Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


Nine Innings with Andy Strasberg

March 22, 2012

I received an advance copy of Baseball Fantography just as I was finishing the recent series on Cardboard Gods that had been inspired by a photo on the Fantography™ website of Padres pitcher Dave Freisleben and Topps photographer Doug McWilliams. I am dipping into the beautiful book slowly, savoring it. My favorite photo so far is one of Lou Brock in a leisure suit shaking hands with a couple 1970s yayos, one of whom is in a cutoff Black Sabbath T-shirt. And then there’s a section that expands on the “making of” photo of McWilliams snapping the baseball card portrait of Freisleben. Many more images from the 1975 Padres photo shoot (including one of Tito Fuentes with his “Tito” headband) surround an essay by none other than Doug McWilliams, the man behind many of the images that, weirdly, joyously, anchor my life. Baseball Fantography would be worth the price of purchase for that section alone, but the whole book is spilling over with colorful images from the beating heart of the game.

The author of Baseball Fantography, Andy Strasberg, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book and about his long and eventful life in baseball. 

1. I’m really looking forward to the Baseball Fantography book (due out April 1, 2012). It seems like a book that needs to exist, and one that will help highlight the unique voices of individual fans at a time when the big business of baseball is tending to flatten out and obscure those voices. What was the key moment in the development of the idea for the Fantography site and the book? When did you say to yourself something along the lines of “this idea has to be done, and I have to do it”?

1997 was the year that I came up with the concept and called Marty Appel who agreed immediately that it was good idea.  Our plan was to have fans send their originals to a PO box and we would have them copied and then return them.  We both agreed that it would not work because people would not risk sending their treasured photographs in the mail for the fear of it getting lost. Then in 2000 I thought that fans with photo could go into Kinko’s and have them scanned and emailed to me . . . but that too was a lot to ask of fans. Then in 2008 I felt that there were enough home scanners and people using digital photographer that they could do it from their home and I was right.

2. I know you’ve spent your whole life around the game, first as a supremely dedicated fan and later as a vice president for the Padres. Some would be tempted to assume that you’ve “seen it all.” In gathering the images for the site and the book, what photo most surprised you, and why?  

I LOVE the snapshots of players before they enter the ball park.  I have hundreds of snapshots of players walking down the street as far back as the 1940s. I can only imagine how excited a fan was to capture a photo of a player in street clothes walking down the street in Brooklyn on the way to Ebbets Field.

3. I believe that in your work with the Padres from the 1970s to the 1990s [Strasberg was the vice president of marketing for the team], you were involved in many promotional events. What part, if any, did you play in Kurt Bevacqua catching a ball thrown from the top of a building in downtown San Diego? What can you tell us about that immortal day? 

I was given credit for the idea but actually adapted the concept from the 1908 Gabby Street Washington Monument event. My favorite part of setting up the event was that I asked permission from our GM Jack McKeon who said he was fine with it as long as Dick Williams our manager approved of it. So I went to Dick and asked him. He said it was OK and then I warned him that Kurt could possibly get hurt and Dick didn’t pause for a second and said, “I know.”

4. Also, when Bevacqua came to the Padres, he had already featured in one of the greatest moments in Topps baseball cards as the 1975 Joe Garagiola/Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champ. Did you ever witness any residue of this feat? I’m praying there are stories of young gunslingers constantly challenging the weary champ to bubble gum blowing duels. Short of that, any other anecdotes about Bevacqua would be greatly appreciated.

I never saw any one challenge Kurt in a Bubble blowing showdown.

One of my favorite “Dirty Kurt” stories happened during the 1984 World Series. We were in Detroit for game three and I was in the dugout just before introductions. Kurt bet me $10 that he would purposely slip coming out of the dugout.  I told him he wouldn’t and the bet was on. His name was announced by the stadium PA and he tripped on the top step and then turned around and shouted at me that I owed him ten bucks.

