Friday, March 25, 2011

My call from the Baseball Hall of Fame

Sometimes in life odd things happen.  A few years back I had an idea for a magazine article that got a little out of hand and turned into a book.  I had accidentally become the world's sole, and thereby leading, authority on a highly obscure topic.  Specifically, the history of baseball as played by prisoners of war.

I did a bit of research, talked with a number of old timers and put together a rough outline.  Anybody who has struggled with a blizzard of rejection slips should now avert their gaze.  I sent an email to McFarland, a small press that does a lot of baseball and history stuff.  They said, sure, we'd love to have it.  Finish it up and send it along.  And so I did.

Small press publishing, where you actually get paid, is a couple of notches up in status from self publishing, but really not a big deal given the actual size of the checks that I still get a couple of times a year.

I figured that, being the World's Authority and all, I might as well have a little fun with this and so I offered to give a talk at the annual Society for Baseball Research meeting (SABR) in Milwaukee.  This was a fun and erudite crowd. 

After that my phone started ringing.  I would be at the office and my receptionist would say things like "Sports Illustrated on line one", or "It's ESPN again".  I guess the world of baseball scholarship has some back channels.  The SI possibility did not pan out.  I suppose my asking about the swimsuit models might not have helped but actually they seemed to have considered, then declined an issue on sports in time of war.  Recall this was shortly after 9/11/2001 when emotions were running high.

ESPN was another experience.  They would call from time to time, chat about this and that and nothing much happened.  Then one day they just said it was a go, and that they would be coming to Minneapolis for filming, and did I know a good place for us to do this?

I said, well, how about Fort Snelling?  I figured it had a military feel to it, and looked a bit harsh and foreboding.  They had all the arrangments made in a couple of days.

I spent an hour of filming with them, subsequently edited down to about five minutes of really good stuff.  It became part of a special they did on sports in World War Two for a program called Outside the Lines.  It is really interesting working with a large media outfit when they feel like doing something.  I suggested a guy in Canada they might like to talk to and sure enough, off they go to interview him.

I don't even remember when the call from Cooperstown came.  But they wanted me to come for a special Memorial Day weekend honoring veterans.  There would be panel discussions by Hall of Famers who fought in WWII, and other activities.  My small role fit in as part of their Author's series, basically the chance to give a talk in their auditorium.

And so I did.  It was a less enthusiastic audience than the SABR mavens, but I give a good talk and without notes or Powerpoint.

I was invited to a reception that evening where all the big names would be on hand, but declined, feeling a bit out of place.  I should have gone, what the heck, modesty is over-rated.

I did meet Bob Feller in the elevator.  I shook the hand that supposedly threw the fastest pitch in major league history.  He rubbed the towheaded noggin of our youngest son who was with me.

Since then I have given a few talks on the subject, but when people ask me if I am going to write another book I waffle a bit.  The publishing industry is not what it was a decade ago, and it would be hard to imagine another small press undertaking that would morph into so many interesting opportunities.

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