Tweet it out under the hashtag #itfigures: The mayor of Cooperstown is writing a baseball book.
Jeff Katz has signed with Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, to publish a book in mid-2014, “Split Season,” about the 1981 Major League Baseball strike.
“I was about 18, almost 19, when it happened and I was a huge baseball fan,” Katz said. “I knew it hadn’t been written about that much. It is an amazing sports story, and yet, it is an amazing cultural story.
“On the field, it was the year of Fernando mania and a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, and yet there is this parallel story with lawyers and in the courts,” he continued. “Plus it is in this great period of history with the first year of the Reagan administration and the beginning of computer sales taking off. So you have all of that feeding into the story.”
Katz said the book is unwritten, but he had to produce a long proposal including a sample chapter. He will have to deliver the book by early next year.
“I had to do a book proposal; it was probably 80 pages long itself,” he said. “I had to do a work overview, an outline chapter summary and a sample chapter. It was not a one-paragraph pitch.”
Katz, who was an options trader on the Chicago Stock Exchange before moving to Cooperstown, had been shopping a memoir about raising an adult son who has autism. He signed with literary agent Erin Cox of Rob Weisback Creative Management. The agency liked his work, but wanted some other ideas from him to pursue as well.
“The thing about a memoir is I am basically a nobody,” he said. “But I had four different proposals that I had written up: a baseball idea, a basketball idea, a collection of blog notes about music that I have been writing and the book about Nate. This one made the most sense,” he said.
Katz said he got a small advance for the book, but his agents and the publisher think that there will be strong royalties down the line.
“The thing about the agent, is you don’t hire the agent; they hire you because they smell money,” he said. “Publishing is a tough world nowadays. If you aren’t Lena Dunham, they aren’t going to pay you millions of dollars up front.”
Katz had a previous baseball book published by Maple Street Press six years ago, “The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees.” While he said he enjoyed the experience, he wanted to break into a bigger world of publishing.
“It was a challenge to myself, to see if I could write a book,” he said. “It got some media and was reviewed in The New York Post. I thought this is a pretty good start. Next I wanted to see if I could crack into the major publishing world.”
Now in between his village duties, Katz is talking to baseball legends. “I just spent two hours talking to Steve Rogers,” he said of the Montreal Expos ace pitcher. “It was awesome. He told me this great story about his manager, Dick Williams, but I want to save it for the book.”
Katz also talked to Major League Baseball Players Association President Marvin Miller before Miller’s death. He is working on getting an interview with Don Fehr, then general council for the MLBPA, and now executive director of the NHL. He said he is also doing an exhaustive search of archives from Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News.
The MLBPA called a strike on May 29, 1981, and it took effect on June 12. The main issue was free-agent compensation. In all, 713 games were canceled. An agreement was reached on July 31. The All-Star Game took place on Aug. 9 and the regular season resumed on Aug. 10. The season was then split with first half and second half results counting separately, and a playoff between each half-season’s division winners taking place before the regular playoffs.
“It is an interesting sub-story about what the media did during the strike,” Katz said. “What the television stations did, what the newspapers ran for copy. There are a lot of layers to the story.”