Schilling on Hano's A DAY IN THE BLEACHERS

Schilling on SOCK IT TO 'EM TIGERS





In Memory of My Father

Peter Schilling Sr.


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Books matter. Baseball fans know that reading helps us to draw this crazy sport even closer to our hearts. We get to understand each season better by reading all the essays and numbers-crunching in an average copy of The Hardball Times or Baseball Prospectus. We get caught up in a pennant race whose outcome we know and which was played years ago, simply by reading. History unfolds before us every nine innings of a current game because baseball fans, more than any other sports enthusiasts, read, read, read. That's a wonderful thing, and we know it.

My Dad and I shared a passion for reading. We'd often talk over the phone, comparing titles we'd enjoyed, and favorite authors, from Kurt Vonnegut to Paul Theroux to Raymond Chandler to Jack Kerouac. I'd devour, say, Vonnegut's Slapstick, in this case simply because he'd enjoyed it, and I woudl see it with two sets of eyes: my own, and my father's. We'd discuss it later, often disagreeing, sometimes arguing. But what we came away with was a shared experience between ourselves, and between the reader and the author, and I loved these conversations. The books were so much more alive in this way.

My Dad passed away this summer, after a bout with lung cancer and a severe stroke. Unlike most baseball fans, I didn't have a baseball connection with my Pop. There is none of the proverbial "fathers playing catch with sons", though he made it to most of my Little League games and suffered through a Detroit Tigers contest in the late 70s. When the Tigers went to the World Series in '06, he wasn't someone I called frantically when they threw the damn thing, almost literally, away. I wish he'd loved baseball as I did, but he didn't and that's that.

However, before he died he and I shared two baseball books: the one I wrote and Arnold Hano's A Day in the Bleachers.

After plowing through The End of Baseball (which he loved, I'm proud to report), he had asked me to find another great baseball book for him to read. He wanted to understand just what it was I liked about the game. I suppose I could have handed over Veeck As In Wreck, which influenced my novel, but that one, as much as I love it, doesn't translate well to people who don't give a hoot about baseball. So I chose A Day in the Bleachers because it really is the one title I would recommend to anyone, male or female, love the game or hate it.

Well, Dad didn't love baseball but he loved Hano's book. A Day in the Bleachers, for those of you not in the know, captures one day, one game, with such loving detail you can almost smell the stale beer on the concrete floor of the Polo Grounds. Arnold Hano observed Game One of the 1954 World Series, between his beloved Giants and the Cleveland Indians, and he didn't leave anything out: the wonder of a well-played game, the thrill of shouting with thousands of other people, the often grubby and annoying manner in which crowds comport themselves, and the author's own, often curmudgeonly, opinions on everything. I swear that if I wanted to recruit nonbelievers, I'd hand out A Day in the Bleachers the way Christians hand out New Testaments.

After reading A Day in the Bleachers, Dad said that this was a "strange little book", and that he enjoyed its many oddities. Hano avoids most, if not all of the usual clichés, and Dad and I both could relate to the author's closing summary of that afternoon—that it made him (Hano), "wonderfully, savagely happy". Who hasn't felt that way about something joyous?

It's a small thing, reading a book with someone you love. Reading Hano's tiny masterpiece is one of many miniscule events in the forty year relationship Dad and I shared, but like the bricks that make the Great Wall of China, it all adds up. You read a book, share it with someone, and it takes on new life. It enriches your relationship, and your understanding of said book. And later, when that person is gone, it becomes even more poignant. I now read A Day in the Bleachers and think to myself that my father finally got what I loved about baseball, and that he was transported, as I was, to the Polo Grounds to see Willy Mays' famous catch. ("The way he wrote it," Dad said, "even I could tell that was some catch.")

The only point to this seemingly pointless essay, then, is this: read. And read with someone you care about deeply. I guarantee that whatever book you choose will be a favorite for the rest of your life. —Peter Schilling


As we all know, a baseball team is an amalgamation of many talents. Pitchers, catchers, infielders, outfielders, from the clubhouse guy who picks up towels to the owner sitting in his glass-walled luxury suite, every team is made up of dozens of individuals. And for every given season, these people converge to create something wonderful.

