January 17, 2019

The Long and Winding Road–Milwaukee Baseball from microfilm to book

October 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

My book “The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball: The Cream City from Midwestern Outpost to the Major Leagues, 1859 -1901” has been published by McFarland & Company. As many of you Seamheads are SABR members you perhaps saw my message at 19th Century and Deadball groups, so this post is not a plug for the book (well perhaps a small plug). It is a story of how a book can take over 30 years to finish, and how research techniques have changed for those a little younger than myself. I think anyone under 30 years old will find researching in the ancient times amusing, and others a shade over 50 no doubt can relate to what I went through.

Hopefully it also might be an inspiration for those who have a dream of making the journey from note taker to author–or any dream for that matter.

My story starts in the early 1970s at the Milwaukee Public Library. Back then research in old newspapers meant a trip downtown in my 1968 Mustang convertible (yes, I WAS young and cool once), parking at a meter for 25 cents an hour (that is NOT a typo), and finding a vacant microfilm machine. Back then there were no fancy printers attached to the machine, you just took a bunch of pens and lots of paper. Taking notes (readable at a later time) seemed easier then than now. Probably for two reasons: better eyesight and a shorthand system that worked well for me. The age of lap tops and even newer gadgets I am even more unfamiliar with to put your information into was a long way down the road.

The next step in the 1970s process was taking these scribbled notes home and at some time writing them out into a readable chapter form. This was done by hand on lined paper, just like you used in middle school (called Junior High School back then) and high school. As I took notes from three or four local newspapers I had much overlapping or conflicting information. This all had to be blended into something that made sense. Cross outs, lines leading to something four pages later, and total confusion seemed almost certain

But I had an advantage in this seeming chaos. I had tons of information. And I felt if it was there, it had to be included. One must know my background is as a police officer. Police reports are not written to be light reading and present only the most interesting part of the story. Conflicting statements are part of the territory, and are noted in reports. Police reports are also pretty much written to start at the beginning and progress chronologically to the finish of the incident. And police officers can not take statements and gather information from people in the order events unfolded. It is a hit and miss, helter skelter, interview process at times. Thus my mind perhaps found it a little easier than some might think to place things into somewhat of a proper order.

Now this handwritten information on lined paper had to be put into a form that others would be willing to read from. Remember young folk, these were the dark ages. From the handwritten chapter, the words went onto a different (unlined) paper in my old beat up Corona typewriter (with the number 8 always sticking). Word processors??–science fiction stuff, at least at my pay grade. How many of you remember typing slow and accurate. Typing mistakes were a cause to utter bad words your mother would wash your mouth out for using. Correcto-Ribbons and white out were a staple of the trade.

After months, that turned into years, the finished product was sitting at my desk. I was finally done, It was 1977. What to do with this lengthy manuscript on early Milwaukee baseball? I knew nothing about publishing, self-publishing or anything on these lines. I guess I worked on the manuscript with no real idea of what I would do with it. Perhaps because deep down I thought it would never be finished, but now it was.

But here is where real life entered the picture. This would-be author had to raise a family, work a job with odd hours, and live a life. All this got in the way of Milwaukee Baseball in the 19th Century. The manuscript was put in a drawer. As furniture was moved, new furniture bought, old furniture thrown out, the manuscript changed locations. Kids grew up, marriage status changed, kids left. The manuscript remained tucked away. As a matter of fact, so well tucked away I forgot about it and did not know exactly where it was. The few times I did think about it, I figured it got tossed with some of the old desks or file cabinets and was being read in a landfill by some tiny animals.

Then came 2006. I joined SABR, and my interest in baseball, in particular 19th Century baseball, was rejuvenated. I was putting together information on an old ball park in Milwaukee, and digging around SABR’s many highways for information, and thought again about the 30 year old manuscript. I looked and could not find.

Then looking for something completely different, guess what I found? Not only my completed manuscript, but a little index box I had kept on the players who played in Milwaukee during those decades. I had completely forgotten I have ever made this file of cards.

I was back in business.

Over the 30 year span something happened in our homes that made finding information so much easier. THE HOME COMPUTER. I now could ask a question and receive an answer before my toast was done and buttered. So I asked the SABR list what I could do with this manuscript. An answer came. Submit it to a publisher for an opinion. After the usual (at least for me) back and forth thinking–really being afraid it would be rejected, and I would be laughed at–I started my enquiry with a publisher.

That publisher was McFarland & Company. I have only one sentence to say about my dealings with the company–“First class from beginning to end.”

So work began to put this manuscript into a more manageable form for a book. Thirty more years of reading books helped me a bit. But one’s style is one’s style, and I tried to stick with mine as well I could. I think I did. I think my mind and memory are still fairly sharp, but who can remember details from newspapers 30 years after reading and taking notes. Luckily my original manuscript had a very complete endnote section, so finding needed information again was much easier. Some could be done at home on my computer through various web sites. At the same downtown library I found updated machines (including new parking meters, where I had to pay $1.50 a hour). I could now make copies of long articles instead of the cumbersome process of writing it all down on my Junior High School paper. After a few months the manuscript was ready to go to McFarland. The rest is, as they say, history. Or, at least, not all that interesting.

The inspiration I talked over much earlier? Well, let’s not call it inspiration. I am not one to wear T-shirts with cute sayings, or inspirational sayings on signs or pictures hanging from walls in my house. So let me call it not inspiration, but some real life tips for you from a guy who has been there.

First. Don’t give up researching and learning on the topics you have a passion for. Whether it is baseball, stamp collecting, old movies, or identifying rare trees, there is so much to find and share with others who are interested in these same areas. And for us a little north of 45 or 50 years, it is great to remember the trill of discovery. Looking for hours at small out of focus microfilm can put you off your subject and make you wander into never-never land. But then there it is. Not what you were originally looking for, but something completely new and unexpected on your topic. Something that jumps out of the machine and says “I am new, not only to you, but to everyone in your circle. Research me.” It is a thrill most will not experience, or even understand.

Second: Don’t give up on your dream, even little dreams like publishing a book on 100 year old baseball in a mid-sized middle American town. You would be surprised. I sure was. I put much time into something that was important to me almost half a life time before–to have a manuscript published. Like many important things, the importance diminished as other things became more important. In the real world a job and family are a heck of a lot more important than a book, and I knew what was important and took care of it. But the dream was still there, just buried under layers of more important things.

Whatever your dream–be it publishing a baseball book, running a marathon, building the most beautiful doll house in the world for your daughter–don’t ever give it up completely. Put it on the back burner, not the trash bin to go to a land fill. Dreams have a way of coming true, but only if you work at them. But more importantly, if you don’t give them up. Mine took over 30 years.

I know the book is not at the top of the list of satisfying moments in my life. Let’s be honest, it is only a book. But I also have to be totally honest. When I first looked at 35 plus years of note taking, note sorting, handwriting, typing, assembling, re-researching, word processing etc. in a finished book form, it was a special moment. I admit I glowed a little inside.


One Response to “The Long and Winding Road–Milwaukee Baseball from microfilm to book”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Well said, Dennis. Congrats on the book!

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