David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: baseball

Dirk Lammers

Dirk Lammers on Books, Baseball, and the Joys and Perils of Getting Published

We met Dirk Lammers a couple of years ago at the South Dakota Festival of Books. (For those of you who haven’t been to that book festival, or to South Dakota, do yourself a favor before you die and do both. Breathtaking landscape, ridiculously friendly people, world-class published authors, very serious and talented attending writers. We saw buffalo; a donkey put his head into our car–it was a series of peak experiences.) So Dirk told us about his book at the South Dakota Festival of Books. David is a huge baseball fanatic, so the subject was of great interest to him. Dirk was fun, knowledgeable, smart and passionate, all wonderful ingredients for an author. Hell, for anybody. We had a very strong feeling that he was going to get his book published. Lo and behold, here it is, Baseball’s No-Hit Wonders, just in time for the Boys of Summer to take center stage as America’s pastime unfolds, as it has since the 1800s, and takes us through the dog days of summer all the way into the Fall Classic. So we thought we’d chat with Dirk about baseball, books and getting published.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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The Book Doctors: Why did you decide to write this book?

Dirk Lammers: My interest in no-hitters is borne out of my identity as a Mets fan and suffering through numerous ninth-inning misses by Tom Seaver, and watching guys like Seaver, Nolan Ryan, David Cone and Doc Gooden finally notch their no-nos in other teams’ uniforms. That led to a website, NoNoHitters.com, which tracked the Mets’ dubious streak of playing more than 7,500 games without a no-hitter. For years, I diligently tweeted updates and wrote blog posts each game until the count reached 8,019 and Johan Santana broke the 50-year curse on June 1, 2012. I decided to retool the site around all no-hitters and realized that my wealth of research was probably worthy of a book.

TBD: Why do you think people are so fascinated by the idea of a no-hitter?

DL: A no-hitter is all about the suspense, and whether it’s a fan, a player or an announcer, the suspense doesn’t begin for everyone at the same time. Some might be aware that it has been happening since the first pitch; others might not take note until the 6th or 7th inning. But once you’re aware it’s happening, each pitch, each crack of the bat, each throw takes on a heightened significance. I also think that for fans, the cast of characters is so varied that you never know who’s going to throw one. It could be Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax or Bob Feller or it could be Bobo Holloman, Bud Smith or Chris Heston.

TBD: What were some of the joys and difficulties of writing this book?

DL: Many of the greatest joys in writing this book came from the interviews. Chatting with former MLB Fay Vincent in such detail about the 1991 committee’s decision to tighten the definition of a no-hitter was so compelling, and then to have him agree to write my book’s foreword was such an honor. When I was at Fenway Park to interview Clay Buchholz and some other players, I got to sit in the Red Sox dugout to conduct the interview. Such hallowed ground. And it’s hard to top getting to talk to Don Larsen about his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

One of the biggest difficulties was securing rights to the book’s nearly 90 photos on a tight budget, considering that financial responsibility fell on me. I combed my hard drives from games and museums I had visited to dig up anything that was relevant, and I headed out to as many ballparks as I could to get my own shots of players, stadiums and other items. I also worked with the National Baseball Hall of Fame to secure rights for some images from the archives, worked with online auction houses for some memorabilia shots and was fortunate to get permission from Keith Allison, a great sports photographer from the D.C. area, to use some of his more recent images.

TBD: What are some of your favorite stories from no-hitters?

DL: It’s not an official no-no, but Harvey Haddix losing his perfect game (and the ballgame) in the 13th inning after retiring the first 36 batters still boggles my mind. And the tale of Dock Ellis throwing a no-no while tripping on acid never gets old, no matter how many times I tell it, read it, watch it or hear it in song. I find Dave Stieb’s perseverance of finally completing the task after losing four no-hitters in the ninth inning inspiring for all of us who encounter failure. But as a Mets fan, the no-hitter that is forever etched into my mind is Johan Santana’s no-no, because of the long and detailed backstory.

TBD: Do you think it is immoral, shameful and dishonorable to try to bunt your way on base when someone is in the last innings of trying to throw a no-hitter?

DL: It’s funny, I wrote a whole chapter on this subject and I’m not sure I’ve completely made up my mind. I see both sides, but it’s certainly more acceptable in a 1-0 game than a 12-0 game. If I were the batter I would swing away, and if my coach singled for the bunt I’d be more than a little peeved. But if I were a pitcher who lost my no-no on a push bunt to first, I would stare that batter down for the rest of the inning.

