By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University spokesman John Shiffert's job involves a lot of writing. He sometimes distributes as many as seven press releases in a single day, while also overseeing production of a university newsletter.
Even when he has free time, though, Shiffert spends some of it at a computer, clicking away at the keys on the keyboard. Those writings, however, are not about events taking place at Clayton State, but are included in the books on baseball history Shiffert has been writing over the past five years.
Shiffert's fourth book, "The Breaks Even Out and Midnight Comes Quickly for Cinderella," was recently released by PublishAmerica. The book is a comparison of the 2008 Major League Baseball season to historical precedent.
"I'm not a historian by any means," Shiffert said. "I'm just a history nerd ... and I've been a fan of baseball history since 1960, when I was still a kid."
Shiffert said it took him approximately 40 hours to write the book, but he spread the writing out from February to October 2008. He often wrote for an hour on a Friday night as he reflected on the previous week in baseball. The more than 200 books he's collected on baseball history since he was a child were his reference sources.
One event from last season Shiffert examined in the book was Cleveland Indians second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera's unassisted triple play in a May 12 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Shiffert said it was the 14th time a triple play was recorded in the history of Major League Baseball. He said despite the rarity of the feat, a triple play is easy to accomplish - under the right circumstances.
"If the batter hits a line drive to the infielder with no outs and two people on base, and if the base runners are not paying attention, then it's easy to get a triple play," Shiffert said. "It's only been done 14 times in baseball history, but if you get the right circumstances, then it's simple to accomplish. That's what happened last year."
Another event from last season which held a personal significance for Shiffert was the Philadelphia Phillies' World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, because he is a native of Philadelphia. Shiffert attended some of the games in the 1980 World Series, when the Phillies won their first world title. It is the Phillies' victory which is referenced in the "Breaks Even Out..." portion of book's title.
"They'd been to the World Series five times [prior to 2008] and only won it once," Shiffert said. "They lost a lot of close games because the breaks didn't go their way. Well, this time the breaks worked out."
The "Cinderella" in the title refers to the Rays, who did not have a history of success in an American League division dominated by the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Shiffert said baseball history has shown that all teams that quickly went from being bad to good in a season have gotten bad again just as quickly with one exception - the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s, and early 2000s.
"That's the midnight comes quickly thing," Shiffert said. "It's very hard to maintain that level of success ... That tends to be the trend when you have a team that gets good really fast."
Shiffert said he has a fifth book, on the 2004 baseball season, which he has already written and PublishAmerica has expressed an interest in publishing. He has also written approximately one-quarter of another book, which he described as a "comprehensive history of baseball, from the 1840s to the present."
Shiffert's first book was "Baseball: 1862-2003," which was published by PublishAmerica in 2004. Two more books, "Baseball ... Then and Now," and "Baseball in Philadelphia," were published in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
"The Breaks Even Out and Midnight Comes Quickly for Cinderella," can be purchased at www.publishamerica.com.