Wednesday, March 04, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: 'Clemente! An Enduring Legacy' is a great story with a nice cover

Roberto Clemente’s inspiring life makes for a wonderful book. And sometimes a book makes for a fun story. Here’s a tale we first told in 2010.

March 4: “Clemente! The Enduring Legacy” by Kal Wagenheim
Published in 2010

Sitting at my desk in the Grand Rapids Press newsroom one day, I got a call from a man identifying himself as Kal Wagenheim, who wanted to ask me a question.

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 – including one of the first biographies about RobertoClemente published after great ballplayer’s death in that plane crash bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims on New Year’s Eve 1972.

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 his books about Clemente, Babe Ruth and Puerto Rico.

Wagenheim 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.

The original photo.
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 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 in Pittsburgh when I was covering the 1994 All-Star Game FanFest.

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.

Not too long after conversation a package arrived with the book, 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 Kal.

The rest of your reading list, so far:

March 3: "Mets by the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman
March 2: "Faith and Fear in Flushing" by Greg W. Prince

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