Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One fan's White Sox all-star team

Today I came across a YouTube slideshow of baseball fan avalsonline's picks for an all-time Chicago White Sox lineup. It's a fun little show, including the Sox fight song in the background.

I was glad to see that two of his starters are the subjects of my biographies, Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Though I don't claim to be an expert on White Sox history, in my opinion, these picks were for the most part solid -- lots of recognition for the old-timers -- with only a couple of questions.

Though I think Schalk deserves his place in the Hall of Fame and is under-recognized by the Sox and their fans, I wondered about Schalk and Sherman Lollar both coming in ahead of Carlton Fisk in the catcher's position. Also, Eddie Collins might deserve more recognition at second base.

Anyway, watch the slideshow and make your own judgment.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Biography takes balls -- four of 'em

From the Toot Your Own Horn Department:

My book Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography received a top rating from a reviewer on a baseball blog. Apparently it was posted nearly three months ago, but I just learned about it.

The review by Richard Coreno appears on the blog At Home Plate.

Coreno gave the biography a rating of four balls, defined as "An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy."

Thanks, Mr. Coreno!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Schalk relative reflects and remembers

Since the Schalk biography was released this fall, I have heard encouraging words from several of his relatives. This week, I received a nice letter from a great-nephew. It reads in part:

I just finished reading your book "Ray Schalk" and wanted to say how much I enjoyed the reading. Thank you so much for taking up the subject of my Great Uncle Ray Schalk. Mom had told us of all the correspondence back and forth between you and she and I was very much looking forward to the completion and the arrival of the book.

As we have all said in family long after his passing, we wished we would have had more time with Uncle Ray when he was around, and had more knowledge of his playing days and background. But as a youngster, you don't know the magnitude of someone like that until it's too late and they are gone. I remember thinking that yeah he was someone big back "in the old days" but I want to hear about Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Johnny Bench and those guys who hit the big home runs and so forth.

What really struck me about the book was how big a personality he was during his prime in Chicago. Being the second largest city in America at that time, he was a household name to anyone who followed baseball in Chicago, if not the rest of the country. I always thought he was kind of just there, sort of in the background on a team with Joe Jackson and the star pitchers. He really was something else and was very durable over those years. Not to mention all the celebrities he associated with, that was another story altogether.

He was quite a guy, a small man from a small town who made big in the big leagues. I remember when he came down, he always had his cigars with him and always dressed very well.

He was still pretty gruff at times. I recall one time he took us to an Illinois-Purdue football game in Champaign, III. My Mom and brothers went, for some reason my Dad didn't go, and I don't recall if Aunt Vin was there or not. Anyway we have great seats, probably on the 50-yard line. Later during the game and he asks me who I'm rooting for. Naturally, I'm from Illinois and I say "Illinois." He says something like "what the hell you doing, I bring you over here to see Purdue and you're rooting for Illinois!" I think it was half show and half serious, he didn't know that I didn't know his connection to Purdue. I believe I was about 11 or 12 at the time. Ah the fun old days with Uncle Ray.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A fun tour to Montgomery County

Folks in Montgomery County, Ill., were hospitable, friendly and enthusiastic during my mini-tour promoting my biography of the late Chicago White Sox star Ray Schalk. I gave a slideshow and autographed books on three occasions -- Saturday morning, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. (In between the first and second events, I traveled to Chicago for research on another book. But I'll save stories about that for the next post.)

Schalk was born in Harvel and raised in Litchfield, both Montgomery County communities.

The first event was at the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum in Nokomis, where my hosts were Jim Eisenbarth (left) and Steve Johnson. More than 40 folks attended, making it a standing-room-only affair.

Tuesday night about 15 people squeezed into the Litchfield Public Library; my hostess was library director Sara Zumwalt. Then, at 7 Wednesday morning I was the guest of the Litchfield Rotary Club, whose member Bill Dees provided encouragement and assistance with the biography and with arrangements this week.

Dees and some other baseball supporters in Litchfield are working on a project to re-dedicate Ray Schalk Fields in the spring of 2010. Seems that many folks know of the ballfields but not of the man for whom they were named. I hope that book will help raise local awareness.

Thanks to all who made it such a fun experience.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Booksigning venue featured on front page

In just a few days -- at 10 Saturday morning, to be exact -- I will present a slide show and sign copies of my Ray Schalk biography at the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum in Nokomis, Ill.

Coincidentally, and conveniently, The State Journal-Register in Springfield featured the museum today in a front-page story. Unfortunately, the article didn't mention my upcoming appearance. But the article certainly can't hurt.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Back to the airwaves

On Thursday, I was the guest on Voices of the Tri-States, the KDTH-AM interview program hosted by veteran Dubuque broadcaster Tom Berryman.

The topic was the Schalk biography.

I thought the interview went well -- particularly because it was evident that Tom had read the book. He had some good questions.

