Same Name Game
Baseball story throws history a twist
By R.E. Graswich
Like many baseball fans, Walt Yost enjoys poking around the cobwebbed cellars of baseball history. He’s a member of the Dusty Baker Sacramento chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, a global fraternity of historians and statisticians united in their devotion to baseball. He loves old baseball stories.
Now he’s told one. His new book, “A Glove and A Prayer,” is a novel that imagines the life of a 1890s baseball vagabond named August Yost. It’s the perfect diversion for baseball fans anchored in the doldrums of sports cancellations caused by coronavirus.
The name August Yost is not an author’s conceit. There really was a baseball player named Gus Yost in 1893. The story merges studious research with flourishes of imagination.
About 10 years ago, Walt Yost began to wonder about the Yost tribe of Major League Baseball players. From Swiss-German origins, Yost is not a unique name. And it’s not common. Yost knew baseball history rabbit holes were exhaustive. They would detail the exploits of any player or manager named Yost. The writer went to work.
He knew about Ned Yost, a former catcher who managed the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals until retirement last year. And he knew about Eddie Yost, a third baseman whose career with Washington, Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels stretched from World War II into the early 1960s.
But he didn’t know about Gus Yost. Nor did anyone else.
“If you appear on a lineup card in a major league game, there’s a record,” Yost says. “But with Gus, there was very little. We know he pitched one game in 1893, but that’s it. The reference sources don’t show his birthdate, where he came from, whether he was right-handed or lefty. We know he stood 6-foot-5, which was big for that era. But other than that, nothing.”
Yost teaches journalism at Sacramento State. He’s a former journalist. He knows plenty about digging into stories, doing background research, going where the narrative takes him. Gus Yost led nowhere. There was one game, June 12, 1893, when he pitched 2.2 innings for the Chicago Colts, walked eight batters, gave up four runs on three hits, took the loss and disappeared.
“I did quite a bit of research and still couldn’t find any biographical information,” Yost says.
The less Yost knew about Gus, the more intrigued he became. The 1890s were a historical thicket, full of racial violence, labor strife and economic depression. Like many people with journalism backgrounds, Yost always dreamed of writing a book. His forgotten namesake inspired him to action.
“That time period was really violent, far worse than today, and I thought the story of Gus Yost in the middle of it all would make an interesting book,” he says. “When I couldn’t put the pieces of Gus Yost’s real life together, I decided, why not create this guy’s life? The book went from nonfiction to fiction.”
The novel took nine years to finish. Yost procrastinated. He started and stopped. He hired editors to trim excessive research and historical meanderings. He reworked and polished sentences and finished with a tight, brisk 150-page tale.
To produce “A Glove and A Prayer,” Yost turned to the local writer’s resource, I Street Press, the publishing division of the Sacramento Public Library. “They were great. They helped me with the setup and printing,” Yost says.
Once books are written and published, they require marketing. Yost had no experience (or interest) in book marketing, but he launched himself into the task. He did a public reading at his local library and plans to flog the book among his fellow baseball research enthusiasts.
“I never expected to make any money at this, just not spend too much,” he says. He’s giving proceeds of about $500 to help Sac State sports journalists pay for travel costs when they cover Hornet road games.
The true story of Gus Yost remains lost. But today the tall pitcher is remembered, not only for his failure in June 1893, but for days and nights that might have been.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.