Whenever I tell stories or anecdotes regarding my career, people get around to asking me why I don’t write a book?
It’s a logical question, and my answer is always the same. I tried to write one, I say.
I did, a few years ago. I was even introduced to one of the top book agents in the field.
He was interested.
While I enjoy writing, was trained to do it, and as many of you know, produce a column each week, I really didn’t want to sit down and actually go through the process. That was fine with him.
He suggested a writer, who has done many sports books, and put the two of us together to create my story.
The writer he recommended was a man named Lonnie Wheeler.
Wheeler passed away this past week at the age of 68, after a long battle with muscular dystrophy.
Wheeler wrote three books with Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, including his autobiography. He collaborated with former home-run-king Hank Aaron on his autobiography.
He penned countless other books, many of them centered around Cincinnati sports and that city’s sports heroes.
He lived and worked in Cincinnati, and the tributes that poured in reflected on his celebrated writing ability, but more about his strength of character, and uplifting temperament that to those who knew him, transcended his writing.
Lonnie Wheeler had just finished writing his latest book on Negro League baseball legend Cool Papa Bell.
We talked about our approach in his writing of my book, and we decided to speak on the phone as much as was needed.
He said he would listen to the telling of my stories and would do his best to “write them in my voice”. In other words, he would use my style in relating events, not his own.
So, for a year, in which we would talk three, sometimes four times a week, he would ask me questions about the events I covered, and the happenings in my life which were not necessarily connected to my career, but would round out who I was.
The talks were fascinating to me. And I believe they were to him. He would send me his treatment of our discussions, and they were right on the money, as far as the facts, the surroundings of events, and how I would express them.
I went back to my time as a youngster, how I got hooked on sports, and the reporting of them. Fortunately, I kept a calendar dating back to the 70’s, and he asked me to send him photos of all of all the monthly entries so he could come back with questions on the games I covered. Not only the World Series, NBA Finals, and NCAA basketball contests.
We talked of the good things, and the not-so-good-things that mark everyone’s career and life.
It was amazing how we would be discussing a topic, which ultimately opened up to deeper recollections which I had long forgotten.
I looked forward to my sessions with Lonnie, and he apparently enjoyed them as well.
He wanted to make many of the stories I have told into one book. That was the path we followed.
The book was never completed.
Once one is written it has to be published. I was informed by my agent that the leading publishers would be reluctant to get involved unless there was some kind of controversy, or sensational aspect that would make it appealing to readers.
It could involve something personal, or on the professional level that would require my going on record in a negative way about someone or something.
Since that wasn’t my style, that wasn’t going to happen.
There were other publishing possibilities, not as prominent as the major ones, but they appeared to involve costs and complications that didn’t interest me.
So the idea was dropped. Lonnie sent me a 100-page treatment which I treasure.
Since that experience, I have come to these conclusions.
One, if there is a book in the offing, I would like it to be a compilation of many of the columns I have written regarding those moments in my career which are worth examining. But that’s not all.
The events surrounding those moments, the people who I have met in sports and otherwise, and simply the times of my life which formed who I am are all part of columns I have written.
With the passing of Lonnie Wheeler I have realized two things.
One, in all our time, we never did meet in person. Had the project materialized deeper, I certainly would have traveled to see him.
In addition, I never did stay in touch with this fine man, who worked so hard, and was so pleasant. And while he was rewarded for his efforts materially, the personal contact was not extended.
For that I am sorry.
It is a lesson to us all. Don’t let time pass if there is someone worth knowing beyond your work or time together.