I had edited a few books for Big Earth Publishing, a company out of Madison, Wisconsin. One of them was part of a series about various pro sports teams. The books were called “Trivia Teasers,” a name of which I was not especially fond. A question-and-answer format had been established, along with six chapter introductions. Anyway, this particular one pertained to the Chicago Cubs. I thought it was shallow, poorly researched, hastily written and obviously done by a person with little sense of sports history. I conveyed this opinion—gently, of course—to Mike Nuckelbone, the managing editor of Big Earth.
He did not disagree. In fact, he asked me to take over the series. I declined, but he persisted, flattered me and said that if I wrote enough of them, by “economies of scale” as they went into multiple printings, I would develop a steady royalty income. (He would later deny having made any such promises.) Finally, I relented. These books were to be written in pairs: two every spring, two every fall. Nuckelbone had already scheduled the next two, on the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. I bought a Red Sox media guide and a book over the Internet, and got to it.
I had little connection to the Hub City, having been there just once—to run in the 1995 Boston Marathon. But I embraced the subject as a good journalist must and found that the Red Sox had quite an interesting history dating back to 1901 when they played at Huntington Avenue Grounds in a poor Irish neighborhood of Boston. The immortal Cy Young pitched for the club for eight of those early seasons. How could I not make mention of the building of Fenway Park in 1912, the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees (prompting what came to be known as the Curse of the Bambino) after the 1918 season, the haphazard efforts of owner Tom Yawkey to bring a championship to Boston, the arrival of Ted Williams in 1939, being the last major league franchise to integrate, the “Impossible Dream” team of 1967, Yaz, the 1975 World Series loss to Cincinnati, Bill Buckner’s error in the ’86 Series against the Mets and finally, a pair of championships in 2004 and 2007?
Each of those stories had to be addressed, but I also came up with some odd nuggets. For example, manager Chick Stahl committed suicide during spring training 1907, blaming it on his players when in fact he had been blackmailed by a woman who bore his child out of wedlock; Moe Berg, an Ivy League-educated catcher, served as a spy during World War II; the Red Sox’ attendance actually went down in 1953 after the Braves left for Milwaukee; Jackie Jensen, American League MVP in 1958, retired prematurely because of his fear of flying; Butch Hobson, Boston’s manager from 1992 to 1994, was an awful third baseman, making 43 errors for the 1978 BoSox; for the past 20 years, Fenway Park has hosted the “Baseball Beanpot,” a tournament featuring teams representing Harvard University, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts; and in a game against Tampa Bay in 2002, Manny Ramirez hit a soft grounder and headed straight to the dugout without even moving toward first base. This was one of countless incidents disingenuously attributed to “Manny being Manny.”