SSTN Interviews Author David McGrail
SSTN: Today we are here with Dave McGrail, author of The Best Ever Brief History of the New York Yankees, a book about the Yankees for kids ages 6-12.
David, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading The News.
You are welcome, Paul, great to be here.
Please begin by telling us a little about your book.
Is it cheating to borrow from the description on the back cover?
The Best Ever Brief History of the New York Yankees is the ultimate literary “mash-up” for kids— biographical and autobiographical, historical and humorous, educational and packed with pictures of baseball cards and online video references—with all roads leading back to one incredible baseball team, the New York Yankees.
The genesis of the book is that from ages 5-15 I spent every last dollar I had on baseball cards. I have about 20,000 baseball cards sitting in my father-in-law’s basement. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your readers are in the same boat, also unwilling to throw them out. While my baseball cards were not a great investment, some of the images are terrific, such as the 1976 Oscar Gamble card, and it’s still fascinating to look at the stats on the back—you can easily spend an afternoon taking a trip down memory lane with your old baseball cards. And that’s what I did at the beginning of the process, picking out the Yankees players and cards I wanted to feature in the book. So there’s both a personal element and an historical element to the book.
Anyway, my hope is that the book is something that nostalgic parents and kids can enjoy together, and that some of the content will make them laugh.
Please take behind the scenes in your writing/publishing journey.
In some ways it was like any other book, at least a dozen rounds of editing, scrutinizing the placement of every comma, etc. But there was also a degree of subjectivity. I started writing about a few Yankees who had incredible careers but weren’t exactly the best role models for kids, and it’s a book for kids, so some of the all-time greats, statistically speaking at least, didn’t make the cut. I’ll bet you can guess who they are.
The other twist is that I needed to get approval from Topps to use images of their baseball cards in the book. This is not always an easy thing to do when dealing with “corporate,” but they were really great and accommodating. I may have mentioned in passing that as a kid I spent all of my money on Topps baseball cards, so perhaps they felt a little guilty…
Do you have other works in process? Please tell us about them.
I have a book about the Mets in process. If there’s enough traction I’d like to write one about each team. Also, I have a confession. I simultaneously published a book entitled The Best Ever
Brief History of the Boston Red Sox. I hope you and your readers won’t hold this against me, especially since I mention in the Red Sox book that I’m a die-hard Yankees fan, and I have some choice words about Wade Boggs, who will always be a villain in my mind after he sat out the final games of the 1986 season, thus depriving Donny Baseball of a crack at the batting title.
When we write and research, we learn. What was the biggest lesson you learned in writing this book?
That even though you’d think that there can’t be any debate about raw data, it turns out that baseball historians sometimes disagree on the numbers, especially the further back in time you go. Look what you started, Bill James!
When studying the Yankees, what is your favorite era to read about? Why?
The 1950s, when the Yankees players were often “out on the town.” I recently read an article by David Margolick about a brawl at the Copacabana in 1957. Some Yankees players were involved and there was an unlikely hero. I can’t get enough of this stuff. I don’t think this happens anymore (probably a good thing), at least in New York City.
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?
Wow, good question. And a toughie. It’s more history-in-the-making, but I’m really interested to hear from the players what it’s been like this season, playing in empty stadiums, having games cancelled due to COVID concerns, etc. I’m sure that the players have different views on this, including the appropriate level of safety. Do they discuss this in the locker room or is it just, “How’d you get all that action on your curve ball yesterday?”
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?
Great movie. I may have to watch it again…RIGHT NOW. Derek Jeter. As I mention in the book, I was at his last game. He was so clutch and a solid citizen to boot.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Who was your favorite player?
What is your most prized collectible?
The entire 1961 Topps Yankees set, which I hope to someday and somehow attach, with each player in his appropriate position, to a giant blown up aerial photo of Old Yankee Stadium and have displayed in our living room. My wife does not like this idea.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
High-end lobster or low-end Taco Bell.
David, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. This book sounds wonderful. I wish you only success.
Please keep in touch, my friend.