Athens, GA (Mar 27, 2008) - One of the best baseball web sites on the internet is Billy-Ball. Laced with humour, detail, and the pure love of the game, site publisher (and Boston-area resident) Bill Chuck is passionate about the site and about the game. Next week, his book entitled Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – Baseball's Grand (and not so grand) Finales will be published by ACTA Books.
Eye on Sports Media talked to Bill at IBM's annual Lotusphere Conference last January about doing an interview. He agreed and we conducted it through a series of e-mails, finally finishing up recently.
In Part I of this interview, we talk about how he came to love baseball, the Billy-Ball site, and the forthcoming book
When did your love for baseball start?
I was introduced to baseball in 1959 by my dad and it was love at first sight. My father was old when I was born and there was a larger than normal generational gap, but he loved baseball and started teaching me when I was eight. My fondest memories were of just having catch with him when he came home from work. I remember watching the 1959 World Series with him and I was blown away by Ted Kluzewski's muscular arms and the fact that the Dodgers had a pair of brothers playing for them, Larry and Norm Sherry. I didn't attend my first game until 1960.
Since you grew up in Queens, the question has to be asked. Mets or Yankees?
I actually grew up in lower Manhattan in Stuyvesant Town and when I first became a real fan in 1960, there was only one team — the New York Yankees. I was almost as sad as Mickey Mantle when Bill Mazeroski hit his walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th at Forbes Field in Game 7 to win the Series (and get himself elected to the Hall of Fame). It wasn't until I was much older that I learned about my dad's mixed feelings about taking me to Yankees games. It turns out that my father, who grew up on the upper West Side of Manhattan was a big New York Giants fan and really didn't like the Yankees one bit. But, my dad was good dad and it saddened him when I was depressed about the Yanks losing when we went to a game, so then, and only then, when we attended a game together he rooted for the Yankees.
In 1962, the Mets were born and my father and I gravitated to them attending, in particular, Giants games at the Polo Grounds. The Mets truly were our team and we spent hours and hours talking about them up until his death at 94 a few years ago. He would have loved David Wright because he always bemoaned the lack of good Mets third baseman. When the Mets won the Series in 1969, I was in college and I ran to the pay phone and called home. My dad and I cried together as we rejoiced the victory which truly was a miracle.
By the way, my dad insisted even on his death bed that the greatest player he ever saw was Mel Ott. My first real pet was a cat named Mickey Charles Mantle Chuck, my friend Lorelei had a cat named Mickey Charles Mantle Chuck Jacobs.
What gave you the idea to do Billy Ball?
Billy-Ball was an accident. I wish I was savvy enough to have known then, and now, what I'm doing. I'm good at what I do as a Communication Czar, helping on messaging, writing, and presentations skills, I'm just lousy at running my own business, B.Czar Productions, Inc, which I have for close to 19 years. The last real job I had was working as a marketing writer at Wang Laboratories, it was a horribly boring but filled with nice people. We worked in kind of a warehouse setting with rows of cubicles (don't worry I'm getting to Billy-Ball soon) but it was in that environment that I truly discovered the power of emails. I used to send out funny observations, comments or just some goofy writing to a bunch of co-workers and then email it. Slowly, but surely, I would hear laughter come from various locations amidst the aisles of cubes. Really neat instant gratification.
When did you start it?
About ten years ago, at the start of the season I sent my baseball observations to about six people. I did it the next day as well and the day after that. I began to get requests from some friends of the people who I originally sent it to and they asked to be on the list. What the hell, I figured. Soon the list was about to 50-60 names and growing. This column needed a name and while many were suggested, Billy-Ball had the right sound and attitude. I found that when I mentioned B-B to a client (and I did this often) they would ask to be added to the list. This always was good for me because it gave me share of mind when they were thinking about hiring someone of my ilk (I'm a professional ilkist). My wife Max (often known as Mrs. Ball) has a wonderful cousin, who is a gifted playwright and professor at NYU, Steven Drukman. Steven's partner at the time Geremy had this sense somewhat like "Field of Dreams" if you build it they will come and built my website in the hope that in the ever expanding internet bubble it would be bought by some content hungry conglomerate and we would all become instant millionaires. I haven't checked my email today, but I think we are still waiting for this to happen.
