Doubleday’s Bill Thomas and "K" Author Tyler Kepner Capture the Craft of MLB's Strikeout Artists
From New York Times baseball columnist Tyler Kepner, K: The History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, published by Doubleday, is an enthralling look at the national pastime as told through the craft of pitching. Kepner traces the colorful stories and fascinating folklore behind baseball’s ten major pitches. Each chapter highlights a different pitch, from the fastball, curve and slider, to the knuckleball, cutter and spitball. Each pitch has its own history, evolving through the decades as the masters pass it down to the next generation.
Kepner digs deep, unearthing valuable nuggets and priceless anecdotes from many of the best pitchers in baseball history, including twenty-two Hall of Famers – from Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan to Greg Maddux, Mariano Rivera, and Clayton Kershaw. “For decades as a catcher and broadcaster, I’ve been fascinated by the craft of pitching. Tyler Kepner brings the pitchers—and the pitches—alive as few others ever have, with a fresh and informative trip through the history of the great American game.” –Tim McCarver, Hall of Fame broadcaster and two-time All-Star and World Series champion. “There has been so much good writing on the subject of baseball that you sometimes wonder if there can be a fresh way to go about it. But Tyler Kepner turns the trick. Analytical and anecdotal, insightful and entertaining, K is a welcome addition to the baseball bookshelf.” –Bob Costas, Hall of Fame broadcaster and lifelong student of baseball.
In this “Three Questions for an Editor” Igloo interview, Bill Thomas, Senior Vice President, Publisher, Editor in Chief, Doubleday, shares how he connected with Tyler Kepner for this book project, the editor/author process, “working the corners” that shaped the narrative, why this book will engage baseball fans everywhere, and the strategies involved in bringing K to as many readers as possible.
What was involved in acquiring K? How aware had you been of Tyler’s baseball writings for the New York Times and other outlets?
I’d long been an admirer of Tyler’s baseball columns in the Times. I always learned something surprising about the game, and his writing showed an infectious enthusiasm that’s truly refreshing compared to the bulk of contemporary sportswriting, which tends to rely on the sneer. I told Tyler’s agent how much I liked his writing, and eventually the agent called me and said Tyler was thinking he might like to write a book and would I have lunch with him. At lunch Tyler talked about how the part of the game he loved most was pitching. In that initial conversation, and several subsequent ones, we hashed out the angle of approach and the structure of what would become K. I felt it was very important to present the history of the game, since so much of what Tyler’s work demonstrated was how knowledge is passed down from one generation of pitchers to the next, going back to the mid-1800s. He came with a great reporter’s ear for the wonderful anecdote, and in the course of the research he discovered amazing stories in places like the archives in Cooperstown, which added greatly to the richness of the narrative.
How would you describe the editor/author process and the creation of the book’s ingenious chapter structure?
Tyler was completely delightful to work with. He came up with the basic idea of structuring the book pitch-by-pitch, in part because the personalities of the masters of different pitches tend to be so distinct. He would send me early chapters to work on pacing and level of detail and such, and we’d refine the approach as the book progressed. I came up with the chapter order. The one thing I was sure of was he had to end with the cutter, because that was Mariano Rivera’s signature pitch and it just seemed fitting Mariano should close the book, as he is the greatest closer of all time.
Who do you see as the primary audience for K and what elements do you think will resonate most strongly with readers?
Not hard to identify the audience: Baseball fans. That audience is split between stat geeks, or sabermetricians, as they like to call themselves, and readers who love stories about the color and lore of the game. The book works on both levels – it’s a thorough and smart education in the art and science of pitching, but it’s packed with wonderfully entertaining tales. So we’re marketing to the general baseball reader, but also doing a lot of reaching out to baseball academies and the like. That’s a huge business now, and also helps us reach the youth market. Finally, we’re doing intense regional marketing. Tyler made sure to discuss pitchers from every team in the Majors, so local sports media will have something specific to cover in their market. Colorado was the hardest one. It’s a terrible place to pitch.