SSTN Interviews Eric Gouldsberry of “This Great Game”
SSTN: Today we are here with Eric Gouldsberry, one of the founders of This Great Game: The Online Book of Baseball. Eric is an author and, by trade, a graphic designer.
All readers are encouraged to check out This Great Game because it is an amazing place to read about, and learn about, the great game of baseball.
Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News. It is great to have this discussion with you. You bet, Paul, likewise. Happy to be a part of this. Please begin by telling us how your website came to be.
It began rather humbly back in 1992. I was trying to come up with a cool concept for my annual holiday card through my design firm, Eric Gouldsberry Art Direction (EGAD). I had a healthy number of baseball fans among my clients, family and friends on my mailing list, so I thought a baseball theme would be nice. My first thought was to do a weekly calendar book that would spotlight a Hall-of-Fame-type player for each week, with cool graphics and information. That ultimately proved too time-intensive and costly, but I felt the urge to leverage the concept to something. That something would be a massive coffee table book called “Major League Baseball: The Twentieth Century,” the contents of which can be viewed now in the Yearly Reader section of This Great Game. There was a lot of interest in the book from agents and houses, but in the end it proved too expensive for anyone to want to publish it.
In the book’s wake, I never wanted to say that the project “died” but, rather, that it was “mothballed.” Sure enough, around 2002, Ed Attanasio—a good friend of mine who interviewed ex-ballplayers for SABR—said he had this domain called thisgreatgame.com but didn’t know what to do with it. So I told him, “Boy, have I got some content for you!” For the next three years, I finished up all the necessary writing, designed and produced the site and, with Ed’s interviews added, we launched This Great Game in 2005.
I am a die-hard Yankees fan, yet a have a (very) soft spot in my heart for the Red Sox as my father is a life-long die-hard Red Sox fan. My dad and I have proven that Yankees and Red Sox fans can coexist and greatly respect (and love) each other. Your partner in this project is a Dodgers fan. I think you two have proven the same thing – fans of rival teams becoming friends and collaborators. Please tell us about how you have worked so well together, even when rooting against each other’s team.
Baseball, like all spectator sports, is meant to be fun. If you take it too seriously, you can’t enjoy it. Yeah, it sucked for me when the 2002 Giants blew the World Series, as I’m sure it sucked for Ed when the Dodgers lost to the Astros and then the Red Sox a few years back. But you take it in stride. Life goes on. There’s always next year. I think that’s why Ed and I remain good friends; we’re so easygoing toward each other, and though we kid each other on the other’s favorite teams, neither of us ever get too intense when discussing it—though I gotta say, I never saw Ed as angry as when the Astros’ cheating scandal broke.
I can’t wait to talk to Ed about this.
Because your site covers the history of baseball, there is extensive content on the Yankees. Of the Yankees articles, which one did you most enjoy researching and writing about? (I greatly enjoyed the article on Mickey Mantle and the 1952 baseball season.)
If I had to pick a favorite it would be the 1977 Yearly Reader page. That was such a crazy and volatile time with so many disparate and colorful characters, from Reggie to Billy to George to New York City itself. The more I read and researched it, the more I thought, wow, how did anyone manage to survive all of this without suffering a stress coronary?
1977 was when I became a baseball fan. I grew up thinking that was normal and the way it was supposed to be. It was my reality!
The graphics on your site are first rate. They add so much to the overall presentation of the content and material. Were these all designed by you?
Yes. I developed a new logo and redesigned the site in 2020, making it responsive, or optimal, for anyone regardless of what device he or she is using. I kept the color scheme and wireframe familiar for people used to the old site.
Designing for web sites are a challenge, especially now with responsive web design that makes the process of visual concepting kind of like 3-D chess. I was initially stubborn about the limitations of web design when we did the first iteration of the site in 2005; it was beautiful to look at, but it was gif-heavy and flunked with search engines. There’s far more you can do now on the web, which is great, but in the ideal world I would still like to apply all of this to a coffee table book. Of course, once it prints, you can’t change it—and that is one of the nice things about the site. There’s so much on it, we don’t always get the facts straight. I’m just happy that 99.9% of it is accurate.
I am an elementary school principal. Do you have any advice that I could share with students who wish to become involved in graphic design or the arts?
