SABR BioProject: December 2016 Newsletter

High and Inside

The Newsletter of the BioProject Committee
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
December 2016 (Special Festivus Edition), Volume 1, Number 7

Past newsletters

Stew Thornley


From the Director
Would you like to write a biography about a new Hall of Famer, get some publicity for yourself, and help SABR? If so, we are looking for biographies of Bud Selig and John Schuerholz. When they are inducted next July, I can assure you that SABR will promoting their biographies (along with those of whoever is elected next month). For Selig, don’t step forward if you have strong negative feelings about him as a person or Commissioner — that’s not really what we do here. This applies to all our subjects, but worth pointing out now.

As the year comes to a close, I want to remind everyone that SABR is having its annual donation drive. No obligation of course, but if you have a few extra coins in your pocket and you want to help SABR do all we (including you) do a bit better, go to the website and click the big red DONATE button.

Finally, I wish everyone here has a great holiday season, hopefully with friends and family.

Take care,
Mark Armour

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From the Editor
Keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

Bill Nowlin received a nice letter from a relative of Bob Garback:

Hi Mr. Nowlin,

I just wanted to say thank you for the very well researched article on Bob Garbark. His wife, Toots Rice, is a relative of mine and with the Cubs doing well this year, we wanted more information on the Cubs (and Indians!) player in the family. Your article certainly helped me to learn a lot and be proud of such a fine man.

Thanks again
Katherine Riceal

There was also an exchange between Gina Rodgers-Sealy, daughter of André Rodgers, and Laura Altman Jones, daughter of George Altman, who became life-long friends starting when their dads were teammates on the Chicago Cubs in the early 1960s. Gina has produced/directed a documentary on her dad, Gentle Giant: The André Rodgers Story, and found a great resource in the André Rodgers bio by Rory Costello and Lyle Wilson on the BioProject. Here is what Gina wrote:

“Hi Laura, while doing research for Daddy’s documentary I came across SABR’s bio on Daddy. It was by far the most comprehensive and accurate bio on Daddy that I found ANYWHERE; written with so much care and respect. It even contained information that I was not aware of, which gave me the chance to confirm and elaborate on the information for use in the documentary. It’s an excellent project and I wholeheartedly recommend it.”

These are great examples of the impact of the BioProject. If you receive such a missive from a relative and feel like sharing it, please send it to me.

And, as always, we interested in guest columns, such as the ones below by two prolific people, Norm King and Rory Costello. Let me know if you’d like to do one:

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Guest Columnists
Wielding My SABR in Public, or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Writing Baseball Biographies, by Norm King
Me? Do baseball research?

For years I always asked myself that question when I considered joining SABR, and since I didn’t envision myself answering “yes,” I waited far, far too long to sign on the dotted line.

I finally took the plunge in 2010. My wife and I went to the Atlanta convention that year, and I realized quickly that bringing my spouse to a SABR convention is a mistake, not because her presence prevented me from getting into any mischief, but because I was so busy running around to sessions and talking baseball that I barely had time to say hello to her. To my wife’s credit, she was happy to see the goofy smile on my face. Besides, my enjoying the convention gave her more time to shop.

I became active in the Biography Project as an editor soon after I joined SABR. I edited a number of biographies, working with the terrific Jan Finkel as I tried to polish up some of the pieces that came our way. I enjoy editing, and told Jan more than once that I was having way too much fun.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I took my first tentative steps into writing baseball biographies. I had a degree in history from McGill University in Montreal and was experienced in writing articles and interviewing subjects for stories from my years as a public relations professional for the Canadian government. I decided I wanted to write biographies of former Expos players; the Expos are still my team, even though they are no longer around, and I saw writing about Montreal players as a way to help keep the franchise’s memory alive.

The inspiration for my first SABR biography came when I was surfing the Internet and discovered that former Expos ace Steve Rogers works for the Major League Baseball Players Association. My wife and I were going to New York for a long weekend (She hates baseball, but is willing to trek with me to different ballparks as long as I take her shopping—we call them “basemall” trips.) so I called Steve up and asked him for an interview. He graciously agreed.

One thing about meeting a player from the team you watched when you were young is that the encounter can have the effect of turning you into a kid again. In extreme cases you can become a blithering idiot. I admit to being a little nervous waiting for Steve in the MLBPA foyer. I had researched my questions and was able to recall some of the great games I saw him pitch at Olympic Stadium. He was dressed casually in jeans and a jersey, and except for his gray hair, he looked as if he could take the hill that afternoon. We sat in a boardroom and chatted for a wonderful hour about his time with the Expos and his life after baseball. As we talked, I couldn’t help smiling to myself when I watched him display the same arm and shoulder mannerisms I used to see on the mound at the Big O.

Writing the article was a joy, as it was a pleasure to write how I pleased and not worry what a boss would think or want. After I wrote and submitted my first SABR biography, I waited with the proverbial bated breath until it was finally posted, and experienced the thrill that all SABR biographers must feel when we see our first effort on the website. I got some nice feedback and enjoyed the experience so much that my appetite was officially whetted.

My next victim, um, subject, was Warren Cromartie. We met in a Montreal hotel lobby, and Cro enhanced our conversation by telling me of his efforts to bring baseball back to Montreal. I’m so encouraged by his efforts that I have already asked him for Opening Day tickets.

