January 2010

Gustavo Watch, Part 21

It’s been five months since my last Gustavo Watch, but hey, it’s not MY fault that the guy hasn’t done anything newsworthy — or wait, maybe it is. Yes, of course it is! The Hample Jinx is still punishing him for stealing a baseball from me on 8/1/06 at Yankee Stadium.


My friend Ben Hill (who writes this hilarious blog about the minor leagues) just told me that Gussie-boy pitched seven scoreless innings in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Excuse me for a moment here…

The Venezuelan Winter League?!
Click here to read the article about Gustavo’s latest forgettable accomplishment. Then scroll to the bottom and check out the comment I posted. (And BTW, what’s with the photo of him in the article? Is that a colossal zit on his lower lip? Or a cold sore? Ew-ew-ew. The Hample Jinx knows no bounds.)

Forbes Field snagging analysis

Nine days ago, I asked for help identifying the stadium and uniforms in the (awful!) movie “Roommates.” Remember? This was my blog entry about it. The scene took place in Pittsburgh in 1963, which means the stadium should have been Forbes Field — but the scene was actually filmed at a minor league stadium in Indianapolis instead. (That’s not why it was an awful movie, but it didn’t help.) Anyway, while looking at photos of Forbes Field last week, I started wondering what it would’ve been like to snag baseballs there. And then I thought…hey, why not post the photos and do a whole blog entry about it?
So here we go. (These are all photos that I found on Google images. I hope I’m not violating any copyright laws by putting them on my blog, but I’m not charging people to read this, so that makes it okay, right?) First, here’s a general view of the field:
My first two thoughts are:
1) Wow, there weren’t any seats in left or center field. That sucks.
2) Wait a minute, was it possible to get balls behind the outfield walls?
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the view down the left field foul line:
See the red arrow? It’s pointing to the insanest (yes, that’s a word) corner spot I’ve ever seen. That would have been a good spot during batting practice to scoop up ground balls — not great because it was set back a bit too far from the foul line — and to get balls tossed by the players. Of course, back in the old days, players didn’t toss much into the crowd, but that spot would be amazing if it still existed.
Looking at the photo above, it appears that there may have been a cross-aisle at the bottom of the section farther down the line. (I’m talking about the section with the green-ish wall.) Those seats appear to be elevated a bit too high for the fans to have reached over and scooped up grounders, but if there WAS an aisle down in front, then the fans sitting in Row A would’ve had a great opportunity to run left and right and catch foul pop-ups.
In case you can’t read the distance marker on the wall in left-center, it says “406.” That’s a long way. There probably weren’t many homers hit to the right of it, but there may have been some serious longball action down the line and in straight-away left field. More on that in a bit…
Here’s a photo that shows the field from the right field corner:
The arrows are pointing to the tunnels in the second deck — prime foul ball snagging territory. But who knows if the ushers let people stand there during the game? Another unknown: was there a cross-aisle at the front of the second deck? There should have been one, or else why even have the tunnels? But without an aisle, it would’ve been impossible (at a crowded game) to run left and right. In the lower deck, it appears that there was an aisle between the light blue and dark blue seats. But what about foul balls that flew completely out of the stadium? It looks like that would’ve been possible — perhaps even a frequent occurrence. Therefore, the best snagging opportunities at Forbes Field might have been outside the ballpark.
Here’s a look at the right field wall and stands:
It was only 300 feet down the line. This means both righties and lefties could have easily hit home runs…so there was definitely a lot of action there…but what’s with that netting? I drew an arrow pointing to the top of it. It’s not clear how far the netting extended down into the stands. Was it blocking the entire section? Like…was it attached to something in front of the first row? Or did it extend down into the middle of the stands, about a dozen rows back? (What would’ve been the point of that?) That could have been a killer for baseball snaggers.
If you look at the lower RF deck in the photo below…
…you can see that there was not a cross-aisle, and in fact, the photo with the “getty images” logo on it (two photos up) confirms this. Do you see any tunnels in the right field stands? No. That means the fans had to access their seats via the staircases. Not good. But some of these photos were taken during the 1960 World Series, when the stadium would’ve obviously been more crowded than ever. I just dug up a random box score from a game at Forbes Field on April 21, 1970. Want to guess what the attendance was? Get ready for it: 3,589. Aisles stop mattering when the attendance drops that low. In fact, everything stops mattering at that point.
The arrow in the photo above is pointing to a gap between the sections. Were fans able to move back and forth? Unless there’s someone from Pittsburgh reading this who’s at least 50 years old, there’s no way to find out. And if fans were trapped in one section or the other, that wouldn’t have been good.
Check out the protective screen behind the plate:
As you can see, there was a VERY short vertical portion as well as a sweeping horizontal-ish net that curved up to the second deck. Were fans able to reach over the railing in the front row of the second deck and scoop up the foul balls that rolled to them? AARRGHH!!! More questions than answers, but this ballpark seems to have had some interesting features. Also, do you see that slanted grayish portion of the roof above the second deck? (It looks like there’s a small section of seats above that gray area.) I’m thinking that foul balls would’ve rolled off that thin strip of roof and dropped down into the crowd, and if you were a regular at Forbes Field (and had an eye for detail), you would’ve learned which row they dropped into.
Let’s have a look at the area behind the outfield wall:
You like that? It’s a replica of Forbes Field. I’m hesitant to do any historical analysis based on a piece of artwork that doesn’t even have foul lines, but still, it makes me wonder if the area behind the wall was truly THAT wide open.
Here’s an actual photo that provides a partial answer:
Lots of trees back there. And a narrow street. And a parking lot. Heaven.
If I ever build a time machine, the first place I’m going is — okay, not Pittsburgh, but it’ll be high up on my list.
(What do you think? Was this entry cool? A waste of time? Should I analyze other defunct ballparks? If so, which ones do you want to see?)

