SSTN Interviews Author Clayton Trutor
SSTN: Today we are here with historian and writer Clayton Trutor. Clayton is an instructor at Norwich University, a widely published columnist, a member of SABR, an editor for SB Nation, and the author of the soon-to-be-published Loserville: How Professional Sports Remade Atlanta―and How Atlanta Remade Professional Sports.
Clayton, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.
Let’s jump right in. Please tell us about your book about Atlanta sports.
Loserville is an origin story for the modern sports business. The city of Atlanta pioneered the pay-for-play model of acquiring pro sports teams. In the 1960s, city leaders made it a municipal priority to make the city “Major League” and they succeeded with remarkable speed. In a six-year period (1966-1972), Atlanta went from having zero big league teams to having teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball. The city built Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Omni to serve as venues for its major professional sports teams with the hopes that these venues would become durable sources of prestige and community cohesion. As my book explains, things didn’t go quite as planned.
Atlanta overcame the early struggles in sports to be a city that hosted an Olympics, the Super Bowl (twice), the Final Four, and has been the home to many successful sports teams. What were the factors that made Atlanta such a great sports city?
Atlanta was a great sports city long before the big leagues got there. It had a unique sports culture built around regional passions including college football, golf, boating, auto racing, pro wrestling, and minor league baseball. Pro sports added to what Atlanta already had going there.
Atlanta has been fantastic at luring major events for many years–it is a great convention city with numerous large hotels centrally located downtown. Atlanta also excels at self-promotion. No city has ever been as good at selling itself to the world as Atlanta.
Focusing on baseball, the Braves are now in their third ballpark since 1996. Why didn’t Turner Field last as their home stadium?
As Loserville explains, the vast majority of the Braves’ fan base was and is in the burbs. The team followed the money being offered by a special self-taxing district in Cobb County and followed their fanbase, which has a largely suburban character out to their new home, now known as Truist Park.
Changing gears, you also published a piece for SABR on the Tony Conigliaro Award. Please tell us about Tony C. and the award named in his honor. (We are a Yankees blog, but through my dad, a big Red Sox fan, I have an appreciation of the Red Sox.)
Tony Conigliaro was the Red Sox’s greatest hometown hero of all-time. A young, handsome, charismatic slugger whose career was irrevocably alter in August 1967 when he was hit in the face with a pitch. Despite his vision loss from the incident, Tony C became a star slugger once again for the Red Sox. In 1982, Conigliaro suffered a heart attack from which he never fully recovered. After his death in 1990, the Red Sox established an award in his honor to recognize the MLB player who best “overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were the trademarks of Conigliaro.”
Numerous players who were Yankees won that award over the years including Jim Mecir, Jose Rijo, Graeme Lloyd, Mike Lowell, Curtis Pride, and Jim Abbott. Each player has an inspirational story to tell, but is there any one story among these that stands out to you?
Curtis Pride’s story has always stood out to me. His ability to overcome hearing impairment and have a successful big league career.
You penned a piece for Sports Collectors Digest on autograph collecting. Please tell us about this hobby. How can a fan begin an autograph collecting hobby? Do you have any pointers or tips to help novice or seasoned collectors?
I started by writing letters to ballplayers and I think that is still a great way for kids to get into it, especially if you aren’t going to the ballpark all the time.
There’s a lot of talk about baseball needing to be “fixed.” Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?
Baseball is not broken but it is suffering from a series of self-inflicted wounds. The sport is preoccupied with making the game appeal to people who basically don’t like baseball. I would start by getting rid of the DH, which was as much of a gimmick in 1973 as it is today.
You recently penned a piece for Christianity Today listing the 10 Greatest Christian Sports books. At the top of the list was Mariano Rivera’s biography, a great book that I also loved reading. What do you most admire about Mariano Rivera the player and the person?
Rivera’s consistency as a pitcher and as a man. I admire his efforts to consistently fulfill his commitments to his family, his team, and his faith.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about? The 70s Yankees are one of my favorite topics to read about. I would love to learn more about Mickey Rivers but I highly recommend Ron Blomberg’s new book, written with 70s baseball bard Dan Epstein, “The Captain and Me.” The book details the friendship of Blomberg and Thurman Munson.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
Rickey Henderson. I think he would have been a Hall of Famer in any sport he chose to pursue.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan.
Who was your favorite player?
You are the first to ever say this. Greenwell was my college roommate’s favorite player. (I seem to always be around Red Sox fans.)
What is your most prized collectible?
I have sorted all the ball cards (virtually all without any value) I had as a kid into individual binders by team and I treasure the opportunity to flip through any one of them.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Collectively, the work of Motown in the 1960s and early 1970s.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Thanksgiving dinner with my family.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience:
My book is available for pre-order now on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Loserville-Professional-Sports-Atlanta_and-Atlanta/dp/149622504X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1625233695&refinements=p_27%3AClayton+Trutor&s=books&sr=1-1
I’d love to hear from people on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor
Thank you, Clayton for spending this time with us. I wish you continued success, always.
Please keep in touch.