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 home >> online collections >> event archive >> archive of past symposia >> baseball >> participant biographies
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Baseball Americana Event Banner

Friday and Saturday October 2-3, 2009

Participant Biographies
October 2-3, 2009

 

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Ed Alstrom
Ed Alstrom
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small baseball imageEd Alstrom realized a childhood dream in 2004 when he was asked to be the Weekend Organist at Yankee Stadium, replacing the great Eddie Layton, who retired after a thirty-seven-year stint. From the time he was nine years old and his father took him to his first Yankee game against the Washington Senators, young Alstrom heard that organ at the Stadium and said, "I wanna do THAT". He never dared dream that he'd actually get to do it! Ed graduated from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ with a B.A. in classical organ performance. He has performed with Bette Midler, Chuck Berry, Steely Dan, Leonard Bernstein, Herbie Hancock, Odetta, Dion, Larry Coryell, Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector, Zubin Mehta, Uncle Floyd, Al Kooper, Stanley Jordan, Ben E. King, Blood Sweat & Tears, and many other notables. His Broadway experience includes a stint as associate conductor on Hairspray, as well as playing keyboards/guitar on Leader of the Pack, Smokey Joe's Café, Taboo, Brooklyn, and Hot Feet. Off-Broadway, he has been musical director for Dream A Little Dream (The Mamas & Papas Musical) and Once Around the Sun. He is a multiple-award-winning cabaret performer in the New York area. He is also currently serving as organist and choir director at the Presbyterian Church of West Caldwell (NJ), and can be heard there at most Sunday morning services (unless there's a Yankee home game). Ed has released two CDs of his own as a pianist and vocalist. A third CD is in the works for release in fall 2009, which will be the first to feature him on organ. Visit Ed Alstrom's web site.External Link

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Ernie Banks
Ernie Banks
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small baseball image Ernie Banks is one of the most beloved figures in baseball istory.   Throughout his baseball career, Banks's hard work and sunny disposition made him a favorite with fans, players, and managers alike.  His loyalty to the Chicago Cubs earned him the nickname "Mr. Cub," and his love of baseball is evident in his oft-quoted catch phrase: "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!"   Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Banks signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950.  He broke into the Major Leagues in 1953 with the Cubs, and was the team's first black player. He played for the Cubs his entire career, starting at shortstop and moving to first base.  With 512 career home runs and a gold glove, the eleven-time all-star was respected at the plate as well as on the field.  Banks won the National League Most Valuable Player Award twice, in 1958 and 1959.  He holds several Chicago Cubs team records, including most extra-base hits (1,009), games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), and total bases (4,706).  Ernie's wife Liz Banks is President of The 500 Home Run Club, LLC. (www.500hrc.com External Link), the exclusively authorized organization formed to celebrate the achievements of the greatest sluggers in Major League Baseball history - those who hit 500 or more career home runs.

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Ernie Banks holding a bat in front of his statue
Ernie Banks in front of the statue of himself that stands outside Wrigley Field, Chicago. March, 2008.
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Banks retired as a player in 1971, and was hired by the Cubs as a coach.  In 1973, he filled in as manager for one and a half innings.  He thus became the first African-American to manage the Cubs, though he was never officially employed as the team’s manager.  In 1982, Banks made Cubs history again, when he became the first Cub to have his number retired.  On March 31, 2008, a statue of Banks was unveiled outside Wrigley Field. 

Since his retirement from baseball as an active player, Ernie Banks has devoted considerable time to charitable work, including his own Live Above and Beyond Foundation, which works to fight racial discrimination.  Banks has also been honored as a Visionary by the National Visionary Leadership Program (NVLP); the NVLP's entire collection of oral histories, including videotaped interviews with Banks, will eventually become part of the American Folklife Center archive. 

[Note: "Mr. Cub," "Let’s Play Two," and "500 Home Run Club" are registered trademarks.]

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Frank Ceresi
Frank Ceresi
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small baseball image Frank Ceresi, a co-author of Baseball Americana (Smithsonian Books/Harper, 2009), served as the Curator and Executive Director of Collections for the MCI National Sports Gallery, the country's first all-sports museum, from 1997 to 2001. As curator, he was responsible for the entire National Sports Gallery artifact and memorabilia collection, including acquisition, deaccession, attribution, authentication and research of the extensive collection.

