On the occasion of the release of Steven Travers' new book, “A Tale of Three Cities: The 1962 Baseball Season in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco,” At Home Plate's Daniel Paulling had the chance to sit down with the author and talk about the 1962 season, his research on the topic and how a baseball player became a widely successful writer.
AHP: Why did you choose to write about the 1962 season?
ST: The very first baseball book I ever read was a review of the 1962 season and it stuck with me. Over time I came to realize that 1962 was one of the most exciting baseball seasons ever played.
It was a year that captured the new coastal nature of baseball as never before. After several years in which teams from the Midwest went to the World Series, 1962 featured the pennant chase between the two old New York rivals, the Dodgers and Giants, on the West Coast; in particular at Dodger Stadium, which opened that year.
It was also a seminal year in American history; the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, John Glenn's orbiting the Earth, and later captured in movies likes American Graffiti. It was the last year of American innocence, so to speak, before JFK's assassination and Vietnam.
It was also the first true marriage of entertainment and sports that is common now. Hollywood went ga-ga for the Dodgers. I have seen few if any years that engender greater nostalgia than the “Sunset Strip summer of '62.”
AHP: What was your favorite story from your research?
ST: I love Bo Belinsky's debut with the Angels in 1962, and it was the first year of the lovable Amazin' Mets. Willie Mays was going through divorce and bankruptcy. It was the era of “Johnny Grant parties” when the Yankees visited Hollywood. Roger Maris was booed unmercifully because he “failed” to repeat his 61-homer year of 1961.
But my favorite story was the Shakespearean rivalry between Dodger manager Walt Alston and his “celebrity coach,” Leo Durocher. They were two totally different people, the Midwest rube and the city slicker. Durocher undermined Alston every step of the away, and the meltdown in the Dodger clubhouse when they lost the play-off was monumental. I described Alston hiding in his office, his door locked to protect himself from the clutches of his mad players, as a scene from George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
AHP: How did you balance wanting to discuss the major events of the era -- like the Cuban missile crisis -- with baseball?
ST: At first I planned to inter-weave all the political events throughout, but eventually I had to discard that and simply reserve description of it for a short chapter end. Word count dictated it, as did editorial control.
AHP: It seemed you focused a bit more on the Dodgers and Giants than the Yankees. Why was that?
ST: The Yankees were a force of nature, the modern Roman Empire conquering all in the same way they always had, but the Giants and Dodgers were extremely colorful; the rivalry, their fan base, the way their respective groundcrews tailored fields to their needs, the way they both won 100 games but seemed determined to blow it. Neither wanted to win, it seemed.
The Yankees just cruised with no controversy. Al Dark, however, had racial problems with his Latino players. Alston and Durocher despised each other. Maury Wills was having an affair with Doris Day that they lied about. Sandy Koufax was still considered weak-minded. Don Drysdale, a great clutch pitcher, failed in the clutch that year.
The North-South cultural/political divide between L.A. and San Francisco was as much a story in 1962 as the pennant race. I portrayed L.A. as the superior city and culture, yet in the end their candidate, Richard Nixon, lost to Governor Pat Brown of San Francisco, and the “liberals” from San Francisco triumphed over the “conservatives” from L.A.
AHP: What was the process like going from the idea of writing a book to actually getting it published?
ST: Good question. I wrote a book about the 1969 Mets. I had momentum with an agent, a big East Coast publisher, and the idea that these kinds of nostalgia books sell. I was absolutely stunned that I ran into any resistance to this book, which seemed a slamdunk, but in publishing it's always a struggle. Potomac Books fell in love with it and I got it done, but it did not happen as easily as I thought it would.
AHP: In your book, you mentioned the master novelist vs. the beginning writer. Was that a reference to yourself?
ST: I'm not a novelist so that was not a reference to me. It was a metaphor for any kind of project in which experience paves the way to success. In that respect I see myself, but it could be a general, a watchmaker, anybody who knows ahead of time how to get a job done because they do it a lot.
AHP: What tips do you have someone who has an idea and hopes to get a book published?
ST: There is no set way to do it. I guess my suggestion is for the first idea to be the most irresistible. That is, make your first published book about something easier to get published; a hot topic, something timely. Then try and use the strength of that publishing to get a smaller idea published. You need an agent at first. Agents are not there for you, they are selfish and have their own agenda. It's a Catch-22, I'm afraid.
I think you better be prepared for people to say no. However, keep trying. Your first publisher may be somebody who said no in 2007, no in 2008, no in 2009, but by 2010 they know who you are and have some familiarity with your work.
I also suggest using the Internet; blogs, web sites, email.
AHP: What was playing for the Cardinals and A's organizations like? Do you have any stories you can share with us?
ST: Frankly Pat Jordan and I are the only ex-pro pitchers, or pro athletes I know of, who forged professional writing careers. The clubhouse, the partying, the rituals, were all familiar themes for me which I infiltrate into my writing.
My favorite personal story was from Spring Training with the A's. I was a very low minor leaguer and not a prospect. By no means was I in big league camp or the 40-man roster or anything. In Phoenix, the A's played at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. There were split-squad games in other locations, and “minor league” exhibitions at all kinds of places in the Phoenix area, say the Cubs' single-A team vs. the A's single-A Madison team on a side field at Mesa.
You knew when you were pitching, every four, five days, so say Saturday fell on the day and you prepared that day for a three-inning effort, whatever. Saturday rolls around, I'm gonna pitch in one of these minor league games. You arrive around 9 AM at the ASU practice field where the farm hands were. A table had lists, and you look for your name and assignment: Travers, innings four to six, Madison A game vs. Cubs A team, Mesa. Bus leaves at 10:30. No Travers. Is this their way of telling me I'm released?
So I look at the big league assignments: Phoenix Muni, 1 PM, Giants vs. A's. I may have looked at this roster just for fun but never expect to see my name. I have no shot at being there, but for reasons I have never ever figured, I was scheduled to pitch that day for the A's against the big league Giants.
Long story short, one of the coaches' wives was in a bikini literally trolling for guys before the game, a bizarre scene I've never seen repeated. Billy Martin is my manager and he never acknowledged me. I really think he was too hung over to manage that day. Seriously. I pitched three scoreless innings before a crowd of 4,000 or so, and both Bill King and Lon Simmons broadcast it back to my hometown of San Francisco, so people I know heard it. King knew who I was because he lived in Marin County and followed Redwood High's glory years, so he's plugging me. This was my highlight. I was released later in the season, but that day was a good day.
AHP: You've done a lot of things in your life, whether it be serving in the Army, writing for the Los Angeles Times and putting together several screenplays. What are you doing now?
ST: I am a full-time professional writer. I make a very good living as an author, from advances and royalties of 17 books. I have no single book that has been for me what MONEYBALL was for Michael Lewis, but if each book I have sold over the years was a single person it would fill a stadium, so it adds up. My book ONE NIGHT, TWO TEAMS is under development by Hollywood with Kevin Costner slated to play Coach John McKay of the 1970 USC Trojans.