Tom Jones made my day when I recently discovered his book, Working at the Ballpark: The Fascinating Lives of Baseball People from Peanut Vendors and Broadcasters to Players and Managers. My late father instilled in me a love of baseball. So right about now, less than a month after the World Series has ended … I’m already missing baseball. I was even more pleased when Jones agreed to this email interview. Here’s the official background on the book and its author, prior to delving into the interview:
“Working at the Ballpark is an inside look at what people in major league baseball do for a living and how they feel about their jobs by taking readers into dugouts, clubhouses, bullpens, press boxes and executive offices where fans dream of going. In the rich oral history tradition of Studs Terkel, this is an entertaining collection of 50 candid, engaging interviews with players, managers, coaches, peanut vendors, ushers, groundskeepers, clubhouse guys, executives, broadcasters, mascots, and others who work at a major league ballpark: From John Guilfoy, who sells sausages behind the Green Monster at Fenway Park, to Chris Hanson, who plays ‘Bernie Brewer’ in Milwaukee, Johnny ‘from Connecticut,’ who is a street ticket hustler, to Glove Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel, who anchors the infield at AT&T Park.
Working at the Ballpark provides fascinating and gritty details about the working lives of men and women who are passionate about baseball. These are their personal, poignant stories. In their own words.
Tom retired in 2005 after 30 years with the State of California where he worked as a legislative director in the administrations of the last five California governors. He lives in Sacramento.”
With the recent passing of Studs Terkel, it really struck a chord with me to see Jones reference Turkel. It’s nice to know there’s at least one writer out there trying to carry on Terkel’s passion for oral history.
Tim O’Shea: How long had you been thinking about writing the book?
Tom Jones: I began thinking about writing an oral history book in 2004, the year before I retired from State government. Initially, I intended to compile an updated version of Studs Terkel’s Working, to be called Working: Revisited. I corresponded for a while with a guy who taught oral history and also was a close friend of Terkel. But one evening I was browsing books at a Borders and came upon Gig—a book exactly written as I wanted to do. That ended my first book project.
Two years later while running along the American River bike trail in Sacramento while training for the 2006 Boston marathon, I thought about putting something I enjoy—baseball—into the same kind of oral history format as Terkel’s work (the marathon was four weeks away). After returning home from running, I quickly showered, and then checked the schedule for the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros (my flight made a stop in Houston). Both teams were playing at home during my travels.
I made a list of every baseball occupation I could think off, and sent letters describing the book proposal to the owners of the Red Sox and the Astros, and to the Boston Globe (looking for a sports columnist). The Red Sox didn’t respond to my first request (months later they did; Red Sox employees—including Johnny Pesky–are included in the book). Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe invited me to his house for an interview, and the evening of the marathon I received an e-mail invitation from the Astros to interview their people enroute back to Sacramento.
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