Mr. Ceresi has written extensively on the history of sports and the value of sports artifacts for several sports publications including Sports Collectors Digest and The Vintage & Classic Baseball Collector. He is also a regular columnist for BaseballLibrary.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, AuctionWatch.com, and Black Memorabilia Newsletter. Mr. Ceresi is a Candidate Member of the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). He specializes in the appraisal of sports artifacts and memorabilia. From 1987 to 1997, Mr. Ceresi served as Family Court Judge in Arlington, Virginia. After being admitted to the Virginia Bar in May, 1975, he went into general practice in Arlington. He graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1971 and received his Juris Doctorate from T.C. Williams School of Law in 1974. Visit Frank Ceresi's website.External Link

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Murray Cook
Murray Cook
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small baseball image Murray Cook is a veteran baseball groundskeeper, and one of the most respected names in the world in sports-field management. His role as the creator and protector of a wealth of baseball diamonds gives him a unique perspective on the game. Cook discovered as a teenager that he had a passion for maintaining ball fields, and started out professionally in 1974, as a groundskeeper for the Salem Pirates, a Class-A Minor League club in Virginia. Since 1989, he has worked for the office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball as a field and stadium consultant. In that role, he has developed and managed numerous international MLB exhibition games, training camps and field maintenance seminars. As President of Brickman Sports Turf, a Division of the Brickman Group, Ltd., Cook has designed, built, and maintained fields for the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, USA baseball, the International Baseball Federation, Minor League Baseball, Ripken Baseball, and numerous other organizations around the world. In the 1980s and 1990s, he took part in the design and maintenance of Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Cook is Past President and board member of the National Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). He has also been involved in the development of new materials and products for the maintenance, design, and construction of athletic fields, which keeps him on the cutting edge of the groundskeeping profession.

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Paul Dickson
Paul Dickson
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small baseball image Paul Dickson is the author of more than forty-five nonfiction books and hundreds of magazine articles. Although he has written on a variety of subjects from ice cream to kite flying to electronic warfare, he now concentrates on writing about the American language, baseball and twentieth-century history.  Since 1968, he has been a full-time freelance writer contributing articles to various magazines and newspapers, including Smithsonian, Esquire, The Nation, Town & Country, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, and writing numerous books on a wide range of subjects.  Dickson is a founding member and former president of Washington Independent Writers and a member of the National Press Club. He is a contributing editor at Washingtonian magazine and a consulting editor at Merriam-Webster.

Paul Dickson is best known for books on baseball that reveal aspects of the game unknown to even the staunchest fans.  His groundbreaking work The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, now in its third edition, was awarded the 1989 Macmillan-SABR Award for Baseball Research.  His most recent baseball book, The Unwritten Rules of Baseball, was published in March 2009. He has also published numerous other works of baseball reference, including The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign Stealing Have Influenced the Course of our National Pastime, The Joy of Keeping Score, Baseball's Greatest Quotations, and Baseball, the President's Game. Visit Paul Dickson's website.External Link

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Larry Dierker
Larry Dierker
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small baseball image Larry Dierker is a former pitcher and manager in Major League Baseball. Drafted by the Houston Colt .45s in 1964, Dierker made his major-league pitching debut on his 18th birthday, striking out Willie Mays in his first inning. The Colts were renamed the Astros the following year, and Dierker remained with the team.  In 1969, he became the Astros' first 20-game winner, while compiling an impressive 2.33 earned run average, 20 complete games and 232 strikeouts over 305 innings. He was elected to the National League All-Star team in 1969 and 1971. On July 9, 1976, Dierker pitched a no hitter against the Montreal Expos.  He retired from pitching in 1977.

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Larry Dierker pitching
Larry Dierker pitching for the Houston Astros, ca. 1969.
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From 1979 to 1996, Dierker served as a color commentator on the Astros' radio and television broadcasts.  In 1997, he began a five-year run as manager of the Astros.  Houston finished in first place in four of the five years Dierker managed the team, and Dierker was elected National League Manager of the Year in 1998. Dierker’s number, 49, has been retired by the team.