Sock It To 'Em Tigers is a collection of essays about the 1968 Detroit Tigers. But this is a poor way to describe this amazing book, an essential title in any Tigers' fan's library (though I would argue it's great for any baseball fan.) Really, it is a story about the team as a living thing. The '68 Tigers are probably the most beloved sports club in Michigan history. (Perhaps the '35 Tigers were as beloved, but their fans have since died off.) Here we get to see just what made up the organism that was the '68 Tigers—from "Huck Finn-like figure" John Matchick, who pinch hit for the Bengals, on up to Al Kaline and John Fetzer, owner of the club. Each player, no matter how insignificant, merits a detailed essay that takes us from their upbringing in some small hamlet or large burg, to their moment in the sun with the World Champion Tigers, and then follows them as their careers waned, and they found themselves in their sunset years. Or they died.

In fifty-one essays, the members of the Mayo Smith Society (the Tigers fan club), in conjunction with the Society for American Baseball Research, capture the Detroit Tigers better than any book I've ever read. There's some joyous passages, like Mickey Lolich ("the beer-drinker's hero"), pitcher Pat Dobson (described as "perhaps the funniest man who ever wore a baseball uniform"), and catcher Bill Freehand, who I believe should be in the Hall of Fame.

Some essays are touched with tragedy. We see handsome Don McMahon, who was only with the Tigers for twenty games (arriving halfway through the season in a trade with the White Sox), who bounced from team to team, found a job as a coach and scout, but died at 57 of a heart attack (he was buried with a baseball in his hand.) We see Stormin' Norman Cash, Tigers slugger, fighting alcoholism, strokes, and finally drowning after slipping off a wet pier. And of course, there's Denny McLain, whose tragic story probably doesn't need to be summarized here.

Sock It To 'Em Tigers includes great essays about Tiger Stadium, the broadcasters, owners, coaches, and it's the same for every one—from their humble beginnings to their rise with the Tigers and in some cases to equally humble endings. Sock It To 'Em should serve as a model for any serious fan organization seeking to write a book about their favorite team. I absolutely loved this book, one that makes the 1968 Detroit Tigers come joyously, fitfully alive.—Peter Schilling


Baseball's childhood and young adulthood have rarely been put into form so accessible as Peter Morris's But Didn't We Have Fun: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843-1870. It's an achievement because that childhood and young adulthood weren't quite as simple as mythology and romance have had it to be, and making it accessible while making it concurrently charming would be an arduous job for any skilled and patient historian.

Morris knows that well, considering how many histories of our game "barely mention the nineteenth century," beyond the Knickerbockers of New York in the 1840s, the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869, and the still-persistent (if long debunked) Doubleday myth. "The unfortunate result," Morris writes, "is that the story of the first generation of Americans to embrace a game recognisable as baseball has never been told." Not, at least, with the anecdotal embrace and unclincial affection Morris deploys.

Remember when the saying was "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League?" Once upon a time, the saying could have been, "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and first to play ball of the Alleghenies." Two years before the Red Stockings went professional and undefeated, the Washington Nationals of 1867, barnstormed Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville, Indianapolis, and St. Louis, and received rave reviews no matter that they were owned by the government.

Specifically, the Treasury Department. One of its grand high exhausted mystic roosters happened to be the team president. But thank the players for cauterising that connection, Morris writes: "Because the Nationals earned a reputation for gentlemanly conduct and being ambassadors for the sport, few of their contemporaries questioned their methods of player acquisition. But such practices created huge inequities between cities, and these disparities had a corrosive effect on the game." And you thought the arguments about the haves versus the have-nots began in the Steinbrenner era.

Not that the regional versions of the game went down without a fight, Morris writes, citing a Cincinnati writer who said it "required time, and much persuasion, to accomplish the revolution. The old love fought hard against invasion, but the new love, by force of reason and persistency, won its way gradually into the town-ball sport, and finally superceded the old game entirely."

