Houston/Larry Dierker Chapter meeting recap – 4/16/2012

31 SABR members arrived at the Inn at the Ballpark on April 16, 2012, for a festive and informative monthly session with the Houston/Larry Dierker Chapter. Leading off was David Barron of the Houston Chronicle who had recently toured the Astrodome and reported on the significant deterioration if the facility and future prospects for the facility which look bleak. Most members voiced support for saving the Dome, especially two former players in attendance, Jimmy Wynn and Enos Cabell, who had played there. The estimated price to demolish the landmark is $78 million.

Next Mr. Cabell was welcomed to the meeting by a cowbell, something he was very familiar while an Astro. Enos told of his start as an Army brat all the way to his present assignment as Assistant to the General Manager. This 15-year major league veteran told lots of stories about his time as an active player, discussed the influenece of drugs as far back as the 1970’s and addressed the team’s prospects for 2012. Enos gave props to Tal Smith for his personal development and lauded some of the young players now on the roster now like Jose Altive and J. D. Martinez and those not far away.

Noted baseball author Norman Macht spoke next in a most elegant manner about the significant reseach that went into the first 2 volumes of his book on the life of Connie Mack. No detail was too small to receive attention and documentation. It was amazing how many so called stories reported by players and noted baseball writers turned out to be not true. Norman did a masterful job, both on the book and with his comments and many members purchased autographed copies of Volume 2, “The Turbulent and Trumphant Years 1915-1931”. If you would like a signed copy, please contact Norman at nlm@grande.com.

The trivia contest written by Bob Dorrill was won by Mike McCroskey with the prize being a framed photograph furnished by Jim Kruez of the seven 1937 All Stars who went on the be elected th the Hall of Fame.

Our next 2 meetings will be as follows: May 19th at Minute Maid Park prior to the game between the Astros and the Rangers and June 9th at the Sugar Land Skeeters Park where the Skeeters will play Somerset. Details on how you can obtain specially priced tickets so we can sit as a group will be forwarded to you this week.

See you at the ballpark.

— Bob Dorrill


For more photos and stories from the Houston/Larry Dierker Chapter’s meeting on April 16, check out Bill McCurdy’s write-up of originally published at The Pecan Park Eagle:

Norman L. Macht has been one of my favorite baseball researcher/writers since he first published Volume I of his landmark work on the life and times of the great half century owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, the legendary Connie Mack. Macht published his first treatment of Mack in collaboration with the grand old man’s grandson, Connie Mack III, in 2007. That starter kit to Macht-addiction was entitled “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball.”

It was high honor to simply meet the man for a light meal prior to hearing him speak before the monthly meeting of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, Monday night, April 16th, at the Inn at the Ballpark across the street from Minute Maid Park in Houston. Macht was the third of three wonderful speakers on the evening and he was preceded by sports media writer David Barron of the Houston Chronicle and former third baseman and current administrative employee of the Houston Astros, the great Enos Cabell, who each serially brought news of the Astrodome’s demise and the Astros’ plans to rise. Both were very good in their own rights, but it is Macht who draws my attention here today because of what he represents as a role model to our own current research into the first one hundred years (1861-1961) of baseball history in Houston.

The man is totally dedicated in all his searches to a pursuit of verifiable truth – and that’s not easy when the subject matter is baseball, a game that has sewn its seeds plentifully and often on the wings of stories by sportswriters that weren’t “necessarily so.”

Macht best describes his pursuit of the truth in a mere few words as the one-sentence second paragraph of his opening acknowledgement section of his new book. In lamenting the loss of a valuable research colleague, Macht writes the following:

“Without Jim ‘Snuffy’ Smith’s zealous pursuit of the truth and accuracy in all matters, I would have fallen further short of the holy grail of getting it all right.”

“Pursuit of truth and accuracy in all things” is the active operant ticker heart of this man, Norman Macht.

Working on any history in the baseball world, one must wade through a culture that has already built a thriving self-image around a plentiful supply of lies and legends about events that most probably never happened. (Uh, “The Babe Calls His Shot in Chicago, 1932,” for example). Sports writers learned early that baseball stories don’t have to be true to sell newspapers. They simply have to be entertaining – “funny” helps and “magical” transcends.”

As one example of the stories that Macht has taken apart, he told the story of a column written by the esteemed Red Smith in the New York Times, I believe, back in 1975. Smith wrote a story, one supposedly told by Joe DiMaggio at a banquet arouned that time. (I may get some facts wrong here. i wasn’t taking notes last night.)

In the tale, DiMaggio of the Yankees hits a home run off a fastball thrown by BoBo Newsom of the Philadelphia Athletics. The next time up, and before he bats, A’s manager Mack tells pitcher Newsom: “DiMaggio teed off on your fastball last time, Bobo. This time, show him your curve. Newsom did the curve, but it didn’t break much. DiMaggio hit it into the upper deck in left at Shibe Park. As DiMaggio is rounding third on that second homer of the day off Newsom, Bobo supposedly walks off the mound to yell into the dugout to his manager: “Hey! Mr. Mack! Guess what? He hit your pitch even further than he hit mine!”

Great baseball story. Full of breakfast table smiles for the avid readership. But there’s just one thing. Was it true?

Norman L. Macht took the story and did what few will do. He researched the hard-core record books: Was there ever a game in which Joe DiMaggio hit two runs in a single game against the Athletics? If so, did he ever do the deed against Bobo Newsom.

Macht found that the first set of answers were “yes” and “no.”

If memory serves, “yes,” DiMaggio had three double homer games against the A’s in his career, but “no,” none of these games occurred against Bobo Newsom.

Those results don’t settle things for a relentless searcher like Norman Macht. He carries it further to the possibility that maybe the story is right, but the facts are wrong. Of the three double homer games, Macht rules out one game in which the two homers came against two different men. Then he methodically eliminates both of the separate pitchers who did surrender double homers in games against DiMaggio for psychological reasons. One was shy and retiring; the other was shell-shocked into a quiet state from service in World War II. Neither was a candidate for shouting from the playing field to their manager,

The story did not pass the Macht smell test. It was just an amusement, but not worth the ink on the pages of actual history. So Macht put it to sleep until some boob like me jumps on it for its entertainment value and repeats it here. How many of you out there who now act to share the DiMaggio story with others will also go through the steps of explaining that it’s not true, clarifying that it’s just a funny story, one that probably fired off the pistons that once cranked off the entertaining mind of a writer named Red Smith?

Answer: Probably not too many.

Forgave me, Norman. You still have my utmost respect for all you do in the name of historical truth.

I came away from the evening in even greater awe of Norman L. Macht, but with a new perspective on his characteristic role in baseball research. It was a new image for me of the man – and one helped greatly on the transferential level by his physical similarity to another great historical man who found himself captured tightly by his obsession with rightful purpose.

It finally came to me this morning. Norman L. Macht is the Jack Kevorkian of baseball research. He is totally dedicated to the goal of assisting all untrue stories in baseball to the cemetery of the unpublished waste pile. If they are not verifiable in some hard copy form, he will not use them in his own work, He is, and I think rightfully so, distrustful of what others write in blogs, books, and sports columns and articles that offer no hard fact support as the truth.

Keep up the good work, Norman. The truth needs you as much as you need the truth.

Check out photos from the meeting at http://bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/the-jack-kevorkian-of-baseball-myth.

To learn more about the Houston/Larry Dierker Chapter, visit the chapter website at SABRHouston.org.