SSTN Interviews Author Steve Steinberg
We are here with Steve Steinberg author of Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball’s Golden Age and co-author with Lyle Spatz on The Colonel and Hug and 1921: The Yankees, The Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York.
Mr. Steinberg, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading The News.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work, which really showcases figures from the game’s past who have been forgotten. They’ve sort of fallen through the cracks of history and have remarkable and compelling stories that deserve telling. My goal is to discover and uncover those stories and by doing so, honor these people “in the glory of their times,” to borrow the title of Larry Ritter’s wonderful book.
How can fans find copies of your book to purchase?
Amazon, of course. My author page on Amazon can be accessed here.
Please begin by telling us a little about how you became an author.
As I approached the age of 50, my world turned upside down when my career in retail came to an end. It was then that I discovered my passion for baseball’s past, especially the people who took part in it. Within each one of them lies a story of significance and a vital part of the game’s memories. My role has been to help rekindle those memories, to bring them back to life.
Time travel is possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Whether you access it from a book, photograph, film, web site, or the Dakota apartments, it can be done. Time and Again. It takes a special mix of believing and suspending belief. The rewards are beyond measure.
In the past few years, I have made acquaintances with people in their 80s and 90s, who remember baseball in the 1920s. New friends, old friends. They are not simply links to the past; they facilitate my travel to that past.
Many of my friends do indeed live in the `teens and 1920s. I visit their world with respect and awe. It is a world of a stick and a ball and a vast expanse of grass. While things around the ballpark have changed beyond belief, the world within has stayed the way it was.
I especially loved your biography of Urban Shocker who was such a star in the 1920’s and has since been forgotten by so many. What compelled you to write the biography of Urban Shocker?
Shocker was really the player who drew me into this world. when my then ten-year old son and I were visiting a hobby card store, I noticed this card that said “Urban Shocker” on the front. I assumed it referred to some incident, not a player’s name. When I flipped it over and saw he was 18-6 for the great ’27 Yankees, I was “shocked” I had not heard of him. And when I saw that he died the following year, I was really “hooked” to find out more. And I ended up with powerful medical connection to him, which I reveal in the Preface of that book.
Can you share with us your favorite story about Urban Shocker?
It’s not a story per se. But discovering that Shocker was such a colorful and even arrogant and cocky player at the height of his career, in St. Louis in the early 1920s, was special. His showdowns with Ruth at the plate were dramatic and engaging. Sometimes Shocker came out on top; sometimes Ruth did. but they both reveled in the high highest level of competition. What is equally fascinating is how Shocker receded into the background when he returned to the Yankees before the 1925 season. Struggling with a fatal heart condition, yet happy to be back with his beloved Yankees, he quietly went about his business and let others (Ruth) garner the headlines.
Are the 1920’s your favorite decade to research and write about? You are one of the leading authorities today in that baseball era. Do you have any other books about that time period in the works?
Fellow historian and author Lyle Spatz and I have collaborated on two Yankees-related books: 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York (2010) and The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership that Transformed the New York Yankees (2015). We have finished a third book that our publisher of choice, the University of Nebraska Press, will bring out next spring, Comeback Pitchers : The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn. It is the dual biography of two pitchers of that era, Jack Quinn and Howard Ehmke, who were repeatedly told they were washed up and “through.” Yet they persevered and came back to shock the sports world, Quinn pitched until he was 50 (Jamie Moyer broke his long-standing record as the oldest man to win a game). Ehmke’s win in the opener of the 1929 World Series was one of the most surprising World Series wins ever.
One player from that 1921 Yankees team that has always interested me is Frank “Home Run” Baker, another big star of the time. He made his legend mostly with the Philadelphia A’s, but became a Yankee later in his career. In looking at his career, Baker didn’t play in the 1915 and 1920 seasons. Can you share why he missed these two seasons?
Baker was a quiet, almost colorless guy, very different than Ruth. But his dramatic home runs in back-to-back games in the 1911 World Series (one off the mighty Christy Mathewson) cemented his fame and reputation. In 1915, he had a contract dispute with his club, the Philadelphia Athletics of manager-owner Connie Mack. Mack had torn apart his dynastic team and dealt away many star players. In 1920, Baker sat out to care for his two young daughters, after the tragic death of his wife.
How does the collaborative process work between you and Lyle Spatz? Do you each take chapters to write about? Please bring us some insight into this excellent partnership.
Lyle Spatz and I have been working together for almost 15 years now. Our process is very collaborative and is grounded in mutual respect. Obviously, one of us has to write the first draft of a chapter. But if I told you how many times we then edit each chapter, you would not believe me. We go through three rounds of editing. After an initial draft, we go back and forth a number of times. We then give the manuscript to some colleagues (whom we call readers). We then take their input and go through another round of editing (back and forth). Finally, we give that “end product” to our fact-checker, Gabriel Schechter. We do another re-write with his input and corrections, along with another round of back-and-forth edits. When we are done, it is virtually impossible to tell who wrote which chapters . . . because the reality is we both have such a hand in all of them.
The biggest sports figure of the 1920’s was, of course, Babe Ruth. Of course, countless books have been written about Ruth. Would you ever be interested in tackling him as the subject of a biography?
I would never want to do a bio of Ruth or someone who has been written about in depth, even if I had a new angle. cc would rather “discover, uncover, and recover” someone who has been overlooked, and bring him back to life.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a new book written about?
I would really like to see a book written on John Brush and Andrew Freeman. First Freedman (in the 1890s and into the early 1900s) and then Brush owned the New York Giants. They became a dominant team of the early 20th century. They were tough, complex men whose story needs to be told. They dominated the National League for many years.
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?
The greatest I ever saw were Koufax, Mays and Aaron. The greatest I never saw and wished I saw was Honus Wagner. I wish I had seen him.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
The Dodgers were my favorite team as a kid.
Who was your favorite player?
Koufax was my favorite player.
What is your most prized collectible?
I don’t really have one prized collectible. I enjoy the old baseball wire photos I have, which I draw on for our books.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
I loved the Moody Blues and then moved into jazz and classical. Miles Davis and John Coltrane were amazing, went through such fascinating different stages and left behind a massive repertoire. For piano, Bill Evans is the jazz great, and Sviatostov Rchter (Russian) and Claudio Arrau (Chilean) are two towering figures in classical piano. There are many others.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
I love Szechan food, hot and spicy. I enjoy a Seattle restaurant of that cuisine, Lionhead.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience:
I love to travel to foreign lands, and I obviously am not doing that now. From early 2019 to early 2020, I was in Portugal, Peru, Georgia (an amazing country), Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Mexico (the wonderful and overlooked city of Merida, on the Yucatan), and Vietnam, in that order. I don’t go on tours: I just roam around and hang out. While I’m gone, I get a lot of reading and writing done. I am taking Vietnamese language lessons with a Ha Noi teacher, twice a week on Zoom. A tough language, but I’ve been at it for three months now. Did you know that Travel and Leisure Magazine recently announced Hoi An, Viet Nam as the world’s #1 city to visit? It is a magical place. I hope to explore the country’s north later this year.
Also, for more on my work, please visit my web site, www.stevesteinberg.net.
Thank you so much.
Thank you Steve. It was a great pleasure talking baseball and writing with you. Keep up the great work. I can’t wait to see your next book!