I prepared these remarks in honor of umpire Perry Barber, who was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award for women in baseball on June 21, 2018, at SABR 48 in Pittsburgh.
My latest trilogy is a satire mystery about seniors who live in a community like the one I live in, Carlisle Naples. My fellow residents had urged me to write about “living in assisted living.”
From publisher Bluewater Press:
In the first mystery, The Kiss, a group of residents of a Florida assisted living facility, Locksley Glen, are stunned to learn that a young server in the dining room has kissed one of the elderly male residents. That just isn’t done at Locksley Glen. The resident isn’t explaining. Nobody can figure out why, even after a Halloween Party offers more clues: a woman resident discovers that the fake knife that is part of her Halloween costume is stained with real blood. Finding out why means examining the lives of young immigrants and helping them become contributing Americans.
In the second mystery, The Wet Bathing Suit, someone has lost their wet bathing suit at the Locksley Glen pool and now the question is – who is running around in their bathing suit? The soggy two-piece bathing suit, left at the pool, leads the residents of Locksley Glen to suspect foul play. After all, would a woman leave the pool without her suit unless she was forced to do so? Research into everything they can think of brings them to no conclusion until Alice One begins thinking about the possibilities offered by a symbol on a design found in San Francisco. When Alice One burns the toast she made in the middle of the night, she comes closer to the solution, which she and Starr finally pin down during the annual art show.
In the third mystery, The Phone Call, the elderly amateur sleuths end up as victims – but they are not going to allow it! When things begin to disappear from apartments at Locksley Glen, residents cooperate to look for evidence of the person responsible, but for a long time, they find nothing that points clearly to the one to blame. Finally, at a society wedding of a Locksley Glen resident’s daughter, a violent storm brings residents together as a unit to ferret out the perpetrator by using a language clue.
Reviews for Don’t Admit You’re in Assisted Living
Meet a delightfully zany cast of characters celebrating their lives to the fullest in a Florida assisted living facility called Locksley Glen, where partying is a large part of assistance with living.
In Don’t Admit You’re in Assisted Living, you’ll discover that life can be amusing no matter what your age, your condition, and where you live. While adjusting to being old, these seniors help untangle several mysteries, scoring the “assist” in “assisted living.”
Dorothy Mills will make you laugh out loud when you discover her clever way with words. She reveals that growing old can be the time of our lives.
Don’t Admit You’re in Assisted Living will be a hit with aging boomers and an engaging addition to library bookshelves. I look forward to reading more about Locksley Glen.
— Marlene Vogelsang, California librarian
People from young adults to baby boomers regard senior living communities as dour prisons to which we will inevitably be sentenced. Dorothy Seymour Mills’ light-hearted, engaging mysteries set in Locksley Glen, a fictional Florida assisted living community, will upend that dread. AS Mills says, living in such a place can be entertaining — and sometimes downright hilarious.
You’ll meet many quirky yet believable characters, like Clarence, recipient of a kiss delivered by a male employee, who becomes the center of intrigue involving arrests and even possible terrorism. There’s clever Katrina, whose outfits mirror Dutch folk costumes and who has a tendency to state the obvious. But most important, you’ll meet central character Alice One, a painter whose vivid imagination will take you down rabbit holes in ways both amazing and amusing.
Don’t Admit You’re in Assisted Living shows a side of senior life whose presence is too often unexpected. Locksley Glen’s seniors live with aches and pains endemic among elders, but they are also lively, sociable, ingenious, open to new ideas, and most important, always ready for fun.
— Dr. Charmaine Wellington, recently retired from Washington State University
Women have successfully invaded the male sanctuary whose door men are least likely to unlatch for them: the world of baseball.
Men passionate about baseball, especially about the history of the national game, have for thirty-eight years participated in the international group called the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), a group that stands at the top of the heap for solid, dependable baseball information. Fans come to conferences and conventions of this 6,500-member international group to hobnob with baseball authors, hear presentations disclosing the results of the latest scholarly research on baseball, and wallow in the authors’ books and articles.
Now, increasingly, those baseball authors are women. At a SABR meeting called the Seymour Conference, held in Cleveland April 27-29, 2007, three of the seven scholarly speakers who held the fifty-person audience spellbound were not men but women. I was one of them, and my remarks opened with the disclaimer, “We women are not consciously trying to take over this conference!” But maybe we are. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the oracle of this bastion of male hegemony ended up being a woman?
The Seymour Medal
Some women fans always attend each Seymour Conference, an annual gathering that focuses on a literary award. But others aren’t fans.
They are scholars competing with men for the top prize in the field: a heavy bronze medal awarded to the author of the best book of baseball history or biography published in the previous year. The medal is named for my late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, and me.
Although no woman has yet won the award for having independently written a fine baseball book of history or biography, three have already been shortlisted for the award.
The first Seymour Medal was presented to me, in 1996, in belated recognition of the fact that I was secretly my late husband’s co-author and researcher for the trilogy that comprised the first scholarly books ever written in this field.
In 2007, for the third time in SABR’s history, a woman’s book made it as a runner-up for the Medal. Fittingly, the woman who almost won the top honor wrote her book about a uniquely feminine undertaking in baseball history: the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League of the 1940s, made famous by Penny Marshall’s film, “A League of Their Own.”
The history of the AAGPBL was written by Merrie Fidler, a retired teacher and coach as well as lifelong baseball enthusiast. Her book disclosing the origin and exciting story of this unique league is based on her thesis for the master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, so you know it’s solid history. Merrie, who also keeps in close contact with the retired women professional ball players and has been elected to their board, was in attendance at the 2007 Seymour Conference (she brought her mom along, too) in order to enjoy the distinction of being one of the women to make it to the finals for this coveted award.
Merrie and all other SABR members are now fully aware that Dr. Seymour was the first scholar ever to pursue the research and writing of baseball history and that as his co-author I was the first woman in this field. Not until after his death in 1992, however, did I emerge from my Trojan horse and reveal my role in helping to produce the three-volume history of baseball published by Oxford University Press under Harold Seymour’s name.
Reactions To My Role
I could almost feel the waves of surprise (and maybe dismay) rippling through the membership in the nineties as other scholars and fans reacted to the news that Harold Seymour, considered a spectacular researcher, didn’t produce all that ground-breaking work on his own but instead had steady lifelong help. But SABR recovered quickly, rising to the occasion by specifying that its newly-created Seymour Medal would display not only Harold Seymour’s name and profile but mine as well.
One long-time friend of Seymour’s who grew up with him in Brooklyn never recovered from the news, declaring in a letter to me that in writing about my experience I had “dishonored the memory of a great man.” By telling the truth? By revealing that men are sometimes unable to recognize and credit women’s accomplishments appropriately?
The world of publishing responded to my revelation very differently from the way Seymour’s lifelong pal did. McFarland, a publishing company that now produces many scholarly books on baseball, saw my accomplishment as a publishing opportunity. Emphasizing to me that I was “a pioneer of sorts, the first woman to spend years researching and writing baseball books,” the company’s acquisitions editor, Gary Mitchem, suggested that I write my autobiography and signed me to a contract. In 2004 McFarland published A Woman’s Work, a book in which I revealed the extent of my writing and research for the Seymour books during fifty years of my life and explaining how I fit my independent writing into that endeavor.
Since then, women writers have increasingly joined male authors in producing excellent books about the sport so closely linked with men that, until relatively recently, women were thought unable to handle it in any way-not playing the game at a high level, not officiating as umpires, not handling front office work, and certainly not writing baseball history or biography.
Women at a Baseball Conference
So who are these women who have jolted the establishment by joining the ranks of baseball specialists? Let’s start with those who spoke at SABR’s Seymour Conference in 2007. Besides me (Merrie Fidler, although present, didn’t make a formal presentation), the speakers were Monica Nucciarone, a college instructor, and Cait Murphy, an assistant managing editor at Fortune Magazine in New York. No weak and wimpish nobodies here.