Dierker has written a regular baseball column for the Houston Chronicle, and produced a series of approximately five hundred three-minute radio vignettes for Astros radio pre-game shows.   He has written two baseball books, It Ain't Brain Surgery, which detailed his baseball career as a pitcher and a manager, and My Team, in which he ruminated on the greatest players he knew in his years of baseball.  He currently works as a freelance writer, speaker and broadcaster, and his projects include a baseball-themed musical.

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Russell Frank
Russell Frank
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small baseball imageRussell Frank is a folklorist by training and a journalist by trade. He worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for thirteen years before joining the journalism faculty at Pennsylvania State University, where he has been teaching news writing, feature writing, narrative journalism and journalism ethics since 1998. In addition to his scholarly writing on journalism ethics and narrative journalism, he maintains his connection to the journalism world by writing a weekly column for the website statecollege.com. His latest project marries his folklore and journalism interests: a book about topical folklore on the Internet, to be titled Newslore.

Frank’s baseball career began in Elmont, New York, where he was a no-field, no-hit second baseman/right fielder for Milk Maid Ice Cream, a Peewee League team. It ended 25 years later in Sonora, California, with Live Theatre, a slow-pitch softball team. While he was playing third base, a line drive caught him below his left eye. Asked by a concerned teammate if he knew his own name, the prostrate Frank said, “Well, it isn’t Brooks Robinson.” These days he serves as Head Groundskeeper for the Wiffleball field in the backyard of his house in State College, Pennsylvania.

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Jack Hillerich, III
Jack Hillerich, III
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small baseball image John Hillerich, III, known to his friends as "Jack," is Chairman of the Board of Hillerich & Bradsby, the company that makes the world-famous "Louisville Slugger" baseball bat. After attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, he went to work for the company, which was his family business. He worked in various positions until 1970, when, after the death of his father, he became President of the company. He held that position until 2001. In addition to his work making bats and other baseball equipment, Jack has been instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Louisville, Kentucky, by bringing the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory back to Louisville from Indiana. He is an active member on the Board of Directors of Goodwill Industries, and on the Board of Trustees of The W. Edwards Deming Institute. He is also an avid outdoorsman and fisherman, and enjoys spending time with his two children and six grandchildren.

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Mamie "Peanut" Johnson in her Clowns uniform, catching a ball
Mamie "Peanut" Johnson when she was pitching for the Indianapolis Clowns, ca. 1953-55.
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small baseball image Mamie "Peanut" Johnson: In 1953, Mamie Johnson was practicing baseball on a field in Washington, D.C.  Bish Tyson, a former player with the Negro Leagues, happened by, and was overwhelmed by her athletic abilities. He introduced her to Bunny Downs, manager of the Indianapolis Clowns. Mamie tried out, and made the team.  At the time, the Clowns were the only team in the league to feature women as players, so Johnson played against all-maleteams.  While she was pitching her first game with the Clowns, Hank Baylis, a batter on the opposing team, yelled to her, "What makes you think you can strike a batter out? Why, you aren't any larger than a peanut!" Mamie struck him out, and from that day was known as "Peanut."

Peanut Johnson played professional baseball for three seasons, from 1953 to 1955. During her tenure, she won thirty-three games and lost eight. Her batting average ranged from .262 to .284. Of this opportunity, she exclaimed, "Just to know that you were among some of the best male ball players that ever picked up the bat, made all of my baseball moments great moments." 

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Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
Mamie Johnson, ca. 2005. Photo courtesy of the National Visionary Leadership Project.
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After her baseball career ended, Johnson was a Licensed Practical Nurse for thirty years, during which time she also coached youth baseball.  After retiring from nursing, she spent some time as manager of a Negro League Memorabilia Shop.

Mamie Johnson was honored by President Bill Clinton as a female baseball legend. In 2003, children’s author Michelle Green published a biography of Johnson for young readers, A Strong Right Arm.  Mamie Johnson has also been honored as a Visionary by the National Visionary Leadership Program (NVLP); the NVLP's entire collection of oral histories, including videotaped interviews with Johnson, is part of the American Folklife Center archive.

