Jul 28

“The Summer of Beer and Whiskey” Author Ed Achorn, Does SJ


Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Author Edward Achorn, recently took time out of his very busy schedule to answer

some fan questions at Sportsjabber. If you haven’t read the book you are missing out.  You can find out more about him and other books he’s written here… http://www.edwardachorn.com/

So enjoy the questions and answers below, and be sure to check him out.
Reveryroadie: What made you choose this particular year to focus on for your book?

I love this early season for “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey” because, even more than most, it is packed with colorful characters and stories, and features a nail-biting pennant race that went down to the last weekend of the season. And virtually nobody outside of the most intrepid baseball history buffs knew about it.

Lee: How much of the story were you familiar with before researching for the book?

Before my research, essentially nothing. Digging deep into the microfilm – I went back to daily newspapers from all the major cities in the Library of Congress — I kept getting big smiles across my face because I kept coming across amazing incidents that I had never heard. I knew I was onto something special.

LarryBud: How intense was the conflict between the owners of the National League teams and the new owners in the American Association? Did it get violent? Were there great stories about these conflicts?

There was no violence that I know of. But there was a very bitter war of words that got nasty and personal, and the leagues went out of their way to steal each other’s players. The National League, which had been founded in 1876, was trying to rebuild baseball’s reputation. Baseball’s reputation had gone into the sewer because gambling had corrupted the game, and gamblers, rowdies and prostitutes infested the ballparks.
The National League resolved to offer a more wholesome game, through a high admission price of 50 cents (to keep the riffraff out), no liquor sales at the park, and no Sunday games. It also maintained a blacklist against rowdy players and the reserve clause, which bound a player to one franchise and kept down salaries.

Along came the American Association, called the Beer and Whiskey League because it was backed by liquor interests and was far looser. It charged only 25 cents’ admission, sold beer and had Sunday games. That reflected the spirit of immigrants who had flooded in large numbers into American Association cities. They liked Sunday outings and relaxation with their families, including a beer, rather than the stern and silent Lord’s Day of the first settlers in America. That includes in St. Louis, where a German immigrant grocer named Chris Von der Ahe founded the St. Louis Cardinals franchise, hoping to sell a lot of beer. He made a fortune from baseball after a series of native-born Americans had failed.

National League President William Hulbert, essentially the czar of baseball, was appalled and said very cutting things about the Association and strived to strangle it in the cradle. American Association backers thundered against the League, and one Philadelphia writer longed to write Hulbert’s obit, a pretty nasty thing to say when he was dying of heart disease.

Jerry: Oftentimes, truth is stranger than fiction. Was that the case in this particular instance?

Oh yes, just pick up “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey” and consider the crazy twists and turns of this season. I love the way Chris Von der Ahe’s personality influenced the outcome, as well as the drunkenness of the players. I love the sudden appearance of a college star, Jumping Jack Jones, who had the craziest pitching motion in baseball history.

Jerry: Were things more over the top back then as opposed to now, or did we just not hear about it because the over saturation of sports media hadn’t happened yet?

Well, in my view, the spirit of baseball remains remarkably the same. There were crazy, funny players then, and there are now. But I think modern baseball has a much more efficient and corporate quality, and it has buffed off some of the sharp edges. Also, baseball is amazing in its ability to tell you an immense amount about American culture any time you look at it. So when you look at the 1880s, you see a time of rugged individualism, no union protection, very tough men striving to survive in a difficult game. That gives it the nasty, rough cast that much of America had in that explosively creative period, when our country transformed the world technologically and laid the foundations for becoming the world’s superpower.

Deb: Who were your baseball heroes growing up?

Well, I fell in love with baseball as a little kid in 1967 – I’m old! – rooting for the Impossible Dream Red Sox. So that story of impossible twists and turns no doubt influenced my love of the 1883 season! I loved Jim Lonborg, the scrappiness of Rico Petrocelli, the power of George Scott, the brilliance of Carl Yastrzemski. I loved the tough, little known players, like Jerry Adair, who could make amazing contributions. But my other heroes were early baseball stars I had picked out of the Baseball Encylopedia, like Old Hoss Radbourn, who I wrote about in my last book (“Fifty-nine in ’84”).

Deb: I can’t wait to read the book. Do you have any ideas for your next book?

I’d actually like to go on to Abraham Lincoln — talk about stranger than fiction! — and write about part of his career using the same techniques here: a strong narrative, stripping away myth through use of original sources, plenty of color and giving readers a “you are there” feel. Sports and politics sometimes are not all that far apart.