Monica, for example, a vivacious young scholar (her email address begins curveballgirl), reported research that will change the baseball history books. Trekking across the mainland and studying records in Hawaii, she pursued the traces of Alexander Cartwright, long thought to be a rule-maker for the early style of play used by the New York Knickerbockers of the 1840s. In the process, Monica discovered that the evidence for Cartwright’s contribution to baseball is merely secondary and mainly oral, with nothing to back it in primary sources contemporaneous with Cartwright’s life.
This young woman has thus cast serious doubt on Cartwright’s assumed position as “father of the game” and proved that others on his team might just as easily have formulated the rules the Knickerbockers played under. By knocking the supports from under the assertions of earlier scholars, Monica has played the role of gutsy young iconoclast.
Who would have thought it from a woman? And she already has a book contract to publish her research and conclusions. As for Cait Murphy, here is another youthful contributor to a field that seldom sees a skirt. Cait’s book represents a study of one eventful year in major-league baseball, 1908, during which so many unexpected and even preposterous events occurred that the resulting book is entitled Crazy ’08, with the subtitle How a Cult of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History.
Cait’s book shows us that the year in baseball abounded with crooks, psychopaths, villains, politicians, prostitutes, inept players, star performers, embarrassing losses, and wonderful plays. She names the 1908 season the greatest in baseball history, and after reading her book, we know why. Appropriately for a SABR member who holds a degree in American Studies from Amherst, she states this conclusion on the basis not of opinions but of solid historical facts.
Producing Baseball History
But we need not stick to the events of the Spring Seymour Conference in order to show that women are now producing baseball history at the very top level. Consider Jean Hastings Ardell, a college teacher and writer from California as well as a frequent lecturer on women’s contributions to baseball. Her provocative book, Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005), holds the distinction of being the second book by a woman ever to reach the finals for the Seymour Medal. Appropriately for its recognition by SABR, Jean’s book proves beyond a doubt, and with countless examples, that women have long been involved in every aspect of the game and in ways previously ignored.
Breaking into Baseball covers, for example, the contribution of women as amateur and professional players (there were many), fans (and you know how devoted many women are), umpires (you should meet a few of today’s!), club owners and executives (more than you thought), women in the media (it was tough for them at first), even “baseball annies” (she shows their effect on players). Jean writes so well that Steve Gietschier of The Sporting News calls her “a major league writer,” and as for her research, Marvin Miller of the Major League Players’ Association points out that she has uncovered “a mostly hidden trove of information.” Jean’s book is a solid work of history, and she graciously dedicates it to her husband Dan, a former first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels.
A book that is in some ways a companion to Breaking into Baseball is atrailblazing new work called Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball, published by McFarland in 2006. You didn’t think there were enough women in the entire history of baseball for an encyclopedia? Guess again. This 430-page tome contains hundreds of entries, including individual players, managers, teams, leagues, and topics, all dated from mid-nineteenth century onward into the present. The Encyclopedia includes several appendices, including rosters, tournament results, a 55-page bibliography, a listing of contributors, and a ten-page index. So your grandma played baseball for an independent team in 1930? You could look her up. If she’s not listed, let the editor know, for the next edition.
The person mainly responsible for producing this comprehensive work is a slight young woman named Leslie Heaphy, who is a history professor at Kent State University. Leslie has already published a history of the Negro Leagues that became the first woman’s book ever to reach the finals for the Seymour Medal. She earned this recognition in 2003. That book is based on her doctoral dissertation, so its scholarship can’t be faulted.
In preparing the Encyclopedia, Leslie solicited contributions from many who are knowledgeable about women’s baseball, nearly half of them women. Those contributors include Justine Siegal, president and founder of the Women’s Baseball League, which opened in 1997 and is still going strong.
Justine, a quiet but determined young blonde ballplayer and organizer, runs one of the strongest women’s leagues in North America, although others operate too. (Her tiny daughter, Jasmine, plans to play some day.) You thought women played only softball? The women of these baseball leagues have long scorned that game as too easy. Women baseball historians don’t confine their work to the study of other women in baseball. They publish biographies of males, too, and at SABR’s 2006 convention in Seattle a major presentation came from a statuesque brunette named Judith Testa, a retired art historian who is still actively writing. Testa has produced a fully-developed biography of Sal Maglie so good that Gabe Schechter of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown commented, “I wish there were more baseball biographies where the author has done justice to the subject the way Testa has done full justice to Sal Maglie.” Author Donald Honig went further, declaring that “Testa’s book transcends its genre and is a first-rate work of literature.”
Judith Testa explains “baseball’s demon barber” as affected by his personal disappointments as well as his appearance, personality, and background. William Marshall, an author and professor of history, points out admiringly that “Few baseball biographies have dared to discuss the sexual or psychological aspects of players’ marriages in the manner this work does.” Women seem to me perfectly positioned to delve into the personal dimension of players’ lives and the way it affects their play. Judith’s book thus presents a fully rounded portrait of a fascinating person. That’s what good biography is all about.
Women at Baseball Conferences
Testa is just an example. Women are increasingly involved in SABR’s annual conventions, which are held in various North American cities and attract around 500 attendees. At the 2006 convention in Seattle, where Judith made her impressive presentation, a young woman named Allison Binns, a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard, won the award for best poster presentation, beating out both men and other women. Her poster graphically showed how she figured out which players performed better the season after undergoing salary arbitration, those who won their case or those who lost.
Women come to SABR conventions both to speak and to listen. Of the 539 members in attendance at the Seattle convention, 73 were women. That’s 13.5 percent of the people there, although women represent only 3.75 percent of the current SABR membership.
At that convention one of the speakers was Susan Dellinger, granddaughter of a Hall of Fame player. She described “the joys of biographical research” undertaken for her book, Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series. Merrie Fidler made a presentation, too, about a hardly-known Latin American tour of some of the AAGPBL women in 1949.
So women are active in SABR out of all proportion to their membership figures. People noticed in Seattle that women were helping fill the hotel’s presentation rooms, addressing members at the podiums, crowding the halls, and chatting up authors as much as men were. Yet The New York Times, in its story covering the event, never mentioned women’s strong showing-just as the media in general omits to inform the public about events in current women’s baseball leagues.
SABR membership records show that although women currently make up 3.75 percent of the paid members, seven years ago they represented only 2.7 percent, so they have been joining at a good rate. Not only are women joining, they are participating in planning and organizing. They have formed their own Women’s Committee to operate on a level with SABR’s seven other standing committees.
The Women’s Committee emerged in 1990 at the suggestion of a clinical psychologist named Sharon Roepke, who also helped alumni of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the forties and fifties to reconnect and hold reunions. Sharon began this effort because after visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976, she realized that as far as the Hall was concerned, women players “were considerably more invisible than the Negro Leagues.” So she worked to get them the Hall of Fame recognition they now enjoy.
In 1995, Leslie Heaphy, the Seymour Medal finalist, who includes a course in baseball history among the classes she teaches at Kent State, took over the Women’s Committee of SABR and, with the cooperation of other SABR women, started publishing three women’s newsletters annually. It’s been shown that women colleagues keep in touch; these women certainly do.
A Woman at the Top
Something even more unexpected happened to the overwhelmingly male Society for American Baseball Research in the summer of 2001: a woman became president. And she’s a black woman.
Claudia Perry, who used to write a newspaper column about pop music (her email address opens with rockdog), ran for, and was elected to, the presidency of SABR, handling the job for the usual two-year term, although she didn’t seek re-election. Now a features general-assignment reporter for a Newark newspaper, Claudia, who is so sharp that she became a four-time champion on the national quiz program “Jeopardy” (she bought a house with her winnings), couldn’t appear at the panel in St. Louis in 2007 because of a scheduled knee operation. She said that she “would dearly love to be there,” for the reason that the Women’s Committee was planning something really special.
