I have long preached about the value of building a solid reference library. Today I am pleased to share an interview recently conducted with one of my personal research heroes, Mark Stang. Mark is an award-winning author of eight books on Major League baseball and many of you know him by way of his seminal work on uniform numbers, “Baseball by the Numbers”. Mark has also produced a series of coffee-table style team photo histories covering seven of the original 16 franchises. These team works are must for any library. In these, Mark chronicles a franchise’s history through a wonderful mix of rare and vivid player images and supporting commentary. Enough of me, let’s get to Mark Stang.
Grob: Mark, On behalf of the MEARS staff and our readers, thanks for making time for this. I know you are busy and are just getting back from Cuba. Future book project?
Stang: My pleasure, Dave. My original plan had been to make the next volume in the series feature the Boston Red Sox for publication in Fall 2010. However, I’m presently shopping for a new publisher and that leaves my plans in limbo. I’m hopeful that the series will be able to continue, but most publishers are being very cautious about taking on new projects at this time. So, we’ll see.
Grob: I mentioned “Baseball By The Numbers” in the intro, how long did that project take and what was the one thing you found most surprising about that project when it was all said and done?
Stang: I began compiling the raw data in 1988 and was able to self-publish my research on uniform numbers in 1991 as “Rosters”, which I originally marketed solely to SABR members. At that time, the listings covered the period from 1929 up thru 1971, or the end of the flannel era. In 1993, I got a book contract from Scarecrow Press and the listings were expanded up thru the 1992 season and published in Fall, 1996. There are roughly 1,000 copies of the book in circulation, but the original version of 1152 pages is now out of print. There have been recent discussions with the publisher about an updated and revised second edition, but nothing has been finalized.
I think the most surprising result of the publication of the book was that after compiling over 50,000 listings for players, coaches and managers, I was still missing nearly 2,000 “cup of coffee” guys. Since I relied solely on regular season game-issued scorecards for my data, many of the late-season call-ups, mid-season trades and career minor leaguers whose stay in the big leagues may have been very brief were still missing. Luckily, the ensuing 15+ years has reduced that number to less than 800.
Grob: Your first team work was the “Reds in Black and White, 100 Years of Cincinnati Reds Images” co-authored with Greg Rhodes in 1999. Of course I am partial to the Reds and of course they should have been first… what influenced your decision to produce a book like this and why start with the Reds?
Stang: The short answer is two-fold. Both Greg and I were living in Cincinnati at the time. And secondly, in 1998 we had purchased at auction a large collection of vintage Reds photos from the original files of the defunct Baseball Magazine. That collection of roughly 650 photos provided much of the basis for the book. We felt that with the millennium approaching, there could well be interest in looking back photographically at the previous 100 years of Reds history. It turned out with a storied franchise like the Reds, there was a lot of interest.
Grob:Your original format was huge success winning the 1999 SABR/Sporting News baseball research award. You then followed up the Reds book with releases in consecutive years for the Cleveland Indians (2000), Chicago Cubs (2001), and the St. Louis Cardinals (2002). Why did you pick those clubs as the subjects to follow up your initial work?
Stang: The success of the Reds book showed that we had a format that could work in other Major League cities. Greg wanted to concentrate exclusively on Reds-themed books and I subsequently teamed up with another Ohio area publisher, Orange Frazer Press, and expanded the series to eventually include another 6 teams.
The choice of the next three teams was based on my wanting to feature teams that: had been in the same city for the previous 100 seasons, had a die-hard fan base that supported them thru thick and thin and were a workable distance from my home in Cincinnati when I needed to travel for book store signings almost every weekend each Fall.
Grob: In 2005 you teamed up with Phil Wood to produce “Nationals on Parade, 70 Years of Washington Nationals Photos”. Phil is one of those guys who has probably forgotten more about the game and uniforms than most folks will ever know. What was it like working with Phil?
Stang: Phil and I had been friends (and fellow uniform collectors) for 15 years by then and we had always agreed that if major league baseball ever returned to the nation’s capitol we would want to tell the story of baseball in D.C. The re-location of the Expos finally made that concept a possibility. Phil’s encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the Washington franchise was a real asset.
Grob: A year later, “Athletics Album, A Photo History of the Philadelphia Athletics” came out in 2006. You dedicated that book to the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. How instrumental are organizations like this to your research and are there similar organizations for other ball clubs?
Stang: I had originally joined the A’s Society when it first formed back in 1995. I had always been fascinated by Connie Mack’s White Elephants and thought that franchise’s colorful history deserved to be told. Over the years, other teams such as the St. Louis Browns, Boston Braves and New York Giants have all had organizations dedicated to preserving their history. They all provide a valuable service in helping keep each team’s memory alive for future generations of baseball fans.
