Every place looks pretty much the same when it’s raining endlessly. Minnesota and Wisconsin. Rural Illinois and the suburban wasteland of Chicago. Michigan. Ontario. Upstate New York. Flatlands, farms, industry, and all their trappings, from the barns to the truck stops to the smokestacks belching out what looks like more clouds, to the rest stops that all seem to serve the same awful coffee they’re now calling “gourmet”. Between two magical readings–both very different–and the suddenly strange landscape around Cooperstown, New York (where I’m now staying at the charming and low-key Mohican Motel), it’s been nothing but an endless, rainy drive with repeating landscapes.
But Chicago is a lovely town, as is Cooperstown, nestled snugly in the land of James Fenimore Cooper and his Leatherstocking tales. I can imagine Natty Bumppo and his cohorts snapping twigs in the forest.
But first Chicago. You can’t see enough of this city in a day and a half, especially when you’ve had almost no sleep. But it was here that I finally met the redoubtable Ivan R. Dee, the man who took a chance on The End of Baseball and helped usher it into this world.
Some history: my agent, Paul Bresnick, and I had been trying for over a year and a half to find a home for The End of Baseball, to no avail. We’d sent it to 34 different publishers, and received 34 rejections. Most were terse, thank you for your submission types, but not a few were also bizarre statements that yes, we (meaning the editor and few colleagues) loved the book but were going to decline because baseball novels don’t sell. What do you do with that? Hell if I knew.
So some sixteen to eighteen months went by and there was nothing. Now comes the first hero of this story, Jonathan Eig. Jonathan is the author of two very fine baseball books–no, great baseball books. The first is Luckiest Man: The Life of Lou Gehrig and the second is Opening Day: The Story Jackie Robinson’s First Season. These are two very well researched, definitive tales, but even better are crack stories. Jonathan’s a fun writer, who doesn’t beat you over the head with his research, and manages, in these tales, to make his subjects seem utterly human, and even fragile at times. Which is no small feat.
I’d interviewed Jonathan years ago for a review of Luckiest Man for MudvilleMagazine.com. He liked my review. When I finished The End of Baseball I asked him if he would please read it and, if he enjoyed the thing, give it a little blurb. He agreed.
Jonathan must have liked it because he not only gave it a blurb in the early going, but brought the manuscript to Ivan Dee’s attention a good year later, when all appeared lost. Ivan’s interest was piqued, I sent it to him, and he decided to take a chance on the book. The rest is history.
Seeing the office of Ivan R. Dee, Publishers is a humbling experience, especially if you’re in his stable of authors. There was my book, on a shelf with Roger Angell, Jimmy Breslin, Budd Schulberg, and Red Smith, just to name the sportswriters. What a group! “You’re outselling Camus,” he told me with a laugh.
Ivan and his wife, editor Barbara Burgess (both of whom helped clean up The End of Baseball ) are charming, as was Stephanie Frerich, managing editor at Ivan R. Dee. And Ivan’s quite a renaissance man–according to a neat book called For As Long As We Read, which is a festschrift in Ivan’s honor. Turns out, my esteemed publisher has not only had a lifetime in publishing and promotion, but was in the Navy, created the first fantasy baseball league, and has won three blue ribbons for his baking.
The reading at Barbara’s Bookstore at the University of Chicago, Illinois was to a small audience. In fact, had it not been for Ivan and Barbara (no relation to the bookstore), their son Jacob, Jonathan–who brought a cooler full of great beer and Cracker Jacks, my friends Lesley and Lee (thanks to them for the place to stay!) there would have been but one gent.
I gave my speech, and this fellow must have asked me a half dozen questions, which was fun. He also demanded I write my next book about steroids, which I’m not going to do. I autographed his book “To the most intense sports fan in Chicago.” Turns out he’s George Wendt’s brother.
In spite of the small turnout, the Chicago made me very happy. This was a long road to get this book published, and it was at times frustrating and frankly depressing. I like my book, see, and I thought it was never going to be anything more than just a stack of papers no one read. But Jonathan Eig and Ivan R. Dee took a chance. And the thing is, meeting them, and seeing the offices of my publisher and his staff, have made me think that this was meant to be. That I suffered through 34 rejections in order to come to this place, and that there’s no other house I’d rather have publish The End of Baseball.
Tomorrow: Okemos and The Hall of Fame.