* Q&A with author and former MLB pitcher Dave Baldwin

February 12, 2009 · 2 comments

Dave Baldwin pitched for the Washington Senators, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago White Sox during his six-year career (1966-70 and ’73). Used strictly in relief, he compiled a 6-11 record in 176 games, but posted a very respectable 3.08 ERA, giving up just 190 hits in 224-plus innings.

Dave Baldwin's "Fugue for the Pepper Players," photographed by Karen Hansen

But numbers can never tell the whole story. After all, the majority of pro athletes enjoy a limited career before moving on to other careers. Baldwin’s post-baseball resume is quite impressive. He earned an M.S. in systems engineering and a Ph.D. in genetics at the University of Arizona. He’s published numerous articles and scientific papers in publications such as Harvard Business Review and American Scientist. He’s also an accomplished artist; his “Fugue for the Pepper Players” can be seen at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame, by John Thorn (Villard, 1998).

Baldwin weaves an interesting, amusing, and at times frustrating story in Snake Jazz, a frank appraisal of the hard work it took to sustain himelf through many minor league campaigns on the way to the majors. Gently amusing without being iconoclastic, Snake Jazz is more like Brosnan’s The Long Season and Pennant Race than Bouton’s Ball Four and subsequent titles and miles above what active and former players are coming out with these days.

In an e-mail interview, Baldwin discussed the rigors of minor league life, with the constant boredom of repetition, idle time, and a rigid adherence to past fundamental practices at the expense of new ideas; the difficulties of a professional sports career in general; and the even more difficult task of writing and publishing his memoirs. (All illustrations are from Baldwin’s website, SnakeJazz.com.)

* * *

RKBB: Why did you want to do this book?

Baldwin: I got the idea … from my wife. I had a lot of anecdotes saved up from my career, and she thought they were amusing enough that I should write them down before I’m too old to remember them. The idea was to pass them along to relatives and a few friends who are baseball fans. Somewhere along the line I realized I had enough stuff for a publishable manuscript. Then, I needed a reason to write it. Just having a string of anecdotes doesn’t justify subjecting a reader to a full-length book.

For some time I’ve been bothered by the number of kids who play ball for a few years, but then give up the sport because they’re convinced they don’t “have what it takes to succeed.” I know people who regretted this decision for the rest of their lives. They have the nagging feeling that they gave up too soon. As you point out, my book is “a tale of adjustment and perseverance.” I wanted to give every reader the same advice my dad gave me — if you want something badly enough, you should work hard and thoughtfully to get it. It would be great if every kid learned this lesson.

Dave Baldwin in 1968...

and today.

and today.

RKBB: What story were you trying to tell? The plight of a “regular Joe” ballplayer? A tale of adjustment and perseverance? Something else?

Baldwin: … I’ve never considered myself a “regular Joe” ballplayer. I was just a run-of-the-mill pitcher, but I always seemed to be very different from the other ballplayers. I guess I was just hearing a different drummer.

RKBB: Traveling across the country in various levels of the minors for all those years, was there ever a time when you asked yourself “who needs this?

Baldwin: There were many times during my pro career when it was obvious I had “no chance” of ever playing in the majors. It didn’t occur to me to give up, though. That wasn’t an option I was willing to consider. I was going to college during the off seasons, but I wasn’t getting an education so that I could quit baseball. That next career was always so far in the future that it didn’t seem real to me.

RKBB: As an obviously intelligent fellow, what was it like being surrounded by a wide range of guys with a high school (or lower) background? I imagine a college man was still relatively rare in those days.

Dave Baldwin, Darold Knowles, Casey Cox, Dick Lines, and Bob Humphreys.

Senators bullpen, 1967. L to R: Dave Baldwin, Darold Knowles, Casey Cox, Dick Lines, and Bob Humphreys.

Baldwin: I never felt I had a problem getting along with players who didn’t have a college education. I always had one thing in common with the other players — baseball. During the summer ballplayers always had something to talk about. I experienced a little disdain from some of the coaches and managers, though, who felt ex-college players didn’t try as hard as those who signed out of high school. But by the time I signed in 1959 ,a fair number of college players were entering pro ball. Most of the minor league teams I played on had at least a half dozen players who had been to college.

RKBB: Did you maintain a connection to the game, or did you see your time as just one in a series of careers?

Baldwin: I didn’t pay much attention to baseball after I retired. Some years I didn’t even know who was playing in the World Series. I was up to my chin in graduate studies, teaching, and genetic research. I didn’t have time to think of anything else. I’m not sure whether this “clean break” is the best kind of transition. It does let the ex-athlete avoid any regrets about the defunct pro career, if he or she is inclined to have these.

RKBB: As a boy, did you read a lot of baseball books? If so, was it fiction or non-fiction? And did you have a favorite author?

Baldwin: I read one baseball book, The Natural, not long after it was published in the 1950s. I enjoyed it and thought it was much better than the Hollywood version. So, I guess my favorite baseball author was [Bernard] Malamud.

RKBB: Did you read Jim Brosnan’s and Jim Bouton’s books?

Baldwin: No, I’ve never read the books of either of them. I haven’t read Sparky Lyle’s book, either. I doubt if I ever will — I just have no interest in them. I read almost nothing but books about science.

Birdie Morago, Bob Encinas, Dave Baldwin, Norm Popkin, and Jim Ward.

University of Arizona starting pitchers, 1959. L to R: Birdie Morago, Bob Encinas, Dave Baldwin, Norm Popkin, and Jim Ward.

RKBB: When did you decide the time was right to write the book? Had you been thinking about it awhile or was it fairly recent? Did you start and stop a few times or once you decided you plowed right through?

Baldwin: I guess I’ve partially answered this question already. I wrote down the anecdotes as I happened to find time for it — over the course of about a year. Then, once I decided I would turn the stack of anecdotes into a book, I became single-minded and worked on the project until I finished it after another year (I “plowed right through”). The next step was to search for an agent. After six months I found one (a very good one, too), but he worked hard for six more months without any luck in finding a publisher. [The feeling was,]”If only you had been a star.”

RKBB: How did you come to your publisher? Was this a labor of love for, and the money wasn’t that important?

Baldwin: My book is self-published. That means I knew I would lose quite a bit of money on it (and I did!). I was publishing it mostly for the entertainment of friends and relatives. Also, I hoped that it might be read by SABR members who are interested in what it was like to play the game forty to fifty years ago. My only disappointment was that only about a dozen SABR members bought the book. Perhaps that period isn’t of much interest to fans today.

RKBB: How heavily did you “self-vet”? After reading Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends, I must say I’ve become quite skeptical about relying on a player’s memory.

Baldwin: I discovered early on that I needed to draw on the memories and research skills of many of my baseball-savvy friends in order to capture anything resembling the truth in my book. My memory is lousy. The problem was that I thought I was right on the money with all of the details of the stories I was telling. I soon realized that much of what I was recalling was pure fiction. That’s when I turned to my friends and to some scrapbooks that my mother and my first wife kept.
Generally, I doubt if players are purposely fibbing when they try to relate a story from the dim past. The memory can be tripped up easily. You’ll find thousands of entries if you Google “false memories.” There’s even a False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Any story told by any player should be corroborated if establishing its truth is important.

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