Thursday, March 21, 2024

Q&A with Craig Calcaterra



Craig Calcaterra is the author of the new middle grade book Legends of Major League Baseball. His other books include Stars of Major League Baseball, and he writes and edits the baseball blog Cup of Coffee. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.


Q: What inspired you to write Legends of Major League Baseball?


A: Actually, the publisher, Abbeville Press, reached out to me first. They have a series of similar books for other sports, including soccer and basketball, and wanted to do a baseball version.


This is actually the second of two similar books in that series, with the first being Stars of Major League Baseball, which was published in March of 2023. Stars of Major League Baseball detailed the top current stars in the game, Legends covers the all-time greats. The books follow the same format, just cover different time frames. 


As for my overall interest: I remember getting books like these -- sports star books, with both large photos and detailed biographies of the players -- at book fairs when I was a kid. I loved them and devoured them and my hope is that some kids somewhere will feel the same way about these. 


Q: How did you choose the players to include in the book? Are there any that you wish you could have included but didn't?


A: It was a difficult process! As a baseball writer I've always kept a basic mental list of who I think are the best players of all time, so I began just by listing who I figured the top 20-30 players were.


Then I checked my mental list against various statistical measures to see if I was over-rating or under-rating anyone. It made for a number of very tough calls.


The player I most wish I could've included was Cy Young. He's so famous, with the award for the best pitcher in each league each season named after him.


But ultimately he played so long ago, in the 19th century, under very different rules for much of his career, so I felt OK bumping him in favor of more recent players.  


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?


A: I began with assessing their entire statistical record via online resources, with being my favorite site for such purposes. I wanted to make sure that my mental notion of a given player being an all-time great was supported by the stats and that I hadn't simply romanticized their accomplishments.


Then I read player biographies, primarily those published by the Society for American Baseball Research, which has a very thorough player biography project.


For several of the very top players, such as Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Henry Aaron, I consulted their most recent book-length biographies, which I happen to own. 


Q: Which team is your favorite, and what do you see looking ahead for Major League Baseball this year?


A: I'm a bit unusual in that I've had multiple favorite teams in my life. The Detroit Tigers were it when I was a child, living in Michigan. Later, when I moved to West Virginia, I adopted the Atlanta Braves, who I could see on cable TV most nights.


These days it's hard for me to say I have a favorite team given that I have to cover them all for my day job as a baseball writer, but I still like to see the Tigers and Braves do well. 


As for this year: the Los Angeles Dodgers look unbeatable. I expect them to win a great, great many games and be the talk of the league all season long. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I don't have any book projects in the pipeline at the moment. I'm mostly focusing on my daily baseball newsletter, Cup of Coffee, which is published every morning, Monday through Friday, and serves as a digest of all of the day's baseball news.


It's aimed at people who like to keep up with what's going on in the game but who don't necessarily have time to spend hours and hours reading baseball news.


The newsletter is named what it is because its purpose is to catch you up on everything you need to know by the time you've had your first cup of coffee each morning! 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Ranking the best baseball players of all time is hard! The book's length limited me to 28 players, but I feel like I could go to 100 and still not get tired of writing about them. Which is to say that, if I didn't include your favorite player, it's not because they're not one of the greatest. It's only because I ran out of room! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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