The ink wasn’t even dry and I was asked the question.
Actually, that’s not true. They don’t use ink anymore. But I still got asked the question.
It was the last week of January, 2014 at Pirates old-guy fantasy camp in Bradenton, Florida. The Most Wonderful Week of the Year had been released two weeks earlier.
“So, when are you writing your next book?”, over and over again the boys asked me, in between cold shoulder packs and IcyHot rubs.
“I’m not writing another book!” Over and over again.
The Most Wonderful Week was a lark for me. Writing had been a long-suppressed passion. With life and career progressing to have reasonable free time, and having blogged about the experiences of a hack in his late fifties resuming a baseball career that never was, it was fun using myself in a self-depreciating mode as the target. Only I didn’t have to exaggerate too much my playing and physical ineptness.
The blog began a life of its own with people, sad people actually, telling me they stayed awake at night to read about my daily adventure with a ball, bat, glove and failing body parts. I figured I’d take three years of camp blogs, compile them into one edition, personalize it a little more for a larger audience, get my childhood hero Bill Mazeroski to write the foreword, find a publisher, and then sit back and enjoy the Dos Equis and chips while the residual checks rolled in from a book that couldn’t miss.
That’s where I committed my first charged literary error. While the book publishing industry hasn’t gone the way of phonographs just yet, it does closely resemble the pay phone business. If you look long and hard enough you can still find some book publishers, and heck even some pay phones, but access to top line publishing houses prohibits first time authors and the conventional pretenders. I fit into both categories, thank you.
It took about six months in 2013 to fine-tune the manuscript for The Most Wonderful Week of the Year. Then it was shipped out to agents, who by and large never responded, but the few that did had no interest, thank you again. Then contact the shrinking book industry directly but those who are kind enough to even look it at shoved it right back saying it needs work — a lot of it — and refer past colleagues who have been downsized out of the business and now are now for-hire consultants. I get it.
The reality of the book business is that a novice author has as good a chance at getting a publisher’s contract as I would have trying to foul-tip a Bob Gibson fastball in 1968. Or 2018. In fact, my chances with Gibson would be better. The whole rejection process makes you feel as irrelevant as the San Diego Padres.
So, now you face your first full-count as an author: do you just ditch the project, or jump into the rapidly expanding world of self-publishing? Oops, I mean independent publishing, which is akin to calling your waiter a server, your stewardess a flight attendant or buying a used car which vogue says is now pre-owned. Self or independent publishing…either way, you are in business for yourself bearing all the expense and waiting for the royalty checks that, if you are lucky, would be a fraction of your costs. The typical independently published book sells about seventy-five copies. The Most Wonderful Week of the Year blew past that number on the first day of sales until Andi got tired of ordering and had to prepare dinner.
But once you step in the box, you can’t back out. There’s no such thing as being a little bit pregnant in this venture. There’s manuscript development, then rewrite, then the first round of editing, then a second rewrite, then more editing; then on to finding an independent publisher that won’t take advantage of your naivety, then their comments, then reading the book two, maybe three more times for inconsistencies, then one final round of editing. Finally, you make it to a galley-press copy, then re-reading it for the twentieth time until you can’t stand it anymore, then the ultimate sign-off before going to press for real, producing a book with your name on it and making Mom proud. But it’s still a long way from the bottom of the ninth because you need to find a publicist, then a distributor, then pay commission on every sale and ultimately realize you have about fifteen to eighteen grand gross in your newly-discovered passion of insanity.
You know the odds are long that you’ll get the investment back but the idea wasn’t to make money. That would have been a stand-up triple. For me it was the challenge of producing a book and whether someone might actually buy it. Maybe they’d even enjoy it. Whatever came back as residual, so be it. The bonus was when my tax guy told me part of the loss was a write-off.
You also learn it’s one and done, much like the Royals in 2015. Never again. Been there, done that. I have earned, and paid for, the right to have the word “author” included in my obit.
You take pride in the massive amount of good publicity and press reviews the project generated. If favorable comments were dollars, you’d have a villa on Maui.
Then you’re at Yankees fantasy camp in November 2014, eleven months after The Most Wonderful Week of the Year was finally finished, and you wind up at-bat against the dreaded Bambino team, who hasn’t lost a game since Whitey Ford pitched. Everyone hated them because they were so good, and they knew it. Bottom of the ninth, tied at 9-9, nobody out, sacks loaded and you’re at-bat. You know you are in good hands because Yankee legend Bucky Dent is your manager and present-day Yankees hitting mentor Marcus Thames is coaching at third. You look for encouragement from these ex-greats but Bucky is looking at his phone texting and Marcus is looking up in the sky watching the Southwest inbound from Nashville land at nearby TPA. You say ‘screw it’ and do it yourself. You begin to shake as Orin Strauss, a Dartmouth grad, gets ready to deliver. You know he’s a smart guy; you only graduated from Miami, so he already has the advantage. You close your eyes and swing. You open them in time to see the ball sail over the head of Chris Ferace, captain of the Norwich (Ct.) police department, who was playing shallow in centerfield. You just hit your first ever walk-off. At the age of 62. You’re a hero. You’ll enjoy it for the night and then it’s over.
