Thursday, June 18, 2009

Way Back and Gone - a historical baseball blog

The next interview is with tHeMARksMiTh, the author of Way Back And Gone, a historical baseball blog.

Mark's reasoning for the blog:

Way Back and Gone is intended to be a blog dedicated to baseball history, but it will be occasionally transported to the present when the author, who is obnoxiously referring to himself in the third person, feels the need to rant about the Braves or another preposterous event in modern baseball. The blog, however, will mainly go Way Back in history and uncover or recover or discover what is seemingly Gone -- baseball history. One must remember, and this is crucial, that history has never really left the present and continues to influence it both overtly and covertly.
Mark runs a few regular features, such as Sunday Frivolities, This Day in Baseball History, and Rounding the Bases. He also does regular biographies of Hall of Famers and pioneers of the game, as well as whatever strikes his fancy.

He hits the modern aspect of things from a historical view, covering the draft and the College World Series recently. For someone like me, who studied history in school, and baseball every where else, it's worth taking a look.

The interview:

1. Tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Mark Smith, and I am a history student at the University of Kentucky. I've been a big baseball fan since I was old enough to swing a wiffle ball bat. Honestly, I'm a big sports fan overall. Football probably comes second and college basketball third (I do go to UK). I play golf and wish I bowled more. Outside of sports, I like video games, watching House and Chuck, and going to awful movies (Crank 2!) with my friends. What else do I have to do? Study?

2. What got you interested in history of baseball?

As I said, I'm a big baseball fan, but before, I had mainly been interested in what was going on in today's game. But as a history major and baseball fan, I decided that I should know more about baseball history.

3. Which team is your favorite team, and why?

I am an Atlanta Braves fan and have been since 1994 or 1995. TBS made it easy to follow them, and Chipper Jones was my favorite player since his rookie season (the second one). Now, I use MLB.TV to yell at Francoeur when he swings at a bad first pitch and Bobby when he makes inexplicable bullpen moves. But I still love them, like you still love your kids when they do something stupid.

4. Who is your favorite player, and why?

Chipper Jones is my favorite player. I started really paying attention to baseball around 1995. When he had his official rookie season, he stood out because he was different by switch-hitting. After Hideo Nomo won the Rookie of the Year Award, I found myself defending Chipper, and I became a fan of his. A Hall of Fame career later, I still love him. He's a good player, teammate, and leader, always putting the Braves first.

5. What is your favorite ball park, and why?

I'm a little biased. I like Turner Field. But I really don't have too much to choose from. I've been to Wrigley Field and the old Busch Stadium, but I don't really remember them too well. Other than that, I really only have the Cincinnati ballparks, and those aren't the greatest. Cinergy was awful, but GAB is pretty good. But I like Turner Field better.

6. What is your all-time team?

This will be fun. Starting Lineup:

C - Joe Mauer (I think this guy will be an all-time great by the end)
1B - Lou Gehrig (Pujols makes me think twice, but Gehrig was just a tad more unbelievable, just a smidge though)
2B - Nap Lajoie (I did a post on him vs. Hornsby, and it wouldn't be right for me to go against it now)
3B - Mike Schmidt (You want me to say Chipper, but I can't ignore the 10 Gold Gloves)
SS - Honus Wagner (And I'm not sure it's terribly close, though Mr. Cub is a nice option)
OF - Babe Ruth (Duh)
OF - Willie Mays (One of the best center fielders ever, and I would almost say he's the best baseball player ever)
OF - Hank Aaron (Gosh there are a lot of good outfielders)


Barry Bonds (Steroids and all, he was an amazing player regardless)
Ted Williams
Ty Cobb (Bad temper and all, he was an amazing player)
Mickey Mantle
Johnny Bench (Hard to sit him on the Bench)
Rogers Hornsby (All my middle infielders can play anywhere)

Starting Rotation: (not necessarily in any order)

Pedro Martinez (Circa 1997-2005)
Walter Johnson (Would have loved to see him pitch)
Lefty Grove
Mordecai Brown (What could he have done with 5 fingers?)
Cy Young (Decent fifth starter. Eats innings)


Roger Clemens (Coming out of the bullpen? Yeah, baby.)
Randy Johnson (See Clemens)
Christy Mathewson
Sandy Koufax
Bob Gibson

Mariano Rivera (You need a closer, right?)