Grob: Your most recent book was “Phillies Photos, 100 Years of Philadelphia Phillies Images” in Fall, 2008. What was like to be working on that back at the same time of the resurgence of that ball club?
Stang: With each new project, I have to begin working on it a year in advance of publication. Each time out, you keep your fingers crossed that a particular team might enjoy some postseason success. I always remind people that it‘s often better to be lucky than good. So, with the Phillies, the team’s ending 27 years of frustration with a World Series title certainly was huge boost for sales of the book.
Grob: I am sure there are countless photos that you looked at that were not included in these projects. What is that you are looking for? Does it start with the image or a list of players you want to cover?
Stang: It’s a fairly subjective process. First, I compile a list of the “must-include” players such as any Hall of Famers, any 20-game winners, any batting champion, any Rookie of the Year winner, etc. Then I weave in a mix of notable mangers, owners and broadcasters. Finally I like to include some surprises for each team. Players that most fans will not recall as playing for that particular team: Curt Flood with the Reds, Ferguson Jenkins with the Phillies or a young Walter Alston whose entire major league playing career was one at-bat with the 1936 St. Louis Cardinals.
As for the photo search itself, I will generally choose around 225-230 images for inclusion in each book. That means I probably search thru 20 times that number of images from a variety of private and public sources to get down to the final cut. The search for the best images is my favorite part of each project. You never know what you’re going to uncover, each collection is a treasure hunt.
Grob: Let me change gears for a minute. Your website (markstangbaseballbooks.com) features a picture of you surrounded by some fabulous flannels. Do you have any favorite styles, either ones you have owned or wish you had?
Stang: I originally began collecting vintage game-used Major League flannels in the mid-1980’s, when you could still find all-original styles at pretty reasonable prices. By 1993, I had assembled a collection of 45 jerseys from the 1955-1971 time period, along with matching caps and a game-used bat for each player, whenever possible. Each of the 10 flannels pictured on my website’s homepage was part of my collection. It’s really hard to pick a favorite, I loved them all. However, in 2006, I began selling off my entire collection of jerseys, caps, bats and autographed HOF items. My memorabilia collection now consists entirely of ephemera, photos and framed display pieces. My book projects have now become my primary focus.
Grob: Staying with the website, I like the format and noticed it has sections for team trivia and a twice-monthly blog. Besides being a sales vehicle for some great books, what is your vision for the site and who are trying to reach?
Stang: Well, in addition to trying to capture a wider audience for my work, the secondary goal of the website is to provide additional visual and written content for baseball fans. The slide shows of vintage baseball photos from each book are complimented by my writings about interesting historical oddities from baseball’s golden era. Finally the inclusion of numerous video clips and newspaper articles about my work give my readers a deeper explanation of each project.
Grob: As someone who thinks the world of these team editions, are there any others in the works and when might we expect to see them?
Stang: Well, if time and money were no object, I would eventually like to produce a 16-volume set including each of the original Major League franchises. But I’m already 55, and it’s taken the past 11 years to produce seven of them, so that’s probably not in the cards. Realistically, after the Red Sox book, I’d like to follow that up with the Giants and Dodgers to bring the total to 10. We’ll see how far I get. If I thought I could sell more than a few dozen copies, I would love to tackle the St. Louis Browns and the Boston Braves. As a SABR member since 1989, I find the defunct franchises much more satisfying to work on. The older players were far more colorful, they had better nicknames and they got into more trouble off the field. But the books are very expensive to produce and I’m not in this to take a financial loss, it if can be avoided.
Grob: Is there a topic or individual you would like to take on, but has never found its way into the cue?
Stang: Following the publication of Baseball By The Numbers in 1996, I had originally planned to write the biography of legendary minor league owner Joe Engel of the Chattanooga Lookouts. Engel’s a fascinating character who provided Bill Veeck with some of his best ideas and his story deserves to be told. In 1997, I had compiled all the necessary research, conducted dozens of interviews with people who had worked for him and produced a 25 page book outline. But that’s as far as it got and I eventually began work on my team photo book series just two years later. So that project is still out there.
Grob: Mark, thanks again for your time. In parting, is there anything else you would care to pass along to the MEARS Staff and our readers?
Stang: It was my pleasure, Dave. I’d finish up by saying I strongly believe that in equipment collecting, knowledge is power and sites like MEARS and others provide an invaluable service to collectors and researchers in helping educate them about the past.
Mark’s books can be purchased directly off of his web site at markstangbaseballbooks.com. As I said at the outset, these books are a must of any reference library or casual fan of the clubs or game he has so richly covered.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com