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Baseball historian Harold Seymour's wife, Dorothy Seymour Mills, gets credit as co-author of books

NAPLES — Dorothy Zander's husband breathed baseball. He'd been a bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers, even if he was too finicky to spit or scratch like a big-leaguer. He won fame for three big books on baseball history. He got his own baseball card. When he died in 1992, fellow historians scattered his ashes on first base at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., so the answer to "Who's on first?" would always be Harold Seymour.

That should have been the final chapter in the story of Harold Seymour. Except that his widow, Dorothy, now 81 and living in Naples, announced a posthumous revision. The real story, she said, was "at once glorious and ignominious."

That's the thing about baseball stories — they ain't over till they're over.

• • •

Dorothy Zander loved writing. Harold Seymour loved baseball. He grew up in the shadow of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. She grew up in Cleveland wearing Shirley Temple curls and practicing piano in the parlor.

She learned her place: "Mommy said little girls have to act like ladies."

In 1946, he was her history teacher and mentor at Fenn College, now called Cleveland State University. She was 19. He was 36 and married. He divorced and married her. She didn't know what to call her professor/husband. She called him Seymour. He called her Zander.

They worked together on his doctoral dissertation at Cornell University. For two people to work on one dissertation was against the rules, but he had already broken convention. He was writing a history of baseball, the first of its kind. No academic historian had ever chosen baseball for serious study.

She didn't even know the national pastime had a past. But she had a talent for rigorous archival searches. After they married, he convinced her to change her major from journalism to education so they could spend summers digging through baseball clippings.

In academia, a wife did what it took.

"The degree wives pursued was called 'Ph.T,' " she said. "Putting hubby Through."

So began a 46-year literary partnership. Their first triumph was a two-volume dissertation, The Rise of Baseball to 1890, for Seymour's doctorate. Oxford University Press then offered a book contract. It published Baseball: The Early Years in 1960.

Among the couple's discoveries: Baseball was played by George Washington's soldiers at Valley Forge in 1778. In one early version of the game, the base runner ran the opposite direction — to third base. For a non-fan like Dorothy, who hadn't known a fielder's glove from a catcher's mitt, a rich national heritage sprang to life.

Fans wanted more. In 1971, the Seymours published a second book, Baseball: The Golden Age, that described the rise of organized baseball. A New York Times review praised Seymour for a book that "will grip every American who has invested part of his youth and dreams in the sport."

It didn't mention Dorothy. As far as the world knew, these books were the work of one man.

• • •

In the 1980s, the Seymours set to work on a third volume that documented the rise of baseball outside of organized sports — the game played on sandlots by children, by blacks, by women. They called the book Baseball: The People's Game.

It was Dorothy Seymour's favorite. It described how women's baseball — originating at women's colleges — coincided with the rise of 19th century feminism, something she discovered on bus trips to New England colleges, where she found the story in old yearbooks and student newspapers.

Until then, they had shared writing, editing each other's chapters. This time, she took over. Her husband was ailing, suffering depression and the early onset of Alzheimer's.

"I was not only performing all the research and organization of the material, I was also doing the writing. I was doing it all."

She wanted her name on the title page as co-author. Zander confronted Seymour — more in the manner of a writing partner than a marital partner. At the end of a workday, she presented a 12-point letter called a "formal claim for my rights."

"Take this to your office and read it."

He denied her formal claim of rights. She never asked him again.

Did he ever say thank you?

She shook her head. She cried. "Move on to another question."

• • •

Seymour died in 1992. At Doubleday Field, historians read funny passages from his books — how in the old days players who caught venereal diseases were reported sick from "malaria," and how modern players in the same delicate situation are said to be recovering from a "pulled groin muscle." They sang one last Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

At the same time, Dorothy Seymour began publicly disclosing their collaborations. She was backed up by Steve Gietschier, formerly chief researcher for the Sporting News, who'd seen her work. If there were any secrets left, they were open ones.

In 1996, the Society for American Baseball Research created the Dr. Harold and Dorothy Seymour Award, a prize to the author of the best book of baseball history or biography published in the previous year. Engraved on the medal were profiles of both Seymours.

In 2004, she put it all in a book called A Woman's Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour. In it, she tried to explain why she accepted the lifelong role of ghostwriter. "My star has always been outshone by Seymour's. I permitted this to happen, I even believed, and told him, that 'your work is more important than mine.' That was like saying, 'You are more important than I am.' "

• • •

She met Roy Mills, a Canadian, on a Caribbean cruise. They married in 1995 and moved to Naples. She continued to write nonfiction books and historical novels. (One of her articles was an encyclopedia entry on hopscotch. It included the fact that in France, the game is snail-shaped and called Escargot.)

She became a mentor to a growing number of female writers of baseball histories. In January of this year, McFarland Co. published her latest book, Chasing Baseball: Our Obsession With Its History, Numbers, People and Places. It was her 25th.

Then in early March, the society of baseball researchers that had created the Seymour Medal sent her a congratulatory e-mail. It had a new prize called the Henry Chadwick Award, honoring baseball's greatest historians, researchers and statisticians.

Her late husband would be among the inaugural recipients. And more good news: His citation would mention her "aid" in his work.

She e-mailed back that she had never aided Seymour. She was his co-author. And she was insulted.

Word spread by e-mail among the Women's Committee of the society of researchers. This was unjust. This was demeaning to women. Worse for historical researchers, this was inaccurate.

"Women rallied to her cause," said Jean Ardell, whose book Breaking Into Baseball was a finalist for the Seymour Medal in 2005. "We are the first generation of women baseball writers since Dorothy. We try to back each other up."

• • •

Three days later, the baseball researchers' society relented. It e-mailed a new announcement: "The Chadwick Selection Committee has amended its list of honorees to recognize the joint research efforts of the late Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife, Dorothy Seymour Mills, who co-authored three classic books of baseball history."

She is in the middle of writing a new historical novel. It's based on the true story of a woman who made a men's minor league team but was robbed of her contract.

Dorothy Seymour Mills had that look of a pitcher about to throw the high, hard one.

"My character is not going to take it," the author said.

"She's decided to do something about it."

John Barry can be reached at (727) 892-2258 or jbarry@sptimes.com.

Baseball historian Harold Seymour's wife, Dorothy Seymour Mills, gets credit as co-author of books 04/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 7:56pm]

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