What do Ty Cobb, Pete Rose, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez have in common? According to Riverdale author Harvey Rosenfeld, they are among 30 people involved with Major League Baseball who were “bastards.”
The 84-year-old is so sure about his observation he has written a book called “Baseball’s Bastards: Flawed Diamonds of Our National Pastime.” The 444-page tome was self-published by Rosenfeld, an author of several other books on baseball, the Spanish American War, portraits of serial killers and Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg.
“I’ve written books about Cal Ripken Jr. (the Iron Man of baseball) and the 1951 pennant race,” Rosenfeld said. Years later, he decided he wanted to take another look at the country’s national pastime.
“I wanted to write about villains, but the good villains,” he said. “I had watched the movie ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and it made me think of King Lear, who was a bastard who was very crafty.”
For his latest book, Rosenfeld decided to break it up into eight categories that touches upon all participants of the game, including fans, agents and union presidents. The categories are Integrity of the Game, Racists and Bigots, The Cheaters, Men of Violence, Bad Sportsmen, Obnoxious Owners, The Men in Blue and Flawed Performances Off the Bases.
Unlike his previous books, this one relied solely on other books, online searches and related materials he had collected over the years.
“It took about 12 years to finish,” the author said. “I was digging up a lot of things at the same time. I went to college libraries. I used LexisNexis and many books on these players.”
One thing notable about the book is its size, which is why he is marketing it as a coffee table book, and lack of any art of photos.
“For some of the pictures, you would need permissions to buy them,” he said. But he is considering coming out with a paperback and Kindle version of the book, which may include some photos.
As for the timing of marketing the book, Rosenfeld it trying to interest those fans who will be watching the World Series, due to start Oct. 27.
“We have seven people in the book who are in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “In terms of the World Series, there are five episodes of World Series stories that are famous in the book.”
One of the most relevant is the category about cheating when you consider the Houston Astros may be on the precipice of another World Series. Houston became the target of a sign-cheating scandal after a story was published by the New York Times’ David Waldstein just after the Astros lost to the Washington Nationals in the 2019 World Series.
In Chapter 7, “Signal Cheating: The Giants Stole the Pennant! The Giants Stole the Pennant!” Rosenfeld focuses on sign stealing dating back to the 1951 National League pennant chase between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. It was an open secret that the Giants had an elaborate scheme to steal catcher’s signs to the pitcher so they would know what pitches were coming. The scheme included a wireless telegraph to send messages with the stolen signs to the Giants dugout.
“Associated Press writer Joseph Reicher wrote a sign-stealing story on March 22, 1962. His story, relates (Paul) Dickson, spoke of the ‘electrician installing a wire … from center field clubhouse to the dugout … a buzzer rang I the dugout — one buzz for a fastball and two for a breaking pitch … The Giants had used this device for the last three months of the 1961 season … they had won 36 of the last 45 games.”
Fast forward to the 2017 World Series between the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Astros were “charged” with using a more high-tech sign-stealing scheme to defeat the Dodgers.
In his book, Rosenfeld writes how Mike Fiers, a former Astros pitcher, said Houston “had used a camera in centerfield to capture signs from opposing catchers to the pitchers … transmitting images to a monitor near the dugout, and then relayed information to the hitter by banging on a trash can.”
Houston went on to beat the Dodgers for the World Series title.
In this case, Major League Baseball investigated the charges against the Astros and the Boston Red Sox, who had allegedly conducted a similar scheme. While no players were suspended, the managers of the Astros and Red Sox were and both wound up losing their jobs.
SUB: Other sports books
For two of his baseball-related books, Rosenfeld wrote about Ripken — baseball’s consecutive game streak king — and New York Yankee great Roger Maris — the first to break Babe Ruth’s season homerun record — as well as the 1951 pennant race. Those books were biographies fresh with quotes and photos, he said. The 1951 pennant race book got the attention of famed director Spike Lee, who interviewed Rosenfeld for a documentary on the pennant race.
For “Roger Maris: A Title to Fame,” Rosenfeld tracked down one of Maris’ teachers, Sister Bertha.
“She was very helpful and even gave me a copy of copy of invitation to Roger Maris’ wedding,” he said. “You see, the Maris family was disappointed with the New York media for writing about him breaking Babe Ruth’s record.”
So tracking down anyone related to Maris’ family was not easy for Rosenfeld.
“For a book on Cal Ripken Jr., I wasn’t able to interview him,” Rosenfeld said. “It was between me and George Will. I wound up interviewing his parents.”
When Ripken was in the minor leagues, he once got a press pass and was able to ask him some questions. Granted, it was much earlier in Ripken’s career but Rosenfeld’s craftiness showed.
That showed when he wrote “The Great Chase” in 2006 as he described how he got rights to include a photo of the infamous homerun from the deciding game.
“I bought the photo of Ralph Branca (Dodgers pitcher) after he let up Bobby Thomson’s game-winning homerun from his son in Gainesville, Florida,” Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld is an English professor at City University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College and Pace University. He has written several books and is the founding editor of Martyrdom and Resistance, a bimonthly that focuses on the Holocaust, which he has served as editor for more than three decades.