Thursday, December 3, 2009

Great Gift for Young Women


To answer several recent queries, yes, Young Woman and the Sea is appropriate reading for young women. My own thirteen year old daughter has read the book, and any precocious young reader over the age of eleven or twelve should find the book accessible, as should most high school age girls, particularly those interested in sports. As any reading teacher can tell you, kids read above their level when interested in a topic, and in my experience speaking to young people about this book, young women find the story of Trudy Ederle swimming the English Channel to be inspiring. So go ahead - put it under the tree.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Memory of a Writer

As close readers of The Best American Sports Writing know, the Guest Editor makes the final call each year. Unless I am asked, I stay out the selection process. That keeps the book from getting stale, but sometimes one gets away. The late Jeff Felshman of the Chicago Reader wrote a story in 1994 called Blind Alley, which was cited in “Notable Sports Writing of 1994.” I went to school with Jeff many years ago, and don't recall whether I had put 2 + 2 together at the time and realized that CR's Jeff Felshman was the same guy I had known in college, although I became aware of it later. It was an empathetic, slice of life account about a group of people who bowl, despite not being able to see.

Earlier this year Jeff Felshman contacted me through some mutual friends on Facebook, and reminded me that I had selected his story on the notable list, but what he really wanted to tell me was that some years ago he had interviewed a someone who had worked with me at the Boston Public Library, and Jeff just wanted me to know that this person had spoken highly of me, a kind gesture he did not need to make, but did, and also the kind that tells you a great deal about someone.

Two days ago Jeff Felshman passed away of a heart attack. This morning, the day after Thanksgiving, I looked up the story in the Reader archives and read it again. Now I wonder how the hell it didn’t make the book. The Best American Sports Writing 1995 was the shortest edition BASW ever published, and now I wish it had included one more story.

So what am I thankful for this season? Among many things, writers like this:

"
...There's been a steady stream to the bar, but even among those who don't drink the scores drop off as the day goes on. The third game is the worst. Diane hasn't struck once since the first. Howard hasn't yelled "Mark it!" in a while, either. Beverly dropped from 104 to 46, around Andre's average. Her partner Jim Regan, the only bowler wearing shades (besides Kai Okada, who can see), rolls at the same time as Andre, who says she can't tell which pins go down "but I can hear a gutter ball pretty well." Regan's roll was his last of the day, and he says it didn't make any difference that Andre was on the line next to him at the same time. Bowling in tandem doesn't bother the blind bowlers.

"It probably bothers the sighted bowlers," Regan points out, "but they haven't said anything."

"Well, they're probably just being polite," Beverly says, "but we should watch out for that."

"If they don't say anything, how are we going to know?" There's such a thing as being polite to a fault. Regan goes on, "It's the old thing where you're sitting in a restaurant with somebody and the waitress asks, 'And what does he want?'"

"What do you mean?"

"It's like you're not there--"

"Oh yes," Beverly laughs, "I know what you mean. My daughter has a good line for that. She says, 'She's blind, not brain dead!' I like that."

"Anyway," Beverly continues, "this game, it's just luck. I'm just waiting for these lying excuses about why things went wrong. I'll hear 'em before the end."

But the end is here. Kai collects the score sheets and reads them off to Virginia, who enters the scores into a hand-held tape recorder. The bowlers gather around the bar to wait for the results. Three couples take over a table to the right of the bar. Mike and Jodi are engaged to be married. Mike, a partial who bowls with a monocular, rolled a 242 in the midwest tournement, and with Jodi is odds-on favorites to win today. Jackie and Howard are swirling their stools, hugging and laughing. Howard's in high spirits. "I've been living with this woman for ten years, and still got no piece of paper. You know why? Because I love her, that's why! We don't need no goddamn piece of paper."


To read the rest of the story, or more of Jeff Felshman, a writer worth remembering, and reading, follow the link to the Reader archives or Jeff's own site.

http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/blind-alley/Content?oid=884958

www.jeffreyfelshman.com

Saturday, November 21, 2009

AUTHOR VISITS TO SCHOOLS


Over the past decade I've periodically made visits to schools talking about writing and motivating kids to read. There is nothing more gratifying in my line of work that to have a teacher tell you that your books have turned a non-reader into a reader, or inspired someone to study writing. Educators tell me that my presentation is unique in that it reaches students from age eight or nine thru those in high school and that it targets male students as well as females. As some teachers recently wrote me after a visit, "Thank you for emphasizing the importance of reading as well as having goals in life and working hard to achieve them. Our students really enjoyed meeting you... It was great for the students to see a real world connection to what we talk about every day... You have really inspired a great number of our students... thank you for saying ALL the right things to my students."

Next October, the first title in my new juvenile non-fiction sports series, "GOOD SPORTS," will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. After penning thirty-nine titles in the Matt Christopher sports biography series for Little Brown from 1996 thru 2006, I'm ecstatic to be writing for this market again. Each title in the GOOD SPORTS series will profile several athletes, historical and contemporary, highlighting inspirational "life lessons" in their life and career. The first title, Breaking Baseball's Barriers, profiles Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Fernando Valenzuela and Ila Borders and explores how individuals have dealt with bigotry and still pursued their dreams.

In support of this new series, I've decided to make school author visits much more regularly. I've recently sought input from educators and made several successful visits. For more information please see my website www.glennstout.net, and click on "Author Visits" on the right side of the page or follow this direct link:

http://www.indiepro.com/glenn/?page_id=58

[Note: the photo is of young Trudy Ederle]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

BASW 2010 Guest Editor is...


I am pleased to announce that the guest editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's The Best American Sports Writing 2010, the twentieth annual edition which was first published in 1991, is noted author, baseball authority and occasional guitar hero Peter Gammons. For submission guideline and other information, see www.glennstout.net or The Best American Sports Writing on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tom Yawkey, Race, and the Smoking Gun


On April 16, 1945 the Red Sox held their infamous tryout of Jackie Robinson. For the next fourteen years - and for some years beyond it - the question of race during the tenure of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey loomed over the Red Sox franchise as palpably as the Green Monster. While it is undeniable that the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, since that time there have always been apologists – both in the press and among Red Sox fans – who have sought somehow to explain away the franchise’s long-standing recalcitrance and failure to put a black ballplayer on the field.

[NOTE: IN THE WAKE OF THE RED SOX DECISION TO CONSIDER RENAMING YAWKEY WAY, THIS POST HAS BEEN UNDATED AND APPEARS IN THE SPETEMBER 2017 ISSUE  THE UPDATED VERSION APPEARS HERE:  https://verbplow.blogspot.com/2017/09/tomyawkey-race-and-smoking-gun-ii.html]

History has tended to place the blame squarely upon Yawkey. He was, after all, the man at the top and the one figure in the franchise who could have integrated the Red Sox in an instant, yet he did not. But some have argued, both before and after the Red Sox finally put Pumpsie Green on the field in July of 1959, that not only was Yawkey not bigoted, but that he, in fact, wanted to have African American on the team, and that the failure lay elsewhere, either among the organization’s scouts, or the structure of its southern-based minor league system, or upon others in the organization, from general managers Eddie Collins and Joe Cronin, to manager and general manager Pinky Higgins.

The late Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough was among Yawkey’s most staunch defenders and his arguments are representative of those who believe Yawkey bears little responsibility over the issue. In 1986, after the club had fired coach Tommy Harper and Harper filed a successful suit through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, McDonough rushed to defend Yawkey, writing that “They smear the man and his memory with the legacy of Pumpsie Green and Tommy Harper.... I knew Tom Yawkey, the Man to whom they trace all of this alleged racist history. I never thought he was racist. But I wasn't as close to him as Joe Cronin and Dick O'Connell were. These two former Sox general managers knew him as well as anyone in Boston. Over the years, I asked both if Yawkey ever suggested they do anything racist. The answer was no." In 1991, after Globe reporter Steve Fainaru authored a three-part series on race and the Red Sox, McDonough once again distilled the issue question down to a question of who within the organization "was racist," as if that was the only question worth asking. He attacked Fainaru's story and sought the name of a racist who had ever worked in the organization, asking, "Was it late owner Tom Yawkey, or his widow Jean who now controls the organization, was it a series of general managers–Joe Cronin, Pinky Higgins, Dick O'Connell and Lou Gorman? Are we to believe it is the scouting department ...? Once again, no names.... Yawkey was so sensitive to the Jackie Robinson issue and criticism of the Sox' lack of blacks that he wanted them on his team."

A decade later, following the publication of Red Sox Century, a comprehensive survey history of the club this author co-wrote with Richard Johnson that addressed the racial question head on, McDonough again went on the offensive, calling me at home and scoffing at the notion that racism ever played any part in the history of the team or that Tom Yawkey played any role in the fact that the Red Sox waited fourteen years after Robinson integrated baseball to put a black player on the field at Fenway Park. "The only problem the Red Sox have ever had with blacks," he said to this author, "was finding blacks who could play. All right?"

