SABR and the Seymour Medal

1996 Seymour Medal

The first award for a Seymour Medal winning book was presented at SABR’s annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1996, where David Zang won the Medal for his book on Fleet Walker, the first known black player in the majors. David couldn’t attend, but a representative of his publisher accepted the award for him.

Finalists that year were Charles Alexander’s biography of Rogers Hornsby, David Falkner’s biography of Jackie Robinson, William Humber’s book on Canadian baseball, David Nemec’s book on the American Association, and Henry W. Thomas’s biography of Walter Johnson. Their books thus became the first list of distinguished books to be recognized by the nominating committee. For more on these books, see the 1996 section of The Winners!

1997 Seymour Medal

The second award to a Seymour-Medal winning book came in 1997 at SABR’s annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Arthur Hittner received the Medal for his biography of Honus Wagner. Finalists that year were Marty Appel’s biography of Mike “King” Kelly, Dennis and Jeanne Burke DeValeria’s book on Wagner, Carl E. Prince’s book on the Dodgers, and G. Edward White’s book on fifty years of baseball history. For more on these books, see the 1997 section of The Winners!

1998 Seymour Medal

In 1998 the third award to a Seymour-Medal-winning book was Patrick Harrigan’s work on the Detroit Tigers, during a ceremony that took place during SABR’s annual convention in San Mateo, California. Finalists in 1998 were Greg Rhodes and John Erardi for their book about Cincinnati, Alan M. Klein for his book on Mexican baseball, Arnold Rampersad for his biography of Jackie Robinson, and Lyle Spatz for his team history of the Yankees. For more on these books, see the 1998 section of The Winners!

1999 Seymour Award Conference

In 1999 SABR began hosting a separate Seymour Conference in Cleveland, to award the fifth Seymour Medal. I was there to see Bruce Markusen accept the award for his book on Finley’s Oakland team. The conference theme, occurring as it did on the 80th anniversary of the throwing of the world Series, was “Baseball’s Bad Guys.” Dr. Charles C. Alexander (a 1996 Seymour Award finalist) gave the Keynote Address.

Other major presenters at this conference included Peter C. Bjarkman, author of several books on Latin baseball, David Shiner, author of a work on Jackie Robinson, and Fred Schuld, who has published several articles on baseball. Book finalists that year were Leonard Koppett’s history of the majors, David Pietrusza’s biography of Judge Landis, William J. Ryczek’s story of the post-Civil War baseball boom, David Stevens’ biography of John Montgomery Ward, and David Voigt’s history of an outlaw league. For more on these books, see the 1999 section of The Winners!

2000 Seymour Award Conference

I was able to attend the ceremony in Cleveland in the year 2000, a Seymour Conference marked by a visit to the Western Reserve Historical Society, where SABR announced that the Historical Society would serve as the repository for its archives.

At this Conference ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian spoke on his sports work. Other speakers included Roberta Newman, a professor of the humanities at NYU; Tom Heitz, currently a consultant and formerly librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame; Lawrence Ritter, author; and William McMahon, a college professor who has written on sports. A panel on research resources was presented by James L. Gates, director of the library at The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; Steve Gietschier, archivist for the Sporting News; Larry Ritter, author; Chuck Piotrowski, then assistant curator of Manuscripts at the Historical Society; Mike Sparrow, librarian at the Cleveland Public Library; and me.

Bill Marshall won the award for his book on the history of an era pivotal in baseball, 1945-51. When Bill and I had our picture taken together by Photographer-SABR member Barry Evans, I never saw an author happier. That year also marked the first time a book won recognition for “Honorable Mention”: R.G. (Hank) Utley’s and Scott Verner’s book on the independent Carolina Baseball League. Finalists that year were Bruce Adelson’s book on the integration of minor-league ball in the South, J. Thomas Hetrick’s book on Von der Ahe’s Browns, Bryan DiSalvatore’s biography of John Montgomery Ward, Roberto Gonzales-Echevarria’s book on Cuban ball, and Mark Rucker’s and Peter Bjarkman’s story of Cuban ball. For more on these books, check the 2000 section of The Winners!

