SSTN Interviews Famed Baseball Writer Dan Schlossberg
SSTN: Today we are here with one of baseball’s most noted experts, Dan Schlossberg. Dan has won a plethora of awards over his 50-plus-year writing career, has authored 40 books, and is a noted sports travel guru (which we will discuss in this interview). He is a legend in the baseball writing world, with bylines in Baseball Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, forbes.com, and the official All-Star and World Series programs.
He won the first Journalist of the Year award presented by Historic Hotels of America, in 2015, and is a current member of Who’s Who in America.
Dan, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.
You’re welcome, Paul. I love all things baseball and am different than any of my sports writing colleagues because I am strictly baseball all year round and have no interest in any other sport. In fact, I have never even seen a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoff, NCAA Final Four, or Indy 500.
Dan, your career is so vast and wide-spread that it is difficult to even find a place to start, but let’s begin with your books. It is readily apparent that you love baseball. You write about the sport so often and give the sport such love. What is it about baseball that makes it so easy or compelling for you to write about?
Unlike football, baseball is an easy game to watch, play, and understand. Size, sex, or age doesn’t matter; look at Ozzie Albies, the shortest player in the National League, leading the league in RBI as July 4 weekend started. I played when I was young but wasn’t very good. But I knew I could write and loved doing that, so I combined my two loves. I think almost every baseball writer in the country is a failed player – but that doesn’t mean former players make good writers, or good announcers for that matter (most of them are horrendous!).
Yes. Many bloggers are also failed player…though I still play and still hope the Yankees will call me up off the sandlots.
Please tell us a little about the book Designated Hebrew that you wrote with legendary Yankee Ron Blomberg.
Years after Ron retired, he was interviewed by Dick Schaap. The first question was, “What was it like to be the first DH?” Blomberg said, “Whaddya mean, ‘Designated Hebrew?’” Dick Schaap didn’t hesitate. “That’s a book!” he said.
Ron definitely walks to the beat of a different drummer. He’s always upbeat, happy, smiling, and incredibly easy to get along with. He’s also funny – often inadvertently – and that draws people to him. He was invited to more bar mitzvahs than any other Yankee, and for good reason – at least until people saw how much he could eat. He once saw a sign in a restaurant window that said, “72-ounce steak free if you can eat it in an hour.” That was during his minor-league days, when he wasn’t paid much, so Ron did it THREE TIMES!
When I wrote the book with Ron, I also talked to his first wife, Mara, whom I knew when we were both students at Syracuse, and to his long-time agent, Sheldon Stone. They gave me lots of great anecdotes – and corrected quite a bit of information Ron had forgotten or exaggerated. He hit only 52 career home runs but did victimize quite a few Hall of Famers and Cy Young Award winners – that’s true – but hit only one against Nolan Ryan (he told me he hit nine). I knew Ron before we did the book and have gotten closer to him since. We’ve done several baseball cruises together and I’d love to work with him anytime, anywhere. He’s fun, he’s easy, and he’s a really nice person. Plus he’s a lantzman.
Let’s do some imagining… if Ron Blomberg had never been injured, how great would his career have been? Would he have been a superstar and a Yankees legend, or might he have been more a Bobby Murcer type player – very good, often beloved, but not quite a superstar?
Injuries were a huge problem, as Ron reports in his book. But a bigger problem was the propensity of managers to platoon him because he batted lefthanded. Lots of good hitters hit lefthanded – Freddie Freeman was the National League MVP last year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hit lefthanded pitching. David Justice is another example of a player who was platooned when he first came up but later became a star player when given the chance to play every day.
A couple of things that worked against Blomberg: unlike his Yankees teammates, he gave writers and fans plenty of time and attention and he made no secret that he was Jewish in a game that is heavily Christian. Even in baseball today, prejudice is present everywhere.
In answer to your question, Blomberg could have lived up to his reputation as “the Jewish Mickey Mantle” if managers would have let him play and injuries would not have been such a big issue.
That would have been amazing. Still, what a great career…
I am going to dig deep into the past, to 1975, and the book you wrote Barons of the Bullpen. You were the first author, I believe, to note the significance of the “fireman” or closer in writing a book about this. Please tell us a little about this book and how you were ahead of the curve on this major development in the way the game has been played.
‘Barons’ was timely because it was written in response to the work that Mike Marshall did for the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers. With 208 innings pitched over 106 appearances, he should have won both the Cy Young Award and the National League MVP, which went to teammate Steve Garvey. No one has come close to duplicating those numbers. In fact, most starting pitchers don’t work as many innings today as Marshall did from the bullpen in ‘74. He was a kinesiology professor at Michigan State and was a master of manipulating human muscle tissue.
Thanks, Paul, for pointing out that I was a pioneer with that project. I could see the handwriting on the wall even then. And now relievers are so much more important than starters, since nobody finishes what they start. Not even Jacob deGrom.
You play a big role today in the IBWAA. As you know, we frequently share some of your articles on these pages here at Start Spreading the News. Please tell us a little about the IBWAA and the great work it is doing. (I am, of course, a proud and active member.)
We’re glad to have you, Paul.
Our organization includes some members of the IBWAA as well, by the way. And that’s a good thing since that organization is extremely political, with many people (including myself) unable to get in despite numerous efforts and others, who shall not be named here, invited in because of cronyism or the fact that they live in a geographic area without too much competition (as I have here in Metro New York).
