It barely seemed possible. MVP Books, publisher of Giants Past and Present, also published last year Juan Marichal: My Life From the Dominican Republic to the Hall of Fame. And now they had an offer: Would I like to do a book event with Juan Marichal?
It did not take me long to agree to that. We set it for this past Friday, following the Giants’ home opener – 6 pm at the Barnes and Noble in Emeryville. And there was one more request: Could I give Juan a ride to the event?
The stage was set for a magical afternoon. I immediately bought three tickets for the opener, in the left field upper deck. I needed to figure out how I would connect with Juan. It would have to be in an area accessible to the public, since I do not hold a media credential that would get me to his seats. As it happened, I do have a favorite place to meet people outside AT&T Park, one far less crowded than the Willie Mays statue.
The Juan Marichal statue.
How many living people have statues erected in their honor? I had visions of posing for pictures with 75-year-old Juan Marichal, next to the statue of 25-year-old Juan Marichal. Juan with his feet on the ground, Juan with his leg virtually vertical.
Of course, I knew it couldn’t happen that way, and Juan confirmed it: He said he couldn’t go to the statue after the game, or the crowd would never let him get away from it.
Somehow, I maneuvered my car to the gate next to the statue (making a dubious left turn past a sleeping traffic officer at Parking Lot A), and waited. Juan and his wife, Alma emerged, along with Gaylord Perry and his wife. I was able to escort Juan into the car, and head into what I feared was going to be a traffic nightmare. But fortunately, we made it to the Bay Bridge easily enough and were in Emeryville in short order.
It was amazing how easy it was to talk to Juan. We asked him all kinds of questions, and he just let the stories spill out: About the 16-inning shutout he pitched against Warren Spahn, about his 54 shutouts, about his 244 complete games. About players in the steroid era, about modern five man rotations and deep bullpens and pitch counts.
Before I knew it, we were in Emeryville. About 60 people came to the store, and Juan fielded a wide variety of questions. His answers ranged from inside baseball stories, to poignant life lessons.
Some of the highlights:
• On the 16-inning game: “After nine innings, my manager, Alvin Dark, told me that’s it, you’re done. I said, I am not coming out of this game. After 14 innings, he said, that’s it, now you’re done. I said, ‘Do you see that guy on that mound there?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘That guy is 42 years old. I’m 25 years old. I’m not coming out until he comes out. No one is taking that ball away from me.’ That was really dumb!’”
Finally, after the 15th inning, Marichal said to Willie Mays, “Chico” – because Mays called everybody “Chico,” Marichal called him that as well – “I don’t know how much longer I can go!” Mays told him, “Don’t worry, Chico, I’ll win this for you.” And then, with one out in the 16th inning, Mays blasted a solo home run to win the game, 1-0.
Marichal had thrown 227 pitches. After that game, he said, “That was the only time in my career I did not have to make my next start on three days rest. I got four days.” A few years later, he said, he pitched a 14-inning shutout, only to lose to the Mets on a Tommie Agee home run.
• My friend Susan Hutcher asked a great question, and Marichal gave a tremendous answer. She wanted to know how a pitcher can remain calm, when all eyes are on him. Such pressure must be nerve-wracking. The answer: “Confidence,” Marichal said. And he told this story. “When Barry Bonds played for the Giants, I used to see other managers walk him when there were no outs, or walk him with the bases loaded. They’d rather let one run score than four runs. If a manager ever told me to walk someone with no outs, or with the bases loaded, I’d have given him the ball and said, ‘You do it.’ I’m out there to try to get hitters out.”
• The Giants fans at the bookstore, myself included, had a good time hooting and jeering a Dodger fan who showed up, but Juan calmed the crowd down. “I finished my career with the Dodgers,” he said. When he joined the Dodgers, Johnny Roseboro called a press conference and told everyone to welcome him to the team. He told how he and Roseboro became lifelong friends, and Roseboro came to visit him in the Dominican Republic.