A Women’s Panel
At SABR’s Seattle Convention in 2006, the Women’s Committee offered a panel discussion that attracted some attention but wasn’t even listed in the program’s section on panels. That experience inspired the women to aim higher.
All the previous winter, with emails shooting back and forth across the country, and with the cooperation of Steve Gietschier of The Sporting News (he headed the St. Louis committee), SABR women plotted something big for the 37th SABR convention July 26-29: a full-blown panel on women in baseball, with the intriguing title, “Our Mothers’ Game (and Ours): Tales from the Women’s Side of Baseball.” Standout SABR women took part, and many others graced the audience.
At the top of the lineup was Jean Ardell, the California writer and lecturer. Jean moderated the panel’s discussions. Her delicious wit and pointed insights have entertained those attending past Women’s Committee meetings. She introduced the participants and led the panel in showing how baseball is truly “our mothers’ game (and ours).” Each participant told stories, many of them inspiring roars of laughter, and answered questions posed by the men who made up most of the audience of about 300 rapt listeners.
Judith Testa, the author of the striking new biography of Sal Maglie, told a little of what it was like to plunge into this new field after years of more academic writing about Italian Renaissance art-which she hasn’t given up. Having grown up with New York baseball, Judith has always thought of the game as existing on the periphery of her life. Now, with the publication of an entirely different kind of book, baseball has moved toward the center of her attention. She recounted to gales of laughs Hank Greenberg’s attempt to buy Maglie for Cleveland at a bargain-basement price.
Another participant was a young woman named Cecilia Tan, who is at the same time a baseball author, blogger, masseuse, and (probably more important) baseball player in the adult division of an important women’s league, the Pawtucket Slaterettes. Cecilia comes from what she calls a “Yankee-obsessed family.” She acts as senior writer for Gotham Baseball magazine; she also writes and edits an online magazine called Why I Like Baseball.
Do you get the idea that Cecilia is devoted to baseball all the way through to the tips of her long hair? She once declared that describing many of the pieces in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame as “memorabilia” is like describing New York City as a municipality. Cecilia explained how to start a women’s league and surprised the audience by urging others to start their own leagues.
One of the most significant questions asked of the panel was why women stopped playing baseball in college and amateur leagues back in the twenties and thirties, instead moving to softball. Cecilia Tan and I explained that it was the female college athletic directors, influenced by physicians (then almost all men), who had come to believe that women were not strong enough to play the game they had been playing for decades. The athletic directors eliminated college sponsorship of baseball and saw to it that only softball would be sponsored. The AAU then supported this decision, and it is only now that their rule is being challenged by the many women who want to play baseball, not softball.
Anyone remember Erma Bergmann? An outstanding Michigan pitcher in the famous AAGPBL of the 1940s, Erma played with the Springfield Sallies, the Racine Belles, the Battle Creek Belles, and the pennant-winning Muskegon Lassies. Once “Bergie,” as she was known, threw a no-hitter. The St. Louis Cardinals have twice recognized her achievements, and this year she was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. After her career as a baseball player she became one of St. Louis’s pioneer women policemen. When Erma compared her experience in the AAGPBL with the way the league was portrayed in “A League of Their Own,” she made an instant hit with the audience by commenting, “I never had a manager as drunk as Tom Hanks.”
And now for the front office. Here we brought up Melody Yount, who answers fans’ questions at Busch Stadium as Assistant Director of Media Relations for the St. Louis Cardinals. Phone her when you want to know anything at all about the team-yes, even its history. Did you ever imagine that a woman could handle such a position? Well, imagine it. Melody told the admiring audience what it feels like for a young woman who loves baseball to be hired to represent a major-league team to the public.
Sara Blasingame came to the panel viewing baseball from a different angle. As the daughter of major-leaguer Walker Cooper and the widow of major-leaguer Don Blasingame, she gave us the lowdown on what it’s like to see baseball from the inside. She revealed her love for the game despite the difficulties travel entailed, explaining her difficulty of shopping for clothes for her tall children in Japan, where her husband was playing at the time.
As for me, I rounded out the panel as the earliest woman researcher and writer in the field: the senior gal, in other words, mentoring others and savoring the delicious details of their fresh new contributions. I explained how baseball grew among upper-class college women of the 1870s as well as women in prison in the 19 teens. At Jean Ardell’s request, I also told a story from my autobiography, A Woman’s Work, about the amazed looks on the faces of the writers in the all-male Sporting News office when in 1949 in walked into to do research wearing the usual travel costume of the day: traveling suit, heels, hat, and gloves. I’m sure I was the first female to enter that room, for I caused cigars to drop from mouths, eyes to bug out of faces, and coffee to spill on desks.
The audience response to this session proved outstanding, and participants heard remarks like “you women really know your stuff!” and “that was simply fascinating!” and “that was the best session I’ve ever attended at any SABR convention.”
This panel also helped many of us sell our books. Judith Testa signed and sold all the copies of the Sal Maglie bio that her published had shipped to the convention, and my editor sold every copy of A Woman’s Work that he had brought. Of the thirty authors scheduled to autograph books at the Authors’ Table in the Vendors’ Room, six were women.
SABR women also took part in the general convention by making formal presentations to the entire membership. In St. Louis, Cait Murphy, the Fortune editor, presented an address called “Myths of the Early Deadball Era.” And as part of the annual competition for best historical poster, Cait prepared a display called “Cover-up: Gambling, Corruption, and the Wild Finish for the 1908 Season.” Catherine Groom Petroski made a nostalgic presentation on the life of her grandfather, the excellent pitcher Bob Groom, and showed some fine old photos. Jean Ardell, moderator of the women’s panel, also made a presentation to the membership with Roberta Newman, who teaches Cultural Foundation courses at New York University. Jean and Roberta jointly presented an address called “Women in the Stands: An Examination of the Commissioner’s Initiative on Women and Baseball of 2000 and Its Aftermath.” They told us how the clubs measured up to the Commissioner’s requirements.
Okay, so the SABR Convention of 2007 featured Joe Garagiola as luncheon speaker; that’s all right with us. We women can put up against him such heavy hitters as Ardell, Newman, Testa, and Yount. Sounds like an important legal firm. Just be thankful, fellows, that we don’t plan to start any lawsuits requesting compensation for all the years that some men insultingly assumed we weren’t capable of what we’re doing now.
As we relish what we are accomplishing, we can contemplate another important discovery about women in baseball. For on top of it all is the recent revelation by researcher David Block that baseball’s origins are very likely feminine.
David’s 2005 book for the University of Nebraska Press, Baseball Before We Knew It, details his exhaustive research both here and abroad into the origins of the game. And now David tells me he has learned that in England, where baseball was first played in the eighteenth century, it was a girls’ game at least as much as it was for boys and maybe even earlier than it was for boys.
So perhaps as women in baseball we are simply reclaiming our history. “Our Mothers’ Game” indeed!
This column was first edited by Ethan Casey of Blue Ear, and was edited again by Geof F. Morris of TOTK.com Sports. This column was first co-published at Blue Ear and Sports Jones. All rights are owned by Dorothy Jane Mills.
By Dorothy Jane Mills
At once glorious and ignominious: that characterizes my work with Dr. Harold Seymour, “The Gibbon of Baseball,” the man who made the American national game a respectable subject for formal study by historians, the author of the first scholarly history of baseball.
Glorious because I learned how to perform (and love) research; ignominious because my contribution to the work remained unrecognized until after his passing in 1992, although I spent forty-six years working closely with him, first on his dissertation and then on his three-volume series for Oxford University Press, now the standard books on the subject.
