When Greg Mitchell is writing in his office, he has company. Fellow author Christy Mathewson is over his shoulder. It’s not really Mathewson, of course, but a baseball card of the former Giant hurler and Hall of Famer.
Mathewson is probably Mitchell’s favorite ballplayer, and there’s nothing the author likes more than to see Matty’s image on a Helmar card.
“I tend to like the larger size cards,” Mitchell said during a recent interview on the eve of the release of his latest book. “I care as much about the aesthetics as I do which player it is. I tend to gravitate to the beautiful cards.”
Why does Mitchell, who has written a dozen books, love Mathewson so much?
“I probably had more Christy Mathewson cards when I first started collecting, He was a Giant, and I like the Giants,” Mitchell says. “He wrote books, and [then there was] his tragic death, the gassing. When he retired and was recovering in a home in upstate New York, Matty became an expert on wildflowers. He is a distinctive person in baseball history.”
Mitchell is a distinctive collector of Helmar cards, he has many sprinkled throughout his home and home office. He prefers to display the larger cards to show off the beauty. He also likes a perfect card or close to it, which is a great match for the Helmar series. Since Helmar cards are not mass produced, but carefully crafted using vintage printing techniques, every card is centered and pleasing.
“I care as much about the aesthetics as I do which player it is. I tend to gravitate to the beautiful cards: the cards need to be centered and in beautiful condition. If a card is off-center I will wait to get one until it’s centered just right.”
Last month, Mitchell’s latest book was released: The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood—and America—Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It’s currently a #1 best seller on Amazon.
The book is an account of the public relations efforts by the U.S. Government to improve American’s opinions about the atomic bomb. Hollywood actually produced a movie titled “The Beginning Or The End,” which was released in 1947.
Charles P. Pierce wrote in his review for Esquire: “It is a deceptively breezy book that reveals its depths and its profound questions only slowly in the reader’s mind, and one of these is how easily the powerful can sell the country a narrative. . . . A vivid examination of where we are now.”
“The movie was inspired by warnings from scientists,” Mitchell said in an interview with Helmar. “People were introduced to the nuclear age. The movie was inspired by warnings of the scientists. Once [the U.S. government] got involved they round it into a pro-bomb movie, a tribute to the bomb.”
Mitchell’s books have primarily dealt with U.S. history, but he did write a book about baseball, in which he recounts his experiences as a coach of his son’s little league team. The book was optioned for a film starring Tom Hanks, but “the movie never got made, which is pretty much the way it goes,” Mitchell explains.
Mitchell grew up more a fan of players than teams. He originally idolized Ted Williams, and even got a chance to see the Splendid Splinter in action at Fenway Park for one game.
“I was a classic baby boomer who grew up with Topps cards in the 1950s and into the 1960s,” Mitchell says. “I was sort of obsessed with baseball. I was a big Ted Williams and Red Sox fan, and later Willie Mays and the Giants. [But never] a Yankees fan.
I saw one game in Fenway in 1958, and [after] Williams retired, I moved on to Mays. I moved to New York in the 1970s and after Willie was traded I was able to see him. In August of 1973, I saw his last home run, I was sitting in left field. I saw it fly by.”
That final homer came on August 17, 1973, at Shea Stadium, when Mays victimized 22-year old lefty Don Gullett of the Reds. But it wasn’t Willie’s final act.
“I was there in the playoffs when [Mays’] hit won the game that beat the Reds [in Game Five of the National League Playoffs]. It was a little dribbler not far from the plate to score the winning run. That’s all Willie could do, but he got the job done.”
Those baseball memories spill out in stories that are timeless. Which is a big reason why professional story-teller Mitchell loves to collect cards.
“The Helmar cards play into the story-telling, because I love the stories about the players from years ago, and the cards are beautiful too.”
Visit Greg Mitchell’s personal blog for more about his books and writings.