Friday, June 6, 2008

That One Subject

When I started out writing for kids on Scholastic’s magazines, I used to dream of finding one subject that I could claim as my own. I wanted something I could sink my teeth into, gathering research and interviews and finally, writing an original book that reflected my intimate knowledge and my passion for the topic. It was a dream that came true. After a few false starts, I found my subject on pages 131-132 of a book called First of All: Significant “Firsts” by American Women, by Joan McCullough. The short write-up highlighted “The 1st women’s baseball leagues,” focusing primarily on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) started by Philip K. Wrigley in 1943. As a long-time baseball fan and women’s history major, I was astonished that I had never heard of the league. The day after I found that notation, I got on a bus and headed to the college library closest to my home (at Jersey City State) to start collecting everything I could find about the league.

That was in 1981, and after writing articles about the AAGPBL throughout the 80s, I finally finished my book, A Whole New Ball Game, in 1993. By then Penny Marshall’s 1992 movie, A League of Their Own, had piqued the public’s curiosity about the All-American, and teachers and their students in particular embraced the chance to learn the true story of these pioneering women. After 15 years, the paperback edition of the book is still in print, and the kids’ volumes on the subject could fill the better part of a library shelf. I’m proud that there’s now a literature of the league, and that its story is included in a number of American history textbooks as well.

Yet my association with the league didn’t end when my A Whole New Ball Game was published. During my book’s long gestation period, the former players I had interviewed became friends, and they welcomed me at their reunions. I had joined their Players Association as an associate when it was formed in 1987, and in 2000 I accepted an invitation to run for the board of directors. After six years as secretary, I am now co-chair of the Vision Committee, the group delegated with the responsibility of suggesting what should become of the organization and its assets when the remaining players, now in their 70s and 80s, are no longer around.

While by-the-book journalists might balk at a writer becoming part of the story, I think my book is better because of the connections I made doing the research. There’s no question that I am a more confident writer—and a stronger person—as well. Next to my family, my friends in the Players Association are my biggest fans. If it wasn’t for pitcher Fran Janssen’s prodding, I might never have finished my oft interrupted biography of Nellie Bly (due out from National Geographic in Fall ’09). And without the examples of Fran and countless other risk-taking women from the league, I might not have left the security of a staff publishing job to stake out a career as a freelancer in 1999.

Several years ago, at an AAGPBL player reunion, Suzy, a woman about my age, rushed up to tell me that my book had changed her life. After reading it, she'd contacted some of the players I mentioned and then followed their suggestion that she come to the reunion. Since that time, Suzy has become an integral part of the Players Association, running for office and helping to plan the most recent reunion. The women of the league do that to you--welcome you with open arms into their community and imbue you with their enthusiasm and pride. Writing about them changed my life, too. I can't imagine a better subject to claim as my own.


Linda Salzman said...

It sounds like the story of how these women have stayed together is just as interesting as the one you told originally of how they together in the first place. I think you have a whole nother book right there. Lucky you to know them so well.

Sue Macy said...

There is the potential for a memoir, that's for sure. Maybe one day....