On second thought, this was really hard. Had to leave out a lot of good players.

7. Your all-time Kentucky team?

C- Me (I was pretty good. Honestly, I just couldn't think or find anyone)
1B- Don Hurst (he was good for a while)
2B- Dan Uggla (I'm looking for some pop)
SS- Pee Wee Reese (duh)
3B- Travis Fryman (I loved this guy)
OF- Earle Combs (One of the few Hall of Famers)
OF- Jay Buhner (life will be more interesting)
OF- Pete Browning

SP- Jim Bunning (pitcher, not politician)
SP- Brandon Webb (I still cheer for him, hoping wins still count so that he gets some Cy Young's) SP- Paul Derringer
SP- Carl Mays
SP- Jesse Tannehill

RP- Scott Downs

8. Why did you start the blog?

I started the blog for a lot of the reasons in question 2. In my opinion, writing is the best way to learn something. You have to read about it, comprehend it, write about it, make an argument, and then read it over while digesting the material. I figured that I might as well let everyone else learn while I am.

9. What do you hope to accomplish with it?

I just want to learn. If it helps others learn, then that's just a bunch of cherries on top (the number depending on how many people learn). I like readers, but I know that I probably won't change anyone's life or make a lot of money from it.

10. How long do you anticipate doing this?

Don't know. As long as I want. I've gotten a few more readers and, especially, commenter's lately, and that helps with the motivational part. As long as that continues and I have time, I'll do it.

11. What is your first baseball memory?

Playing wiffle ball. My brothers played it, and I would go out to watch and play. When I and my friends were old enough, we would play out in my front yard. In all my years of Little League, those days in my front yard were the best.

12. What is your favorite baseball memory?

Favorite? Hmm, I lost so much. I guess it would be catching the final out in the one championship I ever won. Ground ball to short, and I caught the ball at first. We lost the first game of the series, and we came back to win as underdogs.

13. Why is the history of the game important for those of us watching today?

People often look at history as a bunch of names and dates, but those aren't what's important. The evolution of the game and the reasons they occurred are what's important. The influence of the game on American society (and vice-versa) is what's important. Without history, we wouldn't be who we are today. Baseball wouldn't be what it is today. Baseball would look a lot different if Alexander Cartwright came to watch a game today, and history explains how we got here. To be a true fan of the game itself, you should know about all of it, even the stuff that happened a long time ago, because it still very much influences what happens today.

14. What is the most interesting thing you have found out about baseball looking at the history of it?

The most interesting? I don't know that I can point to one thing. I would love to go to a game in the early 1900's. What a different experience it would have been! All the changes to the game is just amazing. We call games played then and now by the same name, but they are quite different. How we got to now is really interesting to me.

15. What historical aspects of the game would you like to see in today’s game?

I can't think of anything right now. But I have to say that I like the game the way it is, even with its imperfections, and the changes are just a necessary evolution. I guess I'd like to see the All-Star Game go back to being an exhibition, no DH, and four man rotations, but I don't have to have any of them back.

16. A lot of people downplay the importance/greatness/ability of early baseball, for many reasons. What do you have to say to those who discount the history of the game?

I'd say you better be glad it was so awesome. Without its early success, it wouldn't be around today. Maybe it would be like soccer and no one would really care. Because of its ability to capture the American imagination, it became the great game it is today. It's no longer the American Pastime, and in some ways, I think it still lives a little bit off of the gigantic success that it had in the early years. Go ahead and ignore history if you want, but you're ignoring a lot of great players, people, and teams. Don't be a mindless drone. Learn why things are the way they are. It makes everything make so much more sense.

