I wasn’t at the ballpark, but last Saturday evening was every bit as saturated with baseball as Sunday turned out to be. On the occasion of a Baseball Prospectus/SABR Bookstore Event (no pizza, to our disappointment), Alex Belth, Alex Ciepley, Mike Carminati and I hung out for about an hour at Bryant Park, across the street from Coliseum Bookstore, where the event was to take place. Mike was up from Princeton or therebouts, meeting all of us for the first time, and Belth steered the conversation towards Mike’s beloved Phillies of the late ’70s and early ’80s — Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Bake McBride, Garry Maddox, et al. We shot the shit for awhile, old and new friends, and then I got a call from Chris Karhl to say that the Prospectus contingent — Kahrl and Steve Goldman — was currently “staring at bumpers” at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and running late, asking me to convey the message to the other speakers on the bill to proceed without them.
We wandered into Coliseum to find one Dan Schlossberg taking the podium to talk about a book he’d written — a post-championship quickie — on the Florida Marlins. Schlossberg proceeded to tell a room full of Yankee and Cub fans about last season’s unlikely championship run, managing to be simplistic, plodding, and condescending all at once. As if we New Yorkers were somehow unable to recall the unlikely Fish tale from last fall. As if the Cubs fans in the room had never heard of the Billy Goat Curse. Had he been writing about the Red Sox, I’m sure Schlossberg would have been telling a room full of SABR members and BP readers that the last time the Red Sox won a World Series, it was 1918 and a guy named Babe Ruth was PITCHING for them. The Marlins won? Shit, I think I saw something in the paper about that…
So I’m sitting there among Belth, Cliff Corcoran, and Baseball Primer’s Darren Viola (a/k/a Repoz) — all Yankee fans — and Ciepley, a Cubs diehard, and we’re all giving each other glares that ask, “Is this guy serious?” and answer with, “No really, is this guy fucking serious?” Soon enough the class clown in all of us begins to take over, the rolled eyes, muttered asides, stifled laughs, everything but the “bullshit” coughs. Rough sledding for Mr. Schlossberg, a fifty-something author of 27 baseball books, none of which any of us had ever seen, let alone read. Schlossberg told us about how he originally had an agreement from Marlin manager Jack McKeon to collaborate on the book, but McKeon withdrew when an offer for him to revise his own autobiography came through, and the writer turned next to the only player to partake in both Marlin World Championships, Jeff Conine. Plain vanilla, boring-as-lint, yawn-inducing, .800 OPS Jeff Conine, whose career has produced exactly no memorable moments for anyone outside the state of Florida. On the back of the book, Conine is holding up a poster showing directions to the Yankee victory parade, delicious irony except to those of us in the room who would rather have tested out the slim volume’s suitability as a projectile.
To our satisfaciton, Mike C. got off a good number of Q’s in the Q & A which put the author on the defensive — something about the Yanks not needing Ugie Urbina after the author had characterized them as being beaten out by the Marlins in the trade market, something about the league catching up with Dontrelle Willis after his hot start — and after that we tuned out, some of us wandering away to browse the bookstore. Belth handed me a galley copy of The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz, a delicious-looking history of the development of baseball stats and the men behind them, which helped me wait it out like a rain delay.
Finally Steve and Chris showed up, about an hour late. The two of them began with impassioned recollections of the late Doug Pappas and his work before moving onto a general Q&A, much of which centered around the baseball-in-D.C. issue, as Chris lives in the area. Steven’s book about Casey Stengel, Forging Genius (about which I wrote recently), came up for discussion as well; Chris is its editor for Brassey’s. In marked contrast to Schlossberg, both writers held the audience’s complete attention, drawing intelligent questions and genuine laughs instead of blank stares.
As Belth mentioned in his blog, Chris is now living as a woman, a fact that those who attended the March 11 NYC Pizza Feed (or a few others since then) may have learned but which has somewhat miraculously avoided circulating through the baseball blogosphere. To the best of my knowledge, Belth’s post is the first time anybody in the baseball community has written about Chris’ situation publicly. It’s been an open secret, mostly because it hasn’t been particularly relevant to anything baseball related and because nobody in the know wants to see some semianonymous halfwit start lobbing tasteless Piazza-type jokes on some bulletin board. But with Chris herself heading to the SABR Convention next month and making several references to her lifestyle choice as she spoke in front of the Coliseum crowd, it was only a matter of time before the news reached a wider audience, and the moment appears to have arrived. Deal with it.
I came to that March 11 feed armed in advance with the info about Chris’ big change, and whatever uneasiness I had about the situation (very little, but still…) evaporated the moment she enthusiastically responded, “Yeah, the Futility Infielder!” as she shook my hand. Back in the day, Chris’ “Transaction Analysis” columns were probably the single biggest reason I became a regular BP reader, so to find that
he she was excited about my writing was a true thrill. I spent well over an hour that evening chatting with Chris about baseball, book publishing and “the other stuff,” and came away with as much admiration and respect for the person as I did for the writer. The courage, grace, and wit with which she has handled her situation is inspiring, and it’s quite amusing to think that no matter which side of the gender plate she’s swinging from, Chris is still as knowledgeable and entertaining a baseball writer as one could ever hope to meet. Reconnecting on this particular night, it was like seeing any of my old baseball buds — we all end up gabbing and giggling, bouncing ideas and observations off of one another, occasionally cutting each other off in our excitement, like giddy kids on a midsummer evening’s sugar high.
Anyway, a sizable group of us ended up milling around the Coliseum — Jon Daly (a.k.a. Primer’s Gary Geiger Counter) introduced himself to me — until they threw us out a half-hour after closing time, and still we lingered in front of the store, chatting further about baseball. Eventually nine of us (Steve, Chris, Cliff, Alex C., two friends of Steve’s, two extremely talkative youngsters named Milo and Dave, and myself) wandered over to the east side to get some mediocre Mexican food; not our first choice, but at 9:30 on a Saturday night we weren’t in much mood to complain. Somewhat out of our element in that particular neighborhood, five of us ended up drinking at a cheesy sports bar called Third and Long, talking ball, music and politics until nearly 1 AM before splitting up. Nobody — with the possible exception of Steve, who napped at the bar without touching his rum and Coke — wanted our conversation to end a moment sooner than it had to, but New Jersey and the outer boroughs beckoned.
Like an amusement park ride, I can hardly wait to do all of this over again.