NY Times Reviews ‘Split Season,’ Mayor Katz’ New Book, Out Today

NY Times Reviews ‘Split Season,’

Mayor Katz’ New Book, Out Today

Mayor Katz' "Split Season" was published today.
Mayor Katz’ “Split Season” was published today.

Editor’s Note:  Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz’s second book, “Split Season,” officially released today, was written up on page 2 of the Sunday New York Times’ sports section.  Here is what The Times had to say.

Jeff Katz was walking down Main Street in Cooperstown, N.Y., last summer when a familiar face said hello.

“How’s it going, Mr. Mayor?” Pete Rose asked, and Katz found him charming.

“It’s a superficial analysis, a five-second interaction,” Katz said. “But hey, it’s Pete Rose. That’s so cool.”

Katz, who is indeed the mayor of Cooperstown, the home of the Hall of Fame, immersed himself for years in the 1981 baseball season, when Rose was still a superstar and beloved ambassador. Katz’s new book, “Split Season,” published by St. Martin’s Press and released on Tuesday, revisits an era that will seem alien to modern readers.

It is not just that Rose, who broke the National League hits record that summer, has been barred since 1989 for gambling, or that the Montreal Expos — who nearly won the pennant — cease to exist. The 1981 season lost more than 700 games in June and July to a strike, a foreign concept now in a sport that has not had a work stoppage in more than two decades.

“The guts of free agency is really what was on the line,” Katz said. “Had ownership been able to push through their idea of basically making free agency a trade, it would have changed the whole complexion of the future of the game. Free agency would have been killed.”

The 1994 strike, which canceled a World Series and stretched into the start of the next season, was more devastating. But for bizarre theater, it would be hard to top 1981, as Katz deftly chronicles. When the season finally resumed, the owners simply restarted the standings, creating first- and second-half champions, divisional playoffs and logistical mayhem — and that was before the Yankees’ principal owner, George Steinbrenner, brawled with two Dodgers fans in the elevator of his Los Angeles hotel during the World Series. (Or so he said.)

Katz spoke with many of the strike’s central figures for the book, including Marvin Miller, the union chief who died in 2012, and Ray Grebey, the owners’ lead negotiator, who died in 2013. When Katz meets Hall of Famers around town who were active in 1981, he said, the strong feelings from that season are still fresh.

“Their reaction is always, ‘I want to read that,’ ” Katz said. “There’s a passion they feel for that year.”

Paper Ballot Fallout

Major League Baseball made a logical move this season by eliminating paper ballots for the All-Star Game. Close to 90 percent of all ballots are cast online, the league said, and the decision saves paper and money. Also, without needing to print in advance, the league can include players who were not on opening day rosters, like the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant.

But there is one casualty in the new system: Honest young fans cannot vote on their own on a personal computer. If fans under 13 submit their real birth dates when casting ballots that way, the system replies that they are ineligible to vote, with no reason given.

That is bound to be confusing for would-be voters, who could reasonably conclude that baseball does not care for their opinions or want them involved in the process. The league said it had no choice.

Pat Courtney, the chief communications officer for M.L.B., said that federal law prohibited companies from knowingly collecting personal information online for children under 13 without the consent of a parent or guardian. The league must have a registration process for voting, Courtney said, to prevent hackers from casting mass ballots and disrupting the vote.

The ground rules were different when paper ballots were available at ballparks because no registration was necessary. A better alternative for voters under 13, Courtney said, would be to vote through the M.L.B. AtBat mobile app, which is not subject to the same age restrictions.

Of course, another avenue to voting for a young fan on a personal computer is to submit a false birth date. That would work, too, as an imperfect solution to a streamlined, but not quite flawless, new system.