Sports Collectors Digest: Harold Seymour

By Marty Appel

A few months ago we did a column on the late Gene Schoor, the prolific author of sports biographies. In the article, we cited a similar author of the times, Milton Shapiro, and made note of a lawsuit involving his biography of Warren Spahn, which seemed to bring an end to the Messner biographies many of us enjoyed in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Well, guess what? A reader of that column was none other than Milton Shapiro, 74, and retired in England. And he had some interesting things to say!

First, it turned out, he was hired by Gene Schoor to write some of Schoor’s books! Gene Schoor had a ghost writer! No wonder he was able to turn out so many! Shapiro says he was actually the writer of the biographies of Leo Durocher, Joe DiMaggio and Pee Wee Reese. And when he asked Schoor for more money and a co-author credit on Bob Feller, he was turned down and “quit.”

There then came a phone call from one Gertrude Blumenthal of Messner, a senior editor, who asked if Shapiro could continue writing under his own name. And so he did, for some 20 or so titles, side by side with Schoor. His first was The Sal Maglie Story; his best-selling, The Jackie Robinson Story.

Then came his Spahn book. Spahn sued the author and the publisher for invasion of privacy, and, on the stand, cited such things as Shapiro having the wrong foot for a World War II injury, even though Shapiro’s source was Spahn’s Army record. The lower court awarded Spahn $10,000, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court when Simon & Shuster appealed.

Disheartened, Shapiro gave up the sports bio business, and moved to England in 1967, where he switched his writing to World War II history.

All of this comes to mind again when we discover an even more remarkable claim of authorship, involving some of the most revered books on baseball history ever published.

We speak of the three-volume set by Professor Harold Seymour, whose works continue to be the scholarly standard of baseball’s history.

Seymour grew up in Brooklyn and worked as a turnstile boy, a scoreboard operator, and then a batboy for the Dodgers (1925). He took his passion for the game with him throughout his life, and became a thorough researcher while serving as an Associate Professor of History at Finch College in New York. In 1960, Oxford University Press published Baseball: The Early Years, essentially a history of 19th Century baseball. The author was widely hailed for his diligence, and his professorial title gave the book great credibility, which it still enjoys more than 40 years later.

The second volume didn’t come along until 1971. It was called Baseball: The Golden Age, and takes the reader into the 1920s, to Babe Ruth and Judge Landis. It is actually harder to find today than the first volume. (Volume 1 with dust jacket can be found for around $65; volume 2 is sometimes more than $100).

By now, living with his wife Dorothy on “Bush League Farm” in West Newbury, MA, Seymour was a reclusive sort, but quite protective of his research, and quick to anger when facts from his books were used without attribution by other authors. (He was also quite fussy about making certain that he was always identified as Harold Seymour, Ph.D).

Admirers anxiously awaited his third volume, which would presumably take the game up through Jackie Robinson, if not to the current day. And wait they did. Volume three did not appear until 1990, when many were wondering if he was even still alive. And truth be told, many were disappointed with the book. It wasn’t a continuation at all. Baseball: The People’s Game was a history of the amateur game in America, the game outside of Organized Baseball. It was a splendid book, brilliantly researched, award-winning, but it didn’t satisfy his fans who had waited 19 years. And in September of 1992, he died in a nursing home at the age of 82. There would be no “volume four,” whatever it might have been.

Now comes a fairly remarkable discovery on the Internet. Dorothy Seymour, now Dorothy Jane Mills, has come forward to reveal that not only was she his principal researcher, (she says he didn’t even like research), but that she fought with him in vain to get a co-author credit, feuded with him at the end in an effort to get him to sign papers to that effect, and because he was stricken with depression and later Alzheimer’s Disease, and was extremely difficult to work with, it was she who wrote The People’s Game. (The preface says “The assistance of my wife, Dorothy Zander Seymour, needs only one word: indispensable.”)

All of this fascinating information comes to light on Dorothy’s own Website,, as she seeks to get Oxford to reissue the books, which are now out of print as both hardcover and paperback editions.

Ms. Mills presents a strong case; Dr. Seymour cannot today refute it, and readers are urged to read her very credible story – a bit of feminism rising in the male bastion of baseball writing.