IBWAA publishes a member-written newsletter six days a week and conducts its own elections for the Hall of Fame and All-Star Game. Since I have significant issues with the Hall of Fame vote, I’m glad there’s another voice. It’s interesting to note that the IBWAA has given Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens enough votes (more than 75%) for Cooperstown even though the BBWAA has not and probably won’t.
We also have regular Zoom meetings with speakers that are not only enjoyable but educational, helping even experienced journalists (like me) with professional development. We’re never too old to learn (and I’m 73). I am honored to serve as the weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, our newsletter, and to write original columns for every issue.
It is great to be part of this great organization.
Do you believe, over time, that the IBWAA will be considered an equal to the BBWAA? There is a ton of quality writing and reporting done by independent writers on blogs and such…
Blogs are controversial because entrenched newspaper writers consider their authors amateurs. On the other hand, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was once considered a bunch of crackpots but is now a respected resource that has repaired quite a few erroneous records that pertain to baseball history. I’m thrilled that IBWAA and SABR have a close working relationship and think that will only improve both organizations.
I agree. I also think there’s a ton of great writing both in and out of the BBWAA and IBWAA.
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?
There’s not enough room in these pages for me to answer that question. I am a traditionalist who thinks baseball was much better in the Good Old Days before divisional play, interleague play, weekend night games, and just about all the so-called innovations imposed upon the fans by Rob Manfred.
I despise the “Manfred Man,” the designated runner that surfaces for both teams in extra innings, and don’t like seven-inning games for doubleheaders either. And if you’re going to have official games that are seven innings long, credit Madison Bumgarner with that no-hitter. Interleague play destroys the integrity of the World Series and fan voting for All-Star lineups makes a farce of the Midsummer Classic, which used to mean something. Players, coaches, and managers should pick the lineups and subs and the game should be played during the day so that kids – the fans of the future – can see the end. More day games in general would be a good idea but unfortunately, baseball kowtows to football and television moguls at the expense of its own fans. Football should not even be played before the baseball season ends. And I mean the World Series. One more thing, wild-card winners are not true champions and should have every possible disadvantage (like no home games) to prevent them from reaching the last round.
Tell us about your baseball travel programs. (I would love to join one someday.) Will these be staring again soon?
I am the creator of the baseball theme cruise concept, which started when I took Bob Feller with me aboard the QE2 in 1981. I have done more than two-dozen such cruises since and hosted a virtual roster of All-Stars, including Ron Blomberg, Ralph Branca, Roger Craig, Darrell Evans, Ernie Harwell, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Jay Johnstone, Clem Labine, Eddie Mathews, Lindy McDaniel, Stan Musial, Fritz Peterson, Brooks Robinson, Red Schoendienst, Art Shamsky, Enos Slaughter, Billy Williams, and even Johnny VanderMeer and Pepper Paire Davis, whose part was played by Geena Davis in A League Of Their Own.
In addition, I was a tour host for Sports Travel and Tours during Cooperstown Induction Weekend from 2014-19. Right before the pandemic shut down the baseball world, I spent a week working for Road Scholar as a guest lecturer in Sarasota, Florida.
I am talking to several outlets about re-launching some of these projects – especially the cruises. Lots of people (and teams) have tried to copy my formula but the imitation is never as good as the original.
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?
There have been so many books on the Yankees, with many authored by my long-time friend and colleague Marty Appel. Most of those books cover seasons, teams, or stars but only a handful cover the supporting cast. I’d love to see one on Elliott Maddox, a black player who converted to Judaism while playing for the Yankees. He actually attended the one and only Jewish Baseball Weekend that Marty Appel brought to Cooperstown and invited me to attend. Somebody asked Maddox how his teammates reacted to his conversion and he said, “Instead of calling me a schvartze, they called me a Jew.”
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?
No question. Hank Aaron. Modest, humble, introverted, and out-of-sight because he played in Milwaukee and Atlanta. He still holds the records for total bases, runs batted in, and home runs (unless you believe that fraud Barry Bonds). He was also one of the first 30/30 players, and won three Gold Gloves, two batting titles, an MVP trophy, and a World Series ring. What made Hank different was that he thought it was embarrassing to strike out – and never fanned 100 times in any one season. He struck out 29 times while hitting 20 home runs at age 40. Just an incredible player but vastly unappreciated.
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?
Signed posters from my baseball cruises
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
The Shirelles (discovered at Passaic High School eight years before I graduated from there)
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Franks & beans
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience.
I love animals and have a 14-pound terrier named Chelsea who is a mix of yorkie, poodle, and shih-tzu. She is NOT named after Freddie Freeman’s wife but you might ask her the same question in reverse.
One final thought: give my books a look. The latest and best one, 480 pages long, is an unorthodox illustrated paperback called The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists & Legends From Our National Pastime. The 2020 edition has Mike Trout on the cover. And, now that the pandemic has subsided, I’d love to start speaking again at libraries, service clubs, and Sunday morning Men’s Clubs.
E.mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you Dan. I greatly enjoyed this discussion.
Really appreciate the opportunity.
I know we’ll be in touch. Please keep up the great work. I appreciate, greatly, all your kindness and support.