And, in the case of Cincinnati, forged a legend as troublesome as it was titillating. The good news: Led by a gentleman (in every sense of the word) named Harry Wright, himself a refugee from the Knicks and the Gothams, the Red Stockings became in 1869 baseball's only known undefeated professional team. "[H]e showed the world," Morris writes, "that professional baseball could be played with class and dignity." And, scouted properly, it could put on the field a team of unstoppable players, not to mention introducing the knicker style of uniform pants that stayed a baseball standard for over a century.

The bad news: The Red Stockings suffered extra-inning losses in Brooklyn in 1870, shocking their fans but not anyone who saw other clubs taking their hint and upgrading their talent. Then came other losses and, concurrently, a little, shall we say, ungentlemanly off-field behaviour, such as infielder Charley Sweasy strolling into a tavern in his Red Stockings uniform. As striking as that must seem to the 21st century fan—which has seen athletes caught in far seamier scenarios and acts, the Red Stockings' image as invincible gentlemen was pricked firmly enough that their parent, the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, sent the team to bed without its supper. The Club chose not to field a professional squad in 1871.

The Cincinnati Commercial was not amused. "[W]e are to get enthusiastic over gratuitous amateurs who, if they turn out handsomely, will remove to some other city and get salaries."

You lose count of how many generations hence have thought the game they loved was going to be ruined by the next generation's "professionalism," even as you lose count of how many generations swear they've restored the game to the way it ought to be, after wresting it from those dolts who nearly buried it alive with their experiments and monstrosities.

Try this one, speaking of, ahem, a more resilient ball: I have always been a fellow who liked to see efficiency rewarded. If a pitcher pitched a swell game, I wanted to see him win it. So it kind of sickens me to watch a typical pastime of today in which a good pitcher, after an hour and fifty minutes of deserved mastery of his opponents, can suddenly be made to look like a bum by four or five great sluggers who couldn't have held a job as bat boy on the Niles High School srcubs.

Shows you what Ring Lardner—who wrote those words in "Br'er Rabbit Ball," a 1930 essay—didn't know about his own beloved game's history. It might have been delicious if he could have lived to read Morris's reminder. Chicks (and other bi-peds) dug the long ball long before Babe Ruth gestated in the womb, never mind before Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux offered that grave observation in the fever of a television commercial. There came a lively ball in the 1860s, rubber-cored and able to travel into the next county when hit squarely enough.

Players loved it, such as the unknown Pennsylvania player who said, "We used the lively ball and when it left the bat after being hit square, came at one as though shot from a cannon . . . a good batsman could drive the ball almost to kingdom come." Those watching the games were likewise enchanted, Morris writes. "[B]efore long almost every town had its legendary stories of long-ball hitters. In Boston old-timers related stories about a brawny lad ‘who used bats four feet long, and his score averaged more than ten percent of home runs. He struck a ball considerable over the vane of Park Avenue Church, 225 feet up, and would repeatedly send a ball to that height without moving from his position."

A somewhat mythological Brooklyn ballplayer, Boaz Pike, was said by the old Brooklyn Eagle to have "struck the longest ball yet battled on the field, not less, perhaps, than 600 feet straight ahead." Albert H. Pattengill died as a distinguished University of Michigan professor of Greek, but his 1906 obituaries highlighted students revering "a home run [batted] once from a point 100 feet south of North University avenue, so that the sphere landed on the skylight on top of the old medical building."

Pitching before the long ball was nothing more than tossing something up for a batter to hit if he liked it. Then came Jim Creighton, an apparent submariner, with more than a few ways and movements by which to deliver his balls, and perhaps a normal human aversion to public humiliation. Others came to follow. That in turn begat allowing the umpires to call balls and strikes, the better to keep batters (who'd been allowed previously to wait for one he felt comfortable enough to drive) from wearing down a pitcher beyond reason.