A few years later Howard Bryant’s book Shutout, a comprehensive look at the question, appeared to be final word on the subject. Yet both Bryant and I have continued to hear periodically from those who steadfastly hold to the notion that Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey is blameless and continue to ask for evidence that goes beyond the circumstantial. Most ask essentially the same question. “Where,” I have been asked, in a variety of ways and in a variety of forums that range from letters and e-mails sent directly to me to anonymous message board postings, “is the evidence, the smoking gun, the definitive statement the exposes Tom Yawkey as a racist?” Indeed, Yawkey himself rarely spoke about the matter himself on the record, and, like other club owners at the time, was careful not to leave any written record of his attitude in regard to race. While I have always offered that the evidence, the so-called “smoking gun” was in plain view, on the playing field for every day of the fourteen years between Robinson’s tryout and Green’s appearance, some who still choose to view Tom Yawkey as some kind of benevolent, lovable old coot and defend him as a “man of his times” have clung to the lack of this supposed “evidence” as evidence in itself of both Yawkey’s innocence and that of the Red Sox franchise itself.

Not anymore.

This past week, while researching another topic, I came across an article in the June 28, 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated written by Jack Mann entitled “The Great Wall of Boston.” I am embarrassed to note that the article has somehow escaped me over the twenty years I have spent periodically mining Red Sox history (and, apparently, virtually everyone else, for I have not seen it cited elsewhere in regard to this issue). But now that I have read it I feel I must correct the record: For those who need one, it provides the smoking gun.

Mann, who died in March of 2000, was a staff writer at Sports Illustrated and his article presents an overview of then recent Red Sox history, offering that the main reason the team has failed to compete for a pennant for more than a decade is because of the left field wall, because the Red Sox, as a franchise, have sought to build a team to take advantage of the wall, and as a result have been unable to win on the road. That observation is hardly unique, but Mann, a thorough reporter, entertains other possibilities. He interviewed Yawkey and explored some of these other reasons, such as Yawkey’s misplaced loyalty, which caused him to hang onto favored players for too long and hire old cronies as scouts, many of who simply received checks and did no scouting at all.

But Mann also brought up the question of race to Yawkey, and the owner responded with his most telling- and damning - statement ever.

“One way to win,” wrote Mann of the Red Sox, “is to have the best players. The Red Sox did in 1946, but coincidentally that was the year Jackie Robinson—who had been tried in Fenway Park and found wanting—played his first year in organized (white) baseball. In the parade of Larry Dobys and Roy Campanellas and Elston Howards that followed, the Red Sox brought up the rear. Brooks Lawrence had pitched and won for five years in such pseudo-southern cities as St. Louis and Cincinnati before Pumpsie Green became the Red Sox' first Negro big leaguer in 1959. Writes Mann:


It is easy now for Bostonian critics, seeking a policy man behind such a self-defeating pattern, to point fingers at Mike Higgins, an unreconstructed Texan with classically Confederate views on Negroes, but it is too easy. Higgins, who did not become field manager until 1955 and did not take a desk in the front office until late 1962, could hardly have been the Caucasian in the woodpile.


Then Mann allows Tom Yawkey to weigh in on the subject:


"They blame me,” Yawkey says, ‘and I'm not even a Southerner. I'm from Detroit.” Yawkey remains on his South Carolina fief until May because Boston weather before then is too much for his sensitive sinuses. “I have no feeling against colored people,” he says. “I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when that story got around that we didn't want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club. Actually, we scouted them right along, but we didn't want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer."


Read the statement closely, for it tells us everything we need to know.
Yawkey first tries to throw his Southern employees under the bus, by intimating that because he is from Detroit, he is obviously not a racist, and that because they are from the South, they presumably are. But he doesn’t stop there.

He next offers that he has no feelings against African Americans, and as evidence cites the facts that he employs African Americans on his South Carolina estate, a former plantation. But that is hardly the equivalent of putting a ball player on a major league field. After all, in their own way, even slave owners “employed” African Americans.

But then comes the first of two smoking guns: “But they are clannish,” Mann quotes Yawkey as saying of African Americans, “and when that story got around that we didn't want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club.”

No single sentence could be more revealing – or more pathetic. First Yawkey offers that all African Americans share the same characteristics – in this case, being “clannish.” That kind of stereotyping is damning enough, but when he states that “when that story got around that we didn't want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club,” he is in fantasy land. Yawkey is making the claim that the reason the Red Sox remained white is the fault of the black ballplayers themselves. He is saying nothing less than “African Americans erroneously thought we were racist so therefore they refused to sign with us.”

The notion that an African American ballplayer in the late 1940s and 1950s would turn down an offer to sign with any major league team over any issue, even money, sounded spurious to me, and in a survey of the Negro League history books that I have in my possession, I could find no such accounting. But I wanted to be sure.

I contacted my friend Lawrence Hogan, a Professor of History at Union College in New Jersey, one of the foremost Negro League historians in the country and the author of Shades of Glory, published by National Geographic and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a book which has been referred to as a definitive history of Black baseball in America. In an e-mail I asked him, “Are you aware of any Negro League players, from the time Robinson signed to the late 1950s, who turned down offers from major league teams to remain in the Negro Leagues?” I asked specifically if he had ever heard of such a claim in regard to a player refusing to sign with the Red Sox.

The answer is no. Wrote Hogan, “I have never heard even the slightest suggestion of either thing you mention happening. I am sure there were players good enough to be signed who were not because of the glacial pace of integration. But I can ot imagine any Negro League player turning down an offer, other than on the normal personal grounds of not enough money being offered, or wanting to get on with life in a non-baseball way.”

But that is not all. Upon examination, Yawkey’s final statement - “We scouted them right along, but we didn't want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer," might be the most telling statement of all. For if we follow Yawkey’s logic – “We looked for black ballplayers but we wanted talent first and foremost” – then compare it to the fact that from the time of Robinson’s signing through July of 1959 the Red Sox neither put an African player on the major league field who they signed themselves nor traded for one, the conclusion is inescapable: Tom Yawkey and his organization simply did not believe that any African American ballplayer had the talent to play for the Red Sox. This, despite the fact that they were playing on every other team in baseball, and that by 1959 there were dozens and dozens of African Americans winning championships, winning Cy Young awards and MVP awards and playing on All-Star teams throughout the major leagues, players like Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe and many, many, many more. But none, apparently, were good enough for Boston. “We wanted ballplayers,” indeed.

There is your “smoking gun” - in his own words. Decades after they were first uttered, you can still detect the stench.

[Note: I have tried to keep this story contained to the question of Tom Yawkey and the statement cited from Sport Illustrated, rather than go through another full explication of the Red Sox organizations racial history. Further information on that topic can be found in some of the the sources cited below.]

Sources:

Howard Bryant, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston (Boston, 2002)
Lawrence Hogan, e-mail message to Glenn Stout, November 17, 2009
Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, Red Sox Century (Boston, 2000)
Glenn Stout. “Tryout and Fallout: Race, Jackie Robinson and the Red Sox,” Massachusetts Historical Review, Volume 6, 2004.
Will McDonough, "Ticket Increase at Fenway Shouldn't Raise Fan's Ire," Boston Globe, Dec. 2, 2000 (contains McDonoughs and John Harington’s criticism of Red Sox century and defense of Yawkey).
Will McDonough, "Sox Racist? Says Who? Harper Case No Proof," Boston Globe, Apr. 17, 1986.

This story also appears in its entireity on my website, www.glennstout.net
(Copyright 2009 by Glenn Stout. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

IN TRUDY'S WAKE


The Yankees are good, but Trudy was first.

When the New York Yankees celebrate their 27th world championship on Friday with a ticker tape parade, few of the players will realize that they are following in the wake of the reception Trudy Ederle earned in 1926 when she returned to New York after swimming the English Channel.

From Young Woman and the Sea:

"As Trudy stood on the promenade of the Berengaria as it steamed into New York Harbor in mid-morning of August 27, she once again found her self completely taken aback. Since swimming the English Channel only three short weeks before, that was becoming something of a pattern.

She’d never seen anything like it. No one on board the ship ha ever seen anything like it. No one in New York had ever seen anything like it. As the Manhattan skyline came into focus and began to grow tall, the boat was greeted from all directions as vessels of every size and shape came out to meet it - fire boats spraying water high into the air, tugboats, cutters, motor boats, private launches and yachts, all with their sirens tied down wide open, creating the loudest din anyone on the water ever recalled hearing before.

At first Trudy didn’t understand, but as the Berengaria drew closer and Trudy saw banners flying on the boats that said “Welcome home Trudy,” and “Queen of the Seas,” she began to realize it was all for her, every bit of it. A few moments earlier, she’d been asked to go the upper deck. Once she arrived two bi-planes circling the ship dropped flowers overhead, their petals falling like rain all around her, the sky raining flowers.

