Author Lawrence Knorr recently wrote “Gettysburg Eddie — The Story of Eddie Plank,” providing narrative on the life of this baseball hall of fame inductee. Plank was a pitcher on the Philadelphia Athletics for most of his career — and played briefly for Gettysburg College (GC). Most GC students should recognize the name because of the building many refer to as “Plank,” which was named after the superstar.
Knorr has also been in IT for over 30 years, and he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business/Economics (History Minor) from Wilson College, along with a Masters of Business Administration from Penn State.
Knorr sat down with GNN’s Andy Milone to discuss the book.
Andy Milone: I’m a big baseball guy myself. How do you go about writing a book like this? How many people do you have to talk to? How many documents do you have to sift through?
Lawrence Knorr: The book ended up being over 400 pages, so there is a lot of stuff in it. To be honest though, as far as people talked to, it’s very few because Eddie Plank died in 1926, and his grandson is still alive but didn’t know Eddie that well. I did talk to his grandson a bit, but most of the material came from records such as a variety of old newspapers from newspapers.com. It’s a tremendous source, and baseballreference.com had almost all his games. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), which I belong to, has a lot of resources — probably mostly online, which is probably typical these days.
AM: How did you go about crafting the book, so that it didn’t read like a big long newspaper, or a big long timeline?
LK: That’s always a challenge. And in the case of Eddie Plank, somebody who has been dead for 90 plus years — how do you bring him to life? I kind of wrote it in layers, so I started out by framing it with his baseball career, and then layered in things that other people wrote about him, like things that I could find out about his personal life. It’s sort of like being a detective. You do your research, and you string it together, and then you got to go in and smooth it out and tell the story. Then, I got to write a narrative on top of that, and the great thing about Eddie Plank is that there was a lot to talk about.
AM: How did you go about choosing people to provide commentary on Eddie Plank’s life?
LK: There’s just not a whole lot of choice. There were certain writers who were big in Philadelphia, and other commentators at the time that talked about him. Since those days, maybe around the 1920s when he died, there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about him. The sources are all pretty old, which is good because they are all original sources from the time period.
AM: Is that the reason why you decided to write this book originally because there was not a whole lot of information on the man himself?
LK: Yes. I had written a book about another Philadelphia A’s pitcher named Carl Scheib, and while researching Carl Scheib, I started to look into the Philadelphia Athletics’ history, and there was a connection. Chief Bender was a pitching coach for Carl Scheib, and I was interested in him. I found out he was in the Carlisle area; went to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School; and he pitched against a guy named Eddie Plank back in the college days. I found out that there was lots of biographies about Chief Bender but nothing about Eddie Plank, a hall of famer. And I thought that no one had done a book on this Pennsylvania German, like me. Like Carl Scheib, I focused on Pennsylvania Germans in a lot of the work I do. The fact that no biography was ever written about him, I thought was a shame — and then I said to myself “if you don’t do it, then who is going to.”
AM: Who is Carl Scheib?
LK: He is known as the youngest player in American League history. He came up at age 16 in 1933, and he was a phenom for a while. He ended up having an 11-year Major League career. The book is called “Wonder Boy – The Story of Carl Scheib.”
AM: It’s very interesting with the connection. Did your book on Carl Scheib serve as a prequel to your book on Eddie Plank at all?
LK: Only in the sense that it was the first baseball biography that I wrote, and I’ve always loved baseball and have always wanted to write about baseball and so I picked Carl Scheib — not a big star, or anything. He is just a local hero. That book sold very well above Harrisburg in the area that he came from, but it gave me entry into writing baseball biographies and how I was enjoying it so much, wondering who I could do next. I found Eddie Plank.
AM: When you were writing the book on Scheib, was that the first time you had heard of Eddie Plank previously?
LK: No, I have been a baseball fan for many years — pretty into the statistics. One of my favorite books as a kid was the baseball encyclopedia that had every player who ever played and all their stats. These days you get that online, but back then, it was a big thick book, and I remember flipping through the all-time pitchers, and I was always a big fan of Steve Carlton as a kid. And, Steve Carlton and Eddie Plank were compared at times, so I was aware of him a long time ago, but was never at the forefront of my mind — just somebody who I was aware existed.