2001 Seymour Award Conference

In 2001 I watched Jules Tygiel accept the award and many congratulations in Cleveland for his book, Past Time, Baseball as History. At this Seymour Conference, major speakers included author David Shiner; photographer-historian Tom Bathel; researcher John Brady; and baseball museum directors Dave Chase, Raymond Dosell, Tom Eakin, Ted Spencer, and Bob Zimmer. Keynote speaker was Pat Williams of the Orlando Magic, who spoke on Bill Veeck.

Again another book received special recognition when the committee named a “Runner-Up” for the Medal: Reed Browning’s biography of Cy Young. And there were five other finalists: David W. Anderson’s story about the year of the Merkle play, Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of Joe DiMaggio, Jim Kaplan’s biography of Lefty Grove, Wendy Knickerbocker’s biography of Billy Sunday, Gabriel Schechter’s story of Victory Faust, and Glenn Stout’s and Richard A. Johnson’s story of the Red Sox. For more on these books, check the 2001 section of The Winners!

2002 Seymour Award Conference

At this momentous conference, the new baseball history web site,, went live on the internet. I announced its opening, with Ralph Wallace, the web designer and webmaster, first thing Saturday morning, May 4, at Cleveland’s Radisson Hotel, site of the Conference. I showed several transparencies with examples from the site. The audience clapped their approval.

Proceedings opened late Friday afternoon at Bob Zimmer’s Baseball Heritage Museum on East Fourth Street, where Bob and his staff displayed many unique baseball photos, programs, publications, and artifacts.

In this setting the members registered for the Conference, picked up their programs and some refreshments, then enjoyed an hour of talking baseball with a group of baseball authors and buying autographed books. Borders furnished the books, which were available at a discount, and both SABR and the Museum gained some benefit.

Authors on hand included Seymour Medal finalists Robert Burk, author of Much More Than a Game, and Martin Kohout, author of Hal Chase.

Others were David Fleitz, author of Shoeless, William Cooke, author of The 1919 World Series, What Really Happened? and Curt Smith, author of Storied Stadiums, Voices of the Game, and What Baseball Means to Me. They also included Dorothy Jane Mills, widow and long-time collaborator of Dr. Harold Seymour, for whom the Conference is named, signing Baseball: The People’s Game, along with books she wrote independently.

To set the tone of the meetings and entertain everyone, Tim Wiles, Director of Research for the Library of the Hall of Fame, performed and recited Casey at the Bat.

Most participants then adjourned to the Radisson Hotel, where much of the rest of the Conference was held. Ralph Wallace adjourned to his computer, where, with Dorothy Mills, he stayed up late making last-minute adjustments to so that it would be on the internet by morning.

At 9:00 A.M. Saturday morning Dorothy Jane Mills announced the opening of and described what it offered to researchers and fans. She used transparencies to illustrate some parts of the site. Ralph Wallace spoke about the way the site would develop further.

In other presentations, Trey Strecker presented a paper about the heroes of early baseball fiction; David Fleitz spoke on the Honor Roll of Baseball; Michael Marsh presented a paper about the sportswriter A.S. “Doc” Young; and Tim Wiles and Brooke Horvath told about their new book of baseball poetry. After a lunch break, many convention attendees walked to the Cleveland Public Library to hear a presentation by Brian Meggitt about the famous Mears Collection there.

Re-convening at the Radisson that evening to enjoy the Conference’s keynote address, attendees heard a presentation by author Bill James on his statistical work. Then Frederick Ivor-Campbell presented the Seymour Medal to Tom Melville for his winning book, Baseball and the Rise of the National League.

While they were in town, some Conference-goers saw the Indians play at Jacobs Field. Others took a tour of old League Park, where the Cleveland Club once played. The Indians, who sponsor the Seymour Conference, won two games that weekend! For more on these books, check the 2002 section of The Winners!

