A New Day
This has been a long time coming.
When you go to college, and have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life, it’s not uncommon to just pick a subject to study and hope for the best. At least, that’s what I tell myself, because that’s what I did.
There wasn’t a thought in my head about the insurance industry when I went to the University of Kansas and studied history. Why would there be? I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I assumed it would be something history-ish, like, I don’t know, teaching high school social studies and coaching some baseball. The Army was a consideration, and so was law school, but what I really wanted was just a job that would let me live my life.
That job turned out to be in the insurance industry, for no better reason than they were hiring. I’d graduated with not a single career day, or internship, or interview having been attended while I was in school. This was not the fault of my academic advisor or the university. It was simply something I didn’t do. I had put my head down, studied for my various classes, met with advisors the minimum number of times to makes sure my classes satisfied the degree requirements, and that’s it. I worked 30 or more hours per week, studied, hung out with my girlfriend, went to a few basketball games, and virtually nothing else.
So, once graduation arrived, I had no job and no real plan to get one. Buying the newspaper and reading the help wanted ads became a daily ritual. I worked part-time in a grocery store while calling for interviews at various places, until, finally, I landed an entry level job at an insurance company. At first, the plan was to leave as soon as I could, then go get a teaching certificate and explore that social studies teacher/baseball coach notion that was the only thing resembling a career idea in my head.
But then a funny thing happened. The insurance people kept promoting me, and paying me better. I started off just doing filing, moved up to calculating premiums, then became an underwriting assistant, then an underwriter, and so on. None of this was because I was a savant about insurance, or even a particularly hard worker. It’s because boring office jobs in boring industries don’t attract the greatest talent, and large corporations don’t do a good job requiring anything beyond middling performance. In fact, they tend to reward it. Any performance that barely exceeded middling was viewed as exceptional, and that was a niche I capably filled - just past middling.
And so, 33 years later, I find myself on the brink of retiring from a career I never planned to have. It’s been quite good to me. It fed and housed my family, insured them, allowed me to send my kids to college, go on nice vacations, and then get out somewhat early in life with retiree healthcare benefits. And it didn’t require very much of my time. I tended to work very basic 8-hour days, often with an early start time (7AM or so to accommodate folks I worked with in earlier time zones), but correspondingly early end times, too (in the 4PM range). I almost never had to travel for most of those 33 years, or take work home, or even think about my job after shutting down for the day. Often, I got to work from home, even before Covid forced it on everyone.
Because the job didn’t ask much of me, I got to spend as much of my free time as I wanted (and, candidly, much of my work time, too) exploring other things to do. Mostly, that involved writing.
At first, I thought I’d be a novelist. This laptop still has a fully-completed manuscript stashed on the hard drive, about 25 years after it was written, revised, submitted for consideration, and universally rejected by every literary agent and publisher who saw it. Undeterred, I cranked out a half-written sequel, too.
Finding myself still drawn to both history and baseball, I stumbled upon the Society for American Baseball Research, SABR, in the early 2000s, and quickly decided to join. I began writing my own now-defunct blog, called “Lost in Left Field” (hence the name here), where I’d expound on various baseball topics. That drew the attention of an editor at McFarland Books, who offered me the chance to write a biography of Jim Rice. I seized that chance, and immediately screwed it up by going down some weird, not-really-a-biography path that McFarland decided (correctly) wasn’t what we’d agreed to.
Still, I realized that writing about baseball was something I could be passionate about. And good, too. So I decided to keep doing that, in a bit more formal fashion than just my blog. I started with SABR, where they have all sorts of interesting projects running. The two that drew me were the SABR BioProject and the SABR Baseball Games Project, which have the admirable, if somewhat grandiose, goals of documenting every player and game in Major League history. And some non-players and non-Major League games, too. You can find my contributions to those projects on my SABR author page.
Happily, SABR often compiles some of this work into books, so watch for my biography of former Royal Don O’Riley and the story of his lone Major League victory, which are set to appear in SABR’s “One Win Wonders” book alter this year. They are also at work on a new book project about Sandy Koufax, and I’m happy to say I get to participate in that, too. I’ll be contributing an essay about his final season. That one is scheduled for publication sometime next year.
While I’m very grateful to SABR and the great people who organize, edit, and publish that work, I do have some other baseball stories I want to tell, that are best done outside of SABR. And I’m about to have much more time on my hands to pursue those stories, because I’m officially retiring from my insurance day job this summer. (Is there a maniacal laughter emoji? Just picture that here.) With that newly available time, and plenty of stories to tell, I’m going down a couple of other paths.
First, I contacted my prior editor at McFarland again, just to see if he was still in the business and wasn’t put off by my last, aborted attempt to produce a book for them. Happily, he’s still there, and held no grudges. After a bit of discussion, I’m very happy to say that we’ve agreed to another book project. I’m currently working on a book about the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s treatment of racial, ethnic and genders pioneers. The tentative main title is “The Back Door”, after Satchel Paige’s famous comment that “I want to be in the Hall of Fame, but I won’t go in the back door.” It’s due to them next January, and I’m extremely grateful to them for the second chance.
The second non-SABR path for my baseball musings is, well, here.
This is going to be a work in progress, at least at first. I have many, many baseball subjects I’d like to explore here, and I will. But I ask for your patience since I’ve got these other writing projects ongoing as well, and still have my day job for a few more months. In time, I’ll post here more regularly, and will eventually pretty up the design. For now, I’m going with the spartan look.
Thanks to all of you who stumbled across this and read this far. Welcome to the new Lost in Left Field. I’ll try to make it worth your time.
Thanks for reading Lost in Left Field! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.