Former big league pitcher Dave Baldwin shares highlights from his years in baseball in his autobiography, Snake Jazz.
I’ve found that autobiographies are one of the tougher reviews to write – because often times the work is a compilation of so many different flavors and tastes that compose a person’s life – it’s tough to fairly separate and critique each of them without unduly being critical of the whole product. Imagine combining the ingredients that went into your 50 favorite meals and then reviewing the result. Lots of individual winners, that unfortunately don’t make for a collective grand slam. Sometimes the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
Baldwin mixes his life story from how he became introduced to baseball through his high school, college, and minor league years – all the way through to his career with the Senators, Brewers and White Sox. Along the way he shares his own insights and stories from his career – which are the real nuggets that I find get buried along the way.
A real highlight of the book is Baldwin’s piece on “Batter Psychology 101,” in which he faces Babe Ruth and walks you through the sequence of pitches he would throw, complete with a pitch-by-pitch assessment and explanation. This is one part of the book that truly stands out, since it explains one of the fundamental pieces of the game of baseball. The battle between pitcher and hitter is carried out dozens of times each and every game – and the depth of knowledge that goes into each battle can be so detailed and thorough that it has a place on a law library shelf. I suspect most casual fans don’t understand the nature of what goes through both the pitcher’s and hitter’s mind during each at-bat – but Baldwin does a remarkable job of summing it up in the space of three pages. It’s three pages I wish I could give out to the casual fan as something to read prior to coming to the game.
Baldwin also played in one of the more interesting times in baseball when it came to the integration of the game. Baldwin made his first appearance in the big leagues in 1966 and pitched until 1974 between the majors and triple-A. Jackie Robinson’s debut was a full 20 years in the review mirror – and while baseball was publicly patting itself on the back for its steps towards integration – the reality was quite different as Baldwin points out. However, I don’t think he spent quite enough time nor depth on this — which is a critical transition point in the integration of baseball. It’s times like these that I want to read about in an autobiography, more so than a summer with an American Legion team.
Baldwin also sprinkles in some great emotional pieces — as he keenly observes, “broken bats, broken ankles, broken marriages – baseball will break something; you can bet on it.” Insights like these find their way into the book and are joyous finds.
Likewise – Baldwin makes a bold statement (at least to me) that “baseball won’t continue forever – human or natural calamities will bring it to an end.” Certainly not encouraging words — but engaging ones that Baldwin could develop into a wonderful article or journal piece that I bet would merit a fair amount of attention.
Realizing that baseball was not going to be a lifelong profession, Baldwin did what we criticize players for not doing – he went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in genetics and an M.S. in systems engineering en route to a career as a genetics researcher and engineer. There are some serious life lessons to be learned – especially since Baldwin played in the time before free agency and big-dollar contracts. Hearing that story in a more thorough manner would be a welcome addition – especially when combined with his knack for insight and some good stories.
Baldwin has some interesting points to bring to the table – many of which I think would see much better light outside the context of Snake Jazz. He writes some very insightful pieces that I think you’ll appreciate reading – and I hope he finds ways to continue sharing his insights in other venues which I think will ultimately better serve both author and reader.