Morris's liberal deployment of contemporary accounts and records is effective for its atmospheric and historical patina, even if he acknowledges the flaws in some of those accounts. Along with David Block (Baseball Before We Knew It, which traces somewhat more clinically the roots prior to the era Morris examines), he's restored a huge repository of baseball's history. But he's also reminded us that, inevitable though it might have been, professionalism doesn't always destroy what it refines or enrichens, in hand with an unspoken but profound reminder that, if we sour when we see players or teams managing to play seriously without forgetting to have fun, the fault is in ourselves, not in our stars.—Jeff Kallman


If you share your world with a young adult, there is perhaps no better novel in recent years to read together than Frank Nappi's The Legend of Mickey Tussler. The story of a young man fighting autism who lands a spot on the Milwaukee Brewers team in 1948, Tussler is crack read. This is not specifically a young adult novel, but like books with a very straightforward plot and a handle on people, this one will win over kids and parents alike. Read it together one summer, between ball games and on a family vacation.

The Legend of Mickey Tussler is the story of world-weary scout Arthur Murphy. Murph, as he's known, is trying desperately to dig up a great ballplayer, and wondering if his time with this often cruel sport is nearing an end. He discovers the eponymous boy pitching apples at a barrel and can't believe his eyes—the kid is good. Unfortunately, the kid comes with both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is a wonderful mother by the name of Molly, and the curse is personified by an abusive father named Clarence. Clarence isn't interested in his "retard" son playing ball, until Murph waves some dollar bills in his face, and the boy is off to the Brewers.

What emerges is a story that resembles The Natural, but with a pair of heroes we can relate to and root for. It is an ideal novel for a young person to wrestle with together with a happy parent. Mickey Tussler has some surprisingly dark turns—which readers of Mudville know I dig—and its vague ending is perfect, leaving one to imagine where Mickey and Murph and Molly will end up next. The Legend of Mickey Tussler will have you pondering love, bigotry, and best of all baseball. Who could ask for more?—Peter Schilling