Except Cliff Welch was there. Damn Cliff Welch. He is the Yankees camp photographer and captured the sporting moment of your life. Fouling out of a high school JV basketball game in 1967 now moved to second on the list.
Proud of the moment, the picture is sent out as part of the continuing blog series. Cathy Dorricott, a Miami classmate who kept asking when the second book is coming out and I kept telling her ‘Never’, writes back and says “It looks like you now have your second book cover.”
Despite the fact I was never writing another book, she got my mind percolating. One of my favorite topics to read is anything about baseball back in the 50s and 60s, when I was an impressionable kid and the game and the ballplayers were mythical gods to me. I never envisioned I’d have access to these guys through my various Yankees, Pirates and Tigers camps. I have to admit the idea of writing about the game from back in the day through the eyes of those that played it had tremendous appeal. Damn that Cathy Dorricott, too!
Bucky told me if I wrote the second book he would write the opening chapter. Two years later I finally finished the book I wasn’t going to write, but not before spending countless telephone hours with stars of my youth like Fritz Peterson, who openly talked about his much publicized wife swap with a teammate; Mudcat Grant, who could have gone on for hours about pitching through segregation or singing on the Tonight Show; I had to keep steering Ron Swoboda back to the ‘69 Mets and away from Nixon and Vietnam; I wasn’t sure if “psycho” was part of an act or if Steve Lyons really was. I’m still not.
I loved talking with Jake Gibbs, a true southern gentleman who was probably a better football player than a major league catcher; Big John Mayberry wanted to avoid chatting about the dark days in Kansas City; Jon Warden, holder of a World Series ring in Detroit and now a stand-up comedian, had me laughing for ninety minutes; Mike LaValliere is a pal of mine and very engaging as he remembered his career as an undersized catcher, and Chris Chambliss confided about his one disappointment the night he hit the walk-off in ‘76 to clinch the pennant for the Yankees.
Kent Tekulve became the most used National League reliever in history, instead of a high school teacher, by a flight scheduling fluke; Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, the best play-by-play hockey broadcaster in the whole world, chatted about his dream to be the second baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates before fortunately, for every hockey fan alive, a microphone got in his way. And just talking to legendary Maury Wills, brokered by my baseball pal Mike Labanowski, was a thrill for me. Wills calling me a few weeks later just to chat is something I’ll never forget. He said to me “Roy, I just wanted to tell you I think you are a heck of a writer.” Not knowing what to say, I got uncharacteristically tongue-tied and muttered, “Maury, I think you were a heck of a shortstop.” Pretty clever comeback, eh? Maury Wills calling me? Come on.
Big League Dream was the perfect title for the book I wasn’t writing. The ex-pros lived the dream that we only dreamt. And for me the heart of the story was wrapped around a week in a Yankees uniform with my two sons.
And the book was a good one. Funny. Sentimental. Historical. Idolistic. Candid. Women of the game, too. It had it all. Or so I thought.
Two years later I had a manuscript and had to shop it. I had one author credit already in my bat bag so, in my mind, I hit the market with some credentials.
The publishing house that I knew would want Big League Dream turned it down. Though it was much better written than a couple of other titles they published that I read, they said it was too broad and not focused enough for their regional market approach. I didn’t like it but with a total of sixteen player stories, I understood.
Stacks of others turned it down or never responded. Finally, two bites of interest. A publisher in New Jersey and one in North Carolina. They both wanted it. I would get a small advance and a piece of each book sold, but I had to give up all editorial control and they would only put a nominal amount of marketing dollars behind it. That had as much interest as sitting glued to a Reds-Marlins extra inning game at midnight.
At that point I could have easily ditched the project but in conjunction with Mountain Arbor Press of Atlanta, who handled design, printing and distribution, it became my second venture into independent publishing.
It did well, but fortunately my impending retirement is funded by other sources. In fact this morning in the Amazon rankings, Big League Dream is in the top 85,000 books sold of the millions and millions they rank. It’s also number 204 in baseball books purchased. For me, and for the book I wasn’t going to write, that’s pretty satisfying.
There’s still some inventory left, so with apologies to 1996 Yankee World Series hero Jim Leyritz, who fined me a hundred bucks a few years ago at a camp for ‘shameless promotion’, I still haven’t learned my lesson. Big League Dream is that perfect Father’s Day gift or birthday present or summertime reading for the boomer in your life. With shipping it will set you back less than twenty quid. It’s on Amazon (as is The Most Wonderful Week of the Year) or at bigleaguedream.com. Come on, order it and make this the last blog I ever write about the books. I promise. Really.
The public response and reviews have been flattering. It gets five stars on Amazon and seventeen great reader reviews, including a new one this week. Most of them weren’t written by relatives, either. The New York Post called it “a home run!” That was a big thrill for a kid that grew up in New York reading the Post.
“So, when are you writing your third book,” I hear, and it makes me cringe.
“Never” is the simple, terse, clipped answer.
Never, that is, until the publisher comes along that wants to buy a manuscript written by a retired guy in his late sixties who’s driving an Uber on Las Vegas Boulevard just so he can spin satirical tales about his passengers.
In other words, never again. Maybe.