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Ask An Author: Steve Steinberg

Steve Steinberg's book, Comeback Pitchers: The Remarkable Careers of Howard Ehmke and Jack Quinn, written with Lyle Spatz, will be published by the University of Nebraska Press on April 1.

As part of our weekly author Q&A, Steve answered some questions about it.

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University of Nebraska Press, April 1, 2021

What is your book about?

Two pitchers of the 1920s who overcame adversity to achieve greatness. Time and again, Jack Quinn (age) and Howard Ehmke (injuries) were told they were through, and time and again both came back to post remarkable achievements, culminating as teammates with the 1929 World champion Philadelphia A’s. Quinn won his last MLB game at age 50, a record he held for decades. Ehmke’s surprise start in Game One of the 1929 World Series is still considered one of the most astonishing World Series games ever.

Why this book? Why Now?

I am always looking for forgotten ballplayers who have compelling stories, especially from the era about which Lyle Spatz and I write: the 1910s and 1920s. Ehmke and Quinn been overlooked, and their stories resonate beyond baseball and sports in general. Amid a pandemic, the story of two men who overcame difficulties that would have sidelined less determined people has special resonance.

What’s something interesting you learned while researching this book?

I learned how wrong “experts” can be when it came to the number of times Ehmke and Quinn were told that they were no longer able to contribute, and how perseverance and inner strength can push people to higher levels of performance. I also learned about the remarkable foresight of Connie Mack, one of baseball’s great managers. When the lowly Boston Red Sox gave up on both Ehmke and Quinn, Mack saw their potential, and they became key contributors of the powerhouse A’s of the late 1920s.

What surprised you?

Ehmke's ongoing conflict with Ty Cobb—which often spilled over into physical fights—when they were teammates in Detroit and beyond. This was one of the greatest-ever clashes between baseball men, and is at least partially understood by recognizing the very different personalities of the participants.

I also learned about Quinn's special relationship with his wife, and the tragic accident that led to her death. Quinn, a fitness and health devotee, was devastated, and turned to alcohol. He ended up dying prematurely of cirrhosis of the liver.

Was there a primary influence on this book?

The sportswriters of the time, whose contemporary accounts reveal the personalities of the men they wrote about. I spent a year and many trips to libraries in the cities where Ehmke and Quinn played: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and New York.

How long did the book take?

Four years—about a year longer than my earlier books (including the two collaborations with Lyle Spatz). This time, Lyle and I decided to relish the process more than we had before.

Did you conduct any memorable interviews?

Speaking with Jack Quinn’s step-nieces to learn about Quinn the man, not simply Quinn the pitcher. One of the nieces gave us access to her Quinn scrapbooks and clippings.

Was there anything difficult to cut?

Not really. I have a signature style of using endnotes for more than mere citations. We included facts and comments there that are relevant to the story and revealing to the reader who wants to dig deeper. They also keep the narrative moving at a brisker pace.

Do you have a favorite work routine?

I’m a night owl from Seattle, and my co-author is an early riser in Florida. I often send him a chapter at 3 a.m. my time, when I’m going to sleep, that he receives just when he is sitting down to his 6 a.m. cup of coffee.

Lyle and I go through three rigorous rounds of back-and-forth editing. We then send the edited manuscript to our three readers (colleagues). After we get their input, we go through another round of edits. The edited manuscript is then sent to our fact-checker. Finally, we go through a final round of edits.

Pre-order Comeback Pitchers here.


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