Publishers loved the concept. The folks in promotion loved the marketing potential. The design guys erupted with ideas and the editors salivated over the writing.
And then Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney were asked to airbrush their faces off the book.
"They actually asked us if we'd ghostwrite it for a player's wife," said Silva.
It Takes More Than Balls took that and then some to come to what it is now, a definitive -- and published -- history of baseball, by the authors who wrote it. Silva and Koney never set out to strike stereotypes or crack ceilings, and their original plan was in fact, Silva admitted, "to do a Mars-Venus tongue-in-cheek thing." But then they decided baseball fans could use a few more female voices, they'd be offended themselves if someone tried to talk down to them and all these book types who thought a pair of serious female fans weren't all that sell-able, well, they needed to be proved wrong.
"If we were Paris and Nicole, we would've written this book forever ago," Silva said without any bitterness.
They first became friends in 1996, when Silva spied women's soccer cleats outside a unit in her apartment building, knocked on the door and demanded to know who owned the mud-caked things. "She wanted to know where there were cool chicks running around in the mud," Koney recalled. It was an instantaneous bond after that, with the then-boyfriends and now-husbands becoming great friends too ("They have to be," Silva joked) and years of Mariners games piling on poker games piling on softball games.
Koney went from doing marketing for Eddie Bauer to running the YMCA's youth employment program. Silva threaded freelance writing gigs between raising two kids. Four years ago, in an eight-month span, the two women lost their mothers. Koney quit working to care for her father, and one night, over margaritas and poker chips in Silva's kitchen, she started talking about the book ideas she had. And moaning that it was too bad she couldn't write. Silva shot her a look saying, "You idiot, I'm a professional writer" and the partnership was launched.
Baseball was the obvious topic and baseball, they were sure, would make for an easy sell. Living in Seattle, in the mid-1990s, Silva and Koney never saw a curiosity in female fandom. The Mariners were rolling, Safeco Field was a social hotspot and that Major League Baseball said half its fan base was female didn't surprise them. Sure, there were a ton of baseball books out there, but those books, Silva said were for "seamheads."
"We felt that left out a very large demographic," she said. "Because of that, this one group had missed out on a lot of institutional knowledge." So they came up with a plan, they pitched it, and the hitch always came with their identities. Publishers just didn't see women buying a book by two regular women. Bummed, Silva figured, "The one thing we couldn't control was our celebrity." And then Koney said, "Maybe we can." And so, on their own dime, the pair went to spring training in Florida and Arizona. They set up lemonade-style stands outside stadiums, interviewed scores of women, started compiling book research and eventually spots of media attention came their way.
They wrote to every major league club, offering to host Ladies' Nights, and put together a slick DVD showcasing the fans they met, female fans who gushed over talking real baseball. "There are a lot of women who love baseball," Koney said. "We're not groupies. We really don't care about A-Rod's ..."
"Butt!" Silva interjected, before Koney, without missing a beat, said, "Not that it's bad to look at."
It truly is a partnership between these two women. Their styles complement each other and now, after four years of trying and praying and shoring each other up, they got this book on the shelves. And other than the spot of pink on the cover, and the subtitle - "The Savvy Girls' Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball" -- it's maybe really only female-centric because of its conversational tone.
In the book, there are scorecard pages and memory pages, an in-depth look at the lessening durability of starting pitchers, information about Curt Flood, the weight of 3,000 hits and Ty Cobb's first salary. They teach with anecdotes, they surreptitiously slide in factoids and their one not-so-hot review questioned whether women really wanted to learn about the intricacies of facing Ted Williams. "Men underestimate what women want to know," Silva said. These two women, however, refused to.
Sportswriters, editors and publishers of sports books may still largely be men, but sports fans are just about equally becoming women. Silva and Koney thought someone should speak to those women, someone who didn't patronize. I think they're right: We're ready to listen. And we don't even need a player's wife to do the talking.