It’s interesting that this is a rather recent unwritten rule. Pete Rose bunted during Ken Johnson’s no-hitter for the Houston Colt .45s but Johnson wasn’t peeved. And then at some point, the practice became taboo. You can’t really expect an athlete to not compete, and if that guy is a speedy leadoff hitter you’re taking something out of his toolbox by removing the bunt.

TBD: How did you go about getting your book deal?

DL: After I outlined the chapters and wrote the first few, I felt like I had enough of a concept of where the book was going to craft a formal proposal, though it was way more work than I had anticipated. I began submitting to literary agents who seemed to have an interest in sports and set a goal of submissions a day. I received my share of rejections and no responses but also got some positive and encouraging responses from agents who could not take on the project. I was then contacted by literary agent Helen Zimmermann, who had a publisher who expressed interest and wanted to publish my book. One of that company’s partners, however, had a recurrence of cancer and they had to shelve any new projects. A month later, Unbridled Books expressed interest and the book found its home.

TBD: Who do you think are some of the most unlikely pitchers to have thrown a no-hitter?

DL: The St. Louis Browns’ Bobo Holloman, who threw a no-hitter in his first major-league start in 1953, has to be one of the most unlikely successful pitching performances of all time, considering he ended his career with a 3-7 record and a 5.23 ERA. It’d give the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bud Smith (7-8 lifetime record) a close second, and probably place Philip Humber’s no-no in third as he’s an ex-Met.

TBD: And what pitchers do you look at and say, I can’t believe you never threw a no-hitter?

DL: Grover Cleveland Alexander is probably the most prolific pitcher not to have thrown a no-hitter. He won 373 games and had an overpowering fastball and sharp curve, so he should have landed in the club. Lefty Grove and Early Wynn should join him as well. Modern-era pitchers that should have thrown at least one include Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, who threw nine perfect innings for the Expos but his team couldn’t give him a run. I also find it funny that Paul Dean has a no-no, but brother Dizzy Dean does not.

Greg Maddux easily could have thrown a no-hitter with his talent, but he actually was quoted during his playing days saying he never would because he liked to experiment in the strike zone too often.

TBD: I know you are a Mets fan, I won’t hold that against you, but do you think they have a chance of winning the World Series this year and why?

DL: The Mets have the best starting pitching staff in the league, so anything less than a return to the World Series will be a disappointment. I’m especially happy that the team shored up the middle infield and has brought back Yoenis Céspedes to give some punch in the cleanup spot. That said, the team needs to stay healthy and David Wright needs to return to top form if the Mets are going to go all the way. I sure hope they can do it. The year 1986 seems such a distant memory.

TBD: Do you believe that in the year 2016 the San Diego Padres can finally get off the no-hitter schneid?

DL: I honestly thought that 2015 was going to be the year for the Padres, but a San Diego starter never even reached the sixth inning with a no-no intact that season and the team’s count is now sitting at 7,490 games (still far to go to catch the Mets). James Shields would certainly qualify as the favorite, but my guess is that Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner might be the one to break the curse. And to live on the dangerous side, I’ll go on record saying it will be Ross in 2016.

TBD: You have written lots of short pieces from a journalistic point of view. How is it different writing a whole book? What advice do you have for writers?

DL: I actually embraced the journalistic process to write this book as that’s what I am used to. And, frankly, it made it less overwhelming to view it that way. I set out to write 27 1,000- to 1,500-word stories, all centered around the same subject, and I conducted as much research as I could through newspaper clippings, books, box scores and (whenever possible) personal interviews. I am currently working on a non-sports biography and am using a similar process, although with a biography I am constantly reworking the early and late parts of chapters when I get a better idea of their placement to make the transitions more seamless. I’m not sure how well this process will translate to fiction, but I will find out when I try to enter that world someday. Writing for the Associated Press has taught me to be concise and write for clarity, and I think that training has helped me as an author. My advice to new authors would be to embrace a process they are comfortable with, and nudge it into a new direction rather than trying to start from scratch. It’s easier to start from a place where you are comfortable and move it out of that zone.

Dirk Lammers is an award-winning Associated Press journalist who for years chronicled the New York Mets’ 50-year quest for the team’s first no-hitter. He has spent more than two decades writing thousands of news stories and features for the AP and Tampa Tribune on a variety of topics including business, politics, technology, sports and entertainment.