Dr. Harold Seymour, a professor of history as well as a lover of the game, has a welldeserved reputation as an innovator. He boldly opened the field of baseball as a subject for serious study. Before him, no other historian had dared to suggest that the word “baseball” might be uttered in the same phrase as the word “history”. Only sportswriters had ever tried their hand at writing baseball history, and the journalistic accounts they produced were so flawed that they earned no standing in the eyes of professionals.
Only one other scholar had previously ventured into the realm of sports history: John R. Betts, who produced a book that attempted to cover the history of all of sport. Before Seymour, no historian had tried to approach the American national game as a subject for serious study.
Seymour got the idea for a study of baseball in the early 1940s while casting about for a topic for his Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell University. When he wrote the paper for his master’s degree, he felt it necessary to choose a topic from his lead professor’s field, which was land policy, but he found it deadly dull. He decided that the only topic that interested him deeply enough to write about it on the doctoral level was baseball.
Harold had always loved the game. As a child growing up near Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, he racked his brains to think of ways to get in and see his heroes. He thrilled when he was selected to help pick up trash in the park or work on the scoreboard, and he exulted when he was chosen to be batboy. Moreover, he played the game and coached other young men when he was in high school and even at college. Although he realized his skills weren’t quite good enough for the professional level, he was able to help other young men become pros.
When he began undergraduate work at Drew University in New Jersey in the thirties, he thought he might become a physician, but the long afternoon laboratory courses in science interfered with his baseball play for the college, so he changed his major to history and decided to become a teacher, assuming that he would coach baseball on the side. Unexpectedly finding great pleasure in the study of history, he went on to Cornell for his master’s degree and realized that, to teach at the college level, he needed a doctorate.
One warm and sleepy afternoon at Cornell, during a class in which Seymour was to present and describe the topic he had chosen for his doctoral dissertation, nodding heads suddenly jerked up as he announced his topic as the history of American baseball to 1890 and explained how and where he planned to perform the research.
Although eyebrows lifted among the committee of professors whose responsibility it was to direct doctoral work, Seymour managed to convince the group that he had a viable and suitable topic.
Fortunately, at that time he had the New York Public Library at his fingertips and spent long hours here on the wonderful collections of early documents that the library still houses — although recently the administration has been thinking of selling them off to collectors. That sale might put them off-limits to current scholars. I may have convinced the library’s administration otherwise, for unless the library decides to keep these documents or the Hall of Fame Library at Cooperstown bids for and purchases them, they may be closed to research.
I met Harold Seymour in 1946, when I was a co-op student at Cleveland State University, then called Fenn College. I grew up in Cleveland and had just been graduated from Collinwood High School. Assigned to Seymour’s survey courses in American history and later in European history, I found his classes stimulating, and when he learned that I was an English major he asked me to do some secretarial work. He discovered that my writing and editorial skills would help him a lot, not only in his course preparation but also in the work he was doing on his Ph.D. dissertation for Cornell University. He had completed the course and residence requirements but was still working on the dissertation.
I was startled to learn that the subject of his thesis was baseball. Baseball has a history? Well, after all, everything has a history, I realized. I was intrigued to find that Seymour had convinced his Ph.D. committee at Cornell that the study of baseball history was worthy of scholarly effort.
It wasn’t long before Seymour and I were friends, and more than friends. He was in the throes of a divorce, and after my third year at Fenn the divorce became final; we were married immediately. But we realized that my being both a student and a faculty wife might prove awkward, so I transferred to Western Reserve and completed my undergraduate degree there, continuing for my master’s while I began teaching. I had planned to enter journalism, but Seymour convinced me to go into teaching instead so that we would have summers together.
When I met Seymour and began helping him with his work, I was still a teenager with little experience of the scholarly world. I failed to realize that the amount of assistance I was giving him in research and organization of materials for his doctorate was probably inappropriate. This was, after all, supposed to be independent work. But because Seymour knew the committee still needed to be impressed with baseball’s potential as a subject for scholarly study, he felt he had to produce an extraordinary product, and he solicited and received my help with research, organization, and writing. I even took a term off from teaching in order to devote full time to research in the Cleveland Public Library, which discovered that not only did it house valuable early guides, magazines, and newspapers, it had accessioned some valuable legal documents hidden on a mezzanine in some big cartons and forgotten for years. The librarians came to know me so well that soon they invited me to have lunch in the staff library.
Material discovered at the Cleveland Public Library, combined with the foundation of documents, newspapers, articles, and books researched in the New York Public, made a convincing basis for a thesis demonstrating how the history of American baseball recapitulated that of other American institutions. The result was a prodigiously long (two-volume) dissertation, one simply full of convincing research evidence.
When Seymour received his doctorate in history at Cornell for a dissertation called “The Rise of Baseball to 1890,” the awarding of that degree received nationwide attention by the news services. Nobody had ever been awarded a doctorate for a dissertation on such a topic as baseball history, and he basked in the publicity.
We began casting around for a publisher, and Prentice-Hall was interested, but decided that, for such a book, the story would have to be brought up to the present. Seymour knew that a scholarly treatment of all of baseball history would be virtually impossible in any reasonable time period, so he looked further. Oxford University Press liked the idea of the book, asking only that the story be extended to a better breaking-off point, which appeared to be 1903, with the establishment of the National Commission.
We began work together not only on the extension of the coverage but also on recasting the work for publication, for the dissertation presented the material in the usual stuffy and formal scholarly style, bristling with numbers referring to footnotes, which had to appear on the foot of the page. In those days before word processing, I often retyped a page a dozen times. Seymour didn’t know how to type.
When Oxford finally awarded the contract, we were living in New Rochelle, New York, and Seymour was teaching at Finch College. We moved into Manhattan and spent as much time as possible at the New York Public Library, which I still refer to as my second home. Summers were spent at a cottage near Monroe, New York, where we completed the manuscript for the book, including the footnotes. However, Oxford decided the book would be too long with notes, so we had to content ourselves with a long bibliographical note instead. Baseball: The Early Years was published in 1960, and Oxford signed Seymour to a contract for what we thought might be the final volume.
In these years I discovered that Seymour did not really like research, while I found it fascinating. To me it’s like a treasure hunt: as soon as I find something interesting relating to whatever I’m researching, it leads me on to something else. Eventually, I learn about a whole chain of interrelated facts or events, ones that haven’t before come to light, and I extend my knowledge of the subject greatly. I find that really exciting.
While we were working on the second book, we moved to New England so that Seymour could accept a position as head of the history department for a newly-established community college. I left teaching, for I was really burned out, and entered the field that I should have been in all along: the publishing field. For I had already become an author, producing a series of children’s books for use in the classroom, which were then reprinted for the general trade by Golden Press, and I had written a number of education articles for teachers. I’d also produced a comic strip series for new readers, which appeared first in the local newspaper where we were living at the time (Warwick, New York) and was later reprinted in a children’s magazine.
In New England I first took a year to continue my study toward a doctorate at Boston University, which I had begun at the University of Buffalo, but broke it off to become a senior editor at an educational publishing house in Boston. I also published several articles, some on education and some on other topics. One of them, now more than 20 years old, still brings in permissions fees for republication in textbooks. Evenings and weekends and vacations I continued work on baseball research. I found that the Boston Public Library has some excellent material, as does the Widener Library at Harvard.
Libraries aren’t the only sources for baseball research, of course. I started a wide correspondence in his name. One of his former students, Laura Haywood, helped with this. Together Seymour and I visited historical societies, conducted interviews, and took notes in busy newspaper offices. During this era The Sporting News refused to sell microfilm of its issues, so to read any of the early issues of the paper, we simply had to travel to St. Louis and use those rattly, old-fashioned Recordak machines that the New York Public Library also owned. Once, I took a few days off and flew to Cincinnati alone to take notes on an early newspaper we’d heard would be helpful. Libraries could not always afford to put these sources on film, and often I came home with my clothes full of little yellow flecks from old newspapers that had disintegrated when I tried to turn the page.