When you're going to make a coffee table book about a beloved stadium that's facing the wrecking ball, the standard remains The Corner, The Detroit Free Press' wonderful look at Tiger Stadium. That book is filled with evocative photographs, beautiful reminiscences, and a number of edgy observations about my favorite stadium. It's truly warts and all. Most of these retrospectives are as dull as your average magazine from the Hall of Fame. Yankee Stadium: The Official Retrospective (wonderful title, that) by Mark Vancil and Alfred Santasiere III falls, surprisingly, somewhere in-between. It has great photos and some dynamite essays interspersed between some kooky or outright dull stories. And why is Dan Quayle one of those folks waxing rhapsodic about Yankee Stadium? The Indiana Senator and V.P. isn't from New York, and probably only attended a few games over the years. My guess is he's a pal of Steinbrenner's, but still. For an "official" book on the subject, Yankee Stadium: The Official Retrospective is a surprise, and though not as great as The Corner (and that greatness has never been matched anyway) it is well worth buying for the Yankee fan you know...On the other hand, Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game is no surprise. I gathered it was going to be great, and great it is. Frankly, I had no clue that a big book about "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" could be so interesting, but there you go.Virtually every aspect is covered here, from the history of the song, to parodies of the tune, who recorded it, when, and everything in between. Each essay is a joy to read, it's rich with archival photographs and comes with a CD. My favorite part: "Get Up, Stand Up: How the Seventh Inning Stretch is Observed Today". Around the leagues we go, with summaries of every team's tradition. A number of teams, like the Rangers and Giants, don't have any fun, as fans sing to a recorded version of the song. Oddly enough, The Rays, notorious for having a mediocre fan base (as evidenced by small crowds throughout this amazing season) have a live organ rendition of baseball's national anthem and encourage fans to replace "home team" with "Rays." Which is what every team should do, in my opinion... I had the great privilege of having a reading this summer at Magers & Quinn booksellers in Minneapolis. With me were two fellow writers, whose books are treasures. Daniel R. Levitt's Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees First Dynasty is an in-depth biography of a man who has been woefully neglected by baseball writers and Tom Swift's Chief Bender's Burden is an exacting look at the difficulties Mr. Bender faced, being a Native American from Minnesota and facing all sorts of trials on the field because of this (it's a surprisingly dark and beautifully written.) Don't miss either one... I loved Dave Baldwin's quirky little memoir Snake Jazz. Baldwin was a pitcher for the Senators, Brewers, and White Sox who struggled after hurting his arm in high school. This could be your typical memoir, but Dave avoids the usual cliches, and espouses a philosophy he's lived by his whole life, something his father once told him: "If you work hard enough, and thoughtfully enough, you can succeed at anything." (And I like that both the working and the thinking are emphasized.) And so Dave Baldwin pursued a career in baseball and genetics research and engineering and painting and now writing. Along the way he met a number of interesting people (including the famously foul-mouthed Ted Williams, Dave's manager with the Senators) and situations (like having a thief steal his underwear.) As Scientific American once said "Dave Baldwin is surely the only person to publish in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington and to pitch for that town's team." Classic... Dave Zirin's A People's History of Sports in the United States is a book that was too long in coming. Part of Howard Zinn's "People's History" series (he wrote the great People's History of the United States), the book is an essential part of any sports fan's library. Zirin probes the underside of sports, namely those athletes who chose to use their status to fight against the powers that be in this world. Though this is not baseball-focuses (and features Muhammed Ali on the cover) it is a great book, insightful, thought-provoking, and irritating: you really want to get up and fight yourself after reading it... How does Rob Neyer do it? Year after year he comes out with new "Big Books", and each one is delightful. His newest is Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, and its unlike other SABR-type bubble-bursting tomes, in that it shows a great respect for the men and women who are perpetuating these (usually) incorrect tales. We have the usual suspects, such as Babe Ruth's called shot, but there are a number of stories debunked that I hadn't even heard of, like Clarence "Climax" Blethen, who had his false teeth in a back pocket and "bit himself" when he had to slide on a stolen base attempt. But my favorite is a touching tribute to the great Lawrence Ritter. Here, Neyer "debunks" Ritter's claim that what appeared in his classic oral history The Glory of Their Times was straight from the horse's mouth. Neyer shows us instead that Ritter was the consummate gentleman, trying to give credit to his subjects, but that he was really a master at editing and slightly altering the tales to make them infinitely more readable. Here, we see that Neyer, too, is a gentleman, a great researcher, and the creator of classic baseball books.—Peter Schilling


Once a Hall of Fame-bound pitcher, Herb Score became a Cleveland Indians broadcast icon... and a city's friend. He never rued his horrible fortune, whether it refers to getting hit in the face by a screaming line drive; or, getting hit in his car, the night after his induction into the Broadcasters' Hall of Fame, to trigger a painful series of debilitating illnesses that left him wheelchair bound until his death at 75 on Veterans Day.

That's because Herb Score really didn't believe his fortune was so horrible, after all. He had all he could do to convince everyone else of that, however.

He also didn't really believe that what might have looked to become a Cooperstown pitching career was deadened once and for all on May 5, 1957, the date which still lives in Cleveland infamy, when Gil McDougald's liner blasted the lefthander's right cheekbone, his nose, and his right eyelid, while blowing his right eye up slightly and leaving him in a bleeding heap at the front of the mound from which he'd dominated the American League his first two seasons.

"When Score was taken off the field on a stretcher," McDougald told New York Times columnist Ira Berkow almost four decades later, "I was sick to my stomach. I didn't want to play anymore. [Yankee manager Casey Stengel] said, 'You're getting paid to play,' and while that seems harsh, it was right. It was like getting right back on a horse after you've been thrown.

"But I said that if Herb loses his eye, I'm quitting baseball."

Score spent the rest of 1957 recuperating (his vision eventually restored to 20/20), then returned to the Indians to try picking up where he left off. Most of everyone else forgot what really came to sink his pitching career: he blew an elbow tendon pitching against the Washington Senators in 1958, on a cold, damp night, following ten days' inactivity thanks to a pair of rainouts that delayed a starting assignment.

