HomeTrending MLB NewsThe Ghost-Writer Behind The Best Ballpark Stories

The Ghost-Writer Behind The Best Ballpark Stories

Ghost-writing a celebrity’s autobiography is almost as hard as hitting a big-league curveball.

I know – I’ve done three of them, working with a player (Ron Blomberg), an umpire (Al Clark), and a broadcaster (Milo Hamilton).

The Blomberg book came first.

Years after he retired as a player, Dick Schaap asked Ron what it was like to be the first DH. The answer was immediate: “Whaddya mean? Designated Hebrew?”

Few books are sold by their titles but this was an exception. “That’s a book,” Schaap said.

Working with Blomberg meant flying down to Atlanta, where he lives in nearby Roswell, and spending time taping his answers to questions – everything from his billing as “the Jewish Mickey Mantle” to his unhappiness as being platooned because he happened to bat left-handed.

Perhaps the most fan-friendly player in baseball history, Ron received dozens of invitations to bar mitzvahs and weddings, not to mention dinners in which he would order everything on the menu except “Thank You For Dining With Us.”

Although I enjoyed my time with Blomberg – the personification of Li’l Abner – he was also rather forgetful of his career highlights. He claimed he hit nine home runs against Nolan Ryan, seven against Jim Palmer, and a half-dozen against several other Hall of Famers.

When I ran into Ryan in a Kissimmee, FL restaurant during the days the Astros trained there, I told him about Blomberg’s boast. Ryan laughed and said he gave up only one to the lefty-hitting DH of the Yankees.

In fact, Blomberg hit only 52 home runs in his entire career, though most of them were hit against the best pitchers of his day, including a few who won Cy Youngs.

Considerable other information had to be verified. So I talked with Ron’s long-time agent, Sheldon Stone. Sheldon said Ron once invited him to come down from New Jersey for Thanksgiving. After a big feast, the agent retired to the guest room. But he was soon awakened by shouts of joy from downstairs, where Blomberg’s parents were watching the tape of a game in which Ron hit two home runs.

According to Sheldon, they reacted as if they were actually at the game and didn’t know what would was going to happen. Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Blomberg still works out three hours a day and gives hitting clinics to youngsters. He also runs several baseball camps in Pennsylvania.

The best thing about him is that he’s funny – sometimes inadvertently funny. He’s big, friendly, and always willing to talk baseball. He looks like he could still hit but his eyes are starting to betray him. Still, he loves coming back to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers Day.

Blomberg, Al Clark, and I are exactly the same age, which made it easier to communicate. Clark, whose father Herb was a Trenton sportswriter, also hails from my home state of New Jersey.

Like Blomberg, he’s funny too – with an outsized sense of humor almost as loud as his voice. He’s actually done some minor-league games on the air and could have landed a major-league gig. He has a great memory and a great knowledge of the game.

Clark remembered everything – especially his bouts with argumentative managers – and had some choice words for Don Zimmer, Billy Martin, Dick Williams, and Frank Robinson.

He even told me that he once threw Robinson out of a game during the National Anthem. Clark had a rule that each day represented a fresh start and yesterday’s argument was old news. So when Robinson, then player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, came out to exchange lineups at home plate before the game, he unwisely continued an argument of the previous night.

Clark tossed him, an action that cost both men a fine and reprimand from the league. If he had to do it again, Clark said, he would have waited “until the xxx song ended.”

Like Blomberg, Clark was a character. He once threw his father out of the umpire’s room at Yankee Stadium – forgetting that he had come to the game from Trenton with his dad. The ride home, Clark revealed, was rather unpleasant.

Working with Al Clark included an invitation to stay in his home on a Williamsburg, VA golf course. The golf wasn’t so bad but his grandfather clock was; it bonged every hour on the hour, keeping me awake and forcing me to beg Al to silence it.

Clark was actually silenced himself; he went to a federal lock-up for four months after a conviction for mail fraud – something to do with certifying as authentic memorabilia that wasn’t and then mailing it.

Milo Hamilton didn’t have such adventures. But he was controversial in his own right.

He spent more than six decades in big-league broadcast booths, beginning with the St. Louis Browns but later with the Cardinals, Braves, Pirates, White Sox, Astros, and Cubs twice. He was also a star deejay for an oldies station in Chicago between baseball gigs. He later landed the Ford C. Frick Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, a much-coveted prize awarded in 1992.

Milo’s dulcet tones describing Hank Aaron’s 715th home run is always paired with the video even though Hamilton was broadcasting for a radio station, Atlanta’s WSB. Hamilton had arranged to take the mic every time Aaron came up so that he could announce the historic home run. Mild-mannered Ernie Johnson, his No. 2, was not pleased.

He had rifts with Aaron, Larry Dierker, and especially Harry Caray, with whom he shared a booth both in St. Louis and in Chicago. When Caray leaned out of the Wrigley Field booth to lead the fans in Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch, Hamilton stood on the catwalk outside the booth with his back facing Caray in protest.

When Milo’s comments about Caray were published in the book, they triggered a small inter-city newspaper war involving the Chicago Tribune and the Houston Chronicle. Since that helped sell books, it wasn’t such a bad thing. Skip Caray, however, did call Hamilton’s comments “a pack of lies.”

Hamilton fancied himself an epicurean who loved food so much that he served as an unpaid maitre ‘d at several Houston restaurants. An Iowa native, he was a closet St. Louis Cardinals fan whose Houston condo was filled with Stan Musial memorabilia. Yes, broadcasters are fans too.

Always prepared, Hamilton had a briefcase full of notes that he used for his broadcasts and for his book. Blomberg and Clark did not but the books still worked well enough to move from hardcover originals to paperback updates.

The ghost-writer’s job is to transcribe tapes, word-for-word, and then put the transcripts together in conversational form. To be a literary home run, a good baseball autobiography should make the reader feel he is in conversation with the subject.

The books discussed above were Designated Hebrew: the Ron Blomberg Story, Called Out But Safe: a Baseball Umpire’s Journey, and Making Airwaves: 60 Years at Milo’s Microphone.

Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writer
Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writerhttps://mlbreport.com/
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a national baseball writer for forbes.com; weekend editor of the Here’s The Pitch newsletter; columnist for Sports Collectors Digest; and contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Memories & Dreams, and many other outlets. He’s also the author of more than 40 books. His email is ballauthor@gmail.com.


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