June 11, 2008

SAY IT AIN'T SO:

Eliot Asinof, ‘Eight Men Out’ Author, Is Dead at 88 (BRUCE WEBER, 6/11/08, NY Times)

A writer whose shrewdness and insight trumped his style, which was plainspoken and realistic, Mr. Asinof was productive and versatile. He wrote more than a dozen books, including a novel, “Final Judgment,” that is set on a college campus and concerns a protest to keep President Bush from delivering a commencement address, and is to be published in September by Bunim & Bannigan.

Weeks before his death, his son said, Mr. Asinof completed a memoir of his World War II service in the Army Corps on Adak Island in the Aleutians. “Seven Days to Sunday,” his 1968 account of a week in the life of the New York Giants football team as it prepared for a game, was an early if not groundbreaking enterprise of journalistic embedding in the world of sports.

His first novel, “Man on Spikes,” published in 1955 and based on a longtime friend who spent years in the minor leagues, was a prescient condemnation of baseball’s feudal control over the players. That system was not dissolved until 1975 with the abolition of the so-called reserve clause in standard contracts, which allowed teams to retain in virtual perpetuity the services of players in their employ.

Mr. Asinof also wrote for television and the movies, although his published credits were limited, probably because he was among the many writers who were blacklisted in the 1950s. In his case, he once wrote after he got hold of his F.B.I. file, the blacklisting came about because “I had at one time signed a petition outside of Yankee Stadium to encourage the New York Yankees to hire black ballplayers.”

But he is best known for “Eight Men Out,” published in 1963, and for the 1988 movie of the same title.

The book is an exhaustively reported and slightly fictionalized account of how eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox allowed their anger at the parsimonious team owner, Charles Comiskey, to corrupt their integrity, leading them to welcome the overtures of gamblers, who persuaded them to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. A seminal event in the history of the game, it led to the appointment of the first baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Mr. Asinof spent nearly three years researching the book, including interviewing the two members of the team, Joe Jackson and Happy Feltsch, who were still alive. In the end, “Eight Men Out” was a book that made plain the connection between sport and money and between sport and the underworld. “Here is the underbelly of baseball vividly dissected,” said Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2008 7:28 AM
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