SABR BioProject: June 2017 newsletter

High and Inside

The Newsletter of the BioProject Committee
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
June 2017, Volume 2, Number 1

Past newsletters

Editor:
Stew Thornley

 

From the Directors
The BioProject Committee will be meeting at the SABR 47 convention in New York at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 1 in the Alvin & Carnegie Room at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan.

If you haven’t heard, the leadership has changed with the BioProject. Mark Armour, the founder, cajoler, nuturer, and many other things, has moved on to new challenges. This project wouldn’t have happened without him (and I know Mark would be the first to rattle off names of others without whom it wouldn’t have happened), and I hope he has some idea of how appreciative everyone is of him for what he's done.

Here is the committee report, which Gregory and Rory have submitted to SABR:

Leadership: Rory and Gregory accepted Mark Armour’s request to head the committee at the end of 2016. The transition went quite smoothly, since Rory had been working as Chief Editor (a role he maintains) and Gregory had also been closely involved with the BioProject, especially with book projects.

Volume: The number of biographies remains impressive. As of this writing (June 16), there are 4,080 bios on the site, a considerable increase over last year. The base of authors has also widened. The biography book projects—10 published in 2016 and 2017—have been instrumental in increasing both volume and authorship. Bill Nowlin deserves credit for his efforts. It’s also notable that books with Latin American subjects are being translated into Spanish.

Editing: This process is generally working well. We have added a couple of new reviewers, though more would be desirable. Turnaround time is respectable and quality standards are good. Technical capability of certain authors in working with Word remains something of a soft spot. Rory has compiled “tip sheets” with instructions that have been posted to the BioProject website.

Fact-checking: This phase of the operation, which comes after the initial reviews, is also a smooth process thanks to Warren Corbett and his team. This stage is also helpful in identifying occasional quality lapses.

Committee newsletter: Stew Thornley, who has been compiling and editing the newsletter, asked in April if someone would be willing to take it over. We have identified a very suitable member in Andrea Long, who will be taking over with the next edition. Stew has been coordinating with her.

Social media: We’ve really worked hard to establish our presence in this area.

Follow the BioProject on Facebook. Kudos to J.G. Preston, who is serving as our resident Facebook guru. His daily posts highlighting biographies have generated lots of interest and interaction among the group members, the majority of whom are not even SABR members. We encourage you to “like” and “share” the posts; and even more, we’d like to see members become active and post their own comments.

Follow the BioProject on Twitter, too. We kicked off the Twitter feed in mid-January and are closing in on 900 followers. Help us reach our goal of 5,000 followers by the end of the year.

Hyperlinking: All bios are being equipped with hyperlinks to players named, including those who have just “stub” BioProject pages as well as those with completed bios. Authors are encouraged to have the links present in drafts upon submission, and if they are not, this gets done before the fact-checking stage. We have put together a group of volunteers who are retroactively inserting hyperlinks into all previously published bios on the BioProject website. Many thanks to the volunteers whose work helps readers navigate the site and move seamlessly from one bio to the next. It is also a way for readers to determine if a bio has been assigned.

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From the Editor
With a changeover in directors comes a changeover in newsletter editors as High and Inside is being relayed to Andrea Long. You can learn something about Andrea from her guest column below, but also know that she is is a great fan, introduced to baseball by her dad in the early 1980s via their hometown minor-league team in Charlotte. Andrea assures me that the smartass tradition of this newsletter will continue, as it has since Mark Armour asked me to be the editor and said that whimsy was okay.

This has been a great gig, and I’m now focusing on the SABR Official Scoring Committee. This is a plug for joining that committee and also to consider doing biographies on official scorers, such as Susan Fornoff. If you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll put you in touch with some of them.

Stew Thornley

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Guest Columnist
The Unkindest Cut: Taking a Knife to Your Words before Your Editor Does, by Andrea Long (with thanks to her editor, Rory Costello)

Just before I started writing my BioProject piece, I was in a used bookstore and stumbled on a book called Writing Creative Nonfiction (Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, eds.). I recognize a sign when I see one.

I bought it, and, before I typed my first sentence, I read the chapters on writing biography and took notes. From those notes, I printed out the following and taped it above my computer: “Resist the impulse to tell everything you’ve learned about your subject. Omit details that do not advance the story. Find the story you want to tell about your subject, a story buried under all the information you’ve gathered.”