• Marichal thinks teams baby their pitchers today because they pay them so much money. “Justin Verlander signed a contract for $180 million. They want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.” Why didn’t Marichal get hurt? He felt that throwing so many pitches made his arm stronger. In his words: “I threw a lot of rocks as a kid.”
• As a pitcher who claims to have hit .500 — 11 for 22 — with runners in scoring position — Marichal must hate the designated hitter, right? Wrong! “We had Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, and had to trade Orlando because we couldn’t play both of them, and he won the MVP,” Marichal said. “I would have let one of those guys hit for me.”
• When he was called up to the Giants, Marichal had just pitched a great game in Sacramento for AAA Tacoma, and was ready to go to the AAA All-Star Game, where participants would be given a watch. “I was excited to be called up, but sad that I wouldn’t get the watch,” he said. Orlando Cepeda introduced him to his new teammates. He couldn’t believe he was shaking hands with Willie Mays. “It was my privilege to play with the greatest player of all time, Willie Mays,” he said.
• As the event was winding down, and Juan signed the last of the books, a group of young men in green LOMA sweatshirts sidled over. It was the baseball team from Point Loma College in San Diego County. Juan graciously stood and chatted with them for 20 minutes. “Nothing is impossible,” he told them. “I came from Laguna Verde in the Dominican Republic, to Santo Domingo, to Michigan City to Springfield [Mass.] to Tacoma to San Francisco to Cooperstown. If I can do that, anyone can do that. Nothing is impossible.”
If I can somehow find a way to write a book about the Giants, and they win two World Series, and my book goes into a third edition, and I get to spend a day with the greatest San Francisco Giants pitcher of all-time riding around in my car, telling baseball stories and selling books alongside me, then I have to agree with him: Nothing is impossible.
I love New York!
On Thursday night, more than 100 people turned out to the Museum of the City of New York to learn about the Old Perfesser, Casey Stengel, and his long and storied life in baseball. (Need I remind readers that, long before he was a fabled manager of the Yankees or Mets, Casey Stengel was a player on John McGraw’s Giants?) I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion with a group of amazing sportswriters: Marty Appel, Jim Kaplan, Steven Goldman and Steve Steinberg. The panel was completed with the great addition of Stengel’s grand-niece, Toni Mollett, who runs the Casey Stengel Baseball Center.
Steve Steinberg, Toni Mollett and I also had the great privilege of meeting Yogi and Carmen Berra at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey the day before, along with Dave Kaplan, a sportswriter who runs the museum.
Highlights from my two days in baseball heaven:
* Yogi Berra clearly maintains a great deal of affection for his old manager. “Casey got Bill Dickey out of retirement to come and help,” Yogi said. “He taught me a lot of things.” (Yogi did not utter any Yogi-isms, like his purported, “Bill Dickey is learning me all his experiences.”) “I played outfield sometimes,” Yogi said. “Casey liked guys who could play two positions. At one time we had three catchers in the field – Elston (Howard), (John) Blanchard and myself. Gil McDougal was an All-Star at second, short and third.” (UPDATE 3/17/2012: See comments below; the correct spelling is McDougald.)
* Upon hearing my connection to the San Francisco Giants, Yogi asked me to say hello to Dave Righetti. Perhaps acknowledging Stengel’s influence, Yogi recalled that, as manager of the Yankees, he turned Righetti from a starting pitcher into a closer.
* But life wasn’t all easy under Stengel. “If we were playing a double header,” Yogi recalled, “he’d say, ‘If we’re ahead, I’ll take you out,’ but he never did. One time, I said to him, ‘Here – you catch.’” Yogi said he once wanted a rest so badly, he began arguing with the umpire, trying to get thrown out. The ump said, “Yogi, if I’m gonna suffer, you’re gonna suffer with me.”
* Yogi’s museum is worth a visit for any baseball fan; it will re-open next month after an extensive remodel. I had a sneak peak and it’s going to be beautiful. In one case, there’s Yogi’s jersey and mitt worn during Don Larsen’s perfect game from the 1956 World Series; the glove is bronzed. Yogi pointed out how worn the mitt was, and told me that he used to insert “falsies” inside as padding to protect his hands.