One particular interview stands out for me above all others. When I was wintering in Florida in 2014, I arranged to meet former Expos broadcaster Dave Van Horne, who now is the play-by-play man for the Miami Marlins. Van Horne is a Ford Frick award winner, and I had listened to him since I was a kid. We met at a Starbucks in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. We sat in beautiful sunshine talking and reminiscing for two solid hours. Imagine you’re a Dodgers fan with exclusive access to Vin Scully, or a Tigers fan with the chance to shoot the breeze with Ernie Harwell. I was on Cloud 9, loving every minute of our conversation. When I arrived in Florida in 2015, I e-mailed Van Horne as a lark, asking him if he wanted to meet for coffee again. To my great surprise he said, “Sure.” We also met in 2016. They were all quite enjoyable, and none of them would have been possible without SABR.

As I gained more experience and confidence in writing biographies, I began to contribute pieces to SABR books. The first one I contributed to was Thar’s Joy in Braveland! about the 1957 Braves, edited by Gregory Wolf, who has become a good friend. I wrote biographies of Del Rice and Frank Torre, as well as a summary of that year’s World Series. While doing my research, I discovered that at age 20, Torre confronted his father, a tough cop who abused Torre’s mother, and demanded that he leave home. I was struck by the courage it took to do that, for this happened in the 1940s, when a father’s word was usually law and spousal abuse was condoned far more than it is today. That experience taught me that the best baseball biographies go beyond the balls and strikes and convey the humanity of the subject.

My work on the Biography Project gave me the confidence to lead my own book project, Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos. True, it is a book of game summaries, but I could never have done it without my experience writing biographies. And I would never have gotten Dave Van Horne to write the foreword.

Thank you, SABR.


Revisit Your Bios! by Rory Costello
I’ve been contributing stories to the BioProject for about 10 years now—it’s hard to believe. With the passage of time, I have found it necessary to update a fair number of them. One sad but inevitable reason is death—yet often too, the subjects have gone on to accomplish new and interesting things in life.

In addition, fresh and sometimes vital new information may surface. One outstanding example came in September 2016. I was Googling to see if there was anything I had not noticed before about one of my favorite subjects: Tom Burr, the one-game major-leaguer with the 1914 New York Yankees who died in World War I.

To my astonishment, I discovered that a volume of Burr’s personal diary—covering his time in the majors—had surfaced. It was listed for sale on the website of a rare book vendor, who had found it at an estate sale in California. On the web page, he provided pictures of several pages. This enabled me to update my bio with some valuable extra personal detail of the rarest kind. (I alerted the director of alumni relations at Choate Rosemary Hall, the high school where both Burr and I went. A generous fellow alum has purchased the diary with intent to donate it to the school library—the best-case scenario I’d envisioned.)

If anyone reads a bio that needs fixing, he or she should let Mark Armour know. Some of our writers are, as Casey Stengel said, dead at the present time and others have left SABR, so their work doesn’t get updated.

Alternately, if a bio needs just a spot fix, I can make it quickly.

Mark also encourages members of the Oral History Committee to reach out to authors directly if they have research they want to share. Even better, it would be great for the committee to make known to authors all of the work that is available before the biographies are written. Let Mark know how he can help with that. However, all of this needs to go through the author, and all possible modifications would be submitted to us by him/her.

If it’s one of your own bios and requires more involved updates, then we’ll obtain the fact-checked Word file and give it you to make the updates, which should be highlighted. (Please do not update any earlier drafts.) Then we can send it to the SABR office for reposting, after further fact-checking if necessary.

Keep on checking!

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Project Profile: Leslie Heaphy
Leslie Heaphy is one of five children (three boys, two girls) of a Presbyterian minister (dad) and actress born in Scotland (mom). She was born in Liberty, New York, grew up in Livingston Manor, the next town over, and has been a Mets fan as long as she can remember. Her dad was a Yankees fan who took her to New York for baseball trips as well as a Yankees exhibition game at West Point when it rained and Rick Dempsey did one of his routines of sliding on the tarpaulin.

Leslie is a history professor at Kent State University at Stark, teaching American, sports, and Asian history. She has been there for 22 years.

She says the biggest challenge she’s had in researching people for the BioProject has been finding “good credible research and tracking down people you can talk to.”

Billy Wagner is one of the favorite bios she has written. “He had a fascinating early life and lots to overcome. It seemed like no one really believed he could become the dominant pitcher that he did. ”

Leslie’s advice to others is, “Simply give it a try. If you have an interest, then you should jump right in. It is fun and you learn a lot. Don’t be afraid to ask others for their help as there is a lot of expertise within the SABR circles. ”

Leslie shares her December 4 birthday with Carlos Gomez, Jesse Burkett, Tadahito Iguchi, Lee Smith, Harvey Kuenn, Bob Shawkey, Shano Collins, Bernardo Brito, Barbaro Garbey, Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Dennis Wilson, Cornell Woolrich, Tyra Banks, Max Baer Jr., Marisa Tomei, and Charlotte Frederikke Von Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

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Project Poobahs
Mark Armour (Director)
Rory Costello (Chief Editor)
Jan Finkel (Senior Editor, Emeritus)
Len Levin (Senior Editor)
Warren Corbett (Chief Fact Checker)
Bill Nowlin (Team Projects)
Lyle Spatz (Assignments)
Emily Hawks (Modern Initiative – 1980s/1990s)
Scott Ferkovich (Ballparks Project)
Gregory H. Wolf

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