Simple enough. Got it. Sure, I can do that.

My subject was Bo Díaz, my baseball idol since my teens. I loved those mid-80s Phillies, each and every one, but Bo was special. I’ve always had a high regard for catchers and a soft spot for Latino players. He was a natural to be my favorite.

Fast forward to 2016. I join SABR. Bo, gone now for 26 years, is still my favorite player ... and my favorite player has no bio. I recognize a sign when I see one.

Reader, I wrote his bio.

And because I admire Bo, I want you to admire him, too. Which means I want to tell you every single thing I know about him: the unbelievable story about the time Rick Dempsey saved his life; the funny, touching story about the time, after a game in Venezuela, he threw bats, balls, and gloves from the window of the team bus to the kids who were running alongside it; the cherished, personal story of his kindheartedness when he met his biggest fan—an awkward 16-year-old named Andrea, who used all her best high school Spanish to talk with him and almost fell apart when gave her an autographed ball.

But I couldn’t tell everything. We have a limit of about 4,000 words, which was easier to reach—and exceed—than I thought it would be. My first draft ended at 4,500 words. I was connected to those words. They meant something to me. They were important. They were about Bo. Cutting 500 of them seemed unthinkable. But I knew the truth: I knew those extra words would be an unwelcome gift to my editor, who would then have to do my dirty work.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, the great British writer, said, “murder your darlings,” meaning you must cut passages you love if doing so benefits your work overall. I think it is the hardest thing writers do, and it’s far more difficult than the writing itself. But the payoff is a story that will be leaner, more readable, and, I hope, more interesting. Because if my readers are sinking under too much detail, they’ll abandon ship—which means they won’t learn about, care about, and appreciate my subject. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Project Profile: Norm King
Norm King, in his words:

“I suppose it is appropriate that the small town in which I was born just happens to be a hotbed of Little League baseball.

“Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, is a quiet little town (17,556 people according to the 2016 Canadian census) at the Eastern end of Cape Breton Island where I entered the world on July 7, 1957, a birthday I share with Ringo Starr and the great Satchel Paige. It was once a prosperous coal mining and fishing community, but the decline in demand for coal and the depletion of fish stocks have made it necessary for young people to leave for greater opportunities.

“Despite its small size, Glace Bay has some claims to fame. For example, communications pioneer Gugliemo Marconi transmitted the first trans-Atlantic wireless message from there in 1902. On a more baseball-related level, the town represented Canada at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on four occasions: 1987, 1988 (where the team reached the consolation round), 1994, and 2003.

“If any of the town’s passion for the grand old game rubbed off on me, it wasn’t immediately evident. We moved first to Halifax and then on to Montreal; except for the occasional Game of the Week and my Grade Six teacher’s desire to watch the 1968 World Series back when all Fall Classic games were played in the afternoon, I found I enjoyed baseball, but wasn’t passionate about it.

“Then came the Montreal Expos in 1969.

“Mr. Vogel, the teacher who ‘allowed’ us to watch the St. Louis Cardinals lose to the Detroit Tigers—who am I kidding; the whole thing was his idea—was also my teacher in Grade Seven. On April 8, 1969, in came the clunky old black-and-white set into our classroom so that we could watch the historic first game the Montreal Expos ever played, an 11-10 win over Tom Seaver and the New York Mets. The TV found its way into our classroom again six days later when the Expos played the first major league game ever held outside the United States at tiny Jarry Park. I still get shivers thinking about the home run Mack Jones hit into the left-field bleachers to propel Montreal to an 8-7 win. I was in love.

“A few weeks later, on May 1, 1969, I attended my very first baseball game, major league or otherwise, between the Expos and the Mets. With glove on hand, I cheered wildly for everything the Expos did, including the walk-off sacrifice fly by Coco Laboy that scored Ron Brand with the winning run in a 3-2 Expos win (I admit that I cheated a bit and looked up the details on baseball-reference.com, but I do remember cheering when Brand crossed the plate).

“I never lost my love for my team, even though it broke my heart more than once. There was the pain of Blue Monday, the day when Rick Monday hit a ninth-inning home run in game Five of the NLDS to cost the Expos their only chance at a World Series. The most crushing blow was the 1994 baseball strike, when we had the best record in baseball and had a good chance to go all the way. The strike not only ruined that season, but it led the Expos on its long, tortuous path to extinction.