* The panelists the next night were equally delightful. Marty Appel pointed out that “We wouldn’t be here at all if the Yankees had won the last game of the 1948 season.” Bucky Harris was managing the Yankees then, and was on the verge of a second straight pennant. Harris, however, had been hired by former GM Larry McPhail, and since McPhail was fired after a fight with owners Dan Topping and Del Webb (and replaced by George Weiss), Harris was on thin ice. As long as he won, his job was safe; when the Indians took the pennant in 1948, Harris was out, and Weiss brought in his man Stengel. Had the Yankees won that day, Harris may have stayed and ultimately won seven straight titles, and Stengel never would have had his big chance, Appel said. “Sometimes baseball comes down to one day.”
* Another little-known factor in Stengel’s development as a Hall of Fame manager: the disarray of the 1930s’ Brooklyn Dodgers, a situation that resembled, well, the disarray of their most likely descendants: this year’s Los Angeles Dodgers (with the team’s owners fighting in divorce court) and this year’s New York Mets, mired in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Author Steven Goldman said the death of Charles Ebbetts in 1925 plunged the team into chaos (with colorful stories, such as Ebbetts’ elaborate coffin not fitting in the grave, and in the time it took to widen the hole on that frigid April morning, one of his surviving co-owners caught pneumonia and died). Unable to bring in top-notch talent, the Bums resigned themselves to losing, and figuring, “Losing would be more fun with a fun guy,” hired Stengel, a famed baseball clown, to lead them. While Stengel played it for laughs, he also began experimenting with the platooning that made him so successful at Yankee Stadium. “While that’s considered an innovation of his Yankees’ years, the R&D for it happened in Brooklyn,” Goldman said.
* Most poignantly, Toni Mollett recalled coming to New York as a teen from Glendale, Calif., and going to Mets games to see her Uncle Casey. Stengel lived at the Essex House on Central Park South, and after the games, when the family would return, Casey would take his young niece for a walk around the block. “Come on,” he told her. “We have more work to do.” On that walk, many New Yorkers recognized the beloved and legendary manager. “They’d want autographs. They’d want a little Stengelese,” Mollett said. “Casey was such a well-loved character.” And he recognized his responsibility as an ambassador for the game, and within a few years the Mets were out-drawing his old employers, the Yankees.
* You can help Mollett keep Stengel’s vision alive, and bring the team concept to up-and-coming baseball players, by joining the Casey Stengel Baseball Center. I am.
* The day after the event, Marty Appel emailed fellow panelists: “I guess as the ultimate tribute to Casey, while we were sitting, the Mets were losing a doubleheader.” (And the Yankees won.)
It’s great to see old fans of the New York Giants — the baseball Giants, who played in Gotham from 1883-1957 — get a little moment of sunshine now that the team they’ve stuck with for all these years has finally won its first World Series since 1954.
I had the pleasure of meeting about 50 of them tonight at the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society’s meeting. Steve Steinberg, co-author of “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,” and I gave talks to this group, which meets occasionally in a conference room in the Church of the Mediator on 231st Street in the Bronx. Group organizer Bill Kent orders pizza, collects money, and tosses cans of soda like a vendor pitching peanuts.
I learned a lot from these guys, most notably that one legend has it that Blanche McGraw — widow of the great Giants manager John McGraw, and reportedly the very last fan to leave the Polo Grounds in 1957 — placed a curse on the team that it would never win a World Series in San Francisco. The gentleman telling the story said it may remain intact, noting the Giants clinched each playoff series on the road, in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Arlington, Texas.
I’m ready for more: Steve and I have a second New York event planned for Wednesday night, Nov. 10, at 7 pm at a really special place, the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, at 67 East 11th Street, New York, near Union Square and around the corner from the marvelous Strand bookstore.
Bergino is run by Jay Goldberg, who has built a sweet business selling artfully designed handcrafted baseballs. Steve and I will be telling stories, and selling and signing books. (I offer mine for $20, which is $5 off the cover price.) I hope to see you there!