It was all for her.


The greeting was organized by a man known as “Mr. New York,” Grover Whalen, the city’s official greeter, who liked to refer to himself as the “doorman to the western hemisphere.” In 1919, when Whalen was put in charge of the city’s reception for the Prince and Princess of Wales, he came up with the notion of the ticker tape parade. Although the first few such parades were relatively modest, since then Whalen’s efforts had become ever grander. They culminated in the reception afforded Trudy, and, a year later, Charles Lindbergh. The scene Trudy was watching unfold in New York Harbor was just the beginning.

New York came to a stop. Nothing else mattered. America’s foremost film star, Rudolph Valentino, had died of peritonitis on August 23 and ever since his body had lain in state at Campbell’s Funeral Parlor under 24-hour guard by a phalanx of New York City police officers. But on the day of Trudy’s arrival, the bulk of the guard was transferred to Trudy’s home, and the crowd that had gathered around the funeral home for days suddenly disappeared. Trudy was bigger than any motion picture star.

New York was gaga for Trudy and in the days prior to her arrival Whalen and the New York press, particularly the Daily News, had whipped the city into frenzy. Now that the day arrived Whalen rounded up Trudy’s entire family – forty-two strong including aunts and uncles and cousins – and divvied them up aboard two tugs owned by the city, the Riverside and the official VIP vessel, the Macom. As the Berengaria approached, the Macom made it way alongside the gigantic vessel.

From aboard the Macom Mrs. Ederle spotted her daughters first, standing in an open window on the promenade deck, and began waving her arms back and forth, trying to get her their attention. She did, and Trudy nearly jumped out of the window to reach her. “Mamma,” she cried, “Mamma!” Even amid the din in the harbor, everyone aboard the Macom could hear Trudy’s voice above the tumult.

Trudy wouldn’t have to wait for the big ship to dock. A few minutes later the Macom pulled along side the big ship and Trudy and her entourage came aboard the Macom to be ferried ashore, reunited, at last, with her mother. She left in such a rush that she left all her bags behind and nearly knocked her mother to the ground as they met and hugged, tears streaming down both of their faces, Trudy wearing blue serge coat and a lavender felt hat, clutching her doll, her hair bronze from the summer sun, and her face tanned and healthy.

After the Macom docked at Pier A in the Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan, the same place Trudy’s swim for Sandy Hook had begun in virtual anonymity only a few months before, Trudy was hustled through a crowd numbering in the thousands, then into an open car for a procession to City Hall Plaza, but the crowds were so immense the car barely moved as everyone pressed forward to get a glimpse at Trudy. At City Hall Plaza the scene was even wilder, as ten thousand people crowded into the plaza and the surging crowd threatened to turn into a dangerous crush. Trudy and her family were pushed inside by a phalanx of police and the big iron doors of the City Hall closed and locked to prevent hundreds of onlookers from crashing the reception.

Trudy, her family and other VIPS were escorted to the Mayor’s reception room, where New York Mayor Jimmy Walker paid tribute to Trudy. “When history records the greatest crossings, they will speak of Moses crossing the Red Sea, Caesar the Rubicon, and Washington the Delaware, and frankly, your crossing of the English Channel will take place alongside these.”

Trudy hardly had the time to take a breath before she was taken back outside steps for a photo op. The flash of the cameras had barely gone off when the crowd surged, sending people tumbling up the steps, swamping over Trudy. A bulky policeman grabbed Trudy with both arms and lifted her in the air and carried her back inside the building as Mayor Walker called for reinforcements.

At 2:30 p.m. with a gauntlet of police protecting her, Trudy, with Dudley Field Malone at her side, was put into another open car in the midst of a motorcade. As the entourage made the turn from 9th street to Fifth Avenue, torrents of paper fell from the sky as New York witnessed its first, gigantic, no holds barred ticker tape parade. This was no modest celebration that lasted only a few blocks, like that which greeted the Prince of Wales. This celebration lasted all the way uptown, before crowds unlike any the city had ever seen as hundred and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lined the streets. At times onlookers rushed the car, stopping it in its tracks, rushed at Trudy and knocked her from her feet, backwards into the seat of the car, desperate for souvenirs. The crowd even tore a bracelet from her wrist and grabbed at her coat and hat, before police, mounted and armed with billy clubs, managed to free her.

Trudy stood in the car, her face tilted upward and spinning back and forth as if her eyes alone were not sufficient to see the entire scene, waving a flag, dizzy from the attention, absolutely, totally, and completely overwhelmed. Trudy waved and laughed and cried and looked up in wonder, almost drowning in the attention, knowing that the crowds, later estimated as at least a quarter of a million strong, were cheering for her, but barely able to hear them herself.

The motorcade finally made it way to its destination, Trudy’s home on Amsterdam Avenue, where 4,000 people crammed the single block that contained the Ederle’s home and butcher shop. Trudy’s family decorated the tenement in bunting and American flags, and a huge banner that said “WELCOME HOME TRUDY” hung from the sills. In the front window of the shop was a sort of diorama, an imitation of the English Channel cut from green cardboard, complete with cut-out waves powered by an electric motor that lifted and fell, and a cutout of Trudy, an automaton bobbing though the “water,” her arms fixed in the crawl stroke, a smile frozen on her lips. Along the side was a copy of poem that read “Pop Ederle by cutting meat made for himself a name,/His daughter Trudy by cutting waves won victory and fame./You see her now she fights the seas, and how she puts it over./ Hurrah for her, first of her sex to swim from France to Dover.”

Finally, at last, Trudy’s car pulled up before the house and the police cleared the crowd so she could get out, but before she did a young girl selected by the neighborhood stepped forward, climbed aboard the car, and tried to place placed a gold and white satin crown on Trudy’s head. Trudy didn’t want it, and pleaded, “I’m tired,” but when the little girl looked heartbroken, she finally agreed, and, as the cameras of news photographers flashed over and over again, turning Trudy nearly blind as well as deaf, someone draped a blue sash over her shoulders that read “Queen Gertrude the First.” Almost as quickly as the crown went on, Trudy took it off as the crowd of friends and acquaintances of a lifetime chanted “Trudy, Trudy, Trudy!” over and over and over, suddenly star struck.

Police made a corridor through the crowd and Trudy was hustled inside, Dudley Field Malone pushing her from behind, then Trudy upstairs to her family’s apartment. There, the scene was only somewhat less frenetic as dozens of people were crammed into an apartment that comfortably held only eight or ten people, but now, for the first time in three months, at least she was finally surrounded by people she knew. But when the crowd failed to disperse the police asked her to stand before the window for a while and wave to see if that would satisfy them. For the next hour and a half she periodically pulled the curtains back, and gave a short wave, but no one on the streets below budged. Almost lost in the frenzy was the red roadster, the promise of which had helped Trudy across the Channel. It had actually been waiting for her at the pier in the Battery, gleaming in the sun, but the crowds had been so large that Trudy had not seen it. It was a Buick, precisely the one she wanted, painted fire engine red with a big comfortable rumble seat in back. In exchange for a testimonial from Trudy, Dudley Field Malone had asked the automaker not only for the car, but $50,000. Buick found the price too steep, and offered Malone the car plus only $1000, which he turned down. For a time it appeared that the roadster would have to wait for Pop Ederle to open his own wallet but at the last minute the Daily News stepped in and bought the car for Trudy.

As the crowd finally began to thin out as New York’s finest urged everyone to move along, the roadster seemed to magically appear, parked along the curb on Amsterdam Avenue in front of the Ederle’s building. Dudley Malone had to remind Trudy it was there, asking her “Do you really want that car?”

The question startled Trudy – that’s how crazy things were - she had nearly forgotten the only thing she had hoped for when she swam the Channel. “Yeah,” she responded, sounding far more weary than excited. She went downstairs for a few moments, climbed in the car and sat back, spinning the steering wheel and fiddling with the dashboard, but there were still too many people on the street for her to take the car for a drive, and the crowd made her feel claustrophobic and she fled back upstairs.

For Trudy, it was all running together, the crowds, the parades the gifts and autographs and hand shaking, everything, but it still wasn’t over. She was placed in another motorcade and ushered to a dinner sponsored by the Mayor at the Roosevelt Hotel and made her first and only public statement of the day, speaking for all of twenty seconds. “My dear friends,” she said, “after all that has been said I must be polite and thank the Mayor and Grover Whelan for the wonderful reception that has been given to me. It will be remembered during my whole life. All the kind things that have been done and said have shown such a delightful appreciation of my efforts to make the Channel crossing for the sake of my country’s flag. I love you for it.” After the crowd watched the British Pathe newsreel footage of her swim, Trudy was then whisked off to a show at the Globe Theater featuring the Ziegfeld Follies and finally to the Club Lido where she danced with the Mayor before more cameras. At every stop she had to run a gauntlet as New York came to a standstill wherever she appeared."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

They're Off


On Tuesday, October 20, eight swimmers will enter the water at gangway one at Battery Park in New York City and seek to duplicate Trudy Ederle's 1925 swim to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. This 17.5 mile swim - in water that if usually anout 65 degrees F, crossing a busy shipping channel - is a challenge worthy of our admiration. Good luck and safe travels to everyone who is participating.


