Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover!

Here’s one I never saw coming.

Sitting at work one day, I got a call from a man identifying himself as Kal Wagenheim, who said he had a question for me.

As a reporter, usually I ask the questions, so I was intrigued.

Wagenheim said he was a former New York Times reporter who now writes about the Caribbean and sports biographies. He called my home first, and my wife game him my work number.

He told me that he wrote one of the first biographies about Roberto Clemente published after his death in that plane crash bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims.

As I’m sure Wagenheim will affirm, reporters are somewhat skeptical people, and I confess to searching for him on Amazon as we spoke. And sure enough, there were books about Clemente, Babe Ruth and Puerto Rico, written by him.

Now I was really, really intrigued.

He told me that there is a group of Clemente fans who gather in New York every year on the birthday of the Hall of Famer, to discuss his life and legacy. He said that people in the group enjoyed his book from 1973, but it has been out of print for a while. The group was hoping he could issue an updated version, and found an interested publisher.

“Now, what does this have to do with you, you’re wondering,” he accurately stated.
Wagenheim said he was searching for a photograph for the book, and searched “Clemente” and “Hall of Fame” on Google, and saw a photo of a Clemente statue he liked.

He contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame for permission to use the photo, and the nice folks in the baseball library looked at it and said it wasn’t one from their archives.

“It’s from a blog,” he told me, retelling the conversation. “You have to contact the author, someone who goes by ‘Mets Guy in Michigan.’”

Wagenheim said he looked around the blog for a while and found my name – which I don’t really hide – and looked me up based on what he could find on the site.

He told me he liked the angle and lighting in the photo and asked for my permission to use it.

Naturally, I was honored.

We talked for a little while about growing up in New York and working for newspapers, and I had a wonderful time. It’s not like I get too many opportunities to pick the brain of a New York Times reporter who loves baseball.

I remembered the photo and the statue, which I wrote about several months before. It was taken during a glorious weekend. Will and I had our baseball card column in the Flint Journal, and the editors allowed me to apply for credentials to cover the 1994 All-Star Game FanFest in Pittsburgh.

It was my first time attending such an event, which is a fantastic celebration of all things baseball. Of course, there was a cloud hovering over the game at the time, with the strike looming. But it also was just before Ken Burns’ epic “Baseball” documentary.

Burns hosted journalists for breakfast to discuss the project, and former players attended. I sat with Joe Black, who starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers and also in the Negro Leagues. I knew he also played for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues – and that the name was pronounced e-LIGHT. Black told me I was the first white guy he ever heard pronounce it correctly. Buck O’Neill also attended the breakfast, and walked to every table to introduce himself.

Part of the All-Star Game’s festivities was the unveiling of the statue, and it’s pretty special. Roberto is depicted just after a swing, dropping the bat and headed to first base. The base of the statue contains containers of dirt from three fields where Clemente played -- —Santurce Field in Puerto Rico, Forbes Field, and Three Rivers Stadium.

I took a walk from the convention center to Three Rivers and caught the statue in late-afternoon light. I’m hardly a great photographer, but as my kids will tell you, I believe in quality through quantity, and a statue will never groan when you say, “Just one more.”

I though the shot was marred by some people walking in the background. But it is kind of nice.

I e-mailed the photo to Wagenheim, and then heard from the folks at Markus Wiener Publishers , who asked if I could scan it again and send them a higher resolution photo, which was easy.

I’ve since learned that Wagenheim also writes plays and screenplays in addition to writing and translating books, which is impressive because I sometimes struggle to write in one language, much less two.

This week a package arrived, with “Clemente! The Enduring Legacy,” written across the front, superimposed over a full-bleed version of my photo. The graphics folks were able to remove the people in the background.

I get a photo credit inside the cover, but more special is a nice note from my new friend, Kal.


Dan said...

That's great! I'll have to take a closer look at that statue next time I'm in Pittsburgh. And get a copy of the book, of course.

RDOwens said...

Nice, Dave! I've had similar experiences. Some of my photos will be published in an upcoming barbecue book.

More important, however, is that Clemente was my favorite player. Why? Because he was my father's too. That's the way it used to work. My first game was a twi-night doubleheader between the Pirates and the Phillies at the newly opened Veterans Stadium.

Of course, Clemente was the first Spanish-speaking person I ever encountered. I learned quickly as a six-year old that Spanish and English are similar as in "No" means the same in both languages. He refused to sign my autograph book. I believe he was coming off an injury at the time. He sat and stretched with Stargell and a few others.

The disappointment didn't sit in until I was an adult. He remained my favorite player because Dad told me he was the best. Dad couldn't be wrong.

Nice shot, Dave. I'll have to look up that book.

Stormy said...

Very cool story!

Although I was born shortly after his death, Roberto is my all-time favorite player.

I will be on the lookout for the book!

Warren "Zvon" said...

This is totally extra positively kool MGIM!

Anonymous said...

That's great Dave!!