Q&A with Seymour Medal Winners Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg

Last week at the Seymour Medal Conference, SABR member Christina Kahrl sat down with authors Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg, who won the Seymour Medal this year for their book 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York.

Lyle Spatz, Dorothy Seymour Mills, Steve Steinberg, Marc ApplemanKahrl — the keynote speaker for the conference, held May 13-14 in Cleveland, Ohio — asked them about their book and why contemporary fans should care about a season from nine decades ago. Here is an excerpt of their interview:

CK: Your book 1921 talks about a season that concluded with an all-New York World Series showdown. Besides the series itself, what was at stake for baseball?

Lyle Spatz: Because the public did not become aware of the 1919 Black Sox scandal until very late in 1920, the 1921 season was in many ways a test, to see if fans would still care about the game. Two great pennant races and several heroic individual performances showed they did. Also at stake was baseball supremacy in its major market, New York City, and the way the game would be played in the future.

Steve Steinberg: It was also the first year of the commissioner [Kenesaw Mountain Landis], who was solidifying his power and banned the Black Sox. It was a year in which Babe Ruth has his second power season in a row, in New York, solidifying the emergence of a new long-ball game, and the end of the Deadball Era. And 1921 reflected New York’s rise to the top of the baseball world, where it would stay for most of the century.

CK: The game itself was different, but so was the sportswriting. In your research, where did you notice the biggest differences between the game, then and now, and what were they?

LS: Before radio and TV, to say nothing of the blogosphere, fans got all their information from newspapers. New York had a multitude of newspapers, morning and afternoon, and most with several editions. Writing for these papers were some of the most memorable reporters and columnists ever to cover the game, a group that included Grantland Rice, Fred Lieb, Damon Runyon, Joe Vila, Hugh Fullerton, and Sam Crane. While in some cases, the language was a bit flowery, references were sometimes made to poetry and the classics that unfortunately many modern day readers would find incomprehensible.

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Originally published: May 19, 2011. Last Updated: May 19, 2011.