06/25/2008 12:45 PM ET
Was 1975 the 'Last Real Season'?
Writer Shropshire recalls an era before free agency
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Mike Shropshire fondly remembers a time when the relationship between baseball players and baseball writers was, well, a lot different than it is now.
"Everything's changed," says Shropshire, whose latest humorous memoir of his days as a Texas Rangers beat writer in the 1970s is called "The Last Real Season: A Hilarious Look Back at 1975 -- When Major Leaguers Made Peanuts, the Umpires Wore Red, and Billy Martin Terrorized Everyone (Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages)."
"Now the players are surrounded by agents and sub-agents and personal trainers and financial advisors, motivation gurus, probably bodyguards, interpreters and who knows what else," Shropshire says. "I can't imagine what it would be like as a reporter in that environment. Actually, I wouldn't even do it now."
He doesn't have to.
Shropshire's first book, "Seasons in Hell," was a memorable first-person account of daily beat coverage of the Rangers in 1972 for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It gained critical acclaim and served as the basis for the story that continues in "The Last Real Season."
There are anecdotes galore from the final Major League season before free agency took over. In those days the average salary was $27,600, which would have to be multiplied more than 10 times to reach the amount of the Major League minimum today.
Many of the stories center on Martin, the late, great manager whose fiery temper and habit of getting into trouble made him a perfect daily subject for the witty, observant pen of Shropshire.
There's Willie Davis, the quick outfielder who hummed Buddhist chants before games while sitting in the lotus position on the clubhouse floor.
And then there's Ferguson Jenkins, the eventual Hall of Fame pitcher who believed in sharing a good portion of his unique brand of generosity with not only his teammates but the writers and the front-office staff.
Along the way, Shropshire gets in some particularly memorable passages.
Of his first meeting with Martin, Shropshire writes, "I introduced myself to Martin, and I told him I'd be one of the persons who would be covering his team. 'Nice to meet you,' Billy's mouth said, while his eyes said, 'If we ever have any work-releated disagreements, I hope, for your sake, that you're not a hemophiliac.'"
After he watched the Detroit Tigers lose their 18th straight game, Shropshire says this is what happened: "I drank three bottles of Stroh's beer in less than a minute and wrote that 'Jimmy Hoffa will show up in the left field stands with Amelia Earhart as his date before the Tigers will win another game.'"
And his take on the then-struggling Chicago White Sox?
"The best player for the White Sox by 1975, far and away, was Nancy Faust, who played the organ with style and verve at the otherwise dismal and ancient ballpark where the team performed on the South Side," Shropshire wrote.
To write "The Last Real Season," Shropshire used the same technique that worked so successfully on "Seasons in Hell." He spent days and days in public libraries in Dallas and Fort Worth, looked up microfilms of his daily stories, and let the situations in the games and cities open up his memory.
"I'd go down there and sit among these people drinking cherry vodka while going through the Bible and marking it up with yellow highlighter pens and then bathing in the toilet stalls," Shropshire says. "It was definitely an adventure.
"But going through all of that stuff was like unlocking a door. All of a sudden, I'd remember Spring Training. Or a Cleveland dateline would jar something. And then I'd see certain quotes from Billy where he was angry about something, and then I could also very easily visualize what was going on in that room and what he was saying."
Shropshire says he didn't intend to make any kind of bold declaration about the state of the game today vs. how it was 33 years ago.
"I didn't want to really make any points," he says. "I just wanted to kind of tell it like it was."
He adds that he's still a fan even though the game and society have changed.
"The big business that surrounds the media and politics and entertainment and sports is being morphed into one mass media ball to the extent that I don't watch that much sports anymore," Shropshire says. "But I'm not trying to paint a somber picture of what's going on today.
"At the end of the thing, I'd like to think that this book is a kind of diary that when you finally get to the end of it, it's nice little composite of snapshots. It's sort of a little jigsaw puzzle that shows a picture of an era where you had simple and happy people standing in the sunshine."
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.