Baseball cards attracted author Ferkovich to baseball

Baseball author Scott Ferkovich writes at his home.

Baseball author Scott Ferkovich writes at his home.

Not many Detroit sports authors are as prolific as Scott Ferkovich, who seems to have something published somewhere almost every week, sometimes multiple times.

Ferkovich is the editor of two books on the Tigers and a contributor to several others. He has another due to hit bookshelves in 2017 about the 1934-35 Detroit Tigers.

Few writers can tell stories like Scott, which includes a wonderful personal tale of getting his first foul ball while on a first date with his future wife.

Here’s the first in a series where we look at the bloggers of Detroit Athletic Co.

Why are you a Tiger fan?

It was all because of baseball cards.

I was born in Detroit in 1968. My dad is a big baseball fan and attended Wayne Memorial High School where he was a pitcher. He graduated in 1956, was very good but he hurt his arm. My family lived there until I was eight years old.

In 1977 we moved to Canton when I was eight. Baseball cards were how I was introduced to the game. A new friend in Canton was a card collector and that got me into the game. When I was a kid I was heavily into collecting baseball cards! That got the ball rolling. Ultimately I went to a game with my Dad, and we started throwing the baseball around, and I got into Little League.

The Holy Grail of baseball cards for a kid my age in the late 1970s was Mark Fidrych. My friend had a card of him but I didn’t know a thing about him. I hadn’t seen him pitch, but I knew that this was a baseball card I needed.

But all that summer [in 1976] I got a ton of [Jason] Grilli’s and [Tom] Veryzer’s, but no Fidrych! I thought ‘This has got to be some kind of racket or something!’ Finally at the end of the summer I got a Mark Fidrych in a Topps pack and I kept that card in my wallet for years and years and years. I still have all my cards. That’s what spurred my love for baseball.

Were there any baseball books that made an impact on you?

After I discovered baseball, I started reading a lot about the game. Behind the Mask by Bill Freehan [a diary of the Tigers’ 1969 season] was one of the first books I read. I carried on from there reading many books about baseball. I also read The Sporting News every week.

What keeps you a fan?

The MLB App is a wet dream if you’re a baseball fan. It’s a great time to be a baseball fan because we have all this access. You can now see every box score and even every at-bat live, with all the stats at your fingertips. I’ve done this all my life, but now it’s much easier. I’m busy, so I don’t watch as many games. But I’m still as involved in the day-to-day process of being a baseball fan, of being immersed in a team.

What’s one of your favorite memories from a trip to a ballgame?

I had never caught a foul ball in all the games I saw from the age of nine years old on. After college I taught English in Japan and I met a girl and she had never been to a baseball game. She didn’t even know about baseball. I asked her to go see a game for our first date. We had these seats along the foul line.

A batter hit a ball and it came right at us, and it bounced and rolled under her seat. She casually picked it up as if to say “What do I do with this?” I grabbed it and started shouting and jumping up and down. And this got everyone around me shouting and excited. In Japan you can’t keep a foul ball. Shortly, an usher came and wanted it, but I pocketed it and elbowed my date and told her “I’m not going to give this ball back.”

I told myself “This is the girl I’m going to marry.” And I did. That was my future wife. And we still have that baseball.

How do you approach researching and writing about baseball?

Coming up with a topic is half the battle, which is why I stay immersed in the game and reading about the game. It’s always possible that you’ll read something somewhere and it will trigger a thought. I make a memo when a moment happens like that.

I lean toward historical stuff because that’s my strength. I don’t write a lot about analytical and sabermetric stuff, even though I enjoy reading that sometimes. I’m story-oriented. I like the human element.

As I’ve written and read a lot about the 1935 Detroit Tigers (which is what my next book is about) —you sit down and have to verify and check facts — you can find things that take you in a different direction — it’s constantly learning. You have to choose what you pursue. You have to be careful which direction you’re going to go.

When I sit down to write, my story may change many times from when I have the idea to when I write it. As I’m writing it I realize it may not be going where I want it to go, so I’ll go on a different tangent.

It’s an entire process of re-imagining a story.

What should we know about the 1935 Tigers?

That was our grandparents’ team.

It had been a while since the Tigers had been in the World Series. It was the middle of the Depression. Detroit hadn’t had a champion in any sport until the ’35 Tigers.

My grandfather was a big Tigers fan: [Hank] Greenberg and [Charlie] Gehringer and [Goose] Goslin, that was his team. My grandmother told me about going to Navin Field. “If he was alive he’d be taking you to the ballpark every day,” she told me.

What I heard from my grandparents was my first exposure to that era and that team. In 1982 I got Big Mac [MacMillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia] and was intrigued by the names on that team, like Schoolboy and Goose and Jo-Jo, etc.

What was unique about that team in Detroit history is that they repeated in 1934-35. Very few Detroit teams have repeated as league champions.

There was a galvanizing effect in the city in 1935 thanks to the Tigers. That’s unique about Detroit’s baseball championships. In 1935 during the Great Depression it give them something to feel good about. In 1968 it came in the wake of the Detroit riots. Then in 1984 we worried about the economy because of struggles by the Big Three auto makers. But only the 34-’35 team has that distinction of repeating and winning, the only team to do so.