2003 Seymour Award Conference

The Conference opened in Cleveland May 2-4 with an autographing session at the Baseball Heritage Museum that included the Seymour Medal winner, Dr. Charles C. Alexander, for his new book Breaking the Slump (Columbia University Press); Jon David Cash, author of Before They Were Cardinals (University of Missouri Press); David Fleitz, author of Louis Sockalexis (McFarland); Charles Korr, author of The End of Baseball as We Knew It (University of Illinois Press); and David Anderson, author of More Than Merkle. I autographed copies of the three Seymour volumes, Baseball: The Early Years; Baseball: The Golden Age; and Baseball: People’s Game, as well as two newly-republished children’s books that I had brought with me.

Three other finalists couldn’t make it: Howard Bryant, whose book Shut Out (Routledge) is a history of race and baseball in Boston; Leslie Heaphy, who wrote a history of the Negro Leagues for McFarland; and Joseph A. Reaves, whose book, Taking in a Game, for the University of Nebraska Press, is a history of baseball in Asia.
Special guest for the occasion was Ferguson Jenkins, former star pitcher and now head of the new Canadian Baseball League. I boasted to Fergie that his organization and I shared the same web designer, the noted Ralph Wallace of Chicago.
Some of us authors were then drawn away to be interviewed on videotape by Bill Needle for his pre-game program, “Tribe Talk,” for airing on Cleveland’s Fox cable station May 13 just before the Indians-Mariners game.

With Executive Director John Zajc presiding over the series of presentations on Saturday, May 3, at the Radisson Gateway Hotel, I opened by updating those present on and explaining its new features and plans for the future. I also announced that I had signed a contract with McFarland to write my baseball memoirs.

Most of the presentations of the day, in keeping with the Ohio Centennial year, centered around Ohio events in baseball history. Richard McBane, formerly of the Akron Beacon-Journal, explained how the Akron team of 1881 gained its reputation as the strongest non-league team in the country (a phenomenon also mentioned in Baseball: The Early Years, page 136). David Fleitz, author of a popular biography of Shoeless Joe Jackson as well as one of Louis Sockalexis (both of which biographies became Seymour Medal finalists), gave us details of the historic exhibition games in Toledo in which Fleet Walker, the first black American to play in a major-league baseball game (as mentioned in Baseball: The Early Years, page 334) suffered discrimination at the hands of the famed Chicago manager (and bigot) Cap Anson.

Another Ohio-based story came from David Anderson, who has tracked down the history of the famous trainer of ball players known as Bonesetter Reese (mentioned on page 131 of Baseball: The Golden Age). Bill McMahon, a professor at the University of Akron, explained the development of the farm system in the Cleveland and Cincinnati teams. Jeff Powers-Beck, a history professor at Eastern Tennessee State, presented the story of the famous independent team, the Nebraska Indians, who unlike the Cleveland Indians, were REAL native Americans. Trey Strecker, an English professor at Ball State University, discussed the significance of Charles Van Loan’s baseball stories of the early 1900s, which I recall reading with interest long ago in the New York Public Library.

Keynote speaker for the meetings was Mike Sowell, a sports columnist from Oklahoma and author of The Pitch That Killed and One Pitch Away. While giving us the dramatic story of Ray Chapman’s death from a ball pitched by Carl Mays, he reverted often to the Ohio theme by telling about his research in the renowned collections of the Cleveland Public Library, where I too have spent many hours of my time.

The last item on the agenda was the presentation of the Seymour Medal to Dr. Charles C. Alexander for Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era. Dr. Alexander, in his acceptance speech, paid tribute to the Seymour legacy. He stated firmly that “none of us would be in this room today without Harold Seymour’s work.” When I congratulated Dr. Alexander, our handshake was recorded in a photo by Barry Evans of Chicago, who always snaps important moments at these conferences.

On this occasion the other Seymour Medal finalists were also recognized appropriately for their achievement when Isaac Brooks, representing the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, presented each finalist with a CD about Ohio history.

For more on these books, check the 2003 section of The Winners!