We made many trips over the years to Cooperstown, where the library gradually changed from a tiny space to a separate building. At first the library consisted of one small room above the museum, a room that also served as an office for the library’s director. The first director we met was Sid Keener, an ex-newspaperman who, like some historical society librarians, was reluctant to open the material to scholars. Sid was almost as suspicious as clubowners.
Then Lee Allen took over. Lee was genial and friendly. He let us use the Hermann Papers but was curious about what we were finding, so we shared a few discoveries with him. We also noticed Lee’s style of writing his own books: he often decided first what he wanted to say, then looked around in the material for something that might back him up. The scholarly method is, of course, just the opposite: do the research first and see what points it leads you to make. That’s not to say Lee’s books have no value. They have, but they also have severe limitations.
I always put Seymour’s work ahead of mine. For a long time I believed that his work was more important than mine and deserved my best attention. Although I published books of my own-minor education studies, children’s books, workbooks and guides for teachers-along with many articles, my star has always been outshone by Seymour’s, and I permitted this to happen. I even believed, and told him, that “your work is more important than mine.” That was like saying, “You are more important than I am.”
In the seventies I finally convinced Seymour to leave teaching and write full-time, for he wasn’t getting the second volume written and was becoming increasingly frustrated with teaching. Volume 2, Baseball: The Golden Age, was finally published in 1971, and we planned a third volume that would bring the story of the professionals at least into the fifties or sixties.
We thought retiring to Ireland might facilitate the work by creating an environment conducive to writing, but after a couple of years in an Irish cottage, we found we missed our roots in the States and learned that checking our sources was too difficult at a distance. Besides, the Sunday New York Times was delivered to us a month late, and in a rather soggy condition. We moved back to the States, first to the American South, to get the warmth of Alabama, but we didn’t fit in very well there and moved to South Carolina, which we liked.
While we were living in Asheville, my former publishing company in Boston asked me to return to help with a large editorial project. I’d been freelancing with both writing and editing for that company and others, and since the company offered to pay all moving expenses, we decided to make the move North again. The Boston Public Library was again available to us. After a couple of years the publishing company fired all of us who had been hired for the project, and I returned to freelance work. Then we decided to leave Boston, which is pretty expensive for people not holding full-time jobs, and we bought a house in a small New Hampshire college town, where I was shortly asked to work for a small publisher part-time. While living there I published two books on education and several more articles and stories. In Keene, New Hampshire, I also got the idea for the novel I’ve just published.
In working on what was to be the third baseball volume, bringing the story of Organized Baseball into the fifties or sixties, we found we had been collecting so much wonderful new material on the amateur game and semipros that it deserved separate treatment. We convinced Oxford that we should postpone the writing of the next volume on the professionals, set that material aside, and devote a separate book to what became Baseball: The People’s Game. Publication of this book as the third in the series surprised Seymour’s fans, who’d been expecting the continuation of the professional story. The People’s Game was a very fat book, but we still had to leave out a lot of rich material, especially on foreign baseball.
This is my favorite book of the three, mainly because the material is much more homey and down-to-earth than what appeared in the books about the story of the pros. The People’s Game shows how average Americans in almost every walk of life enjoyed baseball in the most loosely organized teams and leagues, playing it largely for pleasure on a social basis, whether they were at work, in the military, in school or college, even in prison. And it brought to light new material on early play by nineteenth-century women, especially in the elite colleges. I loved my bus trips to those New England colleges to examine old yearbooks and college newspapers and discover events in the colleges’ past that staff members were unaware of. I found the material I prepared for this book very appealing. I wrote careful outlines, organizing the notes (with citations for each point in parens), and he wrote directly from my outlines, often using the very words I had chosen.
During this period of the seventies and eighties, I noticed a distinct decline in Seymour’s mental and physical abilities. His bouts of depression lengthened, and his personality traits of irritability and suspiciousness increased. On our last trip to New York together to see his publisher, he refused to let me attend the editorial meeting at Oxford, for he realized that his editor might suspect that I was doing more work on the books than I was getting credit for.
In the late eighties and early nineties, his health worsened, and soon I was not only performing all the research and organization of the material, I was also doing the writing. At first we simply exchanged roles; I wrote and he edited. Then I was doing it all.
When he was invited to Cooperstown to speak, we collaborated on his speech, and I delivered it for him, as I did for another speech we prepared jointly for a SABR meeting at Cleveland State University.
At this time my resentfulness against Seymour’s excluding my name from the title page of his books began to build. I learned gradually that what I was doing was not unusual: wives of writers often worked silently and anonymously behind the scenes on their husbands’ books, getting no credit at all. Jennie Carlyle did this for Thomas, the Scottish historian. Lafcadio Hearn sent his wife Setsuko out to find stories for him; he wrote what she found. Erich Maria Remarque’s wife finished All Quiet on the Western Front for him. I finished Baseball: The People’s Game for Seymour.
Before the book was complete, I presented to Seymour a formal claim for my rights. The acknowledgement pages of previous books had always mentioned my contribution, but I knew that was insufficient. I wanted my name on the title page of the third volume, along with his. On June 1, 1989, I typed a document explaining what I had contributed and asking for the appropriate acknowledgment of my work on the title page of the third book. This is that document in its entirety:
“My name should be included on the title page of this book, for proper recognition of the work I did on it, work that is usually part of the author’s responsibility.
“In substantiation of my claim, here is a partial list of my work on the book.
“1. Research. I have done most of the research for his book. I spent many Saturdays in the NYPL and many full days in the BPL as well as in the Fairhope, Asheville, Newton, and Keene libraries, bringing back stack after stack of informative notes. I spent a summer at Widener in Cambridge, made research trips to three colleges, and did research in historical societies in Detroit and Keene. I also brought home for study numbers of books and dissertations ordered through interlibrary loan, studied them, and took notes from them.
“My work on the research has been a key factor in the book’s development. I have good control of the subject matter and know the sources.
“2. Analysis. I sifted, analyzed, and organized all the research, putting it into a form that would make it intelligible and from which the writing could be done. I produced hundreds of pages of outlines interpreting as well as quoting from the research. This analysis took uncounted hours of study.
“Without this analytical study, the writing would have been impossible. This kind of study of the material is usually done by the author.
“3. Writing. I wrote the final thirteen chapters of the book. You edited them. In other words, at this point we exchanged roles. [Your Oxford Editor Sheldon] Meyer likes the chapters. You called some of my work on these chapters ‘terrific.’
“Moreover, each chapter took me less than a week to write, partly because I am completely at home with the material, having done the research myself.
“If I had not taken hold of the writing when I did, the manuscript would not now be done. [Seymour asked me to do this writing; I did not volunteer to do it.]
“I have therefore written about a third of the book.
“4. Final revision. As I input the final version of the manuscript, I edited as I went along, cutting the unnecessary parts that Meyer wanted removed and improving the manuscript in every possible way.
“My insistance on getting a computer for the manuscript was another key factor in the speed with which the work could be completed.
“5. Editing. I edited every bit of writing every step of the way, revising as necessary. I sometimes rewrote entire sections as well. The editing work on the book amounted to a task I handled daily.
“6. Correspondence. I handled the correspondence related to the research. When a letter needed to be written for information, I wrote it. I handled correspondence for illustrations, too. The wording of these letters took time and thought.
“7. Typing. In a manuscript as long as this one, where the chapters sometimes went through seven drafts, typing became a major burden. I estimate that I typed about 8,000 pages, counting my work on the outlines. This took time, energy, and attention.
“8. Clerical work. I filed, organized, and kept track of everything. This includes all research notes, documents, bibliography, and illustrations. I have taken care of the copying and mailing. If something is needed, I find it.