5. I first became aware of the amazing Fantography website when a writer, Greg Hanlon, let me know about a particular photo on the site. It’s the one that you took of Doug McWilliams’ snapping the portrait that would appear on Dave Freisleben’s 1976 card. For someone like me, who has put such importance on the baseball cards of the 1970s, it is an amazing moment, a singular glimpse behind a magical curtain, and I thank you for capturing it. What are your memories of that moment?

I could not use a flash so all of my photos came out dark because of the shadows. I also tried to capture the exact moment that Doug shot his photos and from an off center angle. I knew that I wanted to capture the exact moment a baseball card photo was being born.

6. It seems from looking at the 1976 Padres cards that several photos may have been taken that day. Do you recall whether that was the case, and if so, can you give us some sense of how the photo shoot proceeded that day? Was there a lot of waiting around and/or bored horseplay? How long did McWilliams generally take with each of his subjects?

Doug took perhaps less than 3 minutes with each player but sometimes waited as long as 20 minutes waiting for the next guy.  The entire shooting process took hours.

7. What did the players think of the baseball card photo shoots?

Most enjoyed it, others seemed to be somewhat bothered by the distraction and interruption of their spring training routine.

8. I love Doug McWilliams’ work. As someone who obviously also has a knack with baseball photos, what you can tell us about Doug McWilliams as an artist from what you saw that day or from other experiences with him?

Doug is one of the nicest and classiest guys in baseball. He’s kind, low-key and very considerate. We became friends quickly and have remained so after all these years. A baseball writer told me after I got my job with the Padres that even though he knew I was a collector of baseball memorabilia he said that the best thing I will collect will be the friends I make. At the time I thought he was crazy . . . but after 20 plus years he was right and Doug is one of those cherished friendships.

9. In addition to your work in the game and as a baseball historian and author, I believe you are also a passionate collector of baseball memorabilia. What piece from your collection would you be most reluctant to part with, and why?

When I was 17 years old Roger Maris gave me one of his bats in 1965. It was a confirmation from my childhood hero of a promise he made to me earlier that season. At that point it was the greatest day of my life!


When Bears Walked With Angels

June 7, 2011

My book on the 1977 film The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is officially out today. In honor of those sequelized Bears, I thought I’d share one of my favorite pictures ever, apparently from a publicity photo shoot around the time of the film’s release. Seeing Ogilvie with an angel on each arm makes me think there might yet be hope for the world.



Free Beer Tour begins tonight

June 1, 2011


If you’re in the neighborhood of Naperville, Illinois, this evening, come on out to Anderson’s Bookshop, where Lagunitas will be provide the beer, Pete Nelson will read from his hilarious and moving novel I Thought You Were Dead, David Anthony will read from his blistering Sal-Bando-haunted page-turner Something for Nothing, and I’ll read from Cardboard Gods.


For more info, please see Anderson’s Bookshop’s event page.



Book Cellar reading tonight (5/5)

May 5, 2011

The image at left, from one of the great live albums, has little to do with the day I have ahead of me, except that I’ll spend some of it reading Keith Richards’ excellent recent autobiography Life and listening to the Stones, and then tonight I’ll be “live, in concert.” I don’t think any Ya-Ya’s will be involved, but I’ll be reading from Cardboard Gods tonight at the Book Cellar, a great independent bookstore here in Chicago (see full listing for the event below or on my “book tour” page). The event will also feature Billy Lombardo, Jonathan Eig, and  James Finn Garner, and is sponsored by Goose Island Brewery. Admission is free, but please note the following from the Book Cellar’s page for the event: “You WILL need to RSVP if you want to attend. E-mail us ( or call (773-293-2665) to put your name on the list. (It’s free!)”

The Book Cellar, 4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60625
Dudes Night” (Josh Wilker, Jonathan Eig, Billy Lombardo, and James Finn Garner)   
Free and open to the public


Here’s an early clip of the Stones chugging through a Chuck Berry number and then “Tell Me.” There are glimpses of some members of the rising global army of screaming, weeping teenage girls that, when amassed in large numbers, terrified Richards, according to his account of those years in his autobiography. (Three of the these girls are brought onstage at the end of the clip.) At one point around this time, after a concert, Richards was set upon by a battalion from this army that in communal blind ecstasy battered him unconscious.


