“He’s the only man to have written more books than he’s read.” That one-liner has been applied to any number of athlete-authors—Sparky Anderson, Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle. Now it’s David Wells’s turn.
The crux of the brouhaha over his I’m Not Perfect book relates to that very fact: Wells didn’t read the galleys of the manuscript written by Chris Kreski—or at least didn’t anticipate the furor that it would raise.
To understand the nature of the celeb-ghost symbiosis, we turned to author Richard Lally, who has collaborated most notably with Bill Lee on the classic The Wrong Stuff.
“A collaborator has a responsibility to make sure his partner reads the book,” explains Lally, who also has worked with Joe Morgan. He notes that when the galleys for The Wrong Stuff arrived, he brought particular pages to Lee’s attention.
“I knew what was likely to be controversial,” Lally says, referring to a passage in which the pitcher recalled that a woman paid him to hit Rod Carew in the balls with a pitch. “I would ask him questions to make sure that his focus was on it, that what he said on tape is what he wants to say in the book.”
Wells is, of course, hardly the first athlete-author to read the contract and little else. The first hundred years or so of baseball literature are littered with pulpy autobios so toothless as to hardly demand the attention of their “authors.” That, of course changed with Ball Four, written by Jim Bouton and edited by Leonard Shecter, which raised the bar, candor-wise, in sports literature.
The result was a series of squirm-worthy moments, from Darryl Strawberry being sandbagged with quotes from the Art Rust Jr.-penned Darryl to Charles Barkley claiming that he was misquoted in his autobio. The only thing that’s surprising about the Wells furor is that anyone was surprised. While Wells might wish to distance himself from his literary exploits, the larger question remains: How much of it is true?
Probably a lot. Take the Cone-Clemens-cell phone story, in which Cone supposedly dissed Clemens, and Cone’s less than categorical denial. “I don’t ever recall holding a phone up at Yankee Stadium in the dugout,” Cone told reporters. “I do recall speaking to Boomer several times from the clubhouse phone, and we might have spoken about Roger’s struggles. But I would never do anything to disrespect Roger.” Sounds as if the point of contention isn’t whether the call was made, but where.
In any case, Wells is right about one thing: The media has made this a tempest in a teapot. The hangover, no-hitter story is far from the most outrageous revelation in the history of baseball. It’s a distant third in tell-alls about no-hitters. Another pinstriped author, Don Larsen, has admitted that he was hungover when he pitched his own perfect game—and that was in the World Series against the Dodgers rather than in a midseason day game against the Minnesota Twins. And former Pirate (and briefly Yankee) Dock Ellis admitted in his book In the Country of Baseball that he pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD. Still, all that’s missing from the Wells story is for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to weigh in about Boomer’s potentially impaired navigation of the Major Deegan on the way to the Stadium. Assuming, of course, that Bloomberg reads the book.