Baseball Lives

By Mike Bryan.

Pantheon Books (1989)

This book has a confusing title. You stand in the bookstore wondering if it’s The Lives of People in Baseball, or Baseball Isn’t Dead—Baseball Lives! The first interpretation is correct. The subtitle is Men and Women of the Game Talk About Their Jobs, Their Lives, and The National Pastime.
I picked this book out of the bargain bin a couple of years ago, and turned to it recently for reference. A story going around Boston these days is that Roger Clemens might be traded. Roger thinks the Red Sox don’t want him any more, in part because he found out the team had put his name on the waiver wire.

Perhaps a major league baseball player doesn’t understand how waivers work? He would be in good company, along with most fans, many columnists, and at least a few General Managers. In Baseball Lives is a good introduction to waiver rules by someone whose job it is to know, Ethel LaRue, assistant administrator for the Cleveland Indians.

Waivers are kept very confidential because most of the time a player wouldn’t understand. I think he’d think the club didn’t want him. You can request waivers on Monday through Friday before two o’clock Eastern time. You do this through the computer, and every day on the computer, by about four o’clock, there’s a list of players on which waivers are sought. I run this off and circulate it. If you want to claim someone, you enter on the computer that Cleveland wishes to claim so-and-so from Seattle, say. You are awarded players on a waiver claim by the standings in reverse order, so if you’re in the basement and claim a player along with the Yankees, who might be in first place, your club is going to get the player. At the end of the period after waivers are asked, the club is told whether a player has been claimed, and by whom. We don’t know who claims players on other clubs. We only know who claims ours. Then the club has forty-eight hours in which to decide whether they want to withdraw the waiver request. Most of them are withdrawn.

There are twenty-four players on each of the twenty-six clubs’ active roster, and the average player will have waivers requested at least twice a year, just in case you need the waivers for a trade opportunity, or a move to the minors. You want to be ready in case of the blockbuster deal where somebody wants to trade his whole club for Don Mattingly. I would say a majority of clubs, when a new waiver period starts, ask them on all the players, just to be ready. But you can only request waivers on seven players a day, so it takes four days to get them all for your whole team. On those first days of a waiver period, I don’t take time off.

To write this book Mike Bryan went around the country  interviewing people about their lives in baseball: how they into the game, and what their jobs are like. The book is loaded with interesting life stories and with informative looks at the structure of the game.

Of special interest to Red Sox fans are talks with Randy Hendricks (Clemens’ agent); Karen Williams (front-office person and wife of Billy Hatcher); Red Sox head groundskeeper Joe Mooney; P.A. announcer Sherm Feller; groundskeeper Al Forester; and souvenir shop proprietor Arthur D’Angelo (Twins Enterprises).

D’Angelo describes how he and his late brother Henry got their start as immigrant kids selling newspapers in front of Fenway Park. “The only thing we could say in English was ‘two cents’. Newspapers were two cents in those days.” The D’Angelos made the lucky decision to sell  Red Sox pennants in 1946, when the Sox ended up going to the World Series —”We are the originators of selling pennants at baseball games”. They experimented with politics, but after making the unfortunate decision to sell Dewey pennants in 1948, they decided to stick to sports, and have prospered. “Right now, this is positively the largest store in the U.S. as far as baseball or sports.”
Joe Mooney gives a wonderfully surly and hostile interview, in which he says, “I don’t even go near the players. Never did, never will... Most people in my position are hero worshippers. Not me... I wouldn’t go across the street to watch a game.”

Joe reminds me of a fellow I knew who drove a truck, making deliveries for an egg farm. You get all the eggs you need? No, he said, he never ate eggs. In fact, the sight of a cooked egg made him sick.
But most of the people in this book are not like that. Most of them, whether they got into the game by accident or by ambition, love the game and love to talk about their little corner of it.

Reviewed by David Nevard (1992)


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