News on the book front

I got called yesterday to do some freelance corporate writing for a business in Antioch. On my way out to the company’s headquarters to meet with their upper management and get an idea of their needs, I realized I was only about an hour outside of Sacramento, where my parents live. Thus, after I finished up with my client, I called my folks and went to have dinner and stay the night. It proved fortuitous because my mom had just received two library books I requested regarding a baseball book I’m working on.

Faithful readers of this site will know that I have been kicking around the idea of doing a book on Joe Marty, a baseball player from Sacramento. Marty came up in the same outfield with Joe DiMaggio on the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s and later played for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. Injuries and World War II shortened his career, though he was initially considered a better prospect than DiMaggio. I’m not sure if there’s enough for a book, and I’ve never written one, but it seems it has potential.

Thus, I conducted my first interview for the project a couple of weeks ago with Cuno Barragan, another Sacramento native and a former big league player himself.  Barragan caught for the Cubs in the early Sixties and grew up watching Marty play for the Sacramento Solons. Barragan said he didn’t have much interaction with Marty until years after his career, though he suggested a few people I could talk with. He also recommended two books about the Solons, Gold on the Diamond by Alan O’Connor and Sacramento Senators and Solons by John Spalding.

I once had an autographed copy of Spalding’s book that I got while working on my high school senior project on the Solons almost ten years ago, but I let the book go a few years ago when I needed money. I might have gotten a few dollars for it at the used bookstore; I kicked myself recently when I saw copies of it going for around $100 on Amazon. Seems it’s out of print and hard to find. Thankfully, it was available at the library, and I’ve got it and O’Connor’s book until February 12.

I read a little of each book last night and found plenty of good material about Marty. Barragan had told me about being on-hand at the Solons’ ballpark, Edmonds Field when fans presented Marty with a 1950 Buick; O’Connor reported that Marty drove the car for the next 34 years, even appearing with it in a local ad in 1974 attesting to the car’s longevity.

All in all, I’m excited and feel I’m on my way to good things.

On a down note, one of Marty’s four remaining teammates, Bobby Bragan, died Thursday.  I had been excited to see listed numbers for Bragan and two of the other men, though I didn’t have much luck getting through.  Both of Bragan’s numbers in Fort Worth, Texas were out of service, and I went so far as to call several of the listed Bragans in the state, though it led nowhere. It’s too late now for any further effort.

Bragan was the youngest of the four players, having turned 92 in October.  I’m nervous I won’t ultimately get to interview any of them, though I suppose if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

The pitfalls of being broke

Back in November I wrote a post here about a Hitters Hall of Fame at the Ted Williams Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.  For that piece, I interviewed the executive director for the museum, David McCarthy.  After I published my post, McCarthy emailed me feedback and invited me to the museum’s annual induction dinner, to be held February 13.  Having just quit my job at the time, I told McCarthy I would have to get back to him and figured I wouldn’t be able to go.  It bummed me out, but that’s part of being an adult.

However, I heard that airline companies do deals after the first of the year, so I checked Travelocity a few weeks ago and saw airfare-plus-hotel packages starting at a few hundred bucks.  After doing some budgeting, I thought I could afford the trip and called McCarthy to RSVP.  Subsequently, though, I remembered a $300 check I wrote in December and realized I probably wouldn’t be able to go after all.  I’m holding out hope for a windfall; if anyone has any ideas, I’m game.

This story gets better.  When I called McCarthy to RSVP, the museum had announced Dave Dravecky would be added to a Pitcher’s Wall of Achievement.  However, an inductee for the Hitters Hall of Fame hadn’t been decided.  I suggested Mark McGwire, who hit 583 home runs and has a better career on-base percentage than Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Al Kaline.  This was about a week before McGwire admitted he used steroids during his career.  McCarthy liked my suggestion, saying Ted Williams thought highly of McGwire.

After McGwire dropped his bombshell, though, I wondered if the museum would still honor him.  I checked the museum’s web site last night and learned it won’t this year. Instead, the inductees into the Hitters Hall of Fame will be Darryl Strawberry and my all-time favorite player, Will Clark.  I’m 26 and grew up in Northern California, coming of age when the first baseman nicknamed “The Thrill” starred for my San Francisco Giants.  Even just thinking of him now puts a smile on my face.

One of the stipulations for any player to be inducted into the museum is that he attend the awards dinner.  When I called to RSVP, I asked McCarthy if I would be able to interview Dravecky and he said yes.  Thus, I’m reasonably sure that if I went to this event, I would get to interview Clark, probably Strawberry too.  I contemplated asking my parents for the money and called a man I go to for advice.  He stressed the importance of being self-supporting and I really can’t argue with him.  I know the right thing to do here.

