W.G. (Will) Braund loves baseball. But when it comes to chatting about the great American pastime, he’s likely to share stories of wrestling alligators, fighting bears, eating live snakes on the vaudeville stage and partying with the likes of Jack Dempsey, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin.
It’s the quirky side of the game that keeps his love of the sport alive. The more eccentric and odd the baseball character, the more fun Braund, BA’73 (History), BEd’75, has in sharing their outrageous adventures in old-time baseball.
Already the author of two successful baseball books, Rube Waddell: King of the Hall of Flakes and Babe Ruth & the 1927 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever, Braund’s latest book, The Only Del: Brilliant But Doomed, hits bookstores next month.
When he retired, the 64-year-old former principal started a website called lateinningsblogspot.ca with a couple of old baseball buddies.
“I would write features on baseball history, comparing it to breaking news today,” Braund said. “So, if someone were to say the Angels have best outfield, I would start blogging, ‘Not even close. You got the 1894 Phillies, the 1907 Tigers, the 1914 Red Sox,’ and it would take off from there.”
Along with online writing, Braund was devouring baseball biographies. But most of them, he felt, were dry recaps of statistics and games. Nothing stood out to him.
“I stumbled onto two biographies of Rube Waddell and, beyond being an amazing pitcher, this guy was an absolute nut,” he laughed. “I thought, I have to bring this guy to life. Everything you have, all the information from the early days, are just very dry newspaper quotes and a character doesn’t come to life through that.”
Waddell was a dominant pitcher of the early 1900s, but his unpredictability on and off the field led to some offbeat incidents such as leaving mid-game to go fishing, running off the field to chase a fire truck and, reportedly, spending his entire first signing bonus on a drinking binge.
“I figured I’m not that bad of a writer, this character just cried out to me, and I wanted to write a historical novel on this guy,” Braund said. “I have a sense of drama and wanted to bring things to life. So I wrote the book.”
The early success of the book generated his next project, a book on the legendary Babe Ruth and his time with the New York Yankees. While a household name who already has dozens of books published about his playing days, Braund instead follows Ruth and his teammates from the locker room to bars, to the Pickfair Estates where the Babe plays tennis with Doug Fairbanks, to Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Breakaway House,’ and to boxing champ Jack Dempsey’s place.
“I love to find cool little facts about the period. I love to follow these trails,” said Braund about the research for his books. “It’s not just about reporting the facts, but bringing them to life. So, when Babe borrows $5,000 from a gangster, I have the gangster at the golf course purposely losing $5,000 to Ruth, because what’s he going to do to Babe if he doesn’t pay him back? Send his guys after him? He’s Babe Ruth.”
While waiting for The Only Del to be published next month – which tells the story of Big Ed Delahanty, one of the early power hitters of the game, and his death, at age 35, falling into Niagara Falls after being kicked off a train while intoxicated – Braund has been working on adapting his first two books into screenplays. He’d love to see someone like Waddell – whom he refers to as “the Forest Gump of his time” – on the big screen.
With so many screwball characters in the early days of baseball, how does one go about mining the countless peculiar tidbits and come up with the gem that has ‘book’ written all over it?
“I’m not a handyman who can build and fix stuff around the house. I do a lot of reading on baseball,” said Braund, adding he always keeps an eye out for those stories with a hook. “I’m a baseball nut and a history nut, so it makes for a great combination.”