Covering His Bases
Attorney Abe Schear has been writing his baseball newsletter since 1999
Some years ago, attorney and part-time writer Abe Schear came to an unsurprising realization. “I figured out that my clients and friends would rather read about baseball than leases,” he says.
Schear, 56, a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Arnall Golden Gregory (AGG), knew a lot about real estate and leases and was extensively published in professional journals. But he also knew a lot about baseball, having played as a young boy growing up in Dayton, Ohio, and having been a lifelong fan of the game.
In 1999, he began writing a newsletter, called Baseball Digest. This labor of love combined his passion for baseball and his curiosity about what other people, those who had played and those who hadn’t, thought and remembered about the game.
His interview subjects have ranged from rock stars, including Mike Mills, bassist for Athens-based REM, to politicians, including former President Jimmy Carter, Congressman John Lewis and former Governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller. He’s talked to baseball executives John Schuerholz, president of the Atlanta Braves; Stan Kasten, president of the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
And he’s talked to some folks who watch baseball from behind the scenes such as Ed Mangan, Turner Field’s head groundskeeper, Ron McCraven, a beer vendor at Turner Field, sports columnists Furman Bisher with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and George Vecsey with The New York Times.
Common threads emerged from many of his interviews through the years. “Baseball seems to be a game that brings out family memories,” Schear says. “Jimmy Carter spent most of the time talking about his mother or father, and going to games. The other thread is that because the game is played slowly, there’s an oral history to it. People recall intricate nuances and details of a day spent at a ball game.”
Schear’s questions generally focus on how the subject was introduced to the game, by whom, and first memories of baseball. Schear has developed an interviewing technique that many seasoned reporters still haven’t mastered: He listens. “I learned that if I just ask a question and then wait, and wait some more, people will tell me more than I even asked,” he says.
Schear makes contact with some subjects through introductions by mutual friends, but he’s also willing to do the leg work himself, looking for contact information on the internet and via other sources. He says he never could have envisioned his project lasting so long. “Getting from the first interview to the fifth wasn’t hard,” he says. “But I was worried about getting to 10.”
Asked about favorite interviews, Schear diplomatically says, “Favorite interviews are like favorite children; you can’t really have them.” But a couple tug at his memory. “I spoke to Jimmy Lanier, who had been a bat boy in the days of Ty Cobb,” he recalls. “He provided a description of Cobb that most of us have never known. It was a really good interview from my perspective because it was 5 percent or less of me asking questions.”
Norman Lumpkin, who played for the Atlanta Black Crackers during the 1930s and ’40s, was another memorable interview. “He was thrilling, heroic and poignant,” Schear recalls. “I’m reminded of things he said in that interview at least once a week. He was forgiving of circumstances beyond intolerable.”
When Schear started the newsletter, AGG offered to publish it for him, mailing it three times each year, and sometimes more, to interested clients and friends. “They’ve been extraordinarily supportive of the project,” he says.
In 2007, Schear self-published I Remember When: A Collection of Memories From Baseball’s Biggest Fans, a beautiful, hardcover compilation of his newsletter interviews. All profits from sales of the book benefit Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), a 501(c)(3) organization to help former ballplayers in need, many of whom played in the days before big contracts and the collective bargaining agreement.
Writing the newsletter creates a pleasant counter-balance to Schear’s buttoned-down professional life. “The fun for me is sitting and talking with people,” he says. “I sat in [former broadcaster] Ernie Harwell’s living room for hours. It was a like a week-long vacation in an afternoon!”