(Not just a) Woody Allen autograph

I have the best dad ever. (This is so cool that it almost makes me willing to forgive him for making me go to bed early during the 1986 World Series.)
Two months ago, I blogged about my dad’s new book called Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip. Remember? Here’s what the cover looks like:
Five days ago, when my parents came over for dinner, I asked my dad to sign my copy of the book. But I didn’t want any old signature. I asked him to draw an original comic strip for me — and I told him to sign it “from Stu Hample, his dad” instead of simply writing “from dad.” (It’s nice to have an informal/loving inscription every now and then, but this time I really wanted it to look official.)
Here’s what he came up with:
How AWESOME is that?!
But wait, it gets better…
My dad asked if I wanted Woody to sign it, too.
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll messenger it over to his assistant tomorrow,” he said, “and you’ll have it back in a few days.” (Random sidenote: Woody’s assistant is this man‘s daughter.)
He was right. The book was delivered to me this afternoon. Check it out:
All I can say is…wow.
Here are some close-ups, starting with the first panel of the strip:
Here’s the second panel:
Do you see how my dad signed the strip? He signed it “Joe Marthen.” Let me explain…
When my dad first started doing the strip in 1976, he had another strip going with a different syndicate, and he was under some type of exclusive agreement with them. For legal purposes, he had to come up with a fake name for the Woody strip. This was one year before I was born; his three kids at the time were named Joe, Martha, and Henry. So he combined their names into…Joe Marthen. Cool, huh? (My dad explained this story and many others in the book’s introduction, including a detailed account of what it was like to work with Woody, and how the syndicate kept trying to censor him and dumb down Woody’s jokes so that they’d appeal to the masses.)
Here’s a close-up of Woody’s inscription:
I have a lot of signed books. (That’s what happens when you’re a writer, and your dad is a writer, and your mom owns the best book store ever.) Before today, the best signed book I owned was probably a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, personalized to me by both Norton Juster (the author) and Jules Feiffer (the illustrator), who drew one of the characters for me. Or maybe my two-volume set of Maus, which Art Spiegelman (author/illustrator) inscribed…how do I describe it? He did a major drawing which spans both copies. Half is on Volume 1 and the other half is on Volume 2. In order to see the whole thing, you have to open up both books and hold them together.
But those are nothing compared to this.
Finally, in case you’re thinking of buying a copy of this Woody book, here it is on Amazon.

Book update No. 11 — Hall of Fame action

Two quick book updates related to the Hall of Fame:

1) The Hall of Fame finally sent me half a dozen photos of OLD baseballs dating back to the 1870s, including several balls that I’d never seen before, and one that I never even knew existed. I’m not talking about balls with historical significance, but rather balls that were stitched differently…as in, not in the standard horseshoe shape that we now have today. Seriously cool stuff. I had to pay just to get the photos, and I’m going to have to pay even more for each one 


that actually gets printed in the book. Obviously I can’t share them here on the blog, so just take my word about how cool they are. There’s a chance that the book will have 16 pages of color/glossy photos, but that remains to be seen. As soon as I find out, I’ll get started on my “Evolution of the Logo” chapter.
2) At some point during the course of my (still ongoing) research, I found a brief mention of a certain Hall of Famer who caught a foul ball at a World Series game several years after he retired. I couldn’t find additional info ANYwhere, so I finally contacted the team that he played for, talked to several media people, explained who I was and what I needed…and ended up getting an email from the actual player about this ball and how he caught it and what happened to the ball later on. Excellent details. Great quotes. I’ve already written a few paragraphs about it for my “Celebrity Ballhawks” section. I’d tell you who the player is, but I need to keep a few surprises for the book.
That’s it for now. Back to work…

Book update No. 10 — George H. W. Bush

I just sent the following email to the former president’s personal aide:

Dear Mr. [name]-

I’m writing a baseball book for Random House (scheduled to be published in March 2011), and I have a quick question for George H. W. Bush.
The book is about the historical and cultural significance of baseballs. I have a chapter called “Foul Balls in Pop Culture,” which includes a section about celebrities who have caught foul balls at major league games. Jimmy Carter caught one in Atlanta in 1996. Billy Crystal once caught one, too. So did Jermaine Jackson and a number of Hall-of-Fame athletes. Charlie Sheen once bought 2,600 seats at an Angels game to increase his odds of catching a home run ball. (He failed miserably, but he’s still gonna be in the book.)
Anyway, while researching these other stories, I learned that President Bush snagged a foul ball as a kid at Yankee Stadium. I couldn’t find any additional info about it, however, so if possible, I’d love to get a few details so that I can include his story in the book. (What year was it? Where was he sitting? Who hit it? Did he catch the ball on the fly? Was he wearing a glove? What did he do with the ball? How did it feel? Etc.) I don’t even need to speak directly to him. All I really need are some details (and ideally a quick quote) so if you think you could get that from him and forward it to me, that would be incredible.
If it would help convince you that I’m legit, I can put you in touch with my agent, as well as my editor at Random House.
Thanks very much for your consideration,
Zack Hample
[phone number]

Book update No. 9 — first round of edits

I just printed the first two parts of the book. It’s 167 pages. Check it out…

This is the first time I’ve printed it. VERY exciting. Now I need to start attacking it with a red pencil because, as I mentioned in my previous update, my editor needs it by the end of the month.

I need a lawyer!

No, I’m not in any legal trouble. There’s just a small law-related baseball mystery that I’m trying to solve for my book, and I’m hoping someone might be able to help.

First of all, did you know that fans weren’t allowed to keep baseballs in the old days?
And that fans often tried to keep baseballs anyway and often got in serious trouble?

Well, according to one of my sources, the last major incident took place in 1937 at — where else? — Yankee Stadium. There was a fan who tried to retrieve a foul ball that had gotten stuck in the protective netting behind the plate. Guess what happened next? He got roughed up by stadium security (Shocker!) and ended up successfully suing the team (Ha-HAAA!!!) for $7,500. Now, it’s possible that security went after him because he did something stupid, like trying to climb up and grab it. I don’t know. But it’s still a cool story either way. (And no, I’m not trying to be anti-Yankees. I’m just telling it like it is. The New York Giants were actually the worst team in  terms of hassling fans for baseballs 100 years ago. And now the San Francisco Giants are the best.)

The main thing I want to find out is this fan’s name. My source doesn’t reveal that. So I’m wondering if there’s some type of mega-database that lists all the lawsuits ever filed in the history of the universe. Or if there’s any other way that I might be able to find some details. (Obviously the Yankees aren’t gonna help.)

And by the way, this is totally unrelated, but there’s a documentary called “Holy Land Hardball” that’s going to be airing on the MLB Network tonight (January 10th) at 10pm ET. It’s about the Israeli Baseball League. I’ve already seen it. It’s really funny and interesting. Consider this my official recommendation to check it out…

I got it all under control now. A big thanks to the lawyers out there who left comments and emailed me with suggestions

Book update No. 8 — first deadline extended

Several months ago, my editor told me that she wanted to see the first two parts of my book right after New Year’s. (I’d been dreading New Year’s ever since.) Yesterday we talked for 20 minutes, and she told me that I can wait until the end of the month to send it to her. (Wooooo!)

She said that the first major deadline will be mid-February when she has to show a sizable chunk of the book to sales reps.

The other major deadline will be in July. The book has to be 99 percent done and edited by then so that the art department can take over and actually design it. I won’t be able to make any significant changes after that.

As for where I am with it right now…

My word count is up to 48,938. I was told to aim for 50,000 to 70,000, but it looks like it might end up being closer to 75,000 or maybe even 80,000. (Watching Baseball Smarter, by comparison, was about 64,000.) I wrote the introduction last month. (That’s about 1,300 words.) Now I’m working on the first section of Chapter One. (I’m not writing everything in order.) I’m still waiting for the Hall of Fame to send me photos of 19th century baseballs. I’m still waiting to hear back from Rawlings with info on the manufacturing process. I’m still trying to get an interview with Doug Flutie so I can ask him about the foul balls he’s snagged at Fenway Park. And so on. I also just discovered a couple more foul ball scenes — one in a movie, another in a TV show from the 1980s . Fun stuff, I tell ya.

If you want me to remind you when the book comes out, let me know. I’m keeping a list of people who are interested, and I’ll email everyone on it in about 14 months.

See below for previous updates…








Are you seven feet tall?

This is totally random, but I’ve always had a fascination with height, and I want to be friends with someone who’s at least seven feet tall. I once met a seven-footer on Halloween who was dressed as a tree, but alas, we only had a brief conversation. Last year I had a longer encounter with a very tall fan at a baseball game, but he was only 6-foot-10. And then there’s my good friend Leon Feingold who’s 6-foot-6. (Yawn.) So please, if you’re crazy-tall (and proud of it), get in touch. For the record, I’m only 5-foot-11. Try not to hold that against me.

I’ll leave you with two photos of the great Robert Wadlow (who stood nearly nine feet tall) — one with a couple of honeyz and another with his father…


Happy New Decade!

Happy 2010, everyone.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier, I stayed home on New Year’s Eve so I could work on my book. (Fun!) But that didn’t stop me from getting a good view of the fireworks…