Thus, I left McCarthy a voice mail today, updating him on the situation and asking if I could do a phone interview with Clark and Strawberry if I can’t make the dinner.  Ideally, I’ll be able to attend.  Either way, though, this seems like an event worth writing about and even getting to talk to Clark over the phone would be, at the risk of sounding cheesy, a thrill.

(Postscript: McCarthy called me back a couple hours after I first posted this.  He said he’d tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with McGwire through the Cardinals organization.  McCarthy said he would still like to induct McGwire into the Hitters Hall of Fame and discussed maybe doing so next year.  McCarthy also said he’d do what he could about ensuring a phone interview for me with Clark and said I could still come to the event, even with last-minute notice.  Cool guy.)

How I spent my Saturday

Today was a good day.

For one thing, my first check from this site arrived today: $147.10, courtesy of a few advertisers.  I’d write here for free, happily, but it’s cool to know I can make a few bucks.  My goal is to eventually pay my Internet bill through proceeds from this site.

I also did some research on Joe Marty, a former player I’m considering writing a book on.  Marty played in the majors from 1937 to 1941, and I have been wondering if any of his former teammates are still alive.  Well, through the magic of Baseball Reference, Baseball Almanac, Wikipedia and the willingness to spend a few hours in front of the computer, I checked the bios of every single one of his teammates and confirmed that four are still alive.  Better, they all have listed phone numbers.  They’re all in their nineties, among the oldest former players still living, but I’m hopeful I can get at least one or two good interviews out of the group.  Old players love to reminisce, I learned early on.  I think it’s one reason many have listed numbers.

Feeling invigorated after getting the first four numbers, I went one step further and checked the biographies of every one of Marty’s teammates from the Pacific Coast League.  He begun with the San Francisco Seals from 1934 to 1936, where he teamed with Joe DiMaggio.  Later, following his career in the big leagues and a few years thereafter serving in World War II, Marty returned to his hometown to play for the Sacramento Solons from 1946 to 1952.  I was unable to confirm if any of his Seals teammates are still alive (the chance of which seems slim), though I found at least 13 former Solon teammates that are still around.  A few of those guys definitely have listed numbers as well.

If possible, I’d like to interview all of Marty’s living teammates.  I’m undecided if this will ultimately be a book or just an awesome post for this site, but I’m hopeful about the road I’m embarking on.

The upshot is that I literally spent nine hours in front of my computer punching in names.  My eyes are weary from the flicker of my laptop.  It was the kind of day where I had something I needed to do in the evening, and I didn’t want to leave my computer and couldn’t wait to return home.  I don’t work this hard at my typical day job.

The best $5 I ever spent

Over the past few years, I have increasingly begun to use, an encyclopedia of players and their career numbers.  With this blog, I now use the website pretty much constantly.  In a pinch, I can, among other things, look up the stats of a player I’m writing about, see who he was similar to and even check what percentage of the Hall of Fame vote he received. I actually find it difficult to write without being able to access the site. I don’t know what sportswriters did without the Internet.

On the site, visitors are allowed to sponsor the page of any player for a nominal sum.  With the sponsorship, one can post a personal message and a link to their site.  The lowest fee to sponsor is $5, though I’ve seen asking prices over $100 for top players.  Most of the game’s immortals are taken, but interestingly, the pages for a number of figures from the Steroid Era are available.  Currently, Roger Clemens’ page is free for $80, Sammy Sosa’s for $75, Rafael Palmeiro’s for $40 and Jose Canseco’s for $56 (though for some reason, Ozzie Canseco is taken.)

That’s all more than I can afford or could justify spending on this sort of thing, though the idea of getting a $5 player has long appealed.  I considered sponsoring Aloysius Travers, after I wrote a post on him back in May and saw his page free for $5.  However, I didn’t jump and kicked myself (not literally) after another sponsor stepped forward. Over this past weekend, however, I finally grabbed another player.

I will preface this by saying that I’ve started thinking I should write a book.  Recently, I read a baseball book by a first-time author and couldn’t help thinking: Man, I am totally as good of a writer as this guy.  The only thing separating him and me is that he put the work in. Fear has held me back in the past, coupled with the idea that I am not a good enough writer, would never finish a book and, even if I did, would get rejected by publishers.

