By Jeffery Whitfield
A foul ball flew forward into the stands at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, leaping off the bat of Phillies Shortstop Chico Fernandez. Moments later five-year-old John Shiffert got the ball after his father retrieved it.
“I've never gotten another foul ball since that game,” said Shiffert, who attended the game with his father in 1957.
Though the Phillies lost the contest to the Cincinnati Reds, Shiffert, now 53, recalls the game as a moment that sparked his lifelong interest in baseball. Shiffert is Clayton State University Director of University Relations, a baseball historian and sportswriter.
Last month the Philadelphia native announced the release of “Baseball... Then and Now,” his second book about baseball history.
Based on his first work, “Baseball: 1862 to 2003,” the book compares present day players to players from past years.
The book is 190 pages and features 25 chapters. It reviews present players and ties to those from baseball history. Shiffert said the book looks at 13 sets of “great” players, 11 sets of “not-so-great” players and reviews two baseball books, both by Lawrence Ritter, who is now deceased.
The book features players such as Chicago White Sox Rightfielder Jermaine Dye, selected in part because he started his career as an Atlanta Brave and has a local connection, Shiffert said.
“Dye had a historically bad year in 2003 even though his team did well,” Shiffert said.
Dye had a .172 batting average and played in only 65 of 162 games in the season. Shiffert compares Dye's season to former Detroit Tiger Ray Oyler, who had a .135 batting average in 1968.
But Dye bounced back in 2005 and had a .274 batting average, Shiffert said. Dye also played in 145 games and hit 31 homers, compared with only four he hit in 2003. Dye's team won the World Series in October. The California native batted third
in the White Sox lineup during World Series.
Shiffert spent about a year writing the book before it was released. He used about 70 books to find research for the book as well as several Web sites such as www.espn.go.com.
“I used professional Web sites - not blogs,” he said.
Shiffert recalls developing a love for baseball history after his father gave him a book about the subject in 1960.
He said his favorite books are those that have brought about “significant change” in how sports are perceived.
Shiffert's favorite book is “Ball Four,” written by Jim Bowden, a former pitcher for the New York Yankees and Seattle Pilots. The book was based on a diary James kept about the 1969 season he spent with the Pilots. Shiffert recalls reading the book as a teenager.
“It caused a tremendous flap because James told what was going on ... it brought about honesty in sports journalism,” he said.
The book describes how former baseball stars such as Mickey Mantle did not act as they were perceived in written accounts.
“He was a carouser, not an all-American boy,” Shiffert said. The book “brought honesty into sports journalism. You couldn't sugarcoat things. Sports figures were real people.”
Laura Jackson, a spokesperson for Clayton State University who works with Shiffert, said his professional writing endeavors have always featured precision.
“He is highly committed to bringing facts to his writing for Clayton State University,” she said.
“Baseball... Then and Now” can be pre-ordered through the PublishAmerica Web site, www.publishamerica.com. The retail price for the book is $19.95.