The two things I always tell anyone who’s thinking of getting into graphic design are, one, you really have to love it—you can’t phone it in or do it without passion because you’ll never be successful at it; two, get involved in the design/arts community and get to know as many people as you can. The more connected you are, the more likely you’ll get work. Also, know your niche strength; when I started, there were basically two roads to choose: design firms or advertising agencies. Now everything is so segmented with web, branding, video, app development, etc.
Great advice. I think we do our best work when we are passionate about what we do. Absolutely.
Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?
What makes baseball history appealing compared to other sports is that we can relate to the game because the rules have essentially remained the same for 120 years. There have been, of course, eras defined by strong pitching or hitting, and cosmetic tweaks such as the DH and not being able to leave your glove on the field, yet the rulebook hasn’t been overhauled. You can’t say the same thing about other sports. The NFL is nothing like it was even 30 years ago, and the NBA once upon a time didn’t have a three-point line or a shot clock.
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?
First of all, I wouldn’t be commissioner because I don’t have a law or economics degree. But assuming the fantasy, the only thing I’d change amongst everything being discussed is installing a pitch clock, because that would just be a mere enforcement of existing rule 8.04, which says a pitcher has 12 seconds from the time he receives the ball to throw his next delivery. As far as speeding up the game, that alone would would solve a great many problems.
All these other recent ideas—the gift runner on second base in extra innings, seven-inning doubleheaders, banning the shift, the three-batter rule—are knee-jerk travesties that will likely scare more fans away than the game will attract. Say what you will about Bud Selig, but he understood the importance of baseball history. Rob Manfred doesn’t seem to get that. I often wonder if the MLB structure at the top needs to be similar to that of a team’s front office, where you have a business side and a baseball side. Manfred only seems to represent the former, not knows or cares little for the sanctity of the game.
As a Giants fan, you must be very excited about their success in 2021. Very few (if any) “experts” predicted that the Giants would be leading the N.L. West in late August (when this interview was conducted) What do you attribute their great play to?
It’s really remarkable about the Giants—I never saw this coming. People talk about the improved pitching and power, but I think the secret to their success is depth of the team’s position players, and manager Gabe Kapler’s aggressive strategy to use that to his advantage depending on whether you have a lefty or righty on the mound. There’s no throwaways or useless rust on the Giants’ bench; they’re all contributing, and Kapler uses them at some point, every day.
As you look forward to, and dream, about a World Series, which American League team would you least like to face in the fall classic?
The Tampa Bay Rays. I don’t know how they do it, year after year, on that shoestring budget. Yes, they worship the spreadsheet, and although that sometimes can hurt them as we all saw last year with Blake Snell in the World Series, I’ve never seen a team so disciplined in all aspects of their operation, on the field and off it. They truly defy MLB’s law of gravity.
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?
Maybe it’s already been written, but it would be interesting to see someone write a book on the last 20 years of George Steinbrenner’s rule with the Yankees, from roughly 1985-2005. It would be cool to get some insight behind the weakening of the team late in the 1980s, his suspension from the game for the Dave Winfield shenanigans, and how he was able to rebuild the team despite what must have been his urge to trade all those blue-chip prospects away, people like Jeter, Williams, Pettitte, like he used to do.
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?
Of those I’ve seen in person, I’d have to say Barry Bonds—but let’s put an asterisk on him. I’ve never seen anyone hit a ball harder than Giancarlo Stanton.
Among pitchers, the best I ever saw was Greg Maddux—not so much for his pitching, which in itself was impressive, but for his defense. Nothing got past him.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
The Giants, as they still are today.
Who was your favorite player?
Will Clark. Fun player to watch, great in the clutch.
What is your most prized collectible?
About 30 years ago, my dad participated in a golf tournament at Pinehurst in North Carolina in which weekend golfers got paired up with retired major league legends, many of them Hall of Famers. He got to play with Ralph Houk, and one of the parting gifts he got was a ball and poster signed by all the ballplayers—and he gave both to me.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Three-way tie between The Beatles, XTC and Peter Gabriel.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
I look forward to sushi more than anything else. Didn’t even start eating it until I was nearly 40.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
Yes, there is something I do want to point out. We keep hearing that baseball is dying, that only older folks like the game. Frankly, we’ve been hearing that forever. The fact is, baseball will always be skewed toward older audiences, but it’s not losing the youth any more than it did in the 1960s, 1980s or 2000s. As long as the game isn’t messed with, as long as MLB keeps making mass profits—as long as dads continue to play catch with their kids—the sport will never weaken or die.
Thank you so much for spending this time with me.
Please keep in touch!