I should have done this awhile ago, but hey – I’ll borrow this item from my friend Jason Turbow over at The Baseball Codes: If you’re in San Francisco tonight, don’t have tickets to the Giants game, and want to check out a fabulous panel of sportswriters, stop by the Hemlock Tavern for Litquake’s It’s All Over but the Crying: A Night of Authors on Sports.
I’ll be reading along with ESPN’s Howard Bryant (The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron), Dan Epstein (Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s), Alan Black and David Henry Sterry (The Glorious World Cup) and old pal Jason Turbow (The Baseball Codes), along with iconic A’s photographer Michael Zagaris.
Turbow writes on his blog: Having listened to him opine on several occasions, I can honestly say that giving Zagaris the mic for an hour would itself be worth the price of admission.
The event will be at 1131 Polk St. in San Francisco at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased here.
I am especially looking forward to hearing Dan Epstein talking about Big Hair, a topic that I can really relate to.
I love the way Duane Kuiper has characterized this Giants’ season. He first nailed it early in the year, when heart-stopping, heat-throwing closer Brian Wilson nearly blew a lead in that inimitable way of his. But it describes everything the Giants are doing to us – the way they lost all those low-scoring games early in the year when the pitchers were brilliant and the hitters anemic, and then lost all those high-scoring games in August, when the hitters scorched everything and the pitchers fooled no one.
And yet the Giants stayed in the hunt, and kept us on the edge of our seats. And now they are in an honest-to-goodness race for the playoffs, 3 games out of first place and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, with only 28 games to go.
Here we go again! I’ve already done it, even though I should know better – I’ve given my heart to this team, after all the times it has broken it in the past. I can’t say I’ll be satisfied with a near-miss of the playoffs; I want post-season baseball at AT&T Park. It is within reach.
Having said that, I want to report (since I have not updated this in ages) that I have had a glorious summer, filled with baseball games, book events, and family vacations from coast to coast. I will try to offer up a recap at some point, but a few baseball highlights include a book party in Portland, a pair of Mariners-Yankees games in Seattle (one with Steve Steinberg, co-author of “1921,” with whom I’ll be appearing in New York City in November), the SABR convention in Atlanta in August (stay indoors!), a brutal, sweltering Giant loss to the Braves at Turner Field, and a Bulls game in Durham, NC. And – I now have a bobblehead of Joe DiMaggio in a San Francisco Seals uniform, thanks to the Giants!
What could be better than that?
Ask me in October…
The Giants and A’s have a long history – one that predates their moves to the Bay Area. The New York Giants and Philadelphia A’s met several times in the first decade of the World Series, with the Giants taking the 1905 classic behind Christy Mathewson’s amazing three shutouts. Alas, the A’s roared back to beat the Giants in the Series in 1911 and 1913 (and the Giants fell to the Red Sox in 1912 as well).
Before they ever even met in a World Series, Giant manager John McGraw referred to Connie Mack’s A’s as a bunch of “white elephants,” part of McGraw’s contempt for the American League that had cast him out. Mack showed McGraw, however, adopting the elephant as the team mascot – the forerunner of Oakland’s friendly fuzzy pachyderm Stomper.
Of course, the A’s moved to Kansas City in 1955, the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, and the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, bringing the rivalry to California. The move worked for the A’s, who roared to three straight Series wins in 1972-1974, and with one more coming at the expense of the Giants in the earthquake-marred 1989 Bay Bridge World Series.
The two teams have been fairly competitive in the 20th century, with both of them seemingly in sync through playoff runs and rebuilding years. They appear fairly evenly matched now; the A’s swept the Giants in Oakland in interleague play in May, and the Giants returned the favor, sweeping the A’s in San Francisco in June.
And now – did I bury the lead? – the rivalry takes on a new dimension, when I bring my “Giants Past and Present” book tour into A’s territory, and read and tell stories at Oakland’s Laurel Bookstore, 4100 MacArthur Blvd., at 7 pm Thursday, June 24.