AM: What originally made you want to write baseball biographies, beside the fact that you were interested in the sport?
LK: Personally it’s just such an enjoyment doing it. I mean I love writing history. Then, you layer in baseball history, and it gets even more fun for me.
AM: When did you first find interest in baseball?
LK: Back in the early 1970s when I was a little kid.
AM: You have a very diverse background with the IT and the history background. Do ever see the two parts of your background interacting at all?
LK: It sort of does because I own Sunbury Press, the publishing company, and in that regard, we use a lot of technology at the publishing company. Then, we’ve published over 500 books, and I’ve written or co-written about 21 books. I’ve had involvement in just a small number of the books we’ve had published. But, yes, I think the publishing company is where the two come together.
AM: Did your writing background start from a hobby, or do you feel like it’s something you wanted to pursue after you got your degree in history?
LK: It always was a dream to be a history professor, and then write history, but I make a lot more money in IT. I did have the thrill of speaking at a history conference to a bunch of academics, so for a day, I was like a history professor, but I teach business and economics.
AM: I’m sure you once and a while give talks on the books you wrote?
LK: Yes, and I teach part-time at Wilson College as well.
AM: Going back to the book. What did you hope that readers would gain from it? What were some of the main goals going into it? And, do you feel like you accomplished those?
LK: I think number one was answering the question: who was Eddie Plank? Why was he important? It turned out he was a great guy. He really was a super human being, so that was important. Writing that biography — because it had never been done before — was very important. And, I think his family, his descendants really have appreciated that.
AM: I guess I haven’t done enough research, but no one has ever written about Eddie Plank in great depth?
LK: That’s right. SABR has maybe a 1500 word article about him — just a short biography — not a whole lot more than what you get on Wikipedia. The other important thing about the biography is that it gives you a view of what it was like in baseball at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a time when baseball was segregated, and when the second major league was just starting. It’s an interesting view into that time period in American history.
AM: You noted in the book’s description that his coach described him as “clean living” — that kind of just stood out to me, especially nowadays when we are talking about the steroid era in baseball. But, what stood out about him in terms of his clean living, and the way he went about it.
LK: People say he never drank nor smoked nor cursed, and you would think “oh wow, he must have been an evangelical, or really religious” — and he wasn’t. He was just an extremely well-behaved gentleman playing professional baseball where most of the guys were pretty rash and rude. I mean they are out getting drunk, and carousing, and smoking, and running around with the ladies. He came up at age 25, going on 26. He was a little older than a lot of the rookies. Most guys start their baseball career early in their 20s. He was already a bit older as a rookie, and usually was one of the older players on the team as his career progressed, so he always was seen as an example. His manager Connie Mack was very similar in his morality and ethics to Eddie. They really kind of connected. He is just a great guy. He was also a mason, and a great member of his community. He was just really well-respected and regarded. I guess you could say if you had Eddie Plank as a friend, he was probably one of the best friends you ever had. He would do anything for you and not expect anything in return.
AM: It is so amazing that you can gather all of that from just reading through documents and not having talked to him or really his family.
LK: It’s there. If you go back and read the old newspapers, and you string together the different vignettes, and there is a little piece here and a little piece there. And then, there are anecdotes from people who remembered him locally, and then you start to see these stories repeated in different places from different sources, which adds to the credibility. You know it’s weird, but usually if you do research on a famous person you almost always find something that they did that was maybe illegal, maybe some kind of crisis in their family — maybe something where they get suspended in their sport, or some accusation, or some bad relationship. He had none of that — all clean.
AM: That is crazy, especially in today’s standards with people in the news sometimes picking at one negative thing and ignoring all the positives.
LK: I will just say really quickly: there is one thing very different about the way sports is written in the old days. It was always very positive, and the news tended to be positive, more balanced. Yes, today, they are always looking to tear people apart.
AM: Just to wrap it up: do you have any advice for the history majors at Gettysburg College, maybe for the students in general?
LK: Follow your passion. Know your history. I think history is so important, and it will inform us as to what is going on and why — and what’s likely to happen.