“9. Illustrations. I am preparing the captions, credit lines, and expense list.
“10. Bibliographical note. This piece will be a major task and could take several weeks of work. I will no doubt be doing most of it, since I am so familiar with the materials used.
“11. Index. As before, you want me to handle the writing of the index, a tedious task that is the responsibility of the author.
“12. Publicity. I am the logical person to handle this work, since publicity is one of my skills. I expect to spend considerable time planning and carrying out publicity.
“Any combination of some of the above responsibilities entitles me to have my name on the title page, as it should have for Volume 2.
“Since the book was your idea, you should be considered the Senior Author, but if you are the Senior Author, than I am surely the Junior Author. The attached [suggested] title page reflects that relationship.
“You’re concerned with the way your name will appear in the book. I, too, am concerned with the way my name will appear, and in view of all the work I put into the book — devotion is not too strong a word — I do not think it fair for my name to appear only in the acknowledgements, among people who might have sent in an article or cooperated as a librarian. Yet I should be mentioned there. Below is a paragraph about my contribution that I would like to appear in the acknowledgements:
“‘My wife, Dorothy Z. Seymour, an editor and author, worked closely with me on the preparation of this book. She did most of the research, carried on the correspondence, and did all the typing and clerical work. She analyzed and organized the mass of material collected through research and put it in a form from which the writing could be done. She also edited the writing as it was produced, and she wrote the first drafts of thirteen of the chapters. Moreover, with my participation she performed the final revision of the manuscript as she input it into the computer.'”
The wording of the title page I wanted was this: Baseball: The People’s Game Harold Seymour, Ph.D. with Dorothy Z. Seymour.
It never happened. Seymour could not bring himself to acknowledge that I had made such a significant contribution as to actually be revealed as co-author of the book. My name is, as usual, mentioned on the Acknowledgements page, but nobody realized my real contribution to the work until after his passing. His publisher had no idea of what I had done — he even hired me to edit the book! — until afterwards. That would not have happened if the publisher had known I was also the book’s co-author.
When Baseball: The People’s Game was published in 1990, it won three prizes. By the following year I suspected that Seymour had Alzheimer’s Disease. Seymour was invited to accept the Casey Award in person, but he didn’t feel up to travel, and I arranged for his brief acceptance speech to be recorded with a video camera and sent to Mike Shannon of Spitball Magazine. When Ken Burns, who lived and worked in nearby Walpole, came over to Keene to film an interview with Seymour for his celebrated documentary, he was very kind, but later he found the results unusable.
Soon Seymour could hardly walk and was becoming too difficult for me to handle. He refused to permit me to bring in outside help. I finally had to place him in a nearby nursing home, where I visited daily. He passed away in September of 1992. His will called for the delivery of all our sports materials, including books, notes, microfilm, dissertations, magazines, outlines — everything, including the unused notes for projected books — to Cornell University Archives, along with trust-fund money to support the necessary work to accession them. I saw to that delivery. The materials of the Seymour Collection are now available to all scholars at the Carl Kroch Library at Cornell in Ithaca, New York.
I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity I had with Seymour to learn research techniques. It was in the school of baseball, so to speak, that I learned to love history and historical research. I put this knowledge to good use in preparing my new historical novel, The Sceptre, which took ten years of research and writing. It even includes a little baseball.
When I began work on this novel in 1987, I worked on it in semi-secret. (Barbara Tuchman used to hide books under the living room sofa when her husband came into the room.) Seymour demanded to know what I was working on, and my admission that I was writing a novel was met with scorn: “You can’t write a novel,” he scoffed. His disdain hurt me, but I was determined to produce the work I had in mind.
Simply determined, because I knew I had the right skills. I worked on it every chance I got, between the efforts to complete Seymour’s book, fulfilling editorial assignments, and writing articles and stories. Into this book I have put much more of myself than anything else I’ve ever done, including details gleaned from my family history.
I realize now that in writing about the development of a character based primarily on my mother, I also wrote of my own gradual development into an independent person.
My autobiography, A Woman’s Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour, was published in 2004 by McFarland Publishing, the foremost publisher of serious baseball books. The book explains how I worked with Dr. Harold Seymour to produce the first scholarly histories of baseball ever written.
The publisher begins a synopsis of the book by saying that “From 1949 until 1990, Dorothy Jane Mills quietly contributed her research and writing to the first baseball histories ever written by a historian.” It is that collaboration with Dr. Seymour that made me into a historian.
The three-volume baseball series published by Oxford University Press over the years 1960-1990 overwhelmed readers by the amount of research it demonstrates and the surprises it displayed. McFarland describes our work together as “presiding over mountains of records on the game” as we worked to prepare it all for publication.
The publisher also points out that despite working right along with Dr. Seymour every step of the way, I received no official credit. My name never appeared on the title page of those books as co-author. Readers believed that he had done this monumental amount of research and writing completely on his own.
A Woman’s Work reveals details of our partnership that most readers of the Oxford series on baseball never suspected. It also explains how my work as a teacher, editor, novelist, children’s author, and public speaker fit into my baseball collaboration. It also includes many photos from my personal collection.
Perhaps the most intriguing section of the book is the one I didn’t write. In a Foreword to the book, Steve Gietschier of The Sporting News shows readers his surprise and dismay over learning the way my work had been kept from the knowledge of other scholars.
To purchase a copy of the book from McFarland, click on McFarlandpub.com. If you prefer an autographed copy, contact me at email@example.com.
You can also read the article that revealed to other scholars the extent of my contribution to the work published under Dr. Seymour’s name. Just click on “A Woman’s Work: Doing Research with Harold Seymour.”
What follows is a copy of an article written by Professor George Grella about the 1995 ceremony at Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, New York, during which the ashes of Dr. Harold Seymour, the historian of baseball and my first husband, were sprinkled around first base.
Harold Seymour (1910-1992)
by George Grella
On clear nights in the tranquil hamlet of Cooperstown, capital city of our dreams, the sky seems close and palpable, a black velvet canopy decorated with thousands of stars the perfect foil for a special diamond, just the right background for the contemplation of eternity. In the cool darkness of such an evening in early June of 1995, an assortment of fans, at least enough to staff a couple of teams, gathered in Doubleday Field to attend not a baseball game but a kind of funeral, a burial and memorial service for a man who had devoted most of his life to the study of the game. Mostly academics from a variety of disciplines, they assembled in the grandstand above the darkened field along the first base line to remember the life and work of the baseball historian Harold Seymour and to witness and participate in the scattering of his ashes on the field itself. Although the occasion an the ceremony may seem strange or even comical, as they did initially to a few of the company, they turned out to be sweetly appropriate, somewhat lighthearted, and yet oddly touching, not at all a bad way to bid farewell to a distinguished scholar of the great American game.
The small crowd might properly deserve the oxymoron of professional amateurs, serious scholars of the game who also live it with the intensity that no other sport and few human endeavors can evoke. Coming mostly from universities and colleges all over the country, they had assembled in Cooperstown for the Seventh Annual Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, at which they spent a considerable amount of time delivering, listening to, and discussing papers on any number of relevant subjects, including the history, literature, cinema, art, aesthetics, and philosophy of baseball (Seymour himself had addressed the gathering in a keynote speech in 1990). They attended dramatic readings of baseball poetry and prose, and earlier in the evening they even played their annual game of Town Ball, a direct and immediate ancestor of the modern game. Not only as scholars but simply as enthusiasts they did what all fans do: they talked baseball, perhaps the best talk of all, providing an all-too-uncommon version of what intellectual discussion should be, a discourse lively and literate, passionate and profound, grounded on both love and knowledge.
