How an obit became a book title, and how you can read the book

The title of this blog site comes from a book title, and the title of the book comes from an obituary.

Now, most anybody with a keyboard can write an obituary. As long as it doesn’t suggest the dearly departed drowned kittens for a hobby or served as a fry-cook for the Taliban, most folks will read the obit and think the author did a fine job.

Yet there is a certain grace and elegance required for a superb obit or tribute, lest it come across as too schmaltzy. All of us have read those. All of us in my former profession wrote them.

A Knoxville writer named Marvin West consistently wrote with elegance. Of a man named Sam Smith, he wrote that he was “a baseball optimist who never saw a bad game.”

More than a half-dozen years ago, researching a book on the Southern League’s first 50 years, I came across that tribute to the late Mr. Smith, who died while in office as the Southern League president. I included it in the book.

Book publishers being the ingenious folks they are, that line resonated with Kevin Reichard of August Publications. He deigned that it should be the title of my Southern League book – and gave me an automatic line for all the civic club speeches and interviews I got to do in publicizing the book.

“Anybody who says they never saw a bad game didn’t cover the Lookouts in 1978.” Or, whatever team in my rear-view mirror I could disparage for the moment.

It turns out, even after baseball was deemed expendable for Huntsville and I was deemed expendable in the newspaper pages for which I typed, the Southern League kept aging after those 50 years. Games, good and bad, were played.

Reichard suggested we re-release the book, with an update.

If you’re interested, it’s available through August Publications or through a stack in my house. (Just $22, including shipping; email me at markfmccarter@gmail.com with your address if you’d like one personalized, and I’ll get details on payment, or I can invoice you through PayPal.)

The gist of “Never a Bad Game” is that it is 50 stories, randomly from those first 50 years, about players, teams, games and accomplishments. It has the big-name guys, like Cal Ripken Jr., who dodged an accidental gunfire barrage as a batboy in Asheville, and Bo Jackson and Chipper Jones and some .202-hitting outfielder named Jordan.

My favorites, though, were guys you never heard of. Manley Johnston, the only 20-game winner. Greg Tubbs, who was talked out of retirement and then launched into the league record hit streak. Chips Swanson, who threw the first perfect game, but wound up in Hollywood as the music director for every episode of “Cheers” and many more TV shows.

There were the Columbus pitchers who had no-hitters a week apart, Pat Darcy and Dan Evans. Darcy would go on to become a trivia answer: Who gave up the famous Carlton Fisk World Series homer?

“It was a great game, one of the greatest games ever played,” Darcy told me. “And we won the World Series. It was OK. I see Pete (Rose) every now and again, and he’s said it was the best game ever played. I was privileged to play in a game like that.”

When you can say that after giving up an epic home run, maybe Marvin West was right about Sam Smith. Never, really, a bad game.

To order “Never a Bad Game,” email markfmccarter@gmail.com with your address and I can invoice you through PayPal, or send check for $22 to me at 604 Vance Road, Huntsville, AL 35801. Please let me know how to personalize it for you or a gift recipient.

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