Sunday, July 26, 2009

CHIN MUSIC: One That Got Away

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
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


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

Thursday, July 9, 2009


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

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, 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.


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.”