There’s No Procrastinating In Baseball
Guest post by Michael Sokolow
My book Bush League, Big City took me twenty years to write, and it was never meant to take that long. The idea for the project came from an evening class in Urban Planning that my wife was taking in 2002, while I stayed home and handled bedtimes for our three small children. The course was taught by a New York City planner from Staten Island, and it discussed a brand-new minor league stadium built there by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani as a case study. I grew intrigued and decided to pursue this intriguing story of Staten Island’s Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Within a few months my study grew to encompass a companion facility built at the same time: Keyspan Park at Steeplechase in Coney Island, less than three miles from the Brooklyn community college where I taught as a professor.
For the next decade I worked steadily on my research. I assembled and examined materials from New York City’s municipal archives and published records, read dozens of books and articles about professional baseball, and chased down hundreds if not thousands of press articles from the previous two decades. In one extraordinary summer of 2006 I drove the family minivan all over the Northeast to at least a half-dozen remote towns and communities in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Canada, and the Massachusetts Berkshires. There I interviewed team owners, general managers, front-office personnel, and the Finance Minister of Ontario, all of whom were honest, forthcoming, and unstintingly generous with their time. I also attended at least a dozen baseball games, all in the name of “research.” I presented my work at conferences, at my college and even at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
By the year 2012 or so I had completed three-and-a-half chapters about the early history of the New York-Penn League (established in 1939), and identified and compiled research on several small-town teams that comprised part of the history behind the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees. I was happy in my work, and was sure as I could be that the book would be done within the next year. My manuscript would tell a tale of baseball success for a pair of highly visible teams and a scrappy short-season Class A league that happened to be the oldest continuously-running league in the history of minor league baseball. And then everything just stopped, and I caught an unyielding case of writer’s block that lasted for eight years.
I could not seem to move the story or the writing forward. I became busy with my membership on up to seventeen College and University committees, scribing their tedious Agendas, Minutes and reports rather than my book. Even as I berated myself for my uncharacteristic procrastination, I could not figure out what was holding me back. Then in 2020 came Covid-19.
With the onset and duration of a massive lockdown, my work life became much more streamlined and less hectic. Outside commitments dwindled away to nothing, and I spent a lot of time walking in circles around my dining room table. Most significantly, Major League Baseball used this enforced furlough to unilaterally contract much of the minor league system – including the New York-Penn League and the Staten Island Yankees franchise – out of existence. Suddenly I realized what I’d been waiting for all along. My story finally had an ending, and a very clear-cut and dramatic ending at that.
Between November 2020 and June 2022 I reedited my first three chapters and wrote nine more in a frenzy of pandemic-induced productivity. I took and assembled photographs for the book, reexamined every source I had and discovered new ones online, and powered through the story I had always wanted to tell. I also took stock of the losses suffered since I started the project two decades earlier. Most of the teams I’d once seen in action had been eliminated or transformed beyond recognition, many small towns lost long-standing connections to professional baseball, and several people I interviewed and deeply admired passed away, including my late father. In addition, virtually all of the online content once posted by Minor League Baseball and its contracted teams had been scrubbed and taken down, and I blessed my good fortune that I’d saved copies of everything years before the purge took place. It seemed like no time before the manuscript was completed, a publishing contract was signed, and I was wrapping up the Acknowledgements and Index.
Researching and writing Bush League, Big City turned out to be one of the greatest experiences and accomplishments of my professional life. I hope that my telling does justice to the story, which is absolutely epic and features multiple larger-than-life figures. The book’s publication also happens to take place exactly twenty years after the release of my first book. I don’t yet know what my next project will be, but if past experience is any example then look for it to be published in or around the year 2043.
Michael Sokolow is Associate Professor of History at Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York. He is the author of Charles Benson: Mariner of Color in the Age of Sail.