Monday, July 22, 2013

Interview with John Rosengren

I had the pleasure of interviewing John Rosengren, author of "Greenberg."  I found his answers to the questions as interesting as the book.   I also appreciated the mention of the Twins stars of the 1960's and 1970's as he grew up worshipping the same players as I did.   Enjoy!

What inspired you to write “Greenberg”?
I read Josh Prager’s “The Echoing Green,” about Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world,” which made me curious about other dramatic, season-ending, pennant-clinching home runs. That led to an article about Hank Greenberg’s ninth inning grand slam on the final day of the 1945 season that clinched the pennant for the Tigers. While researching the article, I realized their was more to Greenberg’s life than one dramatic home run, in fact enough to fill a book. So I wrote it.

Describe your research for the book, including anything you wish to share about his family or friends whom you may have contacted during this process.
My research was exhaustive. After I’d written the proposal, I learned that another writer with a bigger name was working on a biography about Greenberg. In the best sense of competition, that pushed me to write a better book, which I knew would be dependent upon the amount of research I did and the sentences I composed out of that research. I talked to scores of people, from Greenberg’s family to surviving teammates and opponents. I culled fan letters and hate mail from the Tigers’ archives. I scoured court records for details of his divorce, his military records, his FBI file, his daily batting logs, his AL and NL transaction records, his personal scrapbooks and hundreds if not thousands of old newspaper articles. My research took me to the Detroit News archives, the Detroit Library, the American Jewish Historical Society in New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s research center, the New York Public Library and the Minneapolis Public Library. I obtained microfilm of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and other newspapers along with many, many books through the University of Minnesota’s Interlibrary Loan.

In the book, you address topics that can be considered controversial, such as the treatment of Jewish players by teammates and opponents.  Why did you choose to include them?
I wanted to chronicle the abuse Greenberg experience as a Jew to make people aware. The anti-Semitism rampant in America in the ‘30s and ‘40s when Greenberg played is not a chapter of American history frequently told. Exposing that through the story of a baseball player when baseball truly was the national pastime makes the history more significant, I think.

Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself – if you are a baseball/sports fan, why you became an author, and anything else you wish to share.
I have wanted to be a writer since my senior year in high school, when I took my first journalism class and my instructor encouraged me to write for the community paper. I found it satisfying to hear others talking about articles I wrote, especially those about an issue of social significance.  I’ve been writing ever since, over thirty years now. . . . I grew up going to baseball games with my dad at Met Stadium, watching the Twins of Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew vintage.  I inherited my love of the game from him.  I still play—though not very well—in a 35-over league. I also fell in love with hockey, tennis and football as a kid.  My affection for football has since cooled—players are too big, too violent—but I continue to play hockey and tennis as well.  I also became a cyclist along the way, racing competitively for a spell, but now I just ride so I can eat what I want.  I also follow those sports on the professional level, though I am more attracted to the narratives in them than the statistics or analysis.  That’s also where I find many of the stories I write about.

Do you have any projects or books that you are currently writing?
I’m currently writing a book about Juan Marichal and John Roseboro.  After their famous fight in 1965, when Roseboro threw a ball past Marichal’s face and Marichal clubbed Roseboro with his bat—an incident that reflected the violence occurring at the moment in society, i. e., the civil war in the Dominican and the Watts riots—the two men eventually reconciled and became friends.  Theirs became a story of forgiveness and redemption.

 Is there anything you wish to add, about the book or anything else?
I am happiest when I hear from readers who say, “I’m not a baseball fan, but I loved your book.”  That means I’ve been able to reach beyond the sport to something of substance that resonated with them.

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