In 2008, Lammers tapped into his love of baseball to create NoNoHitters.com, a website dedicated to the Mets’ seemingly futile quest for its first no-hitter. For the 4½ years between the site’s creation and Johan Santana’s first Mets no-no in 2012, NoNoHitters.com blossomed into the Internet’s online gathering point for all things related to no-hitters, garnering press coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and more. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Suadade on the Diamond

photo(1)Suadade. It’s a Brazilian word which roughly translated means: a profound melancholy mixed with a deep euphoria. Ever since the last out on Sunday that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling. Yes, the object of this is to win, but it’s really too feel the joy of life, the misery of life, to be out on a hot summer day and commune with men. To play. & I’ve been playing organized all since I was eight years old. That’s 50 years. This was one of my most satisfying you seasons. To come from where we started and win eight games in a row, in all kinds of ways, with defense, with baserunning, with pitching, with hitting, it was a fantastic ride, and before I go any further I would like to thank all you men who made it possible. It has been an honor and a privilege willto go to battle with you rogues and gentlemen. Now let’s get down to particulars. One of the strangest things about Sunday’s game, to me, was the fact that we played with such relentless shittiness, and only lost by two runs. Through five completed innings we had five hits. No matter how you do the math that’s one hit per inning. In slow pitch softball against a pitcher who, although he appears to be a very nice fellow, let’s face it, he’s more belly-itcher than Clayton Kershaw. Through five innings we scored 3 runs. Even as I write this it seems impossible with the talent that we have in this team that we could only score 3 runs through five innings. In slow pitch fucking softball! Granted, we did hit some balls at their guys, but we also popped up miserably and grounded out weekly with shocking regularity. & to be fair, we must give the devil his due, they made some plays. And they had some balls. By the way, their big bruiser lashed a line drive down the right field line, and I don’t know you guys could see it, but the chalk flew like LeBron was doing his pregame ritual, it literally could not have been more obvious. At that point I thought, Well, this is destiny, where the chosen team, this is a portend, a symbol of our rise to the top of the mountain, we will soon be champions. The best laid plans of mice and men. And then when you factor in how much difficulty we were having catching and throwing the ball, well, that’s a potent cocktail guaranteed to make one drunk with failure. But there were rays of sunshine in the dark storm of helpless hitlessness. Barry was 3-3, with a huge hit in the sixth inning that knocked in two runs. Peter was, what else, 3-3 while looking like he was in his jammies and hadn’t had his morning cup of coffee. And the old pro Steve Mish Masher was 4-4 just raked the ball all day. He also demonstrated incredible acumen, skill, and hustle, as he always does, just when we needed it most. Through sheer will, he turned a routine single into a double by taking an extra base, and when he did they threw the ball away and he got all the way to third. It was just the sort of wake-up call that the moribund zombie-like Craters needed. And for as badly as we played in the field, apart from two innings we only allowed four runs. Against a bunch of mashers like they have, that’s great. Naturally I keep going over in my head all the different things I could’ve done that would’ve won us the game. One of their Big Hitters whacked a hot shot right up the middle, I swear it’s like the ball went right through me, and yet I couldn’t get a glove on it. I always make that play. On Sunday I didn’t. If I make that play 2 runs don’t score. Then we end up tied after seven innings. And a play that for me was a symbol of our day. Hard hit grounder up the middle. I leapt like an old gray cat instinctively rolling and diving, my wife said it looked like I was 57 again, I was ready to throw the guy out at first and be a hero. One problem. The ball trickled off the end of my glove. If I’d just left the ball alone Jason could’ve fielded the ball quite easily. If we just gotten one more timely hit. & on & on & on. My mother, who was an immigrant from the old country, had a great expression: If ifs & ands were pots & pans, beggars would be kings. Marinate on that. But one of the things I love about this team that we never threw in the towel, bloodied and beaten as we were. There was always a feeling that we could get the thing going again. I love that. I’ve played on so many teams that would fall behind and just kind of give up, consciously or unconsciously. Sure enough, in the last inning things got very interesting, they started throwing the ball around, we started hitting, and I was thinking, if we could just get one more guy on base, that would bring Joey Bag O Hits to the plate, and the way this season was going, he’ll hit a grand slam and we’ll win, because we are the team of destiny. Needless to say, it was not to be. After Grink put himself out of his misery and ended the game, Joey turned to me and said he had been imagining that exact scenario, he come to bat with the bases loaded grand slam, walk-off. Idiots think alike. And by the way, Jason, we love you, and we will always love you. It’s amazing to think that we mercied the Maniacs, who look like the best team in the league. We beat the Overlookers twice I believe. I really like how evenly matched all these teams are. On Any Given Sunday, right? Parity has finally hit Montclair ball!