2004 Seymour Award Conference

This session opened at the Western Reserve Historical Society with the popular meet-and-greet. Members renewed connections and enjoyed new contacts while enjoying refreshments made available by Executive Director John Zajc’s committee.

An online baseball bookstore called furnished books by baseball authors for members to browse and/or buy. The baseball books available for perusal included those of the Medal winner, Peter Morris, along with those of Paul Dickson, James Elfers, Steve Wood, Steven Pincus, Dorothy Jane Mills, and also of Burton and Benita Boxerman. James Elfers, whose book The Tour to End All Tours made the finals for this year’s Medal, was also in attendance at the autographing sessions that followed the book-browsing.

At this meeting Scott Longert, Sports Archivist for the Western Reserve Historical Society, spoke briefly about the holdings of the Society that are available to researchers. WRHS is also the home of the SABR research materials. Then Morris Eckhouse, a member of the Award committee, announced the Medal-winning book, Baseball Fever, by Peter Morris, and presented Peter with the coveted award. Dorothy Jane Mills congratulated Peter for joining the list of authors whose books are recognized as being in the Seymour tradition of excellence in baseball research and writing.

One of the new attendees at the Conference this year was Blair Lovern, who took over the management of from Ralph Wallace, the site’s designer.

An unusual feature of this Conference was the unexpected appearance of Dr. Harold Seymour’s son, Earle Prevost, with his wife Diane and his son George. Earle and his family flew to Cleveland from their home in South Carolina to attend the meetings in which Dorothy’s book, A Woman’s Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour, would be presented.

At the time of Dr. Seymour’s final illness, Earle and Dorothy began corresponding. They remained in touch but before this 2004 Seymour Medal Conference had not seen each other in person for about 55 years! Earle, although adopted long ago by a stepfather, learned as an adult about his biological father’s work in baseball history with Dorothy. When A Woman’s Work was published just before the Conference, Earle read the book with much interest, deciding to learn more by attending this year’s Seymour Conference.

The meetings resumed Saturday morning at the Radisson Gateway with presentations by several researchers. The series of talks opened with an illustrated speech by Dorothy Jane Mills explaining why her new book, A Woman’s Work, was published, and dispelling some misconceptions about it. Read the text of Dorothy’s presentation here.

Dorothy’s talk was followed with a speech by Phil Lowry, the author of Green Cathedrals, who presented his research on the strange happenings during games that last after one o’clock in the morning, continue for twenty or more innings, or go on for six or more hours. His entertaining presentation was entitled “Long Night’s Journey into Morning.”

After Phil’s talk the members heard David Surdam, an economist, present the results of his study of the factors in the decline of minor-league baseball. Was the televising of major-league games really the culprit? Not exactly, explained David, who gave additional reasons based on careful statistical analysis.

David’s presentation was followed by that of Ron Briley, a history teacher and author of baseball articles, who analyzed Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, showing it to be as much a product of the anti-establishment sixties and the counterculture of that time as it was a revelation of behind-the-scenes baseball.

Then the conference members heard Jeffrey Sackmann, a musician as well as baseball researcher, present the history of a unique amateur team, the Madison, Wisconsin, Capital City Base Ball Club, and oller-coaster fortunes over the years 1865-1870.

After lunch, David Anderson, researcher and author, analyzed for the members that famous “Curse of the Bambino,” which supposedly haunted the Boston Red Sox and prevented them from becoming World Series winners. He explained why the story of Harry Frazee’s needing to sell Ruth to raise money for his musical, “No, No, Nanette,” is a myth.

Dave’s enlightening presentation was followed by another analysis, this one of the long dispute between Charlie Finley and Bowie Kuhn. The speakers were Roger Launius, a Smithsonian space historian, and G. Michael Green, a political scientist with NASA. Launius and Green explored the position of the two well-known baseball combatants and offered a revisionist interpretation of the incidents involved in the fights between them.

The keynote speaker, Paul Dickson, a freelance writer, made the final presentation of the day. Paul’s books on baseball language and other communication topics have long informed and entertained serious baseball fans.