KDTH archives the programs, so if there is any interest in hearing me bluff my way through an interview, click the link.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hillsboro paper mentions Schalk bio

The Journal News of Hillsboro, Illinois, recently printed an article announcing publication of the Schalk biography.

The paper apparently plans to do a review of the book in the future -- hopefully (if the review is favorable, of course!) before my programs and booksigning events in the late White Sox star's native Montgomery County, Oct. 10-14.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Library adds Schalk book to collection

My friends at Dubuque's Carnegie-Stout Public Library, 11th and Bluff streets, have added my Ray Schalk biography to the collection.

The development made the library's official blog, which is handled by Mike May.

During my research on the Schalk biography, as well as my Red Faber project before that, the library staff was great help. A special shout out goes to Mirdza Berzins, who helped with many Interlibrary Loan transactions and many other searches.

Thanks, Mike, Mirdza and the crew at Carnegie-Stout!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shameless plug

I was interviewed today by Iowa Public Radio concerning my new book, Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography (McFarland & Co.)
The interview, which runs more than 40 minutes, airs statewide on "The Exchange" 10-11 a.m. CDT Monday, Aug. 24.
The network also offers live streaming.
The program will be available as a podcast (for 10 days afterward) and as an MP3 (indefinitely).

Friday, July 31, 2009

To the catcher goes no glory

A baseball fan just noted on his blog that when a major league pitcher throws a perfect game, the catcher -- the one calling the pitches and keeping the hurler focused through 27 straight batters -- gets little or no recognition. Sure, the pitcher has to make the pitches, but he has eight players supporting him -- and none more important than the other member of the battery.

Ray Schalk, who caught Perfect Game No. 5 in the majors, appreciated that fact. (He also caught 2 or 3 no-hitters, depending on how and when the records were kept.) Throughout his life, Schalk made it a point to personally congratulate the catcher of every no-hitter or perfect game.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Buehrle's gem and the Schalk connection

When Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game this afternoon, it was only the second such gem in Chicago White Sox history.

Until today, the only Sox perfecto occurred in Detroit on April 30, 1922, when rookie Charlie Robertson, making his third start of the season, blanked the Tigers. His catcher that afternoon was the subject of my upcoming book, Ray Schalk.

With 25,000 Tigers fans booing and howling at him, the 26-year-old Robertson kept throwing whatever Schalk signaled. In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers tried to rattle the Texan. Batter Harry Heilmann complained that Robertson was doctoring the baseball. Umpire Dick Nallin found no evidence. Later, Tigers star Ty Cobb walked to the mound and boldly inspected Robertson’s uniform for foreign substances or a device to scuff the ball. Cobb then walked over to first baseman Earl Sheely and did the same.

Decades afterward, Schalk said, “They did everything they could to upset Charlie,” he recalled. “But it didn’t bother him a bit. I could have caught every pitch sitting in a rocking chair.” Following Schalk’s signals, Robertson continued to mow down each Detroit batter.

The Chicago defense was not particularly challenged. The 1922 game featured no record-saving catches like Dewayne Wise's homer-stopping catch in the ninth inning today.

By the time Robertson stepped on the mound in the eighth inning, the spectators in Navin Field were well aware that they might witness something special. Though they booed him just an inning earlier, Detroit fans in the eighth started cheering Robertson to keep it going.

Having retired all 26 opponents to that point, Robertson coaxed pinch-hitter Johnny Bassler to lift a fly to left fielder Johnny Mostil, who squeezed the ball for the historic final out.

Afterwards, Chicago Tribune reader “R.F.” made this observation: “All praise to Pitcher Robertson of the White Sox for his perfect game – he surely deserves it – but I have not read one word of commendation for the wonderful little player who caught him. Schalk probably called, as a conservative estimate, 90 percent of the balls pitched. Why not give him a share of the glory? Think the result would have been the same with a second- or third-rate catcher?”

To that end, Schalk made it his personal practice to personally contact and congratulate the catcher of every no-hitter (or perfect game). He appreciated their contribution to history.
For the record, the catcher for Buehrle was Ramon Castro.

By the way, when Buehrle threw a no-hitter in April 2007, the home plate umpire was Eric Cooper (no relation). Today, the ump was -- yes -- Eric Cooper.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Back to work on Schalk book

My inactive period during the Ray Schalk biography process is over.

After a few months away -- the manuscript was submitted at the end of January -- I'm back on duty for Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography. Today, a box containing page proofs of the book reached my doorstep.

My task is to proofread the book and complete an index -- and do so in short order. The publisher expects to receive my changes and index, make the fixes and print the book in less than one month. The book is scheduled for printing on August 6.

I start this work with some sadness. On Monday, I learned of the death of Gene Carney, the leading expert on the Black Sox scandal, who provided me feedback on the Black Sox section of my manuscript and wrote a favorable advance review of my work. I regret that Gene won't receive a copy of the finished product with my note of appreciation.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What the heck is this?

