Talawanda grad’s book explores baseball pitchers amid racial tension

A 1993 Talawanda High School graduate will be back home this month for a book signing of his newly-released “The Year of the Pitcher,” which he describes as having been written “kind of by accident.”

The full title of the book by Sridhar Pappu is “The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age.”

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it highlights the 1968 baseball season and the memorable World Series in which the Detroit Tigers came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. It is written against the backdrop of the contrast between the two talented pitchers, the heightened racial and political tensions of the time and changes brought to the sport by free agency.

Pappu will be back home for a brief visit Oct. 18, when he will hold a book signing at the Oxford Lane Library from 5 to 7 p.m. While he is in the area, there will also be a book signing at the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati.

Pappu is a columnist for the New York Times and said he wrote the book following a discussion of topics with his agent.

“My agent asked me if there was a sports book I wanted to write. We talked about the ’94 strike, when Sports Illustrated had a cover story on the ’68 series. I remembered that and it went from there,” Pappu said. “It started as a more optimistic and naïve book than it ended up being. Preconceived ideas are often false.”

He said if the end result had been what they had originally thought up, it would not be “intellectually honest” and would not have taken nearly so long to write. Instead, it took nearly six years to get it published but he said he feels it reflects not only history but the sport of baseball and puts both in context of each other.

That year, 1968, was the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. On the baseball side, Marvin Miller had taken leadership of the players’ association in 1966 and had built it into a “force” leading to free agency.

“I thought if I do it (the way we had originally seen it), I would write a half-good history book and a half-good baseball book,” Pappu said. “I look at how it affected African-American relations, look at the Kennedy assassination, look at it in terms of the rise of the players’ association and tone-deafness ownership had in addressing the game.”

He cited the example of players not wanting to play in the face of Kennedy’s death, but being forced to play games and said baseball reflected the times when sports were highly political, citing the example of Muhammed Ali.

Jackie Robinson, who had broken the color barrier in baseball, is a prominent figure in the book, the author said.

Pappu, who lives in Brooklyn, currently writes a column, “The Male Animal,” which he started in January of last year for the “New York Times.”

At Talawanda, he ran cross country and track, lettering in both his senior year. In track, he favored the distance events—the mile and two miles—but his writing career did not start in high school.

“There were not many platforms to write on,” he said. “After high school, I began to take it seriously and understand you had to study the craft from a technical point of view.”

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