How much of your time dies it take to manage the site and produce content during the season?
This is one of those "back-in-the-day" answers. Back-in-the-day, when I first really started producing Billy-Ball, I would get up between 6 and 6:30 and be finished by 8 AM. The goal soon became to be finished by 9 AM. When I'm healthy, I now get up around 5:15 and hope the column is out by 10 - that doesn't include my Sunday work where I search for stories that are unusual to include and try to write some leads.
If you know them, what are the demographics of the site readers?
From what I know about my readers I seem to be pretty much all over the board. One thing I do know about because I relate so much of the present to baseball history, my site skews a little older than most. I also know I have a fair number of fathers and their grown sons; a nice, but still too small number of women, and a bit of an international audience. I think the greatest appeal of Billy-Ball is that even more than the stats I'm interested in the great stories that make the sport unique and I'm so glad that my love for the game comes through.
The book that is coming out . What gave you the idea for the book? Where did you go for your research?
The easiest way to answer this is a grab from the book preface:
I love baseball and watch games from Opening Day through to the end of the season, so it was no surprise that on a beautiful Saturday on October 6, 2001 I was home watching. It was especially difficult saying goodbye to that season as baseball seemed to provide the salve the country needed after September 11…it was once again, as America's game had been, a great unifier.
The game I had on the television had no meaning to the standings, the Red Sox were finishing in second, once again, to you-know-who and would end their season with an uninspired 82-79 record, 13.5 games out of first. Their hosts that day at Camden Yards were the Baltimore Orioles who would finish the season with a depressing 63-98-1 record. Only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates would have a worse record than the Orioles that season.
Yet I was watching this game, every inning every pitch to the very end. I can't be certain, but I venture to guess that every one of the 48,807 fans stayed to the end of this game even though the Sox would win, 5-1 and it was never really a contest. And, when Red Sox reliever Ugueth Urbina blew that final 3-2 fastball past Orioles left fielder Brady Anderson for the final out the disappointment in that crowd, that had been screaming moments before was palpable. And when Urbina "pulled the trigger" to celebrate this meaningless strikeout my feelings were now also mixed with anger.
You see, waiting in the on-deck circle was Cal Ripken, Jr., truly a baseball and American icon. The crowd which had been shouting "We want Cal!" was now standing and cheering this future Hall-of-Famer as he walked back to the dugout for the last time in his career. I could not help but think how Urbina had disrespected his sport by not throwing a pitch so wide that Anderson would have walked and the fans and baseball and the world could have had one last chance to stand and cheer for Cal Ripken as he stood at the plate for the final time in his career. It seemed so empty for him to retire while in the on-deck circle.
I have thought of that moment frequently as I have watched playing careers come and go, stadiums close, teams move, streaks end, comebacks materialize and teams walk-off after a homer. That Ripken moment was the genesis for this book.
We are blessed to live in the age of the Internet with so many people making so many contributions with great websites - I used many of them in doing my research and rather than leave any out, I will say that there are many great ones and how I lived without baseball-reference.com is beyond me. I also have what must be hundreds of baseball books scattered around me and the phone for the Hall of Fame Research Library. You see this could go on for pages.
What do you want to be the legacy of Bill Chuck in the world of baseball?
This is a hard one for me and very personal. I'm not very good at receiving compliments (worse than most) and I get so embarrassed when people talk about how much they enjoy Billy-Ball, but on the other hand a kind word like that goes such a long way for me (I guess I'm way more insecure than people realize). I hope someday I'm introduced as a man who turned an avocation into a successful vocation and shared his love for the game with others so that they would love and appreciate baseball. I would like to think that my points of view not only have some impact on my readers, but on the game itself. I would hope that my work is respected by other writers and I am successful at writing and selling books. I guess this all sounds pretty conceited, so I apologize. Finally, one thing I hope for certain, I hope I never lose the thrill of meeting an actual major league baseball player.
In the next part of the Interview, Bill will sound off on Bud Selig, Steroids, Aluminum Bats, his favorite announcers and more. So stay tuned.
This was originally published on Eye on Sports Media on March 27, 2008.