“Losing my team hasn’t dulled my love for the game. I must also say that not all my baseball memories are bittersweet. I played the game in my younger days, never getting beyond the co-ed office slo-pitch level. Still, one of my greatest baseball memories came from a game I played in a 1997 work league game. We had a good team that year, put together and managed by my friend Mike. We were down by six runs going into the last of the eighth, and since the park where we played didn’t have lights and the sun was setting, there wasn’t going to be a ninth frame.

“Anyway, the first guy for our team grounded out. The second guy got a base hit, but then tried to stretch a single into a double and was tagged out. I usually didn’t take these games too seriously, but I was so caught up in the moment that I yelled, ‘You idiot!!!’ Fortunately, the guy was too far away to hear me.

“Two out, nobody on. The next batter got on . . . and the next . . . and the next . . . and so on. Through a combination of good hitting and horrendous defence, we narrowed the gap. We were still a few runs behind with runners on base when I came up. I’d like to say I hit the game-winning three-run homer, but that would be a lie. I did, however, hit a single that drove in a run. And amazingly, we just kept coming and coming until one of our batters hit a fly ball with two runners on that their left-fielder couldn’t catch. For the first and only time in my life, I was a baseball champion.

“As the years went on and my body told me it was time to hang up the glove, or at least not bother taking it out of the trunk of my car, I looked for another outlet to indulge my baseball passion. I had toyed with the idea of joining SABR in the past, but felt I wasn’t ready to contribute in any way. By 2010 I was ready and not only joined, but attended my first convention in Atlanta. I almost forgot that my wife came with me because I was so busy running to different sessions and meeting fellow fans. After that I got involved in the BioProject, first as an editor and then as a write. I decided that the best way for me to keep the Expos’ memory alive was to write biographies of retired players. The first bio I wrote was of the Expos’ Steve Rogers. I found out he worked with the Major League Baseball Players Association, and through some persistence, I arranged to meet him for an interview during a trip my wife and I made to the Big Apple. He was very gracious and generous with his time, and I enjoyed the experience of talking with him immensely.

“It was after I got a few biographies under my belt that I decided to contribute to a SABR book for the first time. I offered my services to Gregory Wolf, who was editing Thar’s Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves. Besides starting a good friendship with Gregory, I also got the chance to write the biography that has had the most impact on me.

Frank Torre was not one of the all-time great ballplayers. In fact, he may be known more for being Joe Torre’s brother than anything else. But while researching his story, I discovered that he grew up in home where his father abused his mother. This was during the 1940s, when a father’s word was usually law. Besides that, the old man was a tough cop. Yet Torre found the courage to ask his father to move out of their house. That aspect of his story moved me, and to me was far more important than anything he accomplished on the diamond. It also taught me that the human element of a ballplayer’s life is what makes for a good biography.

“I’ve written many biographies and game summaries since then, and I think the exercise has improved my writing skills. It has also taught me a lot about doing research that I wish I knew when I was a student. Still, this old dog has learned some new tricks.

“I highly recommend becoming a contributor to any SABR member who likes to write and do some amateur detective work. If I had any advice for a budding baseball biographer, I would recommend subscribing to some of the terrific newspaper archive websites available, such as newspapers.com or The New York Times. They’re a gold mine of information. I also suggest being careful about interviewing players. I have found, and of course this is my own experience, that if a player has taken the time to talk with me, I might feel obligated to gloss over some of the negative aspects of his life or career. I haven’t been in any situation where I felt I’ve had to whitewash questionable behaviour, but I have felt obliged to present these men in as positive a light as possible, and I felt that I couldn’t be as objective.

“Anyway, all I can say is that being part of SABR and the BioProject has been fantastic. For us baseball lovers it’s a great hobby.”

In addition to those he mentioned, Norm shares his July 7 birthday with John Gordon, Jose Jimenez, Billy Herman, Dan Gladden, Bill Melton, Tim Teufel, Dave Burba, Len Barker, Bill Kunkel, Chuck Knoblauch, George Moriarty, Joe Robbie, Ezzard Charles, Doc Severinsen, Robert Heinlein, William Kunstler, and Kitty Genovese.

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Project Poobahs
Rory Costello (Co-Director, Chief Editor)
Gregory H. Wolf (Co-Director)
Mark Armour (Director, Emeritus)
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)

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