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Shiffert covers bases in baseball history

By Greg Gelpi

John Shiffert recalled attending his first Major League baseball game with his father at the age of 5, and last season he brought his 5-year-old twin sons to their first game along with his father.

Baseball, as is life, is cyclical. Baseball guru, local author and self-described amateur historian Shiffert, 52, said that players and events of today are nothing new and parallel similar events in baseball's past.

Shiffert, the director of university relations at Clayton College & State University, recently published a book entitled "Baseball: 1862 to 2003" and will sign copies of his book as well as hold a discussion on baseball past and present at noon Tuesday in the university's bookstore.

The Atlanta Braves lost in the playoffs 12 times in the past 14 years, but that can be likened to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who lost 10 times in 16 years in postseason play or the last game of the season from 1941 to 1956, he said. Also, the Chicago Cubs' loss to the Florida Marlins in "bizarre fashion" in 2003 when a foul ball hit a fan and the Cubs surrendered an eight-run lead can be compared with the Cubs giving up an eight-run lead to lose the 1929 World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics.

With its extensive history, events and occurrences, baseball will continue to repeat and baseball itself will continue to survive, Shiffert said. Not even current "crises," such as scandals involving steroids, will "tarnish" baseball or the tradition of baseball.

"Baseball always comes back," he said. "It's a sport of such history, such depth."

As far back as 1869 when the first professional team was formed, baseball suffered crises, Shiffert said. Many at the time said that creating a professional team would demean the game. In 1900, some owned multiple teams, in 1920 the Black Sox scandal hit and the league went on strike in 1994. Through all of it, baseball came back.

The Atlanta Braves are coming back this year as well and will take another National League East title, albeit narrowly, Shiffert predicted, cautioning that there are still some questions that need to be answered.

"I don't think anybody is running with anything in the National League this year," he said.

Shiffert, who grew up in Philadelphia, said that he quickly learned that he is more of a fan of the game than a player, playing in one high school baseball game before discovering that he didn't have the hand-eye coordination for the game.

"I was a baseball fan since I knew what the game was about," Shiffert said.

The book contains short chapters and vignettes of baseball players and even includes newly developed statistical methods Shiffert designed for analyzing players, although he said statistics don't take away from the stories in the book.

Shiffert is married and has four children: Jared, 5; Joseph, 5; Katie, 5, and Maggie, 9.

If you know an interesting person who should be profiled, send us the name and some information and we will consider featuring that person in a coming Friday. E-mail to bpaslay@news-daily.com .