He started 1959 feeling healthy, but hoping to avoid any similar elbow injury he shifted his pitching motion just enough. As he'd come to tell Cleveland Plain-Dealer writer Terry Pluto, in 1994, for his book, The Curse of Rocky Colavito, "I overcompensated for it and ended up with some bad habits."

After continuing low spells in San Diego and Indianapolis convinced him, Score retired before the 1964 season.

"People asked me why I went to the minors to pitch," he would tell Pluto. "I still believed that my arm might come back. I was only thirty. I didn't want to be sitting somewhere when I was sixty and wondering, 'What if I had pitched one more year, would I have found it?' Now I know. I have no doubts. I tried everything, and I pitched until they pretty much tore the uniform off my back."

Score moved to the broadcast booth and became even more a Cleveland icon in front of a microphone than he might have been on the mound. But until he retired following the last game of the 1997 World Series, enough people still wanted to talk about his aborted pitching career, perhaps understandable about a man Bob Feller believes might have become Sandy Koufax before Sandy Koufax really became Sandy Koufax.

Score preferred to talk about anything but.

"In Milwaukee, I remember a fan leaning into the radio booth and saying, 'Herb, let me see your eye. Is it okay? How well do you see?' I wonder how I'd handle a question like that," said longtime Indians broadcaster Nev Chandler. "But Herb was nice. He told the guy that his vision was normal. Then he said, 'Nice to see you. Thanks for stopping by.' But that's Herb. He is a man of no bitterness, no regrets. He says that the game has been great to him, so what does he have to complain about?"

He never blamed McDougald for a thing. "I talked to Gil and told him it was something that could happen to anyone," Score would say. "It's just like a pitcher beaning a hitter." He didn't mean it."

Score was as subdued and matter-of-fact personally as he was on the air, though he was good for the occasional Jerry Coleman-like malaprop. (Swing and a miss, foul back to the screen was a Score classic.) When Edgar Renteria ended the 1997 Series with a walkoff single off Charles Nagy, normally a starter but brought in from the bullpen, Score's call was just as simple and just as classic.

Line drive, base hit, the game is over, he told his listeners. By the end of the coverage, Score was saying his own farewell. And so that is the season for 1997. And there's very little else we can say except to tell you it's been a pleasure. I would like to thank all the fans for their kindness over the years. You've been very good to me. And we hope that whoever sits in this chair next, you'll be as kind to them as you have been to me.

"He was a mentor for mea sounding board," says current Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton, the son of Milo. "Outside of my father, I know of no other man who gave me better advice than Herb."

"There has to be some private moment," longtime baseball executive and Score friend Hank Peters once pondered, "when he no doubt thinks back and wonders 'What if?' But Herb is happy with his life. He enjoys his work. There is nothing phony about him." Call Score unlucky and Score would shake it off the way many a hitter thought they'd have to spend years shaking it off after another pounding strikeout.

While Lakeside Hospital took "a call a minute" from anxious Indians fans after he was carried off the mound, Score himself managed to listen to the rest of the game on a radio and to cheer when Colavito nudged in what proved the game winner with a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth.

Then he polished off a bowl of ice cream to celebrate the win.

In the years before his death, Score managed, one way or the other, to continue making personal appearances now and then, always leaving behind stories of his friendly nature and his ability to make friends out of plain people and powerful people on his own benign terms.

"Me? Unlucky?" Score told Pluto, and you could sense the incredulity. "I started with a great team in the Indians, and played under a great manager in Al Lopez. Then I went from the field to the broadcasting booth at the age of thirty, and thirty years later I'm still doing the games. If you ask me, that's not unlucky. That's a guy who has been in the right place at the right time."

That's a guy with a lot more vision than you'd have found through either of his eyes.—Jeff Kallman

Movie of the Week

Sock It To 'Em Tigers

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