Alvin Hall, dean of continuing education at the State University of New York at Oneonta, the genial, loquacious host and energetic organizer of the Symposium, presided over the occasion. Tom Heitz, former director of the Baseball Library and Archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, read a eulogy that Seymour’s widow Dorothy, also in attendance, had helped prepare; he touched on the several major aspects of Harold Seymour’s long and rewarding career in baseball, as player and coach, teacher and student, and above all, as the ground-breaking historian of the game. Others read excerpts from some of Seymour’s best-known and most representative works, including his monumental three-volume history, Baseball: The Early Years (1960), Baseball: The Golden Age (1971), and Baseball: The People’s Game (1990).
Although the occasion, of course, was intended as a solemn final tribute to an important pioneer who blazed the way for innumerable followers, it never sank into the maudlin or the lugubrious. Many of the passages of Seymour’s work examined their subjects in humorous terms, especially those from his reminiscence of his service as a batboy for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the era of the colorful Wilbert Robinson, where the young man advanced his knowledge of two languages, “English and profanity.” In Baseball: The Golden Age he wrote about the tendency of players of the past to contract venereal diseases, which the newspapers reported as “malaria.” (America must have been a swampy, mosquito-ridden place in the early part of the century to allow those stories to fly; in recent years the “pulled groin muscle” has served a similar purpose.)
The readings also helped remind the crowd of the importance of Harold Seymour’s achievements to the serious study of the game and therefore to those attending the Symposium. In the face of considerable opposition and even scorn from his department at Cornell, he wrote the first doctoral dissertation on baseball, the longest ever submitted at the university, which formed the basis for his magnum opus. Unlike the previous histories, his works proceeded from a thorough grounding in basic research, a meticulous regard for fact, and a refreshingly disinterested point of view; he did not, like many previous chroniclers, stridently propagandize for the sport or employ it as an excuse to promote some narrow notion of nationalism. He discussed some of the actual history of the game, helping to lay to rest the apocryphal story, probably never more than half-believed, of Abner Doubleday’s invention of the game there in Cooperstown in 1839.
Most students of the sport and of Seymour’s valuable work probably expected that the third volume of his study would follow sequentially from the first two, dealing with the game up to a point somewhere near the present time, perhaps bringing it into its second Golden Age in the 1950s. Instead, he wrote the aptly entitled Baseball: The People’s Game, devoted to a rich and important chapter of baseball’s crowded history, neglected by many scholars, the game as it was conducted outside the confines of Organized Baseball (his capitals).
In that volume he covers its endless incarnations in informal local contests in village greens, sandlots, and cow pastures, the various levels of amateur ball, its emergence as a college sport (including at women’s colleges), baseball in the military, the beginnings of black baseball, and so on. That necessary book reminds us all that the best, the most authentic baseball takes place not in the sterile confines of some concrete tureen that owners call a stadium but in other venues far from the major leagues. Out there, all over America, it is truly the people’s game as the people actually play it.
Despite the relative informality of the presentations and the resolutely secular nature of the ceremonies, the occasion, like so much of baseball, also hinted at the spiritual and the transcendent. Directly down the leftfield foul line, just beyond the outfield fence, a single light glowed in a church steeple, like some combination of Magritte and Norman Rockwell, underlining the vital connection between traditional religion and what Annie Savoy in Bull Durham calls “the church of baseball.” We all know that ball parks are temples, holy places that combine the exuberant activities of sport and faith. The dark and empty field, further, was haunted by innumerable ghosts: the spirits of all those thousands who had played this beautiful game in this lovely place. It was even haunted specifically by those individuals, many of them Hall of Famers, players, owners, managers, and umpires, whose own remains had mingled with the mythic dust of that magical ball park. Now and then a trick of the dim light or a flicker of some fan’s imagination coalesced around the image of some spectral figure patrolling the outfield or running the bases. Sitting in its dark bowl of stars, the stadium was peopled, moreover, by the millions more who loved the game and, correctly or not, regarded Doubleday Field as a site of special sanctity. No wonder Kinsella’s protagonist in Shoeless Joe says that “a ballpark at night is more like a church than a church.”
The simple fact of that location itself suggested some complex ironies. Although Harold Seymour had quite rightly rejected the mythology of Abner Doubleday’s “creation” of the game, he also chose to have his ashes scattered at the purely imaginary location of that entirely fictitious occurrence. Some special wonder attaches to that choice of so completely mythical a spot, as if even to a historian the myth itself were more important than the historical fact . . . and, of course, it is. Doubleday Field is obviously the real field of dreams, or perhaps the dream field of reality, a truer place than any actual one, an enchanted spot in a magical village, the nation’s home plate, the universal home town of the American imagination. It’s the only proper place for a passionate fan and distinguished scholar of the game to repose.
After the readings and a gracious response from Seymour’s widow, Dorothy, the crowd filed out of the grandstand and assembled near first base, the position Seymour himself had played as a youth. There an admirer, Chris Jennison, himself a baseball writer, scattered the ashes on the base path, where they would mix with the sacred earth of the field and with the remains of those who had preceded him: Doubleday Field is hallowed ground, indeed. The group then sang, what else? “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” For the first time, what had always sounded like a carefree, exuberant invitation became something of a hymn, even something of a dirge, a sad song not only for Harold Seymour but for all the fans and players of all the games gone by, with perhaps the hint of hope that baseball really is forever, that they really do play the game in Heaven. If there’s no baseball in Heaven, then what’s a heaven for?
After the singing, the scattering of the ashes, and perhaps, for some, a few private words to the close and holy darkness, the ceremony ended. By way of benefaction, the jovial Al Hall pronounced the last word. Now, he said, whenever he saw that famous, endlessly repeated, endlessly entertaining Abbot and Costello routine, he would always know who’s on first. Anyone who goes to Cooperstown with the proper pilgrim attitude, as a devout Catholic would visit Rome or a Muslim journey to Mecca, should stop off in Doubleday Field and remember all those who play there in spirit; the visitor should also cast a glance toward first base and think for a moment of a player from the past who figured so importantly in the study of the game, remembering who’s on first, remembering Harold Seymour.
George Grella is a professor of English and film studies at the University of Rochester who has published extensively on baseball.
By Gene Carney
“It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”
That old Dizzy Dean saying came to mind as I finished reading A Woman’s Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour, by Dorothy Jane Mills (McFarland, 2004). It’s a brisk and remarkable read; usually when I enjoy a book I recommend it, but after this one, I find myself wanting to recommend the small library that Dorothy Mills has brought into the world herself, along with those volumes that bear the name of her late husband.
Another saying came to mind, too: Give credit where credit is due. That seems like an easy maxim to follow, but in my experience, it can be harder than hell to pull off. Many of the pages of A Woman’s Work are tinged with mixed emotions, as Dorothy describes her role in the researching, editing and writing of what went down in history (almost) as the Harold Seymour Baseball History Trilogy. Dorothy makes it clear that she deserved more credit all along the way, and her claiming it decisively in recent years seems only fitting.
I should state up front that I received a review copy, which happily was not a factor in my evaluation of the book. That I met Dorothy Mills nearly six years ago, and have kept in touch, was.
Back in May 1999, I attended the Seymour Conference in Cleveland, Ohio (you can look it up, in Notes #189). I knew Bruce Markusen, that year’s Seymour Medalist, but I did not attend only to celebrate with Bruce. I had not been to Cleveland for 22 years, having lived and taught high school in that city between 1968-1974. I remember the weekend as much for reunions with old friends as for the conference. I wound up on a panel with Mike Shannon and perhaps others, at the tail end of the event, and just as it was over, I ran into Dorothy Mills.
In A Woman’s Work, Dorothy states her unequivocal preference for writing historical fiction, versus history.
More than that, I like to write in other forms: essays, recipes, news releases, humorous articles, poetry, scholarly writing, travel pieces, letters, children’s stories, editorial reports … whatever seems required in order to express the idea or purpose I have in mind.
