Lawrence Richards, Writer-Producer
Mr. Richards conceived, wrote and produced, the feature-length documentary, “When Comedy Went to School”, distributed theatrically world-wide. He recently co-produced another doc, “In Search of Francis of Assisi”, scheduled for release 2nd Quarter, 2016. In the summer of 2015, he joined the production team of “Alive 55+ and Kicking”, a new musical recently featured on “60 Minutes”, re-opening April, 2016 in Manhattan. Richards produced “The Man Who Would Not Die”, an action-adventure feature film, which played in theaters domestically and internationally. It later aired on ABC-TV as a Movie-of-the-Week. In theater he produced the drama, “A Question of Loyalty” Off-Broadway. He also wrote the libretto for “Valadon”, an original musical. He served as Account Executive for Oovision, writing and producing video commercials for corporations in the Tri-State area. In Radio, he wrote and produced, “Empowered Learning”, a one-hour live weekly program, broadcast along the Atlantic Seaboard. He’s written numerous magazine articles and essays and is a frequent contributor to The National Pastime Museum as a baseball historian. Richards is a member of The Writer’s Guild, The Player’s Club, and a Dramatist Guild associate. He’s served as a judge on several Emmy Award Blue Ribbon Panels.
When I got the green light to write this essay, I immediately began researching. Given his status, excellence, and tenure, I was surprised to find that a biography of Bill Dickey had never been written. Happily, I came across Pinstripe Empire, which contained important information about him, written by Marty Appel—a fine writer and TNPM colleague.
When fans today think about Aloisius Szymanski, which is probably never, an oxymoron comes to mind: underrated greatness. Tired of his name being brutalized by announcers, players, and just about everyone while playing for a minor league team, he saw a billboard advertising Simmons Hardware. Szymanski became Simmons. Far easier to pronounce by any criteria, but name-change notwithstanding, Al Simmons is still relatively forgotten. His manager, Connie Mack, said, “I wish I had nine players named Al Simmons.” I bet Mack was happy with the new name.
On November 27, 2012, a New York Times article was headed, “Marvin Miller, Union Leader Who Changed Baseball, Dies at 95.” A respectful, notable headline by all means, but considering Miller’s transcending influence, not only on baseball, but on all professional sports, it was somewhat tepid. A few other views:
“Marvin Miller is as important in the history of baseball as Jackie Robinson.” —Hank Aaron
Everything about Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis embodied the designation “Squire,” the nickname his siblings bestowed upon him as a boy. Even then he was pompous, starchy, and austere. The future commissioner of baseball had a foreboding countenance, not unlike the look and demeanor of the prototype “Hollywood hanging Judge.” He had epic eye-bags and a perpetual scowl. Journalist John Reed wrote, “He looked like Andrew Jackson . . . three years dead.”
This is about Major League Baseball in 1941, not a social history of America in that remarkable, pivotal year. However, before we see the picture, I think it useful and important that the picture be framed. It wasn’t just a different time, a different era, it was a different world.
When I reflexively chose the Chip Hilton baseball series written by Clair Bee as the book(s) that most influenced my love of baseball, I wasn’t sure why, I just knew viscerally it was right. As I tried to transport myself back in time, the reasons started to feel familiar. I now have nothing in common in a practical sense with the kid I was at nine years old, but I figured once a dreamer, always a dreamer. At least that might be a starting point, a mutual frame of reference. I needed to ask that nine-year-old pudgy kid what made Chip Hilton so memorable.
When the folks at the National Pastime Museum approved an essay on Rickey Henderson I was thrilled. I was going to write about somebody . . . LIVING! I immediately thought of Gene Wilder cavorting as Dr. Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’ classic, Young Frankenstein: “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
To be known as “The King of Ballplayers” is major hyperbole, an almost overwhelming reference. Yet, in his time Napoleon Lajoie was just that. That case will be made very shortly. But first, let’s address what most are thinking: How the hell do you pronounce this guy’s name?