"Think how snake piles in the outfield might add excitement to major league baseball today. They could also make golf, soccer, and modern dance more interesting."
After getting a note back a few weeks ago from Dave Baldwin, I decided to check out his book, "Snake Jazz".
Dave starts out talking about playing baseball as a child in Arizona. He mentions that there wasn't a lot of grass, and the "fields" were often hard like clay.
His dad designed a "box" for him to throw to. He has a picture in the book, and the box is actually pretty brilliant. This isn't an old freezer box or some other 10 minute set up like most of us probably had. The description of the box alone is worth the price of the book.
Dave spends a lot of time in the first hundred or so pages talking about his time in school and college baseball, then going in to the minors. He takes his time giving info about his teams, mentors, teammates, etc. He talks about his deciding to play ball in college before going pro, and then going pro.
I love hearing stories about the minor leagues, and Dave really gives a good description of working his way up. He talks about going to Spring Training and then getting shuffled to a team. He has a lot of fun and success in Williamsport. He also spends time with the higher level Buffalo team. Dave talks about the competition with the other teams, and the competition within the teams for players to advance.
Dave also addresses race issues in baseball. He mentions that his Chattanooga Lookouts team was totally segregated. In fact, the league he played in during that time refused to allow blacks to play even after others were integrating. Some members of one of his teams would go out to the parking lot around the 7th to remove racist leaflets put on cars during games.
Baldwin talks about his fears as he grows older in the minor leagues (25 is a mature age to be playing at that level he says). He describes his getting cut by a manager, and looking through the Sporting News to see if any other team might be in need of pitching. Doing this lands him jobs with the historic Durham Bulls and the York White Roses.
As he gets older in the minors, and still thinking about trying to hold on to a baseball career, he takes a summer to reinvent himself. He works on developing a different pitching style, giving a lot of thought to deceiving the hitter. He spends a lot of time thinking about speed, delivery, etc.
Dave covers how others in baseball try to one up each other, and secure the most advantages. Hitters file and cork their bats, pitchers put substances on balls, and field crews alter the field. Greenies were pepping players up (and in Dave's view, bringing batting averages down).
"Dirty Dave" admits that he used a little powder on a ball a time or two. He even discloses that he wishes he had done more of this sort of thing.
After reinventing his style some, and improving his stats, he gets the call to play in Hawaii. He has a great time here, at different times over 5 seasons, developing a great respect for the jovial fans in the area. Baldwin gives some great stories of eating chicken in the bullpen and kids asking for a baseball. Oh, and little gnome like people live under the stadium there, wagering on baseball games (read Dave's book- that last sentence makes a lot more sense coming from him).
Dave does FINALLY get the call to "the show". He spends some time with the Senators and then with the Brewers. He misses getting his 4 years of Major League experience needed for a pension by under 40 days. A few years later he gets to spend the exact number of days needed with the White Sox to get his pension.
Dave runs in to some interesting characters along the way. Dave spends some time pitching for a team managed by Ted Williams. Dave, being a bit of a guy with some intelligence, tries to explain some technical stuff to Ted about how a pitch moves. Ted and Dave have some great dialogue. I'm not bleeping. Again, read Dave's book.
I really like stories about guys shifting around the minors and majors. I can read this stuff all day. Dave's personal story about making it in baseball for a while, during a time when contracts weren't nearly as inflated as they are now makes for a great read. His sense of humor adds to the book too.