I had been writing baseball just ten years (Dorothy had a four-decade head start on me), but she seemed, in our brief encounter, a kind of kindred spirit. She convinced me in a few minutes to take a serious look at publishing via the internet.
I must have mentioned that I had written a play that was historically based. I was delighted when she expressed an interest in reading it — I was anxious to find any “problems” that a baseball historian would spot. Mornings After, which revolves around an obscure Hall of Fame pitcher, Addie Joss, plainly did not grab Dorothy, although at least the history stood up to her scrutiny. But when I mentioned that I had written lyrics, she immediately brightened up and put me in touch with Lowell Kammer (of Niagara Falls), with whom I collaborated to turn Mornings into a musical.
A theme in A Woman’s Work is Dorothy’s amazing memory, and her gift for networking. If Harold Seymour seemed unable to give credit where it was due, Dorothy seems to never have had that problem, and her book is filled with the names of countless people who assisted her over five decades and counting, in ways large, small, or strange. Clearly, she knows the joys, and the advantages, of keeping in touch.
Last June, I spent a day at Cornell University with the Harold and Dorothy Seymour Collection. The full story is in Notes #297, but here is an excerpt:
I think the greatest discovery I made had nothing at all to do with the thousands of note cards and folders I sifted through. That was fun, but what was really exciting was realizing I was getting inside the minds (Harold did not work alone) of true historians. There were no copiers back then, people took notes by hand, pencil or pen on paper, the way Medieval scribes copied manuscripts, the way we all learned to write. It was primitive and inexact, and it added another layer to be deciphered — what is that word? But handwriting reveals, too, and notes jotted in blue or green might be accompanied by notes in red that asked questions, or made comments, or evaluated the text copied. Exclamation points and stars were scattered about — these texts deserved special attention. Why?
If I thought I was inside the Seymours’ minds then, it was nothing like the guided tour Dorothy provides in A Woman’s Work. In a sense, the book is like one of those The Making Of programs that often follow films. Done well, these can be more educational and entertaining than the movie itself. In the case of A Woman’s Work, learning how the Seymour histories came to be written is fascinating, but it also whets the appetite. I’m extremely familiar with the several chapters on the 1919 World Series fix in Baseball: The Golden Age; but now I have a sense of what I’ve missed by not reading the whole trilogy. Mea culpa.
For all A Woman’s Work reveals, it also conceals much, and that’s not such a bad thing. We see Dorothy and Harold as co-researchers, editors and authors, but rarely as husband and wife. And that’s OK, although I suspect some readers will be disappointed at that. Harold apparently wrestled with depression much of their time together, and later Alzheimer’s, at the end. The first line of my poem Boxscore is “Chadwick’s love child” — and by the end of Dorothy’s book, I was viewing the books they produced together as their “children” — an image Dorothy does not use herself, perhaps because the contributions of the parents were never equal, especially for The People’s Game.
A Woman’s Work is more than its subtitle suggests, although writing baseball history — as pioneers, no less — is the center of the book. Happily, it also is very autobiographical, as Dorothy tells of her many and varied other interests. These are almost too many to list, but they are so impressive that readers cannot wonder what this woman might have done had she not latched onto baseball, Harold’s focus. As a baseball fan, I’m delighted that she did, but I still have to wonder. But we all wonder about choices we made at different points in our life.
Marriage is much in the news these days. For better and for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Marriages are all different. Dorothy and Harold’s is surely more unique than most. What if I had married a baseball nut? But I didn’t; Dorothy did. And her story is worth the telling, and worth the reading.
This review by Gene “Two Finger” Carney appeared in Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown, an eclectic and ecumenical publication of anything and everything baseball.
Carney is the author of Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded, Romancing the Horsehide: Baseball Poems on Players and the Game and the historically-based baseball play Mornings After, as well as numerous short stories. Carney passed away in 2009.
Despite worries about baseball’s decline, deep interest in memorabilia, fantasy baseball, exhibits, and the games themselves indicate the sport is surviving steroid scandals, negative publicity, and the perception that the game is more nostalgia than a part of current popular culture. This book shows that while basketball and football might enjoy wider popularity today, no sport elicits the passion — or inspires the slightly off-kilter, obsessive behavior — that baseball does.
Many readers discover with surprise and pleasure that this book includes five chapters about the current status of women in baseball.
The following is a quotation from a review of Chasing Baseball by Jean Hastings Ardell, published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History & Culture, volume 19 no. 2 (Spring 2011), pages 122-175:
“The national game is not dead or even dying,” Mills
concludes. “It’s just changing, and change is a sign of life and
progress, as John Ruskin told us back in the 1850s” (228). Mills continues, “I predict that women will become an increasing influence — even a force — in the national game, and that men will find it advisable to loosen their hold or organized baseball as the game changes even further in the future” (229). Mills has been no small part of that force, and in Chasing Baseball, she has written a provocative chronicle of the ever-changing game of baseball.”
Review of Chasing Baseball
Starred review in Library Journal, February 1, 2010.
Mills is a veteran baseball author, but much was in uncredited assistance to her husband, the late pioneering baseball
scholar Harold Seymour. Now she presents her own first-person examination of the assumptions that surround baseball-e.g., its American origins and its necessary masculinity. Elegantly and calmly, she sets us straight, crediting other SABR researchers along the way. In Part 1,
“A Manly Pursuit,” she casts a clear light on such trends as fantasy baseball, growing even as the watching of baseball itself has declined, with sandlot, street, and amateur baseball almost extinct. She reminds us that baseball, as our national pastime, has represented our country at its most disturbing, supporting not only segregation in the past but “faith nights” now, which impose evangelical Christianity on passively
consenting fans. In Part 2, “A Womanly Pursuit,” Mills notes the women who have in fact played baseball, albeit excluded from the MLB and subject to ridicule, and the responsibility of collegiate sports and the Little League in shunting women into softball. A fascinating read that will be especially inspiring for women who love the game.
Acquiring a cat for companionship and entertainment, Dorothy expected that he would show a little respect for her work as a writer. She soon realized that the cat showed, by his expressions and body language, exactly what he was thinking: that he disdained her occupation and expected her to act as the companion and entertainer instead.
“Toto the cat becomes a meditation and provocation in toto for the author’s creative spirit.”
— Dr. Michael W. Fox, “Animal Doctor” syndicated newspaper columnist
Readers of The Sceptre, a historical novel of the 1930s by Dorothy Jane Mills (a.k.a Dorothy Z. Seymour), say the book is “thrilling,” “riveting,” and they “can’t put it down.” Reviewers call it “a gripping story, well told, one that “demonstrates tremendous research…an irresistible tale,” calling the main character “a heroine in the classic mold…with determination and focus.”
The Sceptre gives us the adventures of Katya Becker, an Austrian immigrant to Cleveland, who returns to her homeland to research the meaning of two ancient symbols she once saw in a prehistoric salt mine. While there she uncovers a Nazi plot to disrupt the Salzburg Festival of 1935 by kidnapping Maestro Toscanini. Through Katya’s search she gradually discovers an unexpected connection to the man she loves and to her ancient ancestors.
Two dramatic flashbacks to Keltic Europe of 600 B.C. disclose to the reader the Keltic origin of the sceptre in the title.
The story’s theme is that we look and act much like our ancestors, and that in the early, ancient past our forebears were more closely interconnected by bloodlines than we want to think. Like Katya Becker, we may be descended from, and related to, persons we’d just as soon not know about. The Sceptre thus rides the current craze for genealogical research. We all want to know where we fit into history.
Based on ten years of research into authentic events of the 1930s as well as ancient Keltic history, The Sceptre includes cameo appearances by real persons of the 1930s like Maestro Arturo Toscanini, the fashion photographer Cecil Beaton, psychoanalyst C.G. Jung, the high-fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Prince von Starhemberg (who was then Vice Chancellor of Austria), and Nora Joyce, wife of James, the writer. And others!