Here is a brief excerpt from my biography of Trudy, Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, about the swim that inspired Tuesday's event:


"For an hour and a half Trudy gamely slogged along, each stroke of her arm and pull of her hand gained her only a few feet against the current as she slowly cut across Buttermilk Channel between the Battery and Governor’s Island, and then finally clear of the island itself. She was already exhausted but had covered less than two miles and occasionally turned over on her side to relive her muscles of cramping. In mid-harbor the water temperature barely reached sixty degrees. At the break of dawn Sandy Hook was hardly any closer than it had been when she had started.

There was concern aboard the Helys, where Epstein and the others looked at the girl, clearly struggling, with grim faces and spoke to each other in hushed tones. In hushed voices they openly wondered if Trudy should abandon the attempt. There seemed little chance that Trudy, who appeared lethargic and beaten, could succeed, and they didn’t want her confidence to suffer.

Then, as if the struggle jolted her awake, Trudy began picking up her pace, finally fighting the tide rather than allowing herself to be pushed around. As she did, first slowly and then in a rush, the tide turned, the sun lifted in the sky and hit the water. AS the conditions changed, so did Trudy’s mood. Her rate of speed in the water doubled, and then tripled as the Hudson River chased the tide out to sea in a rush and Trudy rode the current back out.

Trudy and the two accompanying vessels stayed close to the Brooklyn shore through the Narrows and then caught a current that sent her out into the deeper water of the shipping channel. Sandy Hook was still out of sight, hidden by morning fog still lingering farther out at seas, but the crew on the Helys directed her way with an onboard compass.

At 10:30 the fog began to lift, first revealing the Highlands, Trudy’s second home, and then, finally, the low beach and dunes of Sandy Hook, a fine white line along the horizon.

Victory was in sight, barely one mile away. But over the last few hours the tide had slowed and then turned slack. Now it began to run again and pushing back against Trudy just as her energy began to fade. The motorboat slowed to keep pace, barely crawling through the water. From her seat on the boat, Meg could see that Trudy was losing ground, and the success that a few moments before had seemed so certain now seemed far off. And no one was doing anything about it.

Meg had enough. She jumped from her seat, cupped her hands around her mouth and called to her sister. “Hey!” she shouted, startling everyone. Meg’s voice cut through the Trudy’s fatigue and the swimmer’s head snapped around. “Get going, lazy bones,” Meg called out. “You’re loafing!” Indignant at the insult, Trudy fixed her sister in her sights.

“Loafing, am I?” she called back. “For that I’ll make it if it kills me!” Then Trudy turned back to the water, put her head down, reached out with her arms and with each stroke pulled the shore closer again, turning inside herself, swimming as if she was doing intervals in the WSA pool, her stroke strong and true. Meg watched with a satisfied smile as Trudy began to put some distance between herself and the Helys. The boat pilot leaned on the throttle and as the Highlands peaked over the horizon Meg exhorted her sister to swim even faster

As the buildings of Fort Hancock, on the northern edge point of the Hook, began to appear, Trudy picked up her pace. The fort commander had been informed in advance of their plans and a small crowd of Trudy’s friends and her family were waiting onshore as she sprinted the final hundred yards before finally reaching the shallows. When her arms hit bottom she popped to her feet and began wading to shore, rubbing her eyes, which were red and raw with irritation from salt water. She had swam for much of the last few hours with her eyes closed, all sounds muffled due to her hearing loss, her arms and legs numb from the cold, yet this had not deterred her or even caused her to slow down.

It was 11:53 am. She had been in the water for seven hours, eleven minutes and 30 seconds, nearly seven minutes faster than the existing record. She had not only succeeded, but she had shattered a record previously held by a man, and done so only one day after she had set a world record in a 150-yard race. As soon as their boat hit the beach several newspaper men dashed off in search of a telephone, to call the story in to the evening papers

After spending a few moments to collect herself, Trudy pronounced herself fit – and hungry. She had neither eaten nor taken any drink during her time in the water. A reporter asked her whether she was tired and she replied “Not much. I could have kept on going if I had to.”

When another made mention of a “second wind,” Trudy shook her head disparagingly. “I’ve heard other swimmers talk about it,” she said, “but I don’t think I have a second wind. I usually feel a little tired during the first mile but after that I am all right.” With that she was escorted to the Fort’s dining room for a meal, and then boarded the boat for the journey back, where she amazed everyone as she alternately sat and stood on deck, chatting away as if she had just returned from swimming practice."


Just a few days later, full of confidence, Trudy left for England to swim the Channel.
[The photo is of Cloak Island, off the southern shore of Isle la Motte on Lake Champlain. I have circumnavigated Isle la Motte by kayak several times, a distance of about 15 miles, and cannot fathom swimming so far.]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That Time Again


I love it. I hate it.

I love it.

For eleven months of the year I am a fairly reasonable person, outwardly responsible, usually calm and composed, and able to keep things in perspective. Baseball is in my life, but it is not my life, at least not the way it was when I was younger. Nowadays I don’t stay awake staring at the ceiling after a meaningless game in May wondering why someone threw a slider over the plate on an 0-2 count, or took a hanging changeup for strike three with two outs and all the runners moving. I stopped beating myself up over stupid stuff like leaving a game early. If I fall asleep watching and wake up to the infomercials, I’ll turn the TV off and go to bed without checking on the score, and in the morning it is sometimes ten or eleven a.m. before I even think to check the games on the west coast.

When my wife and I receive an invitation to do something, or my daughter has an evening concert at school, I never even consider checking the schedule ahead of time – I’ll miss the game. On long car trips, if someone wants to listen to another station or play a cd instead of listening to the game, I’m fine with that. When the TV in the bedroom goes on the blink, I change the channel and let everyone watch Glee on the good set. I skip past Baseball Tonight, I’ll go a couple days sometimes without checking in on the message boards, and I hardly ever buy the Sunday Globe anymore. Baseball is still out there, I know it, but it is a luxury and an indulgence, not a necessity.

Then the page on the calendar flips over and word at the top says “October.”

Uh-oh.

Goodbye, peace. Hello, anxiety. See you later, common sense. Distraction, my old friend, where you been keeping yourself? The playoffs are here and minute by minute my fa├žade of indifference crumbles. The twenty-fifth man on the roster is more important to my life than anything Barack Obama is going to do. I scour the internet for umpire ball/strike ratios. I forget to let the dogs back in, decide the car can go another month before I fix the muffler, and let God rake the leaves.

Dinners out can wait. We see the neighbors way too often. I never liked the movies that much anyway. Sleep is overrated. So is exercise. Forget supper – I’m running to the corner for a six pack. And some Doritos. And some Tums.

I buy the papers. I get a new TV for the bedroom. I give each of the cats a full can of food whenever they want it. I steal my daughter’s laptop, keep it next to my chair and hit refresh every ten seconds. I agree with everything my wife says. I dig out the lucky hat, the one I wore the last time they… you know, the last time they did the thing that you’ve talked about all summer like it was nothing but that you can’t say out loud now because you’ll jinx it. You know, the best of seven thing, that thing.

I’m a mess. I squeeze the anxiety ball, bite my nails, check my pulse obsessively, eat an aspirin every day, and try to stay hydrated. I watch the post game, and the post, post game, and the press conferences. I read the game threads - ours when we win, theirs when they lose.

I cheer. I cry. I scream. I gloat. I lose my voice. I throw the remote across the room. I jump out of my chair and wake up the neighborhood. I put my fist through the wall. I slump to the floor.

October – I hate it.

I can’t wait.


from Boston Baseball, October 2009. The photo shows the way fans used to have to watch the post-season in pre-TV, pre-radio days.


Glenn Stout will be appearing the Boston Book Festival on October 24. His latest books are Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, and The Best American Sports Writing 2009. Contact Glenn on Facebook, at glennstout.net, or on his blog, http://verbplow.blogspot.com.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Group Guide: Read and Discuss


In response to reader requests, I have created a book group guide for Young Woman and the Sea. It is available on my website, http://www.glennstout.net/ - Simply click on "Book Group Guide" on the right hand column. You may then copy and paste the materials, including discussion topics, into a word document to distribute to your group. I am happy to participate by speaker phone, or answer brief questions by email.


Happy reading.



