“How does it feel? When you read Snake Jazz, you feel privileged. You feel at every step of the way that you're reading something real and good. From the opening sentence to the summary of lifetime statistics at the end, it's a complete and very satisfying story of one baseball life. How does it feel? It feels real.” —Judy Van Sickle Johnson’s Watching the Game
“Baldwin is even more proficient with words than he was with a baseball, and his book is a pleasure to read from start to finish…Widely published in scientific circles, he has turned his analytical eye and wry sense of humor on his own career. I only wish he had added another 100 pages to the 300 or so contained in this volume.” —Gabriel Schechter’s Never Too Much Baseball
“Gently amusing without being iconoclastic, Snake Jazz is more like