Cover the Bases Interview with Author Mike Lynch

by on March 15, 2010

Seamheads.com Founder and Managing Editor, Mike Lynch is our guest on this episode of the Cover the Bases podcast.  He is the author of two baseball books and writes regularly as his web site.  We really appreciate the time that he took out of his night to talk some baseball with us.

His most recent book is It Ain’t So: A Might Have Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond. It is published by McFarland, and was released in November of 2009.

Mike took a completely unique approach to writing about the Chicago White Sox team of 1919.  After first pitching the concept to his publisher and getting some push back, he pitched another book which turned out to be Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League.  Once McFarland saw what Mike could accomplish, they let him revisit his concept for examining what might have happened if the Black Sox scandal had never taken place.

Out of the Park Baseball provided the computational muscle, while Mike allowed the players who were banned from baseball in 1920, to continue on in their careers.  Mike chronicled the impact that this would have had on the American League races, as well as some World Series Championships. He played the 1919 World Series, completed the 1920 season, and then reset all of the American League teams each season to play a “might have been” version of the White Sox.  This simulation and writing process took Mike about 10 years to complete.

In Mike’s version of the 1919 World Series, the Reds still end up winning the series however the final game went to extra innings in a zero – zero tie, and after scoring in the tenth they snuffed a White Sox rally with a 1 – 2 – 3 double play.

In our record books, the White Sox players are indicted on fixing charges and are not allowed to finish the 1920 season, even though they are in a close pennant race with the Cleveland Indians.  It is the Indians who eventually go on to win the World Series.  In Mike’s version of 1920, the White Sox ascend to the AL Crown rather than fade from the race.

In the chapter on 1921 was the following AL Leaders, showing where the most famous of the players caught up in the scandal, Shoeless Joe Jackson, would have ranked amongst his peers of the day.  It is a powerful representation to see his name listed among all-time historically significant players … raising the question of course of “what might have been?”

American League Batting Averages

Player Club G AB R H HR SB PC.
Heilmann, Detroit… 61 249 51 105 8 1 .422
Speaker, Cleveland… 53 205 50 82 3 1 .400
Jackson, Chicago… 58
226 40
90
7
6
.398
Cobb, Detroit… 63 265 67 105 9 9 .396
Sisler, St. Louis… 53 221 56 83 4 16 .375

According to Mike’s simulations, the career that baseball missed out on from Joe Jackson might have included 3457 hits, 630 doubles, 278 triples, over 1500 RBI, 1700 runs scored, and a batting average of .351.  We will never know how close to realistic these numbers are, but it sure is interesting to contemplate.

A significant challenge for Mike in the statistical analysis was what to do with the players who actually got their shot in place of the Eight Men Out.  These are players who went on to have careers and accumulate stats that needed to be dealt with when running simulations.  Should they stay on the bench for the White Sox?  Should they find jobs with other teams and impact those statistics? …. There is a great ripple effect that would have been nearly impossible to fully explore.  Some of these players ended up eventually moving the banished players out of the lineup in the simulations.

This was a very strong team heading into the decade of the 20’s, but this was also the time when the Yankees started to build a great legacy that would have derailed the White Sox no matter.  The simulations do not elevate the team to any additional Championships and only two World Series appearances early in the decade.

Mike’s other endeavor Seamheads.com has been growing substantially in the recent months, with the addition of many new contributors who will be posting stories on a regular basis. The stories include not just history but minor leagues, fantasy, college and he is even getting inquiries about trivia and baseball movies. If you don’t already subscribe to Seamheads.com I would recommend you check it out.

We have to extend our sincerest thanks to Mike Lynch for appearing on Cover the Bases to talk about his book It Ain’t So: A Might Have Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond.  Please let us know in the comment section what you think about this unique approach to baseball history, as well as any other suggestions you might have for future editions of the podcast.

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