[The photograph shows Trudy and her sister looking at scrapbooks detailing her career]

Friday, September 11, 2009

LISTEN CLOSELY


I was recently interviewed about "Young Woman and the Sea" on the National Public Radio program "Here and Now" hosted by Robin Young. You can listen to the interview by clicking the link:

Earlier this summer, the book received a very positive review from Maureen Corrigan on NPR's "Fresh Air", part of the "Books We Like" series.
And for those who would rather read all about, here is a review from the Seattle Times for both Young Woman and the Sea and another book about Trudy. It begins:
"In August 1926, an 18-year-old New Yorker became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. The moment Trudy Ederle's tired, cold feet reached dry sand and her father wrapped a robe around her with a bear hug, she became the world's first female sport celebrity. So why is her name missing from lists hailing tennis champion Billie Jean King, golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias and swimmer Janet Evans?

Sports writers Glenn Stout and Tim Dahlberg wondered the same thing, and in their separate books, each author puts the spotlight on Ederle's life and historic crossing. Only Stout succeeds in constructing a story for the ages: "Young Woman & the Sea" has something for everyone."
To read more, click on the link:

[The photograph is a satellite image of Cape Gris Nez, France, where Trudy began her swim.]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A GOOD DAY


It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, well, it's a good day. A very good day.


Like most authors I'll fret and worry over reviews, because many reviews, even very good ones, can miss the point of the book, contain errors or give the wrong emphasis. There is nothing one can - or should - do about this, but it can be frustrating.


Then someone gets it, completely and totally. Like right here, in a review from the online site for the Christian Science Monitor:


[Note: The image is of the ticker tape parade that greeted Trudy upon her return to New York]
For more reviews and information, see glennstout.net or visit Young Woman and the Sea on facebook.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A TRUE STORY


You write a book to entertain and, hopefully, inspire. And sometimes it really does.


Yesterday I attended a cookout on Lake Champlain with some friends. One of these friends, Todd, who I don’t know particularly well, had caught a ride to the cookout with my friends Scott and Ali and their family. While he was waiting for them to leave he saw a copy of my book, Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, sitting on a counter – I had given Scott and Ali a copy a few weeks before.

As Todd later told me at the cookout, he recognized the book but until that moment had not been aware that I was its author. You see, a few days before he had been visiting some friends, a woman and her teenage, hearing impaired daughter. The woman, a tri-athlete, had discussed the book with him. She had already purchased it and read it with her daughter – Trudy Ederle was hearing impaired, and her daughter immediately identified with the swimmer.

In this case the subtitle “How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World,” is proving accurate. Inspired by the example of Trudy Ederle, mother and daughter are now in the planning stages to swim the English Channel together.
[Note: I took this photo a few weeks ago on the east shore of Lake Ontario]

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Today Is The Day



This map shows the approximate route Trudy Ederle took when she successfully swam the English Channel.


Eighty three years ago today Trudy Ederle (aka Gertrude Ederle) stepped into the English Channel at Cape Gris Nez on the French coastline. Fourteen and a half hours later, despite a gale, she reached England, swimming the English Channel in only 14H 31M, becoming the first woman to swim the Channel and beating the men’s record by nearly two hours.

Today I’m pleased to announce that my biography of Ederle, Young Woman and the Sea, has been chosen as an “Indie Next List Notable” book for September. Nominated by staffers at Independent bookstores around the country, it is more difficult to make this list than to make a best seller list and ensures the book will be highlighted in independent bookstores all around the country.

But not as difficult as swimming the English Channel.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Op-Ed from The Boston Globe




Is it the suit, or the swimmer?

This is the question that is currently being asked of Michael Phelps and other world class swimmers today. Precisely how much of their speed in the water is due to their own innate abilities as opposed to the new high-tech swim suits currently in vogue is a question that vexes the swimming community. After all, Michael Phelps seemed once invincible in his Speedo LZR, last years’ hot swim racing fashion. But all of a sudden German swimmer Paul Biedermann, in his new, high tech Arena X-Glide suit, has left Phelps behind.

The ethics of these uber suits is currently the only topic of debate in the swimming world. But, unlike the suits, the debate is not brand new. In fact, in 1926 when Trudy Ederle became the first woman, and only sixth person, to swim the English Channel, beating the existing men’s record by nearly two hours, her success was due, in part, to her innovative swim suit.

The first swimmers of course, wore nothing, and this was more or less the norm until the nineteenth century when English men’s swimming clubs began holding competitions that sometimes included female spectators. As a result, to protect the virtue of these spectators, male swimmers wore one piece singlets, usually made of wool or flannel, and, later of silk. These “unitards” originally stretched from the ankle to the wrist but evolved over time to expose most of the leg and arms.

It was different for women. Repressive morality forced women to wear cumbersome swimming skirts or gowns with bloomers and stockings that covered nearly the entire body and made the act of swimming nearly impossible. Not until the Women’s Swimming Association was created in New York in 1917 and began sponsoring women’s swimming meets did it become acceptable for female athletes to abandon these skirts and wear less restrictive unitards that began above the knee and left the arms completely exposed.

Trudy Ederle worse such a suit in 1925 when she first tried and failed to swim the English Channel. During the journey, which ended halfway across due to both bad weather and the ill effects of something she had consumed, her suit had proven to be problematic. The woolen singlet had caused significant chafing around her arms and over the course of her swim had lost its shape. The neckline had gaped open like the mouth of the basking shark, creating considerable drag on Trudy as she swam through the water using the American crawl.
As she trained in France for a second attempt during the summer of 1926, Trudy and her sister Meg began experimenting with her suit. This time her suit was made of silk, which helped with the chafing, but during training she discovered that the scoop neck still slowed her down.

So Trudy and Meg took matters into their own hands. They removed a skirt from the original suit and with additional material Meg bought in Paris, fashioned a two-piece suit consisting of a brassiere that opened and closed in the front, and a bottom, akin to a pair of tight fitting briefs.
The result worked beautifully. The two piece suit gave her more freedom of movement. The tight fitting top caused comparatively little drag, did not chafe her skin and the clasps on the brassiere even allowed Trudy to make adjustments in the event the material stretched.

Although they did not realize it, some two decades before Louis Reard and Jacques Heim received credit for inventing the bikini, the Ederle sisters already had. Unfortunately, neither Trudy nor her sister realized they had created not only something brand new but something with such commercial potential. They never thought to trademark or patent the design and lost the opportunity to earn untold millions of dollars.

No matter. On August 6, 1926 Trudy entered the English Channel on the French shore and emerged fourteen hours and thirty one minutes later at Kingsdown Beach in England, the first woman to conquer the Channel, a evidence of success for the both the suit and the swimmer. Although she may have lost a fortune on her swim suit, she nevertheless won something far more important; the right for women everywhere to compete as athletes.

Glenn Stout is the author of Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, published last week by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

AUGUST 6 - HAPPY ANNIVERSARY


On August 6, 1926, Trudy Ederle (aka Gertrude Ederle) became the first woman - and sixth person ever - to swim the English Channel, beating the existing men's record by nearly two hours and proving, once and for all, that women could compete as athletes.


To celebrate the 103rd anniversary of her success, a brief excerpt from my new biography of Ederle, Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, just released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and available everywhere:
[Note: A larger excerpt is available on the books' page on amazon.com, http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/books/hmh-ems/Young_Woman_and_the_Sea_Prologue.pdf ]


Cape Gris Nez., Aug 6. (By the Associated Press) Gertrude Ederle, the American Swimmer, started at 7:09 o’clock this morning in an attempt to swim the English Channel. The weather conditions when she took her plunge were fine.


“…Please God, help me.” As her head left the air Trudy tried to think of nothing else – nothing important, nothing that mattered, and nothing that didn’t touch her at that instant. Nothing but the water and the air, the sea and the sky, her hands and arms reaching out, her legs kicking, her face turning toward the sky breathing in, then turning, under the water, breathing out.

The start, she knew, was the hardest part. As she plunged into the water and began to swim, her body, swept over by the cold, was still in pieces – her arms felt stiff, each stroke still uncertain, wavering, irregular, and as she kicked her legs she went at first too fast, then too slow, then back and forth, holding them too stiffly, then too relaxed as she tried to find the place where her arms and hands and legs and feet were all one piece, in harmony. She tried to find that special place atop the water and in her mind where she did not feel the cold or the spray or the difference between the air and the water, lightness and dark, day or night. A place where there was no time at all.

In … out… In… out… this was the worst. In shorter swims – one hundred yards, two hundred yards, three hundred, she hardly ever thought of breathing, and never thought of anything but going fast, breathing fast, reaching out and kicking and breathing. Then all she did was pull with her arms and feel the water slip away as she churned her way for a minute or two or three, taking deep breaths and exhaling, one after the other, until she moved through the water like running downhill, so fast that it was over before you started, before she even felt tired, before she even had time to think..."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

CHIN MUSIC: One That Got Away


CHIN MUSIC
One That Got Away
from Boston Baseball
by Glenn Stout

It is one of the most fascinating documents in Red Sox history.