17. You’ve focused on early 20th century/deadball era history a lot, but not much 19th century baseball. Was that a conscious thing, and if so, why?

It's not really a conscious thing. I started doing a lot of the Hall of Fame posts, and most of the other random posts were off-shoots of that. Because of where I am in those posts, a lot just happens to be in that area. Be patient. The blog is just a few months old. There's plenty of time to get to everything else. I only have so much time, and I don't want to run out of topics. Seriously, I will get to other things, but right now, I find this stuff really interesting and worth exploring.

18. The statistical/sabermetric revolution of 21st century baseball doesn’t do justice to the early players, and we can’t evaluate them the same way. Does not being able to evaluate them statistically lessen their greatness/legends because we can’t put a number to it?

I think it does in some ways. We are more scientific now, and we like concrete answers. It's hard to compare Lou Gehrig and Albert Pujols. We can see Pujols and use all of these metrics to value him, but we can't with Gehrig. How do we measure his defense? How do we evaluate how much a different ball or different rules affected him? It's hard. But if we know history and understand the differences, we can put things into context. If we can put things into context and have an open mind, we can, indeed, make proper evaluations. But not being able to make them makes older players into "legends". Babe Ruth seems more like Paul Bunyan than an actual player. We want to look at his numbers and assume that they were the result of people not being able to keep track. "They must have been exaggerating or not paying as much attention." Context and understanding, people. Context and understanding. Sabermetrics is good, but it's not perfect yet.

19. If your commissioner for a year, what changes do you implement?

1) All-Star Game becomes an exhibition again.

2) Playoffs condensed (no days off during the series) and World Series games start at 6:30.

3) Create own awards, and put the coaches, players, beat writers, BBWAA, and other selected, revered journalists in charge of voting.

4) Put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame as a player.

5) Stop the unbalanced schedule and change Interleague Play. Playing the same teams 18 times a season is stupid. As for IP, the games are spread out, and no "rival games". You play 1 team from each division, and the other 2 or 3 teams are decided from how we predict the other teams will play in order to even things out.

6) Call for immunity for all steroid users before 2007. I want to know what happened and when, but you won't be punished. I won't even tell anyone you told me or that you used. Closed door meetings at the All-Star Game, World Series, and certain other games "when I happen to be in town". I want to know how it happened to prevent it in the future.

7) Those suspended cannot play in All-Star Game.

8) Suspensions for PED's become one year for first offense and life for second. I'm not messing around. This is a clean sport, and you need to take all precautions. There are no excuses. If the call system for players is broken, we'll figure out how to fix it. Know what you put in your body. The team has medical professionals. Ask them, or pay the consequences.

9) MLB Network needs to be available to everyone.

10) My suspensions for players are appropriate. Pitchers will lose position player equivalent. 15 games for what would be three game suspension for position player, for example.

20. What else would you like to say, on any baseball subject?

Steroids occupies our news and minds, and we think it's the end of the world. It's not. Baseball is around 150 years old. Don't you think it's seen its share of scandals? It made it through those, and it will make it through this. After another 15 years, this one will be relegated (perhaps unfortunately) to the pages of history. It won't kill the game. It will make it evolve. If you know history, you understand that this is what will happen. Make the changes that need to be made and continue forth. When you look back at the statistics, don't put asterisks. Remember. Teach. If you and your kids know baseball history, they'll know to take what occurred into context. We do it for the Dead Ball Era. Why can't we for the Steroid Era?

This blog is a must-read for me each day. I know a lot about the history of the game, but I learn new things each day.

Mark also runs a trivia contest of sorts each day. Open to all readers.

Mark, thanks for taking the time to do this.

I would just like to point out that once again, there was an all-time team with no DH listed. Yup, spreading the gospel, one convert at a time.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.