I’ve realized, however, that regardless of the outcome, I enjoy the process of writing and talking to old baseball players.  Also, I’d rather try and fail at something than spend my life wondering what might have been.  If the most that comes out of my effort is a self-published book that few people read, it will still be a baseball book with my name on it, and that’s pretty cool.

The player I might like to do a book on is named Joe Marty, who I wrote about here back in June. Injuries and World War II robbed Marty of a long career, though when he was coming up with the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s, scouts thought him more talented than his teammate Joe DiMaggio.  DiMaggio of course went on to a Hall of Fame career.  Marty opened a bar in Sacramento and became, as an old-timer told me, “his own best customer.”  Thematically, the book seems rife with possibilities, and I also like being able to write about Sacramento, my hometown.

Thus, I plunked down $5 for Marty’s page.  For now, what I put on there is a placeholder.  If I ever do the book, it will be noted.

Former Sacramento Solons owner, Fred David, dead at 100

A pioneering member in Sacramento sports history, Fred David died on October 17, at the age of 100.

David once owned a Pacific Coast League baseball team from my hometown, the Sacramento Solons, and I did my senior project in high school on it. I interviewed a number of former players and people associated with the club, including David who was 91 at the time. David first worked in the concession stand for the Solons at the age of 15 and became a stockholder in the team in 1944. He bought it ten years later at a time of uncertainty for the club, starting with $1,000, as he told me, “to keep baseball in Sacramento.” David owned the Solons from 1954 to 1960, when they moved to Honolulu. Their ballpark Edmonds Field was torn down in 1964, and a Target sits today on the site, with a plaque in the parking lot marking home plate.

A number of relics from Edmonds Field wound up in a warehouse David owned in downtown Sacramento at 10th and R Street for his primary business, The David Candy Company. David let me go inside the warehouse at the time of our interview and even gave me a score book from 1957 that I later got autographed by another interview subject, former Solon and Chicago Cubs catcher Cuno Barragan. Inside David’s warehouse was old seating, PA and scoreboard equipment. I gave David a list of written questions, asking among them why he still had so much of the memorabilia. “After we sold the stadium, I salvaged what I could,” David wrote. “It was a great memory.”

I learned recently from David’s niece, Diana Thomas of Santa Barbara, that he died 16 days after turning 100. He had wanted to make 100, Thomas explained, and after achieving this, his body went downhill rapidly. He was lucid up until the end. She said the warehouse is still in the family, which calls it The Building, and it hasn’t been gone through yet. An estate sale is pending.

Retired baseball scout Ronnie King, 82, knew David as a kid, before either man got into baseball. King last spoke with David about 15 years ago and learned of his passing through a mutual friend.

Asked if David made a meaningful contribution to Sacramento sports, King told Baseball Past and Present, “Oh, sure, sure. In fact if he didn’t buy it (in 1954), they probably would have left then, because there was a couple other cities that wanted the Solons.”

Another Sacramento franchise, the Monarchs of the Women’s National Basketball Association folded on November 20, seven weeks after David died. King didn’t hold back when asked what David would have made of the decision.

“I think he would have been a little shook up about it, because I think he always thought that sports did something for the city,” King said.

When I interviewed David in 2001, I asked him how the candy industry, which he worked in for much of his life differed from baseball. “Business is business– work,” he wrote. “But I loved baseball. I guess I was a good fan.”

Coming attractions

I have wanted to make book reviews a more frequent part of this site and to that end, I have a few logs in the fire.

First, I received a review copy today of Chief Bender’s Burden, a book about the Philadelphia Athletics Hall of Fame pitcher written by Tom Swift, a freelance writer and member of the Society of American Baseball Research. I requested the copy a few weeks ago after seeing it as the sponsor for Bender’s page on If I ever write a book, there’s probably a good chance it will be in a similar vein (I went to a S.A.B.R. meeting a few years ago and felt like I was home.)

Also, I have been reading Bash Brothers, a book about Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire by a Bay Area writer named Dale Tafoya. I interviewed Tafoya and obtained a copy of his book leading up to my interview with Canseco in April 2008. I did not use my interview with Tafoya since it didn’t seem relevant to my story for the East Bay Express, and the San Francisco Chronicle passed on a book review (I know someone there, which is enough for periodic rejections.) I never read the book and always felt a little guilty. However, I picked it up again recently after finishing The Boys of Summer, and it’s not bad. Tafoya did commendable research in his four years compiling the book including dozens of interviews with former teammates and coaches of McGwire and Canseco.

I’ll be interested to read how both books come out. Expect reviews soon.