On October 7, 1945 in Chicago, while covering the World Series between the Cubs and the Tigers, Boston Globe baseball writer Harold Kaese sat and chatted for a while with Billy Evans. Little remembered today, Evans had one of the most varied careers in the history of baseball, serving as an umpire, a syndicated newspaper columnist and general manager of the Cleveland Indians from 1928-1936 and the Detroit Tigers from 1947-1951. That was enough to earn him admittance into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. But it was his job from 1936 to 1941 that caused Kaese to sit with Evans, and, a short time later, type up his notes to save them for posterity, even making some corrections and additions by hand.


Tom Yawkey purchased the Red Sox in 1933, and after an orgy of spending had little to show for it when he invited Evans to his suite at the Ritz in August of 1936. After a dinner of lobster and champagne, he unveiled his plan, offering Evans a job as Red Sox farm director. Evans agreed, and took on the task of building a farm system and, hopefully, a dynasty.


Within a year the Red Sox future was bright, as both Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr were signed from the Pacific Coast League in 1937 after Red Sox GM Eddie Collins confirmed the opinion of lesser Red Sox scouts and signed both young players. One year later, Evans himself spotted another stellar prospect, shortstop Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, playing for Triple-A Louisville, where he hit .277 as a nineteen year old. Although shortstop-manager Joe Cronin was only thirty-one years old, as Evans told Kaese, “E. [Evans] had told Y [Yawkey] to buy him, because Y. wanted a shortstop. Said Cronin could only play 2-3 more years.”


To get rights to Reese, at Evan’s suggestion Yawkey purchased the entire Louisville franchise after the 1938 season for $195,000. To protect his prize, Yawkey then asked Evans to move to Louisville, serve as GM of that franchise and continue to serve as farm director.
Evans did as he was told, but in the spring of 1939, when Cronin got his first look at Reese, he dismissed him roughly, telling Evans “So that’s the guy that’s going to take my place. He’s too small.” Reese, battling illness, then got off to a slow start in 1939. That was enough for Cronin. Evans told Kaese that “Collins had been talking to him [Yawkey],” and suddenly Evans was told to sell Reese – essentially tossing that $195,000 down the drain, because at the time no organization was interested in a sick ballplayer.


Evans was secretly pleased – he still thought Reese has a future in Boston. By June Reese was feeling better and playing the best shortstop in the minor leagues. As Kaese recounted “E. begged Cronin to go see him play, or send scouts. ‘I’m not interested in Reese,” said C. [Cronin].”


That was that, and a short time later Reese was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $35,000 cash and four players. He took over as Dodger shortstop in 1940, made the Hall of Fame in 1984, and became one of the great “what ifs” in Red Sox history.


Evans never forgot. To him, the deal revealed a flaw in the Boston organization. He told Kaese that “C. [Cronin] too impetuous, has too many likes and dislikes, and makes up mind too fast. Y. [Yawkey] also too impulsive. Col. [Collins] nervous and impulse [sic]. RS need stabilizer. Cr. Lacks Patience. Y wants results in a hurry.”


The sale essentially ended Evans career with the Sox. As Cronin inexorably slipped over the next few years, “Cr. belittled players E. Sent up.” But although Evans disagreed with Cronin’s judgment – Cronin thought Ted Williams had an uncorrectable hole in his swing – Evans liked Cronin personally.


Evans lasted two more years on the Boston payroll. Then, on September 6, 1941, Yawkey called Evans and without explanation abruptly fired him. Kaese’s notes tell the rest of the story: “That was all. Rough deal for E [Evans] – fired over the telephone and without reason. Y. [Yawkey] drunk… offered to call up Collins in Boston and fire him, too.”


Although the Red Sox website starts that “There are 14 former Boston Red Sox players and two executives who were inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame prior to the formation of the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995. They are automatically enshrined into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame,” one name is missing from that list.


Billy Evans.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Reviews


“You need not care one whit about swimming, women breaking sports barriers or events of the 1920s to be gripped by sportswriter Glenn Stout's fast-paced account of how, in 1926, a partially deaf, 19-year-old New Yorker became the first woman to swim the English Channel… The descriptions of the interaction between Trudy and her crew, Mr. Burgess' plotting of the Z-shape route, the almost hourly press dispatches sent, the hazards Trudy overcame as the storms came, the swells grew and the tide changed earlier than expected are breathtaking.

-The Washington Times
“In “Young Woman & The Sea,” his book about Ederle’s life and quest to become the first woman to swim the English Channel, Glenn Stout offers an incredible look at women, sports and the sports industry in the 1920s, while bringing Ederle her due to a new generation... Through a wonderfully crafted story that appeals to both athletes and those drawn to stories of perseverance and adventure, Stout reinvigorates Ederle’s efforts and gives another generation a new source of inspiration.” –The Buffalo News

Once lost to history, swimmer’s story resurfaces
By Amy Moritz
BUFFALO NEWS BOOK REVIEWER
July 19, 2009,
Before Title IX and the women’s sports revolution of the late 1970s and 1980s, there was the golden age of sports.

In the 1920s, female athletes enjoyed popularity and fame.

And none was more famous in the United States than Gertrude Ederle.

If that name leaves you with a cartoon question mark floating above your head, you’re not alone. As quickly and furiously as Ederle rose to fame, so her name and accomplishments faded.
In “Young Woman & The Sea,” his book about Ederle’s life and quest to become the first woman to swim the English Channel, Glenn Stout offers an incredible look at women, sports and the sports industry in the 1920s, while bringing Ederle her due to a new generation.

Stout’s style is interesting. Not a straightforward biography of Ederle, the book begins by discussing the tragic sinking of a steamship in 1904 that took the lives of more than 1,000 passengers who were on a church outing up the East River to Long Island Sound. Many of those who died, including hundreds of women and children, drowned close to shore in shallow water due to their panic at not knowing how to swim.

This tragedy, which shook New York City, inspired a movement to teach swimming to women and children. It allowed the traditional mores of modesty for women to be loosened in the name of public and personal safety.

Swimming was now not only an appropriate, but an important skill for women to learn.
And that opened the door for Ederle.

Stout spends the first part of the book alternating chapters between the challenge of swimming the English Channel and the storied history of that athletic endurance feat and the childhood of Ederle. The daughter of German immigrants, Trudy was the youngest of three girls. They spent summers at the Highlands, learned how to swim in the open water, then took lessons at the growing Women’s Swimming Association during the winter months.

To understand Ederle’s accomplishment, Stout takes care to describe previous Channel crossings and why crossing the small body of water is so difficult. Swimmers take as much time studying the tides, currents and weather patterns of the mysterious body of water as they do training for the actual swim.

As much as the book is a lesson in endurance history, it also offers a bit of swimming history, as the time frame of Ederle’s lessons coincides with the introduction of the “American crawl,” or freestyle stroke. Previously, the breaststroke was considered the superior form of moving quickly through the water, and the politics of that are discussed, though not thoroughly drawn out, in the book.

For Stout, Ederle’s rise to fame began when she won the Day Cup Race in 1922 at Manhattan Beach. At the age of 15, she was touring the country in swim meets against the best in the world. And not only consistently winning but setting world records.

“Trudy was so good,” Stout writes, “it was almost getting monotonous. . . . Few athletes of any kind and of any gender have ever dominated a sport the way Trudy Ederle did from the fall of 1922 through the summer of 1924 — she held virtually every imaginable women’s world record in swimming at distances that ranged from fifty yards to one mile.”

But with all that success, and all the hype, Ederle failed to produce at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Stout tells the story of how the American women’s swimming team was treated as second-rate by the powers-that-be and its potential effect on Ederle’s performance. She came away with two bronze medals for her individual events and one gold in a relay. She called it the greatest disappointment of her life, and Stout points to that moment as the time when crossing the Channel would become her personal salvation, of sorts.

The story continues to chronicle her decision to swim the Channel, her hunt for a coach and her first failed attempt in 1925, and her desire to try again, this time successfully, in 1926.

Stout’s writing makes him a solid storyteller, with a narrative largely pieced together from newspapers, letters and journals. He re-creates scenes and emotions that might be “historical fiction,” but they are based in solid research and happily glide the reader through the story.
While close to half a million people turned out for her ticker-tape parade in New York City, Ederle’s shyness and some poor business decisions by her father kept her out of the public eye and hence made it easy for her to fade from the public’s mind.

But her legacy, though unheralded, remained intact.

“For even as Trudy was fading from memory, due in large part to her effort, women athletes were becoming ever more commonplace and accepted,” Stout wrote.

Through a wonderfully crafted story that appeals to both athletes and those drawn to stories of perseverance and adventure, Stout reinvigorates Ederle’s efforts and gives another generation a new source of inspiration.

Amy Moritz is a sports writer at The Buffalo News who finds swimming a few hundred meters in Lake Erie challenging enough.

Friday, July 10, 2009

SPLASH!