I hope to see you there!
Today is a big baseball day for me. At noon, my son Harry’s Cubs play for the Mill Valley City Championship. From 3:30 to 6 pm, I’ll be signing books at the Borders by AT&T Park. And then at 6:05, I’ll hustle across the street for the Giants-A’s game tonight.
It was great to see the Giants beat the A’s last night. Tim Lincecum appears to have gotten his groove back, and the misery of the A’s three game sweep of the Giants in Oakland last month is gone.
Borders Mission Bay store, at 200 King Street, San Francisco, has always seemed to me the ideal place to sell baseball books. Hundreds of fans stream by on their way to the ballgame. Stop in and say hello this afternoon!
I survived. I wore a Giants cap and shirt to Los Angeles and lived to tell about it.
I was a panelist on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and can’t say enough good things about the great time I had in enemy territory. My panel was titled “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and featured Michael D’Antonio, author of “Forever Blue,” about Walter O’Malley and the Dodgers’ move out of Brooklyn, and Mark Frost, author of “Game Six,” about the pivotal game of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Novelist Bruce Bauman, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic baseball fan, moderated.
I was clearly the novelty act. Bauman was surprised a Giant book was picked for the festival, but there are Giant fans in LA. And I think all five of them came to the panel. We have to stick together. I acknowledged being surprised myself that I was included, but noted my gratitude that festival staff was wearing orange and black t-shirts to make me feel comfortable. (That may not be the reason for the color choice, but I’m sticking with my story.)
The Times also did that one better: They sent a guy named Sandoval to write a post about the panel, and he did a great job capturing the laughter in the room. (Writer Joshua is no relation to Giant Pablo, but no matter to me!)
We had a lot of fun telling stories and talking baseball. D’Antonio told how he spent a year combing through O’Malley’s personal documents – 30,000 of them – that had been stored in musty boxes, and revealed an incredible, never-before-told story that completely upended the modern myth of the Dodgers’ departure from Brooklyn. O’Malley was not the diabolical villain who engineered Brooklyn’s misery, but instead worked tirelessly to build a new ballpark in the borough, only to be thwarted at every turn by Robert Moses, the unelected autocrat who ruled New York City politics for decades.
Frost also offered up great untold stories, including about the alcoholic, inept owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, and the boozing, drug-addled, nearly forgotten hero of the sixth game, Bernie Carbo. And he told how that Series – featuring a dozen Hall of Famers – marked the end of an era, as six weeks later, free agency began and baseball changed forever. It also remains the single most watched baseball game of all time, with an audience of 76 million people – the “high water mark” for the pastime, Frost said.
We had a lively discussion of steroids and cheating, and I reiterated my belief that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame when his time comes. When Bauman offered one last chance to pitch our books to the audience, the best I could come with was, “I think Dodger fans will love the stories of Giant heartbreak and frustration that populate my book.”
The festival itself is a marvelous celebration of the written word. I attended two other panels that inspired and encouraged, both featuring my friend, David Ulin, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times, as moderator. The first – featuring Nicholas Carr, David Shields, and Ander Monson – addressed how reading and writing will survive in an age of increasing fragmentation. Some conclusions were inspiring (the written word is constantly evolving, and there is more writing and reading now than ever) and some depressing (people are increasingly incapable of reading at any length). But by the afternoon, when Ulin engaged Dave Eggers in conversation, optimism ruled the day. Eggers was funny, witty, upbeat and inspiring on so many levels: as a writer, as a publishing business visionary, and as a pied piper of the written word, whose “826” centers in San Francisco and elsewhere teach so many young people the joy of writing.
I think it’s rather a sad statement that Eggers is such a publishing visionary, because the simplicity of his vision reveals how broken the industry is. His publishing house, McSweeney’s, looks merely to recoup its costs and make a little bit of money for its writers, and get great stories out to the public in the way that writers like to tell them. He is satisfied with little or no profits and an 8-person operation. He looks at publishing and sees that more people bought books last year than ever before. The sad part to me is that book publishers – like the newspaper publishers I know all too well – want to run a high volume, high profit business, and the disappearance of those big profits is what has the industry wringing its hands and declaring doom.
