Casey at the Bat
So before telling you a little bit about an amazing guy named Mike Shannon — not the Cardinals player and broadcaster Mike Shannon but another baseball icon — let’s give a quick update on the baseball negotiations.
I was going to go into some details about this stupid fight … but there was a report on Monday night from the lockout’s Batman and Robin — The Athletic’s Evan Drelich and Ken Rosenthal — that the owners might have come up from $220 million to $228 million for the first year on the luxury tax. That seems on the surface quite encouraging but we will have to see today if that’s a game-changer or not. The report says that “the league’s increase is said to have major strings attached,” and obviously we don’t know what that means. Will they make the players wear clown noses in extra innings? Will they demand the players pay for their own travel? Will they expand the playoffs to 32 teams — all 30 major league teams, and then two all-star teams put together by Draft Kings and Crypto? Will they dictate a rule change that allows teams to use a 10th fielder called “the middle linebacker,” whose responsibility will be to crunch any base runner off the bag?
So, yeah, we will have to wait and see what happens today. One thing we do know is that MLB says if no deal gets done today they will cancel games … but for real this time.
The whole thing just makes me so tired.
So let me tell you about someone who represents exactly what the owners and players for the most part just don’t understand about this incredible game.
Let me tell you a little bit about Mike Shannon.
There’s only so much I can tell you; Mike has lived a somewhat mysterious life. When we asked him to tell us about himself, he demurred, saying only that he has “had a lot of jobs.” We picked up through various hints that at one point he was a high school English teacher, at one point he worked for a bookstore chain, and that through the years he has written 20 or so baseball books, including the classic “Tales from the Dugout: The Greatest True Baseball Stories Every Told.”
Mike will tell you it was his one book that made any real money.
He was always crazy about baseball, always, from his earliest memory. Willie Mays was his guy. Maybe it’s because his mother’s name was Willie Mae. He played some high school ball in Jacksonville, played some college ball at a small school in North Carolina, and he held on to the dream of playing in the big leagues for much longer than logic permitted.
When the harsh reality of baseball became too obvious even for Mike, he started writing about baseball instead. He never liked writing itself; he would often say that baseball was the only topic he loved enough to push through the agony of writing. In 1979, he wrote a baseball story called “The Autograph Seeker,” and submitted it to a literary magazine in Cincinnati where it was read by a baseball kindred soul named Jim Harrison.
Two years later, in 1981, the two of them started something only two slightly unhinged and deeply devoted baseball fans could ever conceive: A Paris Review for baseball that they called Spitball Magazine. Spitball, in their mind’s eye, would feature baseball poetry, short stories, book reviews and art and so on.
And for the last 42 years, that’s exactly what Spitball has done.
Yes, Spitball still exists, it is still lovingly put out by Mike Shannon and a small staff of, yes, slightly unhinged and deeply devoted baseball fans. At last check, it has about 500 subscribers; Mike personally mails out each one.
Three years after starting Spitball, Mike and Jim came up with The Casey Award, to be given out to the best baseball book of the year — fiction, nonfiction and everything in between. The first Casey Award went to The Celebrant, Eric Rolfe Greenberg’s classic novel about Christy Mathewson. Three years later, it went to Bill James for his first Historical Baseball Abstract.
The Pitch that Killed. Lords of the Realm. Shut Out. Moneyball. Luckiest Man. We Are the Ship. On and on.
Through the years, it has become the National Book Award for baseball; I think it’s probably the most illustrious award given to sports books. And yes, I will admit to being just a little biased, since Mike and company have honored me with two Casey Awards — the second for The Baseball 100, which I received over the weekend in Cincinnati. But I will say: I’ve been lucky enough to win a lot of awards through the years, and though I’m deeply appreciative, I mostly keep them in a box in the attic. The Casey Award is different. The Casey Award is all heart.
Joe Blogs is a reader-supported venture. Free and paid versions are available. The best way to support us here is by taking out a paid subscription. And hey, we do have a lot of fun, so I hope you’ll come along.
But I don’t want all this unnecessary bragging to pull us away from the point here, which is that Mike Shannon, with the help of only a supportive family and baseball-loving friends, has kept Spitball and the Casey Award going for 40 years. It has never been easy. It has often been trying. It has never made him any money. He’s 70 now. He keeps going. That’s how much he loves baseball. That’s how deep his roots to the game run.
And it just makes no sense to me how little MLB seems to care about baseball fans like Mike Shannon. You would think that long ago, Major League Baseball would have given him an award and a grant to keep Spitball and The Casey Award alive and thriving forever. What would that cost MLB? Pocket change. Couch money. Less even than that.
And the benefits are infinite.
But MLB, as an entity, is probably not even AWARE of Spitball and The Casey Award, probably not even aware that Mike Shannon and so many people like him exist and promote the game and celebrate the game and salute the game out of nothing but love. If they are aware, they must simply take it for granted.
That contrast was so apparent in Cincinnati over the weekend. The Casey Awards were held in a strip mall sports bar called “Poor Richard’s” — where Mike’s daughter Megan* is head bartender — and there were hot dogs and beer served, and when the baseball trivia contest was held, pretty much every person in the bar was yelling out “Lefty Grove” and “Charlie Gehringer” and “Tony Gwynn,” like it was nothing at all.
*I just have to share this: Megan is the only one of Mike’s five children to not have a baseball name. If memory serves, his other kids are named Mickey, Casey, Babe and Nolan Ryan. There might be a Duke in there, I can’t remember for sure.
And to see just how much love for the game was in that crowded bar while simultaneously watching the baseball negotiations cough and wheeze on Twitter, well, it was a little bit inspirational and a little bit heartbreaking all at once. Dammit, do we ask for a lot as baseball fans? I don’t think so. All we ask is that the people who run the game act as if they like it. They don’t have to love it like we do. Just like it.