By Jonathan Weeks
“The beauty of baseball is that you never know. The game you’re watching may have somebody turning an unassisted triple play, a pitcher flirting with his second consecutive no-hitter, three guys on third base—you just never know. In Mudville Madness,Jonathan Weeks takes us on a whirlwind journey from the nineteenth century through the 2013 season—through the wild, weird, wonderful world of baseball. Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride!” (Jan Finkel, SABR Biography Project)
July 4, 1950
The picnic-like atmosphere of a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds was shattered by a senseless tragedy. Bernard Doyle, an unemployed freight sorter and former boxing manager, was treating his neighbor’s thirteen year-old son to an afternoon of baseball. The two had settled into their upper deck seats to watch batting practice when a gunshot rang out. Doyle slumped in his chair with blood running from his head.
The incident took place about an hour before game time. Many spectators were unaware of the death—some eye witnesses believed that perhaps Doyle had merely feinted and was in need of medical attention. Players didn’t even get word of the incident until shortly before the second game. Roughly 50,000 people attended the showdown between the Giants and Dodgers. A glaring example of folks behaving ghoulishly, the New York Daily News reported that several people in the standing room only crowd fought for Doyle’s seat after his body was removed.
Police believed that Doyle may have been a victim of a juvenile sharpshooting gang. Eighty detectives worked on the case and at least 1,200 people were questioned. The mystery was solved when a fourteen year-old boy named Robert Mario Peebles admitted to randomly firing a pistol from a nearby rooftop.
In his mid-fifties (reports of his age are conflicting), Doyle had at one time managed former heavyweight champion James Braddock. His death remains one of the most strange and irrational ever to occur at a ballpark.
It is my pleasure to welcome Jonathan Weeks, author of Mudville Madness, to Room With Books. I appreciate your time, Jonathan, and for allowing Room With Books to be part of your tour.
Please tell us about Mudville Madness and what inspired you to write it?
Mudville Madness covers the most unusual on-field events in baseball history beginning with the nineteenth century and ending after the 2013 campaign. Some of my favorite anecdotes include the riot at Comiskey Park during “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979 and Ernie Shore’s controversial perfect game, which took place in 1917. Shore was called upon to pitch after Red Sox starter Babe Ruth was ejected from the game for punching umpire Brick Owens. Ruth had pitched to just one batter and issued a walk. Shore came on and retired every hitter he faced. In a travesty of justice, Shore’s perfect game was reduced to a “combined no-hitter” in 1991. Though he deserves absolutely no credit, Ruth’s name will forever be associated with Shore’s remarkable feat.
In general, baseball is such a fascinating sport. My goal is to write books that entertain die-hard enthusiasts while inspiring casual fans and neophytes to develop a love of the game. My first book, Cellar Dwellers, was about the worst teams in baseball history. My second, Gallery of Rogues, was about baseball’s bad boys and outcasts.
When you start writing a new novel, do you outline the story or do your characters dictate what will happen?
When I write fiction, I usually work with a very rough outline. I know where my stories begin and end. It’s everything in-between that seems to take on a life of its own. Though I specialize in non-fiction, my first novel was recently released—a historical baseball adventure set during World War II. It’s called The Bridgeport Hammer. I have plans for other works of fiction in the future.
Do you ever have arguments with your characters and who usually wins?
I don’t necessarily argue with my characters, but I do struggle to make them behave in a manner that best suits the story. I don’t always know my characters as well as I think I do. Some turn out completely different than expected. Others end up as I envisioned them with a few unforeseen idiosyncrasies.
What is something about you our readers would be surprised to know?
After I graduated from college, I experienced a severe case of writer’s block. For more than a decade, I couldn’t produce a single page of fiction. Each experience at my computer was worse than the last. It eventually got to the point where I couldn’t assemble a coherent paragraph. I turned to screenwriting (which lacks much of the descriptive detail) and cured myself of the dreaded affliction.
If you could write with any other author who would it be and why?
Oh boy—that’s a tough one. I’m a big fan of science fiction and historical fiction. Michael Crichton has always been among my favorites but he passed away in 2008. Ken Follett and Dan Brown make history exciting and fun. It would be a blast to work with either of them. Someday I would like to work with a retired major leaguer—preferably an old-timer—and help write his memoirs.
When you were little what did you dream of becoming when you grew up and why?
Baseball occupied a lot of my time when I was growing up. When I wasn’t playing it on the sandlots of Schenectady, New York, I was watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio. Annual trips to Yankee Stadium with my father have become cherished memories. I got my earliest experience as a researcher looking at the statistics on the flip side of baseball cards. Eventually, the numbers weren’t enough. I started learning about the history of the game and the men who have played it. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a professional ballplayer or a sports writer. The fact that some of my work has been published is both humbling and gratifying.
When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
I loved comic books growing up. At some point, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t a great illustrator. I started writing short stories instead. The book that really inspired me was Night Shift by Stephen King. It was his first short story collection. Most of the stories had surprise endings. I loved that formula and tried to fashion my own tales in the same vein.
What music inspires your writing?
Music commands my attention and I can’t write with it in the background. Rock music is my favorite, but I like a little of everything except for rap, jazz and country. I do keep up with the newer rock bands, though there aren’t as many good ones nowadays.
What is your favorite breakfast?
At home: Cereal—anything but Grape-Nuts and Cookie Crisp (yuck).
At a restaurant: Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel.
What is your favorite color?
Green—like the grass on a baseball field.
What is your favorite movie?
It’s too hard to choose just one. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Forrest Gump dozens of times and will never change the channel if it’s on TV.
What is your dream car?
I’m not much into cars, but if I had my choice, I’d be driving a new Camaro or Charger. The black ones look like spy cars. Really cool.
How can our readers find you?
http://jonathanweeks.blogspot.com & goodreads.com
My books are available at all major on-line distributors (Amazon/B&N/ etc.)
Thank you, Jonathan, for taking time to let our readers get to know a bit about you through these questions and best of luck with your writing.
Weeks spent thirty-eight years in the Capital District region of New York State. He obtained a degree in psychology from SUNY Albany. In 2004, he migrated to Malone, New York, and has continued to gripe about the frigid winter temperatures ever since. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, he has authored two non-fiction books on the topic of baseball: Cellar Dwellers and Gallery of Rogues. His first novel, The Bridgeport Hammer, (a baseball story set during the WWII era) is being released in the summer of 2014. He writes about the game because he lacked the skills to play it professionally. He still can’t hit a curveball or lay off the high heat.
Link: Check out his “Cellar Dwellers” blog at: http://jonathanweeks.blogspot.com
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