The Iowa chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, of which I am a member, recently received a photo and communication from Shona Frese of the baseball museum in Norway, Iowa.

Seems a gentleman donated a piece of equipment, explaining it was his father's in the 1920s.

What is it?

The donor and museum speculate that it is related to spectacles.

"It is made similar to a catcher's mask but it only fits over the eye area (that is my opinion)," Frese wrote. "It has small leather pads. I tried it on over my glasses and it seems to fit pretty well. I am thinking a player might have worn it so he would not break his glasses or perhaps to help hold the glasses on."

Schalk did not wear glasses during his playing days -- at least on the field. Few players did.

Anyone have any insight on this?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Open for business

In the last day or two, the publisher of my upcoming Ray Schalk biography, McFarland & Co., added the book to its web site, indicating that it is ready to take advance orders.

Another sign that there will be a book about this late star of the Chicago White Sox!

As noted previously, release is targeted for late summer or early fall.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Memorize this: 978-0-7864-4148-8

What do have in common with 978-0-7864-4148-8?

Well, 978-0-7864-4148-8 is the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for my biography of Ray Schalk.

Assignment of the ISBN represents another step in the process of the publishing of the book, which is tentatively scheduled for release in the late summer or early fall.

I'll take any signs of progress that I can get!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book on publisher's fast track

In late January, when I submitted the manuscript for my biography of Ray Schalk, I hoped that my publisher, McFarland & Co., would have a finished product released in the fall -- in time for holiday sales. McFarland says it usually takes 9-15 months from receipt of manuscript.

Those hopes will be exceeded.

Over the weekend, McFarland informed me that I can anticipate a summer release -- anywhere from June to September -- with a firmer date pending. Apparently the manuscript was reasonably clean, so copy editors got through it in pretty good order.

Still, in pre-preparing an index, I found some typos/errors that I will need to fix during the page-proof stage.

In any case, I'm thrilled that there will be a book by the fall season.,

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Additional Schalk photos surface

The same day that I learned the title and saw the cover of my Ray Schalk biography, I also got a look at some Schalk photos that recently surfaced.

Fortunately, my publisher has agreed to consider adding them to the biography, even though the "final" manuscript, photos and captions were submitted more than a month ago.

The photos come courtesy of Lillian Hendricks, widow of a Schalk nephew, and Debbie Brinson, widow of a Schalk grandson. Debbie's husband, Roy, died last October after an extended illness (so extended that I was unable to interview him for the book).

The image above is the Ray Schalk Family -- Pauline, Lavinia, Ray and Ray Junior -- in 1929 in New York's Polo Grounds. This was the one and only season Ray Sr. was player-coach of the New York Giants (and his last season as a player, during which he appeared in five games). The family story is that "Vin" drove herself and the two children from their home in Chicago to New York to visit Ray.

Below is Ray with his kids. As adults, the siblings were not particularly close -- far from it, actually.

I especially like these photos because they give a glimpse of late 1920s fashion -- in baseball uniforms and civilian attire.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

We have a title and cover

The publisher of my Ray Schalk biography, McFarland & Co., has decided a title and cover design for the book.

What do you think?

Still no word on when the book will be available. I'm assuming (hoping for) it will be Fall 2009.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Schalk's (lack of) offense analyzed


Bain Collection, Library of Congress

The subject of my second biography, Ray Schalk, made the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his defense. He could move along a player with a bunt or a sacrifice, but he was never considered an offensive threat. Back in his day (MLB 1912-28) , catchers were looked upon much like pitchers -- on the field for their defense, and if they could help with the bat, so much the better. His career batting average of .253 is the lowest among all position players enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, I came across a blog post by a gentleman named Joe Dorish who analyzed Schalk's offense. Not much to write home about, but facts are facts.

Maybe the slightly built Schalk could have improved his average by using something smaller than a tree trunk for a bat.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's a wrap!

After more than two years and 400-some pages, on Monday I shipped my Ray Schalk biography manuscript to my publisher, McFarland & Co.

My suggested title is Cracker: Ray Schalk, Hall of Fame Catcher of the Chicago White Sox. I can't predict whether McFarland will like that title (or my suggestion for a cover photo), but it's not my call.

The photo shows the manuscript binder, which, with the CD of the entire text, photos and captions, weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces. That is about the weight of a newborn baby, and this was my "baby" for the past couple of years.

An acquaintance who is prolific with these books observed to me, "You are never really finished writing a book. You finally just have to stop." I know what he means. I could have added this or polished that. But this book needed to be done.

Now the wait begins. It will be many months before I receive page proofs. My hope is that a finished book will be out by Thanksgiving, but that is optimistic. McFarland says books take 9-15 months after submission.

Meantime, I'll catch up on long-overdue projects around the house -- and think about my next project.