As if that wasn’t enough, the weekend was full of many other personal highlights:
- A visit to friends at the Los Angeles Times, a magnificent Art Deco building that stands as a monument to great journalism, but which sadly now has vast empty sections as the paper struggles in the new economy.
- My first game at the Big A – Anaheim Stadium – where the Angels beat the Yankees Friday night. (Yes, I wore pinstripes.)
- Two outstanding meals at some of Los Angeles’ legendary Jewish delis: pastrami at Junior’s in Westwood on Saturday night, and matzo brei at Nate n Al in Beverly Hills Sunday morning. (Thank you, David Sax, author of “Save the Deli,” for the inspiration.)
- Post-panel surprise encounters with two friends from my childhood in New Jersey. One of them came to my panel with a friend – the friend was there to see her friend, Mark Frost! The other, Carol Fitzgerald, was my babysitter; her mother, Sylvia Cicetti, had been my third grade teacher. Carol has run the site the Book Reporter for years now, and knows more about the publishing industry and the Internet than anybody I’ve ever met.
After a whirlwind week, I can finally take a breath and give a little more detail about the great event I had at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center – my first book event, and a homecoming at that.
About 70 people turned out, and it was great to see so many friends, relatives and former teachers from my formative years in New Jersey. And the Berra museum is the perfect venue for a baseball event. The auditorium is even set up like a baseball stadium, complete with scoreboard. The event received coverage in The Record newspaper, and on Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf.
Highlights for me included re-connecting with my seventh grade English teacher, Jean Anderson, nee Smolinski. She is the teacher who saw my love of writing and my love of sports, and my ability (or potential) at one but not the other, and launched me as a sportswriter for the local town newspaper, Bloomfield’s Independent Press. (A lot of credit also goes to the late Russell Roemmele, a crusading local newspaperman who gave a teenager space to write every week.) Amazingly, Mrs. Anderson’s son Brian accompanied her – he is a newly minted newspaper reporter himself! I look forward to staying in touch and following his career through these perilous times for the newspaper industry.
My third grade teacher Mrs. Sylvia Cicetti was there as well, with her husband, Al, another newspaper veteran. Mrs. Cicetti closed the event by noting that the tables were turned, and she had to listen to me for a change; afterward, she told me, “In Show and Tell in third grade, I’d always say it was time for the next child, and you’d say, ‘But I just have one more thing to say.’ You haven’t changed a bit.” (Her daughter Carol was one of my favorite babysitters – and now she’s Carol Fitzgerald, running The Book Reporter, and we’re going to connect at the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend!)
There were friends I have stayed in touch with, friends I hadn’t seen in years, and most amazingly (to me), people who didn’t even know me! One was a guy who still gloats to his Dodger buddy over Bobby Thomson’s home run, taunting him with “Never forget, Howie!” Another was a niece of Eddie Brannick, a longtime Giants executive who unfortunately wound up cut from my book.
I also got to tell a story about Yogi Berra and the Giants. As luck would have it, I had the privilege of meeting Yogi at his museum three years ago. (That’s him in the photo with my son Harry.) He told how he was present at the greatest moment in Giant history, the Bobby Thomson home run in 1951. He didn’t say it, but he was the reigning American League MVP that year. The Yankees had already wrapped up the AL pennant and were waiting to see who they would play in the World Series, the Giants or the Dodgers. Yogi was rooting for the Giants, because the World Series shares were based on the gate, and the Polo Grounds held more people than Ebbetts Field. But with the Dodgers taking a 4-1 lead in the ninth, the game appeared to be in hand, and Yogi decided to beat the traffic and get home. So he missed possibly the greatest home run in baseball history, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World.
As the museum director Dave Kaplan said when Yogi told that story: “Mr. ‘It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over.’”