Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Athletes Remembered in Books and Monuments

J. D. Thorne, Author and Friend
When my friend J. D. Thorne contacted me about his interest in publishing a book on Joe McCarthy's 10 Commandments of Baseball it just did not occur to me at the time that I would end up publishing sports books.  I had moved on from my professional publishing career where I had done at least a half dozen different jobs for a large international publisher that  was a chief source of highly technical information for attorney, lawyers, and other professionals.  I knew that sports publishing was a lot different than what I had worked in, and I also knew that according to marketing guru Michael Porter, when the barrier to entry to a business is low, you can expect a real hornet's nest of competition.  

Thorne Book
I published The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) with Sporting Chance Press, a new company that I created.  I was genuinely attracted to the idea of publishing sports books that promoted good and were enjoyable to read.

One of my customers told me that The 10 Commandments of Baseball is the best airplane books for sports fans.  In a couple hours on an airplane, you can read through this book with ease and have time to go back to your favorite parts.  J. D. includes snippets of  big league stories to illustrated McCarthy's principles.  He fills in with his own amateur experiences as well.  The Commandments is also a very beautiful book that was designed by two exceptionally talented book designers and it's loaded with classic photos. We use the design for our book on Fred Merkle as well.

Cameron Book
After The 10 Commandments, I took on two new projects: Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and a middle grade skating novel called Maddie Takes the Ice. Public Bonehead was sports writer and marketing man Mike Cameron's salute to Progressive Era baseball history and the greatest scapegoat in sports, Fred Merkle.  There had been a few books covering the era in time for the Merkle game's 100th anniversary in 2008, but Mike focused on the man in a new way--he wanted to not only tell a great story, but vindicate him.  Mike's approach was newspaper fast and concise--working hard to tell the story in an entertaining way without wasting a second of the readers time. 

Maddie Takes the Ice
Maddie Takes the Ice is a simple story by an international skating medalist, Nicolette House, about a competitive skater who makes many sacrifices to be her best in the rink--a young girl's story that athletes can immerse themselves in for a few days.  Maddie is an emotional pep rally for kids who want to accomplish, but need to understand and appreciate the support and direction that comes from loving parents.  Maddie was designed beautifully to create the kind of book readers would read so that it becomes a memory in their own lives and lives on their book shelf for life. That may sound ambitious, but we know from talking to skaters (who are generally very good readers) that's exactly what happens with their favorite books. 

Books Reaching Out

When Mike Cameron worked on Public Bonehead, he came into contact with others who knew the story and appreciated Merkle, the man.  One was David Stalker who is a "dead ball" era (early pre-Ruth baseball that featured scrappy play to produce runs with hit placement and excellent base running) fan who has organized and constructed many monuments to great baseball players within their own communities.  Stalker pays homage to heroes who might otherwise be forgotten. In Merkle's case, a few memorials have been created with generous contributions from fans, community, and journalists. 

Mike Cameron has gotten much press and many comments from people who appreciate the work he's done on Merkle's behalf.   Personally, I believe that in Merkle we also have a great story that illustrates the long reach of bullying.  Although Merkle was an excellent athlete and an intelligent man, the press and fans took after him without mercy in a most unfair way and even his kids felt the pain.  I think if kids could read about Merkle, they might better understand just how unfair bullying can be and how it can target anyone.

Sports and Faith
I moved from baseball and figure skating to a book called Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and Devout by Patrick McCaskey.  Pat sent me a proposal after he had published a book on his grandfather, George Halas--“Bear with Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears.”   Pat had a huge collection of stories and reminiscences that he had written over 30 years with the Bears and he  self published in small volumes for family and friends.   I collected dozens of volumes and brought them back to my office and started organizing them into a new book for public consumption.  After we published Sports and Faith, I am still going through stories and collecting new materials for a second volume.  Pat is very active with the Bears, their community outreach efforts, and many charitable efforts.  He is chairman of WSFI radio and Sports Faith International.  He continues to write and record great sports and faith stories of the people he meets and works with in his many efforts.  

Monumental Effort

McCaskey's Pillars
Pat is a consummate collector of football facts and an author who insists on covering his subjects with integrity and without malice.  We talked about a book on a collection of football greats.  Pat wanted to write about NFL coaches who had won the most championships.  We developed our Pillars of the NFL on that basis.  We created a book model that would provide substantial coverage of the great ones--and organized in a way where readers could delve into the subjects according to their own interests.  

We started coverage of each coach with a kind of you-are-there feature that looked at each coach in a fitting setting in the present tense.  The presentation moves on to examine the coach's early life, school and playing career.  The coaching career is covered emphasizing the pro game, the players, and the championship seasons.  We wound things up with a contributions to the game section and highlights. 

Pat provides a good balance in covering each coach so that readers will have an opportunity to explore all ten of the great coaches and then perhaps compare and contrast their styles and approach.  Differences in the ten coaches certainly suggests that there is more than one way to succeed in the NFL. Pillars is definitely a book that every coach should read. 

One coach in particular was almost lost in the mist of time and is unknown most places: Guy Chamberlin.  Chamberlin was a great player-coach who won all his championships in the first decade of the NFL and then went back home to a quiet life in Nebraska.  We started kicking up some dust looking for his history and with the help of several great local sources and Guy's grandson Rob Sherwood, Patrick put together the football life story of someone who truly is a national treasure.  After our book published, Guy's home town of Blue Springs put together a handsome monument in his honor,  Pat has been invited to speak to an event honoring Guy Chamberlin hosted by the Gage County Historical Society this winter. 

At Sporting Chance Press we keep working on good books about good people.