Local ophthalmologist and author Doug Wilson labels his book “Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson,” as a story that’s mostly for baseball fans.
That’s just too limited a group.
Those who have read Wilson’s previous books, “Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds” and “The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych,” know that wrapped about each diamond is a history lesson.
If you’ve ever picked up a copy of “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” you know author Lauren Hillenbrand taught us a lot about 1930s America. It was fascinating, and it wasn’t just about horse racing.
Anyone who ever has read “To Kill A Mockingbird” knows Atticus Finch was the hero, but the culture, that of the deep South in the 1930s, was the villain. It wasn’t just a tale about racial injustice. We learned quite a bit about our society and how we have evolved from author Harper Lee.
I’m not saying Wilson compares to Lee, but it might be noted she only had one book published. Wilson has published three, and has a deal in place to produce another on former Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk in time for next year’s 40th anniversary of his “wave it fair” World Series homer.
Whether or not his stories are documentary in fashion, and based on the American pastime, Wilson can weave together interesting tidbits that belong in any social studies class and can make us think “Wow,” whether or not we follow sports.
In interviewing “70 to 80 people” as he researched Robinson, he discovered tidbits which introduce the reader to life in Little Rock, Ark., in the 1940s and 1950s.
Certainly, the core of Wilson’s story is Robinson, who is widely accepted to be the greatest defensive third baseman in Major League Baseball history, an 18-time All-Star, a 16-time Gold Glove winner and the American League Most Valuable Player in 1964. You would think that might be enough.
Yet, Wilson knows that it usually takes more than remarkable talent to attract readers outside the sports market.
“I guess one of the faults of my book was what a good guy Brooks Robinson was,” Wilson said. “What a good role model he was. What high esteem he was regarded by everybody.
“I got carried away with what a nice guy he was.”
While his story about Fidrych, who was the first athlete to grace the cover of Rolling Stone and who was considered to be somewhat nutty, soared up the charts of best-selling sports stories, Robinson had no vices to create a hook.
“I remember Brooks as one of the most reliable clutch hitters of the late 1960s and 1970s,” Wilson said. “And he was playing against people I liked (the Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds).
“But he was a guy who went out of his way to make people feel good.”
No drugs. No booze. No women at the hotel.
“I do think there is a little bit of history in the book,” Wilson said. “You can look at the 1950s and 1960s and see how things have changed. He was growing up in a segregated society. His friends, though, were all high achievers who had some pretty interesting thoughts. The 1950s TV shows remind me of how he grew up, ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Leave It To Beaver.’”
Wilson decided to write about Robinson because he was one of the few Hall of Famers who hadn’t had his story written endlessly.
“That’s probably because of his lack of a bad boy image,” Wilson said. “It probably scared the biographers away.
“But Brooks Robinson also is the history of the Baltimore Orioles (who moved from St. Louis in 1954), and how all those great teams got put together.”
Roy Firestone, a seven-time, Emmy-winning broadcaster said, “I’ve known Brooks Robinson for more than 40 years, and this is the most thorough and detailed biography I’ve ever read.”
Then again, Wilson is a writer, and not everyone is going to like his stuff.
“I got one nasty review that criticized me because it was too nice a book,” Wilson said. “It was not a literary classic about a fallen hero. He ripped it to shreds.”
That was Jay Price’s review for the Washington Independent. Price complained that Wilson, who is 52, painted too nice a portrait of Little Rock and its segregation issues of the time period. Perhaps Wilson could have delved deeper into period, but the book’s intention was to touch on the time frame, not define it.
In any event, it did hurt Wilson’s feelings since he didn’t start the project to gain fame and fortune. It is more of a hobby that he hopes will bring joy, and information, to those who choose to read his books.
“You really put yourself on the line when you write,” Wilson said. “I was kind of casting about after that, trying to come up with something good. When I read that bad review, I thought, ‘Maybe I am going to quit.’ I mean, this really is a labor of love. It takes me about a year to do the research.”
His agent (John Talbot) eventually came up with another idea, Fisk.
“Fisk never won any nice guy awards,” Wilson said. “He had conflicts with the Yankees and Thurman Munson. He was a John Wayne kind of guy who said whatever he thought.”
So the labor of love continues, and perhaps this time the story, probably stocked with history, will be enjoyed by people whether or not they are labeled as sports fans.
If you want to give“Brooks” a try, you can find a copy in Columbus at Viewpoint Books.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.