They weren’t a great team. There was a window when things were wide open. Babe Ruth was old and the Yankees were on the downside. Joe DiMaggio came in ’36, so it was a unique time. The 1930s  was a slugging era, there were a lot of great hitters at that time, many in the American League. Those two years were one of the few times the Yankees were down and didn’t have the Yankee mystique.

Who was Schoolboy Rowe?

He was a great pitcher and he was sort of the Mark Fidrych of his era. Schoolboy would talk to the ball, but he wasn’t as colorful as Dizzy Dean, whom the Tigers faced in the ’34 World Series. Schoolboy didn’t have that quotability. He was immensely popular. He was an excellent hitter. In some ways he compares to Dontrelle Willis at his peak, in both being able to pitch and hit. They also had similar careers, burning out quick Rowe could have reinvented himself as a hitter. He was never the same pitcher again after 1935 because of arm injuries.

At one point, when he was young, there was some talk in Detroit like “Maybe Rowe will be the next Babe Ruth?” There were those who debated whether he should be a pitcher or a hitter.

He still holds the AL record with 16 straight wins, which he did in 1934. Today we don’t place as much of an emphasis on wins and losses, but back then the whole nation was paying attention to it. When he went for his 17th at Shibe Park [in Philadelphia], he did not pitch well. But there was so much pressure on him to keep it alive.

Gee Walker was a very popular player for Detroit in the 1930s. What can you tell us about him?

He was popular because he was the closest thing the Tigers had to Ty Cobb since Ty Cobb. Walker was a madman on the base paths. But he drove [Mickey] Cochrane crazy because he would make baserunning blunders. He made a gaffe on the base paths to cost them a game and Cochrane was going to suspend him, but his teammates came to his defense and the suspension was shortened. Walker came to the game with a football mentality, like Kirk Gibson. His brother Hub Walker also played for the team.

What should Detroit fans know about Billy Rogell?

He was known as “The Fire Chief” because when he came up with the Red Sox he visited teammate Red Ruffing in his hometown in the offseason and they both joined the volunteer fire department. One day they responded to a fire and Rogell took to it like a natural. He fell through a roof while fighting a fire! He was also known as “The Milk Man” because he had a milk route growing up in Chicago.

What are some other memories of being a Tiger fan?

I attended the first game that Sparky Anderson managed for Detroit [June 1979]. My Dad got two tickets and told me we were going. I remember the PA announcer at Tiger Stadium said “Give a warm welcome to Sparky Anderson.” He got a great cheer.

I attended Game Three of the World Series in 1984 and we sat close to where Marty Castillo’s home run landed.

The first game I attended in 1977 the Tigers played the Minnesota Twins. My first autograph was Dave Rozema, who had a great season that year for the Tigers.

The game I got the most fun out of wasn’t even a Tigers game: it was the college game played at Tiger Stadium years after it had been closed. I saw a college player hit the last home run at Tiger Stadium. There were probably one hundred people at the park and I was standing behind the third base dugout and the kid hit the baseball off the façade of the upper deck. It made a loud BANG because no one was there. It was an inconsequential game. But that was my farewell to Tiger Stadium.

Who were your favorite players?

When you’re growing up when I did, and you have Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, you just think “This is the way it’s always going to be.” When Lou retired it was a shock that he was really gone.

I liked Trammell, I loved his swing. I liked to watch Kirk Gibson. I liked Steve Kemp in the 1970s. Later, one of my favorite players to watch was Gary Sheffield, because of the way he swung and how hard he hit the baseball. His bat was so fast.

I loved watching Justin Verlander in 2011, that was the best season I ever saw a pitcher have. I can’t remember a time when every time a pitcher went out you thought “This could be a no-hitter.”

Among non-Tigers, I liked watching Dave Winfield because he was a hard-hitting right handed batter. He hit a baseball at Tiger Stadium so hard it was out before I knew it.

Where can fans find your baseball books?

In 2015 my book Detroit the Unconquerable came out and is available on Amazon or through the Society for American Baseball Research. I edited a book that was just released entitled Tigers by the Tale: Great Games at Michigan and Trumbull (part of the games project from SABR). I wrote five of the games.

The working-title for the book I’m writing is: Mickey and the G-Men: The 1934-35 Tigers with a backdrop of Detroit history and what was happening in the city. It’ll be published by McFarland, and is hopeful to come out sometime in 2017. I have more fun writing books than I ever thought I would. I love researching. If I was writing this book 15 years ago, I’d have to drive to the libraries. Now I can get everything online.

I also write for the National Pastime Museum and the Hardball Times. I love the DAC because it’s the best Detroit sports history website. There’s a certain honor in writing for it, because it means you’re part of a small community of people who read it and write for it. The most feedback I get is when I write a lesser-known story and people respond with “I never knew that.”

To be a storyteller is an honor because you have readers who have a desire to be exposed to that.

Read Scott Ferkovich every week here at the Detroit Athletic Co. blog.