The prologue to Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World is now available through amazon at http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/books/hmh-ems/Young_Woman_and_the_Sea_Prologue.pdf

Thursday, July 9, 2009

DIVE RIGHT IN


MORE magazine just picked Young Woman and the Sea, my biography of Trudy Ederle (aka Gertrude Ederle) as one of "25 Summer Books We're Buzzing About." See http://www.more.com/2053/5239-summer-books-we-re-buzzing-about.


And as more people hear about it and the book begins to find its way into stores and becomes available online, the book is also showing up on individual blogs and elsewhere, as it does here http://www.socialworkout.com/2009/06/30/young-woman-and-sea, where the author compares it favorably to "the all time greatest swim-related masterpiece... Haunts of the Black Masseur," by Charles Sprawson.


I'll take that.
The subject in the photo, by the way, is Trudy's trainer when she successfully swam the Channel, Thomas William "Bill" Burgess, the second man ever to swim the Channel.

READ ALL ABOUT IT... FOR FREE... OR FREEMIUM VS. SPEEDIUM

It seems as if everyone remotely connected with the business of newspapers and magazines or even blogs has an idea about what these publications should do to monetize their internet content, ranging from registration to micropayments to ads posted by logarithm to some updated version of video or pod casting, some scheme that would allow them to remain in business, make money, and, more importantly, preserve the jobs of all the talented journalists that have lost their jobs recently, in part due to the economy, but also because these print products botched their interface with the internet and failed to find a way to make money online. Yesterday, in fact, I heard a lengthy discussion on NPR featuring Chris Anderson of WIRED that discussed precisely this topic. His notion was not new, but he proposed some free content to lure the customer in like Cstco does with their samples giveaways, and then charge for additional cpontent as one moves vertically through the website, ala the Wall Street Journal. He has dubbed this notion “freemium” a word that combines “free” and “premium” but nevertheless sounds like a neighbor of Freedonia.

Eh. While that might work for a precious few providers, as it does for the Wall Street Journal, what of everyone else? As they do say up here in Vermont, “the horse is already out of that barn” almost everywhere, and to mix the metaphor further, who wants to pay for the cow now when the milk has been free? But here’s an idea I haven’t seen anyone try.

In recent weeks my computer has been a little glitchy and slow for some reason, perhaps because of DSL line problems with my ISP provider, perhaps because of the lousy weather – whatever, it’s been slow. It struck me as I was waiting for a site to load the other day that one can make a pretty close correlation to the demise of print not only to the spread of the internet (duh), but even more importantly, to the speed with which the information arrives. I mean, it seems to me that the real trouble with newspaper and magazine circulations really didn’t take place until it was more convenient to read online than it was to read hard copy, and that didn’t take place until the infrastructure that could deliver the internet quickly, through DSL or fiber optic cables or whatever else does that, got really, really fast. I, for one, didn’t take the plunge into reading primary content on the internet until I received DSL service about four years ago. Until then, content sites like newspapers and magazine loaded so slowly on my dial-up connection that it affected my patience and make me insane. So I’d often go out and buy the damn paper rather than have a stroke while waiting.

Light bulb.

We can't wait.

Print has nothing to lose now, so if I were running a newspaper or magazine with a web presence and a struggling print product, I’d control not access to the content, but speed of access to the content. Keep all the content free online as is, but make it S-L-O-W… either slow to load, or slow to navigate from one page to another due to load time or ads. I’m sure there must be some relatively easy software program that can do this, and there may even be a way to prevent copying, like amazon does with its “Look Inside” feature to control unwanted distribution of book content. If a reader really wants to continue to read the site for free, fine, but they’ll have to wait.

But if they want it FAST – like we've become accustomed to receiving everything these days – well, then they have to pay. At this point there are several sites I am absolutely addicted to and/or are necessary for what I do that I read for free every day. If, all of a sudden, (like what’s been happening occasionally by accident), it took me thirty seconds to access each article I wanted to read, or each page, I’d run to the store to buy the hard copy.

But if I had to cough up a small sum – say $5 a month – to access that publication online FAST, I think I’d do that. And if a consortium of publications (like newspapers and magazines) got together and allowed me to select, say, five or eight newspapers from a menu of several hundred publications, I’d pay even more to retain my speed of access, just like I pay more for internet service now to get it fast, than I used to when I was on dial up.

The only thing we’ve been conditioned to pay for online is speed, and that is something newspapers, magazines, and other print providers have failed to realize, and, even worse, take advantage of.

In other words, it ain’t “freemium.” But it just might be “speedium.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Accept No Imitations


My book "Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World" will soon be available - I am expecting to receive bound copies this week.


There is another book on Trudy (aka Gertrude Ederle) which is also due to appear soon. But I am happy to say that, at least in the minds of every reviewer thus far (Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and The Wall Street Journal) "Young Woman and the Sea" has been the clear winner.


In fact, "Young Woman and the Sea" received a coveted "Starred Review" from Publisher's Weekly, which praised the book for its "great storytelling... Stout's moving book recovers the exhilarating story of a young girl who found her true self out in the water and paved the way for women in sports today."


Of the other title, however, the PW reviewer was far less enthusiastic, writing that the "...pedantic prose and workmanlike account of Ederle's breathtaking feat, however, is as joyless as Ederle's swim was triumphant."


So read "Young Woman and the Sea." Accept no imitations.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Sea


On the one hand you have Marc Sanford and Michael Jackson. And on the other you have Trudy Ederle.

Sanford has ridden his relatively limited notoriety into ignominy. Jackson’s fame, over several agonizing decades, killed him.

And then there is Trudy Ederle (aka Gertrude Ederle), the subject of my new book, Young Woman and the Sea, which will be in bookstores in just a few days.

In the wake of her 1926 record setting swim across the English Channel, in which she became just the sixth person – and first woman – ever to swim the Channel, beating the existing men’s record by nearly two hours, Trudy was the most famous woman in the world. She was far better known than Marc Sanford will ever hope to be, and, briefly, better known than Jackson has ever been.

When she returned to the United States she was nearly crushed by fame. Given the biggest ticker tape parade in New York history at the time, she was arguably America’s first celebrity, and in her first 48 hours back she received a full dose of everything it had to offer.

The result? She lay huddled in a fetal position, paralyzed by the attention.

And although Trudy did go one to cash in on her fame with a vaudeville tour, in the end, wisely and to her credit, eventually she withdrew. She was not cut out for the rigors of celebrityhood and - unlike Sanford or Jackson or Lindsay Lohan or any of dozens of other celebrities - she knew it. Within a decade of her achievement she was nearly forgotten, and she seemed to like it that way, following her remarkable achievement by doing something perhaps even more remarkable – returning to her life, living quietly and privately, unconcerned with the fading cheers, content and certain who she was and what she had done. And that was enough, and something Michael Jackson never, ever knew.

She passed away in 2003, age ninety-eight.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It Ain't Easy Being Green


Last night I slept in my cabin that floats at the edge of a large swamp of several hundred acres on Lake Champlain. I try to stay there every few weeks or so in the summer, where, after kayaking from dusk into darkness, I sit, listen to a baseball game on the radio, and then listen to the sounds of the water and the swamp as I fall asleep.

Last night I heard the muskrats in the swamp, the occasional squawk of a great blue heron disturbed in its roost, the buzzing of mosquitoes at the screen door and the beavers splashing along the lake shore, all sounds I have heard many times before.

But apart from this, it was silent. That has never been the case before. In past years the swamp and the surrounding woodlands have been filled with the sound of frogs, from the spring peepers and wood frogs of the early spring, to the leopard frogs, pickerel frogs, green frogs, bullfrogs, gray tree frogs, western chorus frogs and even their cousins, the American toad (see http://www.nwf.org/frogwatchUSA/frogs_state.cfm?showstate=vt. for both pictures and sound samples). In fact, frogs have always been everywhere here, at least since I first moved to Vermont this week some seven years ago. During some summers it has been impossible to take a step without causing a frog, buried deep in the grass, to leap out of the way, and I leave the mower high to keep from acting as the inadvertent grim reaper of my neighbors. In the same town in which I live there is even a commercial frog collecting company that captures them for biology class, and locals have told me of earning extra money as kids by capturing big bags of frogs.

But this year, almost total silence. The peepers and tree frogs and wood frogs appeared and disappeared just as quickly, and I’ve hardly heard any of the others all. In past years, the waters of the swamp have nearly boiled with tadpoles as they approach maturity, but this year I have hardly seen any at all. And last night in the swamp, apart from a distant, single bull frog calling in vain all alone, nothing.

Amphibians are endangered nearly everywhere and as the journal BioScience tells me:

“Amphibians’ physiology (permeable skin) and complex water-and-land life cycle expose them to more environmental changes than most animals, and though they have survived climate changes before, today's changes are accelerating too rapidly for frogs to keep pace.
Also, frogs’ eggs have no shells, exposing embryos to increased UV-B radiation levels, which can cause harmful mutations. Pollution has contaminated the water frogs thrive in and global climate change is causing higher levels of infectious diseases.”


