbermann. Like me, Olbermann’s a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and he wrote something about Long a few years ago that caught my eye.

I originally hoped Olbermann might like my piece enough to retweet it or even just say he liked it. It’s gratifying to get a response from someone of Olbermann’s stature, a sign that perhaps all the work I do here isn’t in vain. There’s also a tangible benefit, as even a 0.1 percent click through rate on my story from Olbermann’s 500,000 Twitter followers would bring 500 visitors here, a good traffic day by this website’s standards.

It made my night when Olbermann retweeted my piece just before Christmas and told me great job via Twitter. Yesterday, Olbermann went one better and did something that, to my knowledge, no television personality has done for me before. In a segment Tuesday on Long’s forgotten Hall of Fame candidacy, Olbermann mentioned me and my piece during his show “Countdown” on ESPN2, even quoting what I wrote on the air.

The mention of me starts around the 4:30 mark of this.

I can’t say how flattered I was to see this. I’m 31 years old, haven’t sold a freelance piece in almost a year, and I question sometimes how much longer I can keep trying to write about baseball for a living. I love researching and writing about baseball history, and I think I’ll always do it at least as a hobby, but economically, it doesn’t make much sense to keep telling myself I can one day make a career of this. Days like Tuesday make me want to keep trying.

Joe Sewell and the art of not striking out

By various measures, Joe Sewell might rank as the hardest player to strike out in baseball history. The Hall of Famer fanned just 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances lifetime, famous for going full seasons with four or six strikeouts. Lefty Grove, who never struck Sewell out in 96 at-bats, per Retrosheet, called him the toughest batter he ever faced.

I got to wondering recently if Sewell went his entire career without striking out twice in a game. I checked game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, and it’s close: Sewell struck out twice on May 13, 1923 and again on May 26, 1930. Sewell being Sewell, he didn’t strike out the rest of the 1930 season after May 26, finishing the year with three strikeouts in 414 plate appearances.

At the time of the 1930 game, Sewell was getting over a recent end due to illness to an 1,103-game consecutive games streak, second-best in baseball history at the time after Everett Scott according to Sewell’s SABR biography. Interviewed in the 1970s by Society for American Baseball Research founder L. Robert Davids, Sewell said also he was thrown off in the 1930 game by white shirts in the center field bleachers.

One of Sewell’s secrets as a hitter, after all, was his ability to keep his eye on the ball. He also favored contact over power, with just 49 homers lifetime, and he kept a comfortable stance that allowed him to adjust to any pitch.

“I followed the ball all the way,” Sewell said in 1960, while hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians, where he played most of his career. “I could even see it hit the bat. Anyone can– if he concentrates on picking up the ball and not watching the pitcher’s motion.”

That might be a good lesson for today’s hitters. With major leaguers striking out a record 37,441 times in 2014, Sewell’s career strikeout rate looks untouchable. Since 1950, just five players according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool have struck out under 500 times with at least 8,000 plate appearances: Nellie Fox, Jim Gilliam, Bill Buckner, Tony Gwynn and Juan Pierre.

Sewell, who died in 1990, would likely be aghast at today’s strikeout rates. “There’s no excuse for a major league player striking out 100 times a season,” he said in 1960. “Unless, of course, he’s blind.”

A busy few weeks

Dear readers:

I apologize for the sporadic content lately. It’s been a busy past couple of months. I’ve been working longer hours at work and am also in the process of moving to Sacramento to be with the woman I love.

I enjoy maintaining this site and something feels off when I’m not writing regularly here. That said, supporting myself and being there for the people who matter most to me will always take precedence.

The regular posting schedule here is 3-5 articles per week. I will return to this as soon as I can.

I should have a new post up in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading,
Graham