Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Baseball Book Author Hits A Home Run

Author John Rosengren has written many good books and has managed to carve out a nice niche for himself. He specializes in magnifying different times in baseball that reveal so much not just of the individuals who play the game, but of the times they played in. Last year, he hit a home run with Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, and this year he explores racism through a new book, The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption (Lyons Press).

Nearly 49 years ago, there was a bloody and violent clash on the field during a game between the SF Giants and the LA Dodgers. With both teams fighting for first place on the field – and some players struggling with violence off the field – a crazy situation broke out when a batter took his bat and intentionally hit the catcher in the head, leaving blood everywhere. The batter was Juan Marichal, who would eventually make it into the Hall of Fame, but on that day and for years to come, he was villainized.

I recommend this fascinating social exploration. The publisher’s press release tells you all that you need below:

“The national pastime reflected the tensions in society and nearly sullied two men forever. Juan Marichal, a Dominican anxious about his family’s safety during the civil war back home, and John Roseboro, a black man living in South Central L.A. shaken by the Watts riots a week earlier, attacked one another in a moment immortalized by an iconic photo: Marichal’s bat poised to strike Roseboro’s head.

“The violent moment – uncharacteristic of either man – linked the two forever and haunted both. THE FIGHT OF THEIR LIVES examines the incident in its context and aftermath, only in this story the two men eventually reconcile and become friends, making theirs an unforgettable tale of forgiveness and redemption. The book also explores American culture and the racial prejudices against blacks and Latinos both men faced and surmounted. As two of the premier ballplayers of their generation, they realized they had more to unite them than keep them apart.

Interview With Sports Author John Rosengren

1.      John, what moved you to write your newest book, The Fight of Their Lives? I had seen that iconic photo of Juan Marichal with his bat poised over the falling John Roseboro, but I was too young when it happened to be aware of the full story.  As I started looking into it, I realized it had all the elements I seek in a book:  it was a great baseball story, set in the context of the most heated and storied rivalry in sports, the Dodgers-Giants; it had a cultural backdrop with the civil war in the Dominican Republic where the U.S. had committed 20,000 U.S. troops and the Watts Riots, which occurred the week before the Marichal-Roseboro fight, these events impacting both men personally; but the kicker was the way these two turned the fight into an occasion of reconciliation. When I discovered that, I thought, I’ve got to write this book—that’s my kind of story.

2.      You are an award-winning author and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. What fascinates you about writing on baseball history? First, I’m a baseball fan, so it seems I can never learn enough about the game. When I go to the library or do research online, I’m constantly getting sidetracked by other items about baseball I didn’t know but want to. Second, I’m fascinated by the way sports mirror society.  I know it sounds cliché, but we can learn a lot about the times by looking at what happened in baseball during the era.  Third, I believe sports reveal character, so we learn about ourselves by studying how athletes act, particularly to pressure, winning and losing. Marichal and Roseboro reacted violenty in the heat of the moment, but over time they deliberately forgave one another. That’s a great testament to the human spirit.

3.      Your prior book on Hank Greenberg examined anti-Semitism. Your current book looks at racism. Have things improved? You mean in my writing, have things improved there?  I hope so.  (Laugh.)  Seriously, I think things in the United States have improved in general. We have more cultural awareness and sensitivity today, and the anti-Semitism is not as socially acceptable now as it was in the ‘30s and ‘40s here.  Also, I think we have made a lot of progress in from the ‘50s and ‘60s when Jim Crow laws were in effect and people in the United States ridiculed Hispanics. Sadly, prejudice still exists. So does discrimination. There’s room for progress. I hope my books raise awareness and help bring about change for the better.

4.      What do you believe Major League Baseball can do to improve and grow the number of African American ballplayers, now at a low point not seen in decades? That’s a tough question. I think it starts with desire. African-American kids have to want to play baseball. That probably starts with them seeing positive role models who look like they do. So MLB can promote their African-American stars, guys like Andrew McCutcheon and Denard Span, who are good players and good guys. The tougher situation is economic.  Baseball, like any sport these days, has become expensive for the young player who wants to develop his skills. Perhaps more players could donate time and money to African-American prospects and their development.  But this is just a thought. I’m not an economist.

5.      What do you think of the expanded instant replay? I especially like seeing close plays replayed at the ballparks. This seems long overdue. The fan at the game should be able to see what the fan at home sees. I don’t like the replay calls slowing down the game. I would suggest that the manager has to make an immediate challenge, rather than waiting for a signal from the bench after someone in the clubhouse has watched the replay.

6.      Which teams look strong this year? Those that are winning the most games and have strong pitching. I’m predicting a Dodgers-Tigers World Series.

7.      Who are your favorite players – of all-time and the present? I think Willie Mays is the greatest of all-time, a complete all-around player, and I came upon the game while he was still playing, so he’s a favorite. Hank Aaron is the true home run champion in my eyes, and he broke Babe Ruth’s record with such dignity amidst all of the pressure and threats, so he’s a favorite.  Rod Carew was my favorite player while watching the Twins, and I continue to admire him as an adult for who he is as a person.  I was a catcher and had a poster of Johnny Bench on my wall during the years of the Big Red Machine, so he was also a favorite.  There are more—Greenberg, Marichal, Roseboro et al.—but those four are tops for me.

8.      What challenges did you overcome in writing The Fight of Their Lives?  The challenge with any book is being able to do sufficient research and then find the right structure to tell the story.  I’ll leave it to readers to determine how I met that challenge. 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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