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Conversations with Clayton: David Krell

Author of 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK

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Kennedy Throws Out The First Ball Photo by Photoquest/Getty Images

In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” I talk with author and journalist David Krell. Krell’s latest book, 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK will be released on May 1st by the University of Nebraska Press. You can pre-order on Amazon at the link above.

In a wide-ranging discussion, David and I talk about the ‘62 season, the Houston Colt .45s, and Shea Stadium.

Clayton Trutor (CT): What drew you to writing about the 1962 season?

David Krell (DK): It had never been done. I’ve read books about 1921, 1947, 1968, 1969, 1973, and 1986. There have been terrific books covering the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. But the totality of 1962 was a rich, unexplored year in baseball scholarship: National League expansion, a rare NL playoff, five no-hitters, Maury Wills setting a new stolen-base record, Dodger Stadium’s début, and an epic World Series between the Giants and Yankees.

Besides baseball, 1962 was a critical year for the country: John Glenn became the first astronaut to orbit the earth, JFK faced down Russia in the Cuban Missile Crisis, To Kill a Mockingbird brought the realities of racism to movie screens, Marilyn Monroe’s death at 36 shocked movie fans around the world, and Rachel Carson introduced the dangers of pesticides in her book Silent Spring.

I wanted to bring these elements together.

CT: What surprised you the most in your research?

DK: The story of the Houston Colt .45s was an eye-opener. I hadn’t seen it covered in depth, so I began with George Kirksey’s archives at the University of Houston. What a treasure trove!

Kirksey was a public-relations guy who helped form the Houston Sports Association, which brought Houston a major-league franchise. His collection includes press releases, demographic studies, and team newsletters.

It’s a great business tale that required the city’s movers and shakers to combine forces. Houston had been a remarkable minor-league city up to that point with the Buffaloes, but the major-league status plus being NASA’s headquarters during the excitement surrounding the Mercury missions in the early 1960s enhanced Houston’s fame.

CT: Can you describe your writing process?

DK: It begins with research. In addition to the University of Houston, I went to the John Glenn Archives at The Ohio State University, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. I spent several hours on the ProQuest and newspapers.com databases researching contemporaneous news articles in addition to microfilm of newspapers from 1962 at the New York Public Library.

It’s incredibly important to stay organized, whether through manila folders for printed materials or virtual folders on your computer. I spend a lot of time frontloading the organization of research so I can find what I need in a few seconds during the drafting stage.

Then, I start outlining different topics, subtopics, and sub-sub topics. The outlines will change as more research becomes available. But they serve as good starting points.

When I write, I try to focus on one thing per day. It might be condensing an interview excerpt, checking the citation format of a chapter’s footnotes, or beginning a draft of the section covering the three-game NL playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers. Also, I double whatever amount of time I think the book will take to complete.

CT: What impact did expansion have on the 1962 baseball season?

DK: Houstonians got their first chance to see the NL stars. For New Yorkers mourning the losses of the Dodgers and the Giants to California, they got the chance to see their favorite legends again when NL teams came on road trips to play the Mets. Willie Mays, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Eddie Mathews had long been gone from their scorecards. Even though the Mets were 40-120 in ’62, and the Colt .45s were 64-96, this was a terrific emotional boon for their fans.

CT: When you hear the word “Cincinnati,” you think of ___________?

DK: WKRP

CT: Describe the worst seats you’ve ever had at a sporting event.

DK: If your favorite team is playing, there’s no such thing as a bad seat.

CT: What do you envision in the coming years for the New York Mets?

DK: I hope that there will be a deeper acknowledgment of Mets history from the front office, beginning with photos of great moments displayed in Citi Field’s rotunda. I’m glad that the Wilpons honored Jackie Robinson by naming the rotunda after this legend. But the Mets have been in existence for nearly 60 years and that history deserves to be represented.

When you enter the rotunda, you should know which team belongs to the stadium. Presently, there’s nary a photo of a Mets player. It’s possible that this could change in the Steve Cohen regime.

Koosman’s two victories in the 1969 World Series, Mike Piazza’s home run in the first MLB game after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, Dave Kingman’s towering home runs, Tom Seaver’s right knee touching the dirt after releasing the ball, Dwight Gooden’s phenomenal rookie season, and Jacob deGrom’s pitching mastery are just a few examples that could be signified.

We’re hearing that Banner Day may return. Back in the day, fans made banners and they were allowed them to parade them on the field before a game. Maybe the Mets will have another beagle mascot named Homer! They had one during the early days of the team. I’d also like to see the Mets bring back Old Timers Day.

Citi Field will soon have a statue of Tom Seaver. It would be great to honor original Mets owner Joan Payson and William Shea with statues. When the Dodgers and Giants left New York City for California, Mayor Robert Wagner appointed Shea—a well-known and deeply respected attorney—to help secure a major-league team. The Continental League was born from those efforts.

Even though the CL never got off the ground, it led to MLB expansion with the Mets, Colt .45s (later Astros), Angels, and the second incarnation of the Senators. Payson had been a minority owner of the Giants before they moved to San Francisco. Without Payson and Shea, who knows how long New York would have waited for another NL team?

CT: What do you miss about Shea Stadium?

DK: The blue and orange panels on the exterior. When I was growing up, that was the version of the stadium until 1980.

Follow David Krell on Twitter: @davidkrell

Go pre-order his fantastic new book, 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK, immeditately.