Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One fan's White Sox all-star team

Today I came across a YouTube slideshow of baseball fan avalsonline's picks for an all-time Chicago White Sox lineup. It's a fun little show, including the Sox fight song in the background.

I was glad to see that two of his starters are the subjects of my biographies, Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Though I don't claim to be an expert on White Sox history, in my opinion, these picks were for the most part solid -- lots of recognition for the old-timers -- with only a couple of questions.

Though I think Schalk deserves his place in the Hall of Fame and is under-recognized by the Sox and their fans, I wondered about Schalk and Sherman Lollar both coming in ahead of Carlton Fisk in the catcher's position. Also, Eddie Collins might deserve more recognition at second base.

Anyway, watch the slideshow and make your own judgment.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Authors take issue with Faber as source for "Eight Men Out"

Urban "Red" Faber in 1917

An extensive article in Chicago Lawyer challenges the account of the Black Sox Scandal as presented in the 1960s by the late Eliot Asinof in "Eight Men Out."

The article is making the case that Shoeless Joe Jackson was innocent in the 1919 World Series fix and should be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It's an interesting article, but I'm not convinced.

That Red Faber was an Asinof source was affirmed when the late author's notes were reviewed. No surprise there.

However, the authors took issue with Faber as a source, apparently, because Faber did not actually pitch in the 1919 Series. They made it seem that Faber was laid up with the Spanish Flu, which had reached pandemic levels in 1918, and not in a position to observe.

That someone did not play does not mean he was not present. Faber was on the Sox roster for the Series, but after being ineffective or inactive for much of the last half of the 1919 season -- after-effects of the flu earlier in the year caused weight loss and no doubt contributed to his ineffectiveness -- he was not used. He attended each of the eight games of the series.

Further, the article does not address Asinof's contention that the Black Sox figures continued to lose some games in 1920. Faber himself told Asinof about it -- and Red was a victim of indifferent and bonehead play by the Black Sox figures, including Jackson.

Jackson's defenders point out that Shoeless Joe played errorless defense and hit the only home run of the 1919 Series. True. However, defenders can hurt their team without being charged with an error. A throw a little late to a base. Or thrown to a wrong base. Or missing a cutoff man. And the home run? It came in the third inning of the final game, when the Sox already trailed 5-0. Hardly a game-changing moment, but a homer nonetheless. Does that prove that Jackson played his best throughout the series? No one alive will ever know for sure.

Asinof is not necessary the last word in Black Sox research -- the recently deceased Gene Carney was a contemporary expert, and he expanded upon, affirmed and clarified Asinof's findings. I don't consider myself an expert. But after researching Faber and Ray Schalk, I am not ready to go along with the magazine article's authors, who focus on Asinof, overlook questionable events in 1920 games, disregard that Faber was present during the 1919 Series and ignore subsequent research and findings about the Black Sox.

Did Shoeless Joe get a raw deal? Let the debate continue.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Review: Spitball-Knuckleball Book

In his first two non-fiction books, historian Tom E. Mahl wrote about espionage. His third dealt with covert operations of a different sort - baseball's "trick pitches."

"The Spitball/Knuckleball Book: How They are Thrown, Those Who Threw Them" (Elyria, Ohio: Trick Pitch Press) has the shape and typography of a coffee-table book. However, it is jammed with so much information it qualifies as a serious history of the men who threw the spitball, knuckleball and its many variants - and shows how they did it.

Mahl, who earned a doctorate in diplomatic history from Kent State and teaches at Lorain County (Ohio) Community College, presents dozens of mini-biographies of trick-pitch practitioners, including Red Faber, about whom this author wrote a full biography.

Faber was one of 17 major leaguers grandfathered into the 1920 rule otherwise banning the spitter and trick pitches (such as the emery ball, grease ball and the like). When Faber retired after the 1933 season, he the last American League regular to legally throw the spitball in the majors.

Mahl hit a couple of bumps in the Faber chapter, falling prey to an error first published in the 1930s regarding Red's middle name (it is Clarence) and stating that the White Sox star had three 20-win seasons (he had four, not three). Still, those bobbles hardly detract from a nicely paced, compelling volume.

An interesting feature of the book is that it goes beyond who threw trick pitches, but shows how they threw them. Several pages of illustrations and diagrams show the techniques pitchers used to cause the ball to flutter and dive away from frustrated batters' furious swings.

Readers who love baseball history, with a particular interest in pitching, will enjoy Mahl's book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ready to circulate

I was in Dubuque's Carnegie-Stout Public Library last weekend, researching a possible subject for my next book, and spotted two copies of Red Faber in the Iowa Books shelves.

So, if you had been waiting for the lines to die down before checking out the biography, now is the time. Two books, no waiting.