I was shocked to receive notice last week that a book I have self-published through Amazon, Hitting Secrets From Baseball’s Graveyard, has been nominated for the 2018 Larry Ritter Award. I hardly see how anyone can even have heard of the book, since it wasn’t distributed through a major publisher. Maybe somebody at the Society for American Baseball Research simply Googled the word “deadball” (since the award goes to the year’s best book about the early twentieth century’s so-called Deadball Era) and came up with a short list. It would have to be short. Almost nobody cares about the subject!
Nevertheless, I was riding pretty high for a while… for about six hours, to be exact. Then I logged onto Amazon to order the volumes that the judges would require—and I found that the first online review had been posted. A meager two stars. I had to read the review at that point, even though I scrupulously avoid all reviews when I can. This one had fallen directly across my path, and I couldn’t suppress a craving to know what had rubbed its author the wrong way.
I still don’t know, honestly. The post claimed that my title and press release were completely misleading—that the book was only about me and my son, and that it presented us both as brilliant baseball material that should have ended up in the Hall of Fame. In short, my book was just an exercise in incredibly self-indulgent egotism. Not a word did this caustic critic spare to Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie, Sam Crawford, Fred Clarke, Babe Ruth… to any of at least two dozen figures who were analyzed quite minutely in my hundred thousand words. The thumbnail thumbs-down could only be referenced to three or four chapters in the short introductory section; and even there, I found it almost incoherent.
The first chapters had explained that the inevitable guinea pig in my method was myself, since I could ask no young person successfully playing the game right now to throw all his conditioning out the window and experiment with radically different techniques; and I’d added that a balsa wood plane in a wind tunnel can assist the designing of a Space Shuttle, lest anyone imagine that I considered myself more than a scrap of kindling. This initial testing on tiny prototypes is standard engineering procedure (unless you’re a Soviet rocket scientist, in which case you just build the whole thing to scale from scratch and see how many bodies rain to earth).
As for my son, he was mentioned only in the context of my arguing how severely hampered young people are by a coaching system that refuses to acknowledge the past and arrogantly assumes (along with the rest of our society) that latest is best. I was especially irritated that he was tossed onto the target range. The imputation of egotism to me might have been a simple misreading (I did, after all, refer to “my brilliant career”—a phrase whose irony was cliché in my day, but surely lost to kids who are mystified by the reference in “the emperor’s new clothes”). To garble the part of the presentation where my son figured, however, began to look like willful distortion to me. And to think that this person, having skipped about 85% of the book, felt licensed to publish such things before prospective buyers!
Frankly, I don’t know how I got two stars from him. The final line of his “review” almost seemed faintly penitent… which further leads me to believe that he had a personal axe to grind.
I have suspicions about this person’s identity—and I’m certainly not going to counter-attack, even though his “revenge” may cost me sales, because he may feel that I began the battle by challenging the way he and his buddies play the game. If my suspicions are correct, I actually feel badly for him, because he’s not getting the deeper message: poor coaching probably cut him off from his potential at least as much as it did my son.
In any case, I’m very used to baseball insiders—and academic insiders, and really every kind of insider—treating honest, curious inquiry with contempt. “You don’t know what’s going on here, idiot! Go back to your side of the line. You have no idea!” (Professors send the same message in more syllables.)
The broader moral to this tale, it seems to me, has much to do with our electronic age of quick information and hair-trigger eagerness to voice an opinion. I remember a parting of the ways with Alipac’s William Gheen in spring of 2016 because, in his expert opinion, Heidi Cruz’s having once worked for Goldman Sachs completely disqualified her husband Ted from seeking the presidential nomination. Same magnification of a virtual irrelevancy; same ready imputation of sordid motives where there was no objective evidence; same cocksureness in the conclusion’s propriety. Don’t slow down, don’t look deeper. You know this one’s an egotist, that one’s a narcissist (two very popular words whose street definition simply equates with “jerk”). You know because you’re worldly-wise, and nobody pulls any wool over YOUR eyes! “I see what you’re doing there! I see what you’re up to! You’re just working your own angle, dude!”
Yes, twenty-first century Mass Man, you are far too bright for me! Now, why don’t you move on to your next election, your next book, and leave me to stagger about in the dark looking for the audience of yesteryear?