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Harry L. Katz
Harry L. Katz. Photo by Annie Hutchins.
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small baseball image Harry L. Katz, general editor and co-author of Baseball Americana (Smithsonian Books/Harper, 2009), served as Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Art and Head Curator in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress from 1991 until 2004. An expert on American graphic art, Katz curated two dozen exhibitions at the Library of Congress and led the Library's unparalleled initiative to collect pictorial works representing the documentary and creative response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Mr. Katz is also the editor of Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist (Library of Congress, The Herb Block Foundation, and W.W. Norton, 2009); Cartoon America: Comic Art at the Library of Congress (LC and Harry N. Abrams, 2006); cocurator of Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States (LC and Alfred A. Knopf, 1997); and editor of Life of the People: Realist Prints from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection (LC, 1999), among other titles.

Now independent, he divides his time between Washington, D.C., and Del Mar, California.

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Bruce Kraig
Bruce Kraig
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small baseball image Bruce Kraig: With a Ph.D. in History and Archeology, Dr. Bruce Kraig is Professor Emeritus in History and Humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is the Founding President of both the Culinary Historians of Chicago and the Chicago Food and Foodways Roundtable, and a convener of the new Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance. He has lectured in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Australia, and has an international reputation as a food historian with special emphasis on the cultural and social significances of food. Dr. Kraig has written numerous articles on food, as a regular food columnist and as a guest writer. He is Senior Editor of the multi-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (Oxford University Press, 2004) and the new shorter version (2007). He is Editor-in-Chief for a large new series of books, Heartland Foodways, for the University of Illinois Press. He is also the author of several books on culinary history, including Hot Dog: A Global History (Reaktion Press, 2009), in which he recounts the story of baseball's iconic "tube steak," from the origin of the sausage 20,000 years ago to the frankfurter's central place in American culture today. Dr. Kraig has appeared widely in the media as an expert in the field of food and cultural history. He has been the host, writer, and historian for the nationally broadcast Public Television (PBS) documentaries Hidden China, Hidden Mexico, Food for the Ancestors, Hidden India: The Kerala Spicelands and Hidden Turkey. He has also hosted his own television program about food in the Chicago area, Traveling Fare, and two radio series, The Mysterious World, and Chicago's Food. His programs have won many awards, including Two Lente de Plata Awards (Mexico) and several EMMYs.

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Susan Reyburn
Susan Reyburn
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small baseball image Susan Reyburn is a writer-editor in the Publishing Office at the Library of Congress and a co-author of Baseball Americana (Smithsonian Books/Harper, 2009). She is the author of Women Who Dare — Amelia Earhart (Pomegranate, 2006), Library publications on classic American film, theater, and sports, and a co-author of The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference (Simon & Schuster, 2002) and The Library of Congress World War II Companion (Simon & Schuster, 2007). She has also written extensively for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and her books include Landscapes and Gardens of the National Trust (NTHP, 1999) and The Meeting Planner's Guide to Historic Places (Wiley & Sons, 1997). A certified Library docent, Ms. Reyburn regularly leads tours of the Jefferson Building and wrote Art — Architecture — Artifacts of the Library of Congress, a newly released deck of illustrated informational cards.

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Claire Smith
Claire Smith
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small baseball image Claire Smith has worked in sports journalism for over three decades, during which her primary beat has been Major League Baseball. She spent thirty-three years in print journalism, primarily ;with the Philadelphia Bulletin, Hartford Courant, New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2007, she joined ESPN as a news editor for the network's baseball broadcasts. Claire co-wrote Don Baylor: Nothing but the Truth, a Baseball Life, an autobiography of a great baseball man. She also continues to work with Fay Vincent, former commissioner of Major League Baseball, on a groundbreaking oral history project to benefit the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

In 1997, Claire was named Sports Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. Four years later, she was presented a Pioneer Award by the Association of Women in Sports Media. The many other honors she has received include three New York Times Publisher's Awards (one of them for coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color barrier), and two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize (one for a special section on blacks in baseball, by the Hartford Courant, in 1987, the other for general reporting by the New York Times in 1991).

The Philadelphia-born graduate of Temple University lives in West Hartford, Conn., with her son, Joshua.

 

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