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Tackling baseball history, bit by bit
07/23/2008 11:28 AM ET
When you sit down with author Dan Schlossberg to talk about his new book, it's tough to get in a sentence before he's dusting off yet another remarkable fact associated with the game he loves, fresh from its pages.

The book's called "Baseball Bits: The Best Stories, Facts, and Trivia from the Dugout to the Outfield" (Penguin Group USA, 272 pages), and Schlossberg, a longtime journalist and author with more than 20 baseball books in his resume, says it's the culmination of years and years of collecting -- and good-naturedly "thieving" -- information.

"I enjoy books like this," Schlossberg says. "When I read the newspaper, the very first thing I look at is the team-by-team nuggets every day. And also 'This Date in Baseball History.' You see a lot of things there that you can save and use.

"And I listen to games every day, maybe a few innings, plus I go to a lot of games and talk to writers. All winter long, I'm talking baseball."

As a result, Schlossberg has millions of facts stored in his head, and now many of them are displayed in this jam-packed book, the type of read that rewards you with something new every time you pick it up.

For example, within about 30 seconds, Schlossberg rips off two choice items from "Baseball Bits."

"Barry Bonds, the year he hit his 73 home runs, hit his 53rd on the 53rd anniversary of Babe Ruth's death," Schlossberg says. "But it gets a lot more interesting. Ruth had been 53 when he died, and it was the 53rd multi-homer game of Bonds' career. Not to mention the fact that the final score was 5-3.

"And then there's Mickey Lolich, who pitched for the 1968 world champion Tigers. He was a great left-handed pitcher, but he became a lefty because he fell off a tricycle at age 3 and hurt his right arm."

Baseball Bookshelf

For every random, seemingly obscure fact that Schlossberg uncovered -- and there are plenty -- he admits that "some are pretty well-known."

"Most people know that Sandy Koufax is the only guy to win the Cy Young Award in his last season," Schlossberg says, "but Roger Clemens is the only 20-game winner in history without a complete game in a 20-win season (2001 with the New York Yankees). To me, that's amazing. It shows you how the game has changed."

The book is divided into 10 chapters, including "Big Events," "Deals and Steals," "BallTalk" and "Color, Clout and Controversy."

Schlossberg says for every hour he's listened to baseball sages such as Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox talk baseball before games, he's spent 10 hours going leafing through the scrapbooks he has kept for years.

"For years I had one for each division, plus the Minor Leagues," Schlossberg says. "In the days before computers, that was the way to do it."

Now, with "Baseball Bits" in stores, fans can have their own scrapbooks and they won't get paper cuts or newsprint all over their hands.

"I like to think it's the great American baseball bathroom book," Schlossberg says. "Pick it up, read it all the way through and read it backwards, too."

The desired effect of the book, the writer says, is not to win gentlemen's bets -- although that certainly is possible -- but to get your friends and colleagues to say, "Gee, I didn't know that."

"It's amazing," Schlossberg says. "It's like little kids doing one-upsmanship, sharing information, learning and sharing. And it's been in the making for a long time."

Nothing is off limits in books like this, Schlossberg says, and once again he comes up with more intriguing information from the book.

"Did you know that Mookie Wilson, who happens to be Preston Wilson's uncle and stepfather, married Preston's mom, who had been Mookie's sister-in-law?"

And while you're trying to figure out what that means, he's right back with a few more.

"Walter Johnson won 416 games and didn't drink at all, but he was discovered by a traveling liquor salesman."

"John Olerud, who was a very slow runner, hit for the cycle twice in his career. And everybody knows that the triple is the most difficult hit to get in the cycle. Well, both times Olerud hit for the cycle, that triple was the only three-base hit he had that year."

"Ron Gant hit the only home run in Hawaii. Three Major League games were played there and he hit the only home run there in the three games."

"Oh, and Don Mattingly, for all the Yankee fans out there, he set the record by hitting six grand slams in 1987, but he played eight more years and didn't hit another one."

Schlossberg says the facts you'll find in "Baseball Bits" can't be found in baseball record books and that if you tried to locate all of them somewhere else, "you'd have to read every encyclopedia."

He then mentions a few more, such as the time Honus Wagner brought his dog to a game in 1912, the dog was in the dugout, Wagner got into an argument with the umpire, and the dog got mad and bit the umpire.

"That's a true story," Schlossberg says. "You'd never believe it, but it's true."

Thankfully, "Baseball Bits" has compiled reams of hardball history with nuances and anecdotes that turn the boxscores upside down.

"I think people really need to know more about baseball history, and this book will help them," Schlossberg says.

"This is the kind of stuff you cannot find in a media guide or anywhere. That's the point. This book is different."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.