I am not a scientist and am not quite certain that the low level of frogs this year is due to the factors cited above. It could be some natural, cyclical fluctuation due to weather conditions or other factors. I do know that when the lake and the swamp froze this winter, for example, the water level was much lower than in recent years, and I wonder if the lack of sufficient ice cover caused an abnormally high die-off of hibernating frogs. Similarly, the lake never reached flood stage this spring and some habitats that usually are inundated remained dry. This, too, may have affected the population.

I do know that the silence makes nights in the cabin a bit longer, and more lonely. And that great blue heron may simply have been hungry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How to Get From Here to There

After driving more than 1,500 miles over the last week - to Ohio and back - I’ve thought quite a bit about length and distance. And as the PR machine for Young Woman and the Sea, my bio of Trudy Ederle (aka Gertrude Ederle) , starts to fire up, I’ve recently done a couple of interviews about both the book and about writing which will soon appear. I’ll link to them when they do, but one of the interesting things about doing such interviews is that I occasionally get asked questions about the process of writing, which is something I usually don’t think too much about – until I do.

So I’ve been thinking about length. My experience is rather unique in that I've written poems, columns and non-fiction for both juvenile and adult audiences, and books that range from between 20,000 words and 250,000 words – from one hundred double-spaced typed pages to more than a thousand, for those who think in those terms. Different books, different audiences, topics and approaches require different lengths – but length isn’t the right term, really.

It is time. No matter the subject, I write as long as I need the reader's time to tell the story, so when I am done I feel done, with no unanswered questions or stray cats still roaming around in my brain. A book of several thousands of words needs to feel as finished and complete as a poem of only ten or fifteen words.

It is the same inside the book, with chapters. I’ve written chapters as small as 1,200 words or so and as long as 15,000 or more – whatever it takes to feel that they are complete and unified. I NEVER write a chapter to length just because I’m stuck on a number, although in most books most of my chapters fall within a range similar range.

I think of chapter breaks like big breaths, where you feel the need to pause, inhale, ponder and move on - and you have to be a reader here, as well as a writer. Be sensitive to when natural transitions occur - an event comes to a close, a conclusion is reached, a character experiences some kind of defining moment, there is a moment of quiet before action, or action before quiet, some contraction within the narrative.

Much of it is just learning to listen to your own work. I think it helps, when ending a chapter, to find a way to lift it off the page a bit, and cause the reader to reflect a little, just like the end of a long story or magazine piece, where the story turns back on itself a bit. Again, if you are just breaking off for the sake of breaking off, don't. And see if a lead for the following chapter comes easily. If it does, you're breaking it at the right place. But if you neither have an end, or a lead, then you simply might not be at the end of the chapter yet, or have already rushed past. Trust me, it gets easier the more you do it.

It sounds simplistic, but it really helps sometime to scattershot through your library just reading leads and ends to chapters, or the beginning and ends of magazine pieces, even the beginning and ends of poems. This can help you not only to brain storm your own transitions, but you’ll also realize that some writers you may like a great deal use the same strategies over and over. There is nothing wrong with that, if it works, but I must admit that ever since I did that to a writer who I had always admired and realized that nearly every story ended with a similar sensory impression, my admiration dropped just a little. So don't abandon your change up – try not to repeat yourself.

And use your outline as that - an outline - and not a dictator of length and chapter. Maybe I'm the outlier, but I've never worried for a second about abandoning the outline as I write, as long as I make sure I cover what I have promised to cover. For the writer I think the writing process is also a learning process - no matter how much I think I know beforehand, I don't make the really valuable connections until the act of writing takes place, and that can cause me to recast the rest of the book entirely.

One of the most lasting things I ever wrote came about when I was in the process of telling a small, familiar story that I expected to write quickly, but then I found one question that I didn't have an answer to, then another, then another, and I started looking for answers and all of a sudden not only did I have an entirely new chapter, but the information in that chapter informed the remainder of the book and provided a entire logic that wasn't there when I started writing, and that I didn't know was there in my research the whole time.

That's why you do this.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Getting It Across

While I generally don’t think writers and actors have that much in common, I do think we share a capacity (or at least a desire) to “inhabit” a subject, in other words to get inside a character and see/feel/think what the character feels. It's a challenge.

In Young Woman and the Sea, my book about Trudy Ederle, (aka Gertrude Ederle) the first woman to swim the English Channel, my biggest fear was that I would be unable to “inhabit” her and translate her experience as a Channel swimmer with authenticity. After all, I am not only not a nineteen year old girl, but - at best - I’m a pedestrian swimmer. What do I know about that experience?

All I could do was all I could do, steep myself in research and use my life experience to try to gain access to her experience, and by that I mean the physical discomfort and mental gymnastics I’ve experienced from a variety of activities – running regularly for more than thirty years, pouring concrete for fourteen hours a day, pitching a baseball, kayaking on Lake Champlain in a wide variety of weather conditions, and other things I’ve done that have required real discipline, focus and physical stamina (like writing a book). That being said, I was still worried I’d get something wrong, and that an experienced open water swimmer would roll his or her eyes and call me on it.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who has read the book, a person who has swum the Channel several times, both in relays and alone. She wrote of the book that, “It is wonderful. You really were able to capture open water swimming and what it is all about.” And then she went on to cite specific examples, scenes from the book that resonated with her own experiences both swimming the Channel and training for it.

Writing a book is a long slog, and that e-mail made me feel like I'd just made it across an English Channel of my own. It is already my favorite review.

ON ORTIZ AND AGE

How do you know when you’re done? That’s the question.

I was never much of a ballplayer, but after not playing for seventeen years, at age thirty four I re-habbed my torn rotator cuff, got in shape and started playing in some pretty competitive over-30 baseball leagues. Almost every team had a few guys who played division one in college, a few teams had guys who had played minor league ball, and there was even the occasional cup of coffee major league straggler. I did okay against these guys, made the league all-star team three or four times and won more games than I lost for teams that usually lost more than they won

I’ll never forget my first game back, a doubleheader, actually. I thought I was in pretty good shape. I was running about thirty miles a week, spending several hours lifting weights in the gym, and had participated in regular practice for about a month. We played a doubleheader. I pitched a complete game, went something like 5-9 at the plate and walked a couple times, a good day.

And the next morning I could not get out of a chair without pushing myself up with my arms. Or go down the steps more than one at a time.

Fans, sports writers and even the athletes themselves drastically underestimate the physical demands of playing. Fans and sportswriters do so because most of them haven’t really played since they were kids, when baseball was easy, and they have no conception what it is like to play even three or four games a week (which I did when playing in two over-thirty leagues) much less every day, as they do for long stretches in the major leagues, an incredibly grueling schedule. Players themselves even underestimate the physical demands because when you are in the midst of a career, or even a season, it’s hard to see what slips away from one season to another, or even day by day.

Here’s an example. After playing for several years I went out one spring to discover that I could no longer sprint, at least not every fast. Before, I’d always been able to steal bases, take the extra base, and had never grounded into a double play. All of a sudden - gone. Same weight, same workout, but the gear was gone. After being thrown out a half dozen times in our first couple games, I learned to go station-to-station.

After that, a little went every year. I couldn’t stay out late and play the next day without paying the price. If I skipped a pre-hab day at the gym, (building my arm back up between starts by a controlled lifting program) my arm felt it. One year I couldn’t pull the ball anymore. Then I lost most of my power. I went from a guy who threw hard and hit third or fourth to a junkballer who slapped the ball the opposite way. And there was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do about it, and I tried everything. Then the reflexes went, and soon after I got hit in the head by an 85 mph pitch I never saw, and essentially got folded in half by a wicked comebacker that hit me in the side and left a grape-purple bruise the size of a dinner plate, I stopped playing. I was forty-four.

Leaving aside rumors about his age, PED use, and off field activities, all of which might make Ortiz’s decline more pronounced, I think we’re seeing the inexorable and effect of age, what Kerouac called “the forlorn rags of growing old.” There have always been players, particularly power hitter, who seem to lose it fast, often in their early to mid-thirties, guys like Bob Allison and Rocky Colavito, who were both basically done at age 33, and Ortiz’s identical twin, Mo Vaughan. Add an injury or two and the decline can be even more pronounced and instantaneous, particularly if some PED enhancement gets taken away at the same time.

Add it all up, and I think he’s finished. Short of releasing him, over the remainder of his contract the best the Red Sox can hope for, I think, is to platoon Ortiz or use him as a pinch hitter, spotting him against certain pitchers in certain ballparks, and hope that he can be reasonably productive in limited duty.

Because here’s the thing - even when I was in my quick decline, there were those times that the guy on the mound (or when I was pitching, the batter) was battling the same thing I was.

In those situations, I still had a chance. For a moment, I was who I used to be.