Bullpen Cart

April 22, 2011

It’s gray and rainy today, and I wish I could spend the day riding around as a passenger in a baseball-headed bullpen cart. Maybe a baseball-headed bullpen cart version of Neal Cassady, much less frenzied and wild-eyed than the original, prone not to blazing 100 mph down rural roads shivering with hunger and amphetamines and roaring about Nietzsche but instead to puttering around slowly and aimlessly while gazing off into the middle distance, will pull up outside my window in a bullpen cart and bleat the little horn, and I’ll go out and join him for a day of mild, pointless bullpen cart meandering.  

Probably this won’t occur, as the era of the bullpen cart has come and gone. Still, I can at least ponder the bullpen cart, as I am wont to do. Along those lines, I have an article on Baseball Prospectus today that (among other things) touches glancingly on my love of the long lost on-field conveyance shown here, apparently on the brink of failing to save a couple Mets from the indignity and strain of walking.

For more on the history of the bullpen cart, see Paul Lukas’ 2007 article on the subject. And while you’re meandering bullpen-cart-style around the Internet, you could also check out a couple of nice reviews of my book that have just been posted, at Baseball Reflections and Batter Chatter, respectively. Also, last week, Joe Bonomo (author of a book on AC/DC’s Highway to Hell that is very high on my “must read” list) posted an interview with me and Dan Epstein (Big Hair and Plastic Grass) at his site No Such Thing As Was.

Finally, I have updated my “Book Tour Page” with info on upcoming events, most of which will feature FREE BEER. (Has there ever been a better use of ALL CAPS than the one used at the end of the preceding sentence? Please allow me the pleasure of using it once again: FREE BEER.) No word yet on whether this FREE BEER will cause the literary gatherings to devolve into chaotic homages to 10-Cent Beer Night. I also have yet to figure out if I’ll be able to travel from Chicago to Naperville to Milwaukee to Oakland to Boston to Austin and back to Chicago in a baseball-headed bullpen cart.


Opening Day Starting Nine

March 31, 2011

Today the book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness is running a little Q&A with me that includes a question about my top five authors that I expanded (following Charles Bukowski’s lead) into a starting nine. Here’s my opening day batting order:

1. Denis Johnson, SS (dazzling in the field; .297/.398/.412)
2. Anton Chekhov, 3B (always makes perfect contact; .313/.402/.498)
3. Jack Kerouac, CF (think Fred Lynn in ’75 but forever; .325/.413/.545)
4. J.D. Salinger, RF (glove has poems scribbled on it; .286/.374/.529)
5. Bruce Jay Friedman, 1B (hilarious infield chatter; .302/.397/.502)
6. Frederick Exley, LF (erratic and powerful; .264/.342/.512)
7. Charles Schulz, C (always there when you need him; .282/.367/.423)
8. Raymond Carver, 2B (key when things get rocky; .272/.372/.402)
9. Franz Kafka, P (baffling, overpowering stuff; 2.08 ERA)

What’s your starting nine?


For more of Me, if you can stand it, check out an interview today at the New Yorker book blog The Book Bench; a new music-tending interview at Rock Town Hall; and a new podcast conversation at Baseballisms.


Cardboard Gods: the liner notes

March 15, 2011

Cardboard Gods is officially out in paperback today. Algonquin Books posted some news about their release of the paperback (including a chance to get a free copy) and also included my “liner notes” for my imagined soundtrack for the book, with thoughts on songs by, among others, John Lennon, the Grateful Dead, Leif Garret, The Ramones, and the band whose album cover (shown at left) fascinated me as a child as much as any baseball card:

 Algonquin Books: Cardboard Gods Publication Day and Liner Notes