As I look back on this season I see Gelman smoking ball after ball after ball, it would be monotonous if it wasn’t so wonderful. I see Meranus raging in from deep in the outfield like a Jewish Dick Butkus and laying out to make yet another bullish yet balletic diving catch. I see Rob Davis grinding out ABs, playing all over the field, and wiggling his butt, sometimes in my dreams, which, I’ll be honest is more than a little disturbing. I see Glenn gritting his teeth in utter agony and still making a spectacular play at second base when we really needed it: Fuck you Pain, I will not be your bitch! I see Barry playing second base shortstop third-base, & yakking a grass cutter down the third base line in the playoffs with the game on the line, balling-up big time. I see Ryan launching not one but two balls into the pool Splish Splash! & I hear him racing in from the outfield, heaving a world-class grunt as he snags another ball and breaks another heart. I see Dave striking out, getting a ticket, and then hitting a Titanic shot into the stratosphere while his kids reminded him of just how much he sucks. I see Mish with that whole surreal almost Dada-esque pre-AB Ritual, pumping the bat, lifting the leg up and smashing it back down, hoisting the hands up by his head high, coiled like a cobra about to strike, taking a couple of little quick Joe Namath stuttersteps and then BAM! the little yellow ball is punished. I see sleepy-eyed Peter raking all day every day, ho-hum I am just rip another shot over the shortstop’s head and trot on down to first base, that I think I’ll have a little nap. I see Jason reaching out like Mister Fantastic, Reed Richards, the scientific genius who can stretch himself indefinitely, snag a hotshot liner & nab the guy at second, a spectacular double play that changes the entire game in an instant. I see Hip hip Jorge! racing like a runaway train around third-base and throwing himself face first across home with absolutely no regard for his body, or what’s left of it anyway. I see Tim channeling his inner Mark McGuire and launching a missile, throwing out a guy at second base from the outfield, giving out tremendous amounts of shit, and taking tremendous amounts of shit like a real man. I see Mike Madman Buchanan fire his cannon of a right arm, unleash his sweet The Natural swing, and take off from first base on a suicide mission that left him looking like an extra on The Walking Dead. I see CJ teaching his children how to hold their nose in the international symbol for: STINK! after Ryan popped out to third: so very important to teach the children how to express their disdain & disgust, they are, after all, our future. I see Phil filling in at shortstop and pulling the old Phantom tag play on some unsuspecting shnook of a mook of a jamoke. I see Junior smacking a walk-off dinger, and racing around the bases like his hair and his house were both on fire, getting pummeled with congratulations and looking like he just won the lottery. I see Raj stroking balls all over the diamond, everywhere they ain’t, like a very dark Wee Willy Keeler. I see myself being a raging dickhead only a few times, instead of a few times every game, which I consider a major triumph. I see Joey getting another Bag O Hits, when he’s not being my mate in battery, my better half, keeping me calm, pumping me up, making me better. And that, as they say is that. Another season has come, and it is gone, and I am so very alive even as I am one step closer to death. Suadade.

I Is with You: Leroy Satchel Paige Mini-Documentary


My mini-documentary of my childhood hero, a great American legend who was a combination Mark Twain/Richard Prior & Michael Jordan: Leroy Satchel Paige, born July 7, 1901, then again in 1903, 1904, and finally in 1909. 

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When I was seven I fell under the spell of Leroy Satchel Paige. I don’t remember who he was playing for, or who he was pitching against, I only remember Satchel – ridiculously old, impossibly leanlanky, and sooooooo slooooooow as he jangles in from the bullpen with the bases loaded and two out.

As the crowd whips itself into a frothy frenzy, I’m hypnotized by this magical man, this cross between Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle.  Those long, loping, can’t start the game without me strides are comical, but they’re also majestic: King and Jester, Warrior and Clown, an ageless wonder of the world.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

Well, by the time the Ol’ Satch actually reaches the mound and warms up, the whole stadium erupting all around him, the poor dumbfounded flummox of batter looks like a balloon with the air all leaked out of it.

Sure enough, Satch goes into his syncopated, whirly bird, interpretive dance, scatty jazzy be-bop of a wind-up, swinging out that long lean leg and easy as you please, his arm whipshotting a teeny tiny pea homeward, the whippersnapper batter freezes like a duck on a winter pond.

“STEEEEEE-RIKE!!!” screams the ump, as strike one caresses the paint on the outside of home plate lightly like a long lost lover.

Let the ball flow our of your hand like water. 

“WAAAAAAAAHHHH!” the crowd wails.

“STEEEEEE-RIKE!!!” screams the ump as strike two strokes the inside of home.

“OHHHHHHHHHHHH!” goes the crowd.

Just take the ball and throw it, home plate don’t move.

Same wind-up, same whipshotting right arm, only this time the ball floats slow, slower, slowest, the snailiest change of pace I’ve ever seen: Uncle Tommy.

