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Ask an Author: Andrew Maraniss

Andrew Maraniss' book Singled Out comes out on March 2. As part of our weekly author Q&A, he talked about it with our crack Answer Department staff.


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Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

Philomel Books, March 2, 2021


What is Singled Out about?

Singled Out is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and the inventor of the high-five. It’s set in the context of the gay rights movement, the backlash to that movement in the 1970s and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Glenn was a fascinating and underappreciated pioneer, and his story is both inspirational and tragic.


Why this book? Why now?

My niche is writing sports-related nonfiction with a social-justice bent. My first book, Strong Inside, is a biography of Perry Wallace, the brilliant Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated SEC basketball and later became a justice department attorney and law professor. My second book, Games of Deception, is the story of the first U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, at the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany. I like to write stories about significant people and events that haven’t been told much before, which illuminate, through the lens of sports, injustice in the world. Major League Baseball has yet to field an openly gay player, and only two who have come out after their playing days, so I think there’s a great deal of interest , especially in the Young Adult crowd, in Glenn Burke’s experience, and how it affected the rest of his life.


Why write for Young Adults?

It’s important to me that these stories encourage young people to use their voices when they see injustice—something that has become more important than ever in the current political climate. That said, my books are meant for adults as much as teens. I do the same research I would for an adult book (I originally wrote Strong Inside for adults before creating a second version for students), and don’t shy away from topics. The books are written in essentially the same style. The main difference is that YA chapters are a bit shorter, to keep the story moving, and include more explanation of certain historical moments that younger readers may not be familiar with.


What’s a noteworthy thing you learned during the research of your book?

Here are two interesting tidbits: In addition to inventing the high-five, Glenn was the first major league player to wear Nikes in a game. He was also one of the first professional athletes to simultaneously play college sports, after the NCAA changed its rules in 1974 to allow pros in one sport to play collegiately in another. For Glenn, that meant he could play basketball at the University of Nevada, Reno while he was a Dodgers minor leaguer. Many of his friends and teammates said he was at least as good at basketball player as he was at baseball. He was a phenomenal athlete.


What’s the most memorable interview you conducted for the book?

I really wanted to interview Dusty Baker in person, since he was such an important part of the story. I live in Nashville, and he lives in California. This was before he became manager of the Astros, and before COVID. One day he texted and said that he was in Asheville, N.C., scouting a minor league game for the Giants. That’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Nashville. I met him there the next day. He said he’d have only an hour, but we ended up talking in his hotel lobby for close to three hours. He was just as funny, real and kind as everybody told me. He had great stories about Glenn, about the Dodger teams of the ’70s, and about the fraternity of Black ballplayers from those days. I also found a social worker who discovered Glenn living in a cheap Tenderloin hotel in San Francisco, homeless and dying of AIDS. The description of that encounter was chilling, and became the first chapter of the book.


Are you a Dodgers fan?

I’m a Milwaukee Brewers fan. I was born in Wisconsin, and though I only lived there until I was four, my grandparents stayed, and my parents did a good job brainwashing me even after we moved to Washington D.C. In 1981, my dad and I took Amtrak to New York to watch the final three games of the split-season playoff series between the Brewers and the Yankees. I was 11, and the only thing I packed for the trip was my collection of mini ice cream helmets. The next year, I cried with happiness when Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit to send the Brewers to the World Series. (I cried again when St. Louis closer Bruce Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas to end it.) I must have doodled the Brewers’ ball-in-glove logo every day in middle school.


I had a pen-pal relationship with one of the minority owners of the team, Ben Barkin, who would send me media guides and Christmas cards every year. In return, I sent him statistics and recommended lineups in which I consistently predicted every Brewer to hit .350 with more than 30 homers.


In 1998 I became the media relations manager for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, during their inaugural season. Manager Larry Rothschild let me take batting practice at Yankee Stadium during the last road trip of the season, which is a thrill that I’ll never forget. Wade Boggs was leaning on the cage, which was a little intimidating. Big Frank Howard, the team’s bench coach, was pitching. I squared to bunt the first pitch like all the players had done. He pulled up mid-pitch and yelled, “Just swing the bat, son!”


What’s a memorable instance of your editor lending direction in a general way? How about in a specific way?

Kelsey Murphy at Philomel provides just the right amount of reassurance, and has an annoyingly accurate way of finding all the spots in my writing that I know deep down aren’t quite polished but am too lazy to fix. Then she makes me fix them. She cut an entire chapter early in the book that involved Berkeley High School in the late 1960s, when Glenn was a student there. The scene was vibrant politically, but was not central to Glenn himself, and mostly got in the way of the story. It took me a while, but I eventually realized how right Kelsey was to cut it.


Has your work routine been affected by the pandemic?

Like many authors, I have a day job—I am special projects coordinator in the office of the athletic director at Vanderbilt University—so finding the time to research and write is a challenge. Also, my wife and I have a daughter in fourth grade and a son in first grade, so our house is a circus, especially with all four of us at home doing work or virtual school. I sometimes work while my son sits on my head, which he loves to do.


What’s the most memorable baseball game you’ve attended?

I was at Miller Park in Milwaukee on July 9, 2003, for the game between the 39-47 Pirates and the 36-52 Brewers. If anyone remembers that game it's because, during the ballpark's traditional sausage race, Pirates first baseman Randall Simon tapped the Italian sausage with his bat, sending the person inside sprawling and allowing the bratwurst to scamper to glory. These days, one-third of Simon’s Wikipedia page is devoted to it.


Buy Singled Out here.


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