Baseball has been declared America’s pastime – filled with history, crowded with controversy and packed with statistics that the gurus have memorized and could spit out at a moment’s notice when called upon. The A-Game Sports team was lucky enough to have a chance to speak with one of the local baseball gurus in author Erik Sherman.
Sherman is a local boy, born and raised in the New York area, and influenced by the storied histories of the local ball clubs. His passion for baseball from a very young age developed into a career covering sports and he is now the author of multiple biographies for some of baseball’s most well known names.
Working with Some of the Biggest Names in Baseball
Sherman described his experiences working with Glenn Burke, Steve Blass and Mookie Wilson as a thrill and admitted it felt surreal. He portrayed each of his subjects as just like anybody else. “They’re still immensely popular and maintain a strong bond with their fans, but they’re just like any other person,” he said.
The success of Sherman’s work has landed him multiple opportunities and while Sherman has collaborated with players who have some of the more interesting stories in baseball, he doesn’t always get to write with every ballplayer he approaches. Some, while believing he would do a good job, are either not ready or wish to keep their lives private.
He is currently working on another book regarding the ’86 Mets, but could not disclose the details. When asked if there is someone who he admires and would like to work with, Sherman’s immediate response was “Hank Aaron.” Aaron has a book about his life and career, but Sherman said another possible angle could be something that shares what Aaron thinks of today’s game.
Good and Bad Guys
Aside from his own work, Erik Sherman is filled with knowledge and opinions of the current landscape of baseball. A-Game Sports took the opportunity to get his opinion on some hot topics currently surrounding baseball.
In the New York area, a lot of media coverage has surrounded the final season of Derek Jeter and Sherman believes it is rightfully so. When asked who he thinks is currently having the biggest positive impact on baseball, he praised Jeter. “He’s a bachelor who has been in New York for 20 years and has somehow maintained a squeaky clean history.” Sherman also acknowledged the media’s tendency to twist a person’s words, but somehow Jeter has not mis-stepped. He is such a good face for baseball that even some of Sherman’s rival Red Sox fans have said they admire the Yankee captain.
When asked who is having the biggest negative impact on baseball, Sherman defaulted to Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez because of their recent troubles with PED use. Sherman sees Rodriguez as someone who exemplified the American dream. He loved baseball growing up and was involved in the boys club in Miami where he would play for hours before his single mother would pick him up late after working. Sherman called it unfortunate that Rodriguez dragged things on with the PED use. Despite the attention that Rodriguez received however, Sherman believes Ryan Braun’s actions were arguably worse. Although it did not get covered as much by the media, Braun failed an earlier PED test and blamed a tester for mishandling the tests and the tester lost his job for it. His actions having such a serious impact on someone else’s life, Sherman argued, make it worse.
PEDs and a Decline in Baseball
While on the topic of steroid use among professional baseball players, we wondered if perhaps there has been a decline in the quality of baseball since Major League Baseball and government officials decided to crack down on the use of performance enhancing drugs. Sherman’s opinion was yes. He backed it up with the decline in power numbers, but said there are reasons steroids were used and the governing bodies decided not to do anything. One reason was that baseball needed to bring back fans after the strike in the mid-90s and high scores with lots of home runs were a good way to do it. Another reason Sherman cited for the decline in quality is the number of strikeouts. He does not credit this to an increase in pitching talent, but rather a new frame of thinking by players that it is OK to strikeout and it is seen with a major increase in the amount of strikeouts.
As a result of the steroid use though, we wondered if it is affecting the popularity of the sport among youths and Sherman provided us with an answer that made it clear he believes it has. “There is no sport where the record book is more hallowed.” He explained when he was growing up he knew the numbers and what they meant. Off the top of his head, Sherman threw out some numbers and their meanings in the record books. But he blamed the steroid era for wreaking havoc on the record books and players getting ridiculous numbers that no one ever thought could be reached. Despite his apparent disdain for the use of steroids in baseball however, Sherman said he believes the bigger issue that needs to be addressed to reinvigorate the sport is the length of games. They are now low-scoring affairs with multiple pitching changes, longer time between innings and pitchers and batters taking longer time between pitches. The result, Sherman pointed out, is that basketball has now passed baseball in popularity among people under 24 years old.
We decided to challenge Sherman for a reason why the positive feelings towards baseball as America’s pastime have waned over the years. We asked if it could be blamed on players leaving their ball clubs for other teams so they could get the long-term, big money deals. Sherman’s thought is that this is bad for teams in the league more than it is for the actual sport. The result of these deals is that teams are handcuffed with a player for extended years as they get older and have passed their prime. Although there is no salary cap, there is a luxury tax and when teams sign players for these huge contracts, they must pay a large luxury tax.
If it is not the big contracts, maybe it is the decrease in the number of U.S. born players who are in the league. Sherman was skeptical of this reason as well. He reasoned with us to ask any Pittsburgh Pirates fan who their favorite player was and most would say Roberto Clemente. The same could be said for Sammy Sosa in Chicago or Mariano Rivera in New York.
Tommy John Surgery and the Youth Game
We were curious about Sherman’s take on the recent influx of Tommy John surgery that has been undergone by professional players and how it has affected youth players. His response indicated that he has a real strong feeling towards this issue as well. “It’s a disgrace. It sends the wrong message to kids when players like Matt Harvey, who is two years into his career, gets the surgery and is out for a year. But then these guys come back better than ever.” Sherman said the trend is finding its way to the high school level as well and he finds it remarkable that some kids are already undergoing the surgery at such an early stage in their careers. He referred to a conversation he had while working with Mookie Wilson and Wilson believes that there should be more of an emphasis on learning the correct way to throw so young people are not injuring themselves by throwing too many balls the wrong way.
Sherman believes that a stronger emphasis must be placed on injuries and teaching correct techniques by the people who are in charge of overseeing and teaching kids to play the sport the correct way. Club teams can play as many as four games in a single weekend. “There are some coaches,” Sherman said “who treat every game as if it’s game seven of the World Series.” This has affected the game, but Sherman was sure to point out that there have been improvements at the youth level. He is in total agreement with the implementation of pitch counts among youths recently after previously seeing some high school players throw over 100 pitches in a single game.
Some Final Advice
Erik Sherman’s knowledge of the game of baseball is enough to impress anyone, especially a casual baseball fan. His clear passion for the game is seen in his writing and when he talks about the sport. At the end of our interview, he left us with one very important piece of advice to pass along. “If you have a passion, don’t ever give it up. Do it because you love it.” Take it from the man who has been doing what he loves his entire life.
To find out more about Erik Sherman, visit www.erikshermanbaseball.com.