Uncle Tommy’s slow, but he gets there.

The hapless whippersnapper waves feeble before the ball even gets there, his Louisville Slugger transformed into an overcooked 33 ounce piece of linguini.

“WOO-HOOOOOO!” the crowd screams in full-throated roar, raining down thunderbolts of joy on Ol’ Satch as he saunters off with a doff of his cap.

We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.

Black and white, sons of Klansmen, and ancestors of slaves, all raised their voices as one with me, and I understood in a way I could not express at the time that Satchel had made us all color blind.  And happy.   From that minute on, he was my hero.

As I got older I discovered Satchel’s humor.

Age is a question of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.

And his brilliance: Nolan Ryan holds the record for no-hitters with an extraordinary 7.  Satch threw 55. Cy Young: 511 wins, Satchel, 1,934.  Shut out the Red Sox for three innings.  When he was 60.  Or somewhere thereabouts.  I memorized Satch’s 6 rules for staying young.

Avoid eating fried meats, they angry up the blood.

If your stomach disputes you, pacify it with cool thoughts.

Keep the juices flowing by jangling gently  as you move.

Go very light on the vices such as carrying on in society, the social ramble ain’t restful.

Avoid the running at all times.

And of course, don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.

Baseball has turned me from a 2nd class citizen into a 2nd class immortal. 

When I got to college and studied Socrates, I laughed when I read in his writing: “The wise man knows he knows nothing”, because it sounded exactly like Satch’s,

I don’t know anything.

And as I got older, I understood his humanity.

I is with you.

When I found out he was the highest paid athlete in America in 1945, I started to think about what it must have been like to be the Tiger Woods of your day, but not get to compete in any PGA events because you’re black.  To have to watch from the sidelines as the best white players get riches and glory, while you’re denied your rightful place on the center stage of America.  But they didn’t have Air Satchels back then.  The NO COLORED ALLOWED sign was still hanging over the door.

I marvel at this man I idolized as a boy, and how he triumphed with such grace, humor, and dignity over decades of bigotry and intolerance.

Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.

But nothing will ever match that tingly feeling of the six year-old boy moonstruck by that great artist of the diamond.

Satchel, I is with you.

Satchel Sez by David Sterry and Arielle Eckstut

Satchel_PaigeBuy the book.

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, SATCHEL!
Satchel Sez
The Wit, Wisdom, and World of Leroy “Satchel” Paige
by David Sterry and Arielle Eckstut

Who was the highest paid athlete in America in 1945? Which baseball player is credited with 300 shutouts, 55 no-hitters, and 64 consecutive scoreless innings? Which pitcher won three games on the very same day? Hall of Famer Leroy “Satchel” Paige is known for these memorable milestones, but perhaps more important, he is remembered for being one of the great philosophers of the twentieth century. Satchel Sez (Three Rivers Press, May 2001) is a tribute to this classic American folk philosopher in the grand tradition of Will Rogers, Mark Twain and Yogi Berra. From his days as the biggest star of the Negro Leagues to his extraordinary performances in the majors, Satchel Sez chronicles the amazing life and times of this write-your-own-rules hero who had a panache all his own, both on and off the field.
“Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Home plate don’t move.”

After a quarter century of unparalleled brilliance in the Negro Leagues, Paige finally made it to the Cleveland Indians in 1948. At the age of 47 (or 40, or 42, or 44, depending on what day you asked), Satchel was the oldest rookie ever to grace the Major Leagues. When The Sporting News named him “Rookie of the Year,” the forty-something Paige declined the position because, as he put it, “I wasn’t sure what year the gentlemen had in mind.” Once with the Indians, Satchel played to thunderous standing ovations all across the nation, setting the attendance record for night games at 78,382 and inspiring Americans of every age, class and color.
“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

Unfortunately, fame did not protect Paige from the cruelty of racism. Though Satchel was a man of remarkable humor and deep intelligence, he was more often than not portrayed
as a simpleton, or worse yet, baseball’s Stepin Fetchit. Satchel earnestly voiced his frustration with the racism he encountered. As he so poignantly said, “Baseball has turned me from a second-class citizen to a second-class immortal.”
“I never had a job. I just played baseball.”

Satchel’s witty quips and savvy observations—on everything from health to wealth, from race relations to baseball—are an enduring part of American mythology. Satchel Sez is a fact-packed, fun-filled collection of quotes, stories (from Willie Mays, Buck O’Neil, and many others), statistics, vintage newspaper articles, photos, and memorabilia of Leroy “Satchel” Paige. What better to way to celebrate the first–of many–of Paige’s centennial birthdays than with this definitive collection?!
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old were?”

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