I don’t know the first thing about baseball. Luckily I have Kate McMurray.
Shae Connor, Kate McMurray, Kerry Freeman, and Marguerite Labbe
Cover by Aaron Anderson
Playing Ball was hatched at the 2012 GayRomLit convention, in a, “Hey, we all love both baseball and gay romance. We should do… something… about that!” conversation. So when it started to become a real anthology and not just an abstract idea, I had to figure out what my contribution would be. I really struggled to come up with an idea. I worried that I’d already used up all of my baseball ideas in Out in the Field.
It was my brother who suggested going historical. I’d been wanting to do a historical baseball story for a while but didn’t have much for it besides a text file on my phone called, “good historical baseball player names,” which I’d been compiling the way some people compile good rock band names. (Top of the list: Skip Littlefield, now star of my novella One Man to Remember.)
I thought about writing a story in the handlebar-mustachioed dead-ball era but wasn’t coming up with anything especially clever. Then one night I went to my brother’s place for dinner, and he was watching the Ken Burns Baseball documentary episode on the 1920s. During a segment about the sports media of the period, I had my epiphany: what if a flamboyant, Damon Runyon-style sports reported falls for a reticent baseball player? And what if it took place during the high-water mark of the Jazz Age, in 1927?
I’ve been fascinated by the Jazz Age for a long time. I could go on about why 1927 was significant: more shows opened on Broadway that year than any year before or since; women had more freedom and shorter skirts; newspaper columnists like Walter Winchell and Lois Long were ushering in the celebrity culture by writing about famous people in new, clever ways. But 1927 was also a crucial year in the history of baseball.
Any baseball fan can tell you, perhaps grudgingly, that the 1927 Yankees were one of—if not the—greatest baseball lineups of all time. Even if you know nothing about baseball, you know at least a couple of the players who were part of the unstoppable Yankee offense known as Murderers’ Row: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri, Lou Gehrig, and of course, Babe Ruth. Ruth famously broke his own single-season home-run record, hitting 60 home runs over the course of the season, a feat not repeated until over thirty years later, and even then somewhat controversially (by Roger Maris in 1961). Ruth’s slugging changed the way the game is played—home runs were a rarity before 1920—which was met with both excitement and antipathy. (Home runs thrilled the fans in the stadium, but John McGraw, then the manager of the Giants—he plays a small part in One Man to Remember—thought the home run wrecked the purity of the game.)
I thought this would be a great backdrop for a story about a rookie player who wants no part of the spotlight. The New York of 1927 could accommodate him. Why would reporters care about some rookie for the Giants when there’s Babe Ruth making news all over town? But in the novella, Times sports reporter Walter Selby, an unabashed baseball fan but also a bit of a dandy—he changes the flower on his lapel 3 times a day like clockwork—sees a raw genius in Skip that maybe no one else does. Walt thinks Skip could be the next Babe Ruth, but Skip wants no part of Ruth’s fame.
The reasons why are probably obvious. Skip has been attracted to men his whole life and has somewhat resigned himself to celibacy until he meets Walt. Although there was a thriving gay community in New York at the time—and prior to World War II, urban society was more accepting than you’d think—it becomes clear that Skip’s whole career could end abruptly if he has an affair with Walt and that affair is discovered.
So that’s more than you probably wanted to know about the backdrop of the story. It’s a really fascinating time in baseball history, to me anyway. I wanted to write a sports story that was really different than the other’s you’ve read before, so hopefully I’ve accomplished that. I’ve teamed up with a pretty great team of authors to put this anthology together, and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it!
Baseball—America’s favorite pastime—provides a field wide open for romance. A Home Field Advantage may not help when Toby must choose between the team he’s loved all his life and the man he could love for the rest of it. In 1927, Skip hides his sexuality to protect his career until he meets One Man to Remember. Ruben and Alan fell victim to a Wild Pitch, leaving them struggling with heartache and guilt, and now they’ve met again. And on One Last Road Trip, Jake retires and leaves baseball behind, hoping to reconnect with Mikko and get a second chance at love.
The anthology contains the following novellas:
Toby MacMillan, grandson of Atlanta Braves owner Ray MacMillan, lives for baseball and loves his team. When he meets new team member Caleb Browning, an innocent welcome-to-the-big-leagues dinner leads to a not-so-innocent night together. Toby quickly calls things off, afraid of the ramifications of their tryst, but the two men develop a friendship that soon becomes more. After Caleb takes a fastball to the head, their budding romance hits the news—and Toby’s grandfather hits the roof. When Ray MacMillan demands Toby deny the relationship, Toby must choose between the team he’s loved all his life and the man he could love for the rest of it.
One Man to Remember by Kate McMurray
It’s 1927, and in New York City, Babe Ruth and the Yankees’ unstoppable batting lineup, Murderers’ Row, is all anyone can talk about. Across town, the Giants’ rookie infielder Skip Littlefield racks up hits, creating a streak to rival the Babe’s. Worried his secrets could get out, he avoids the spotlight, but he catches the attention of lauded sports reporter Walter Selby, a notorious dandy whose sexuality is an open secret. Skip reluctantly agrees to an interview, and mutual attraction is sparked. Skip can only hope the more charismatic stars will draw attention away from his romance with Walt. Otherwise, his career and everything he loves is at stake.
Wild Pitch by Marguerite Labbe
Ruben Martell fell in love with Alan Hartner during their years playing baseball. They stepped over the foul line once, but the encounter left them struggling with heartache and guilt, turning away from each other to focus on their families. Now retired from the majors, they run a batting cage together and coach rival Little League teams as they juggle fatherhood and being single again. Though Ruben has never given up hope that Alan might look at him as more than a friend, Alan seems determined to keep things the way they’ve always been. But long-buried feelings and desires have a way of resurfacing, and Ruben can’t wait forever.
One Last Road Trip by Kerry Freeman
With the last game of his Major League Baseball career behind him, Jake Wilson hits the road. Years have passed, but he never got over the romance he shared with Mikko Niemi back in college. Finally, he’s ready to do something about it. He starts with some crucial visits to his ex-wife in New Mexico, his son in Oklahoma, and his daughter in Tennessee. But his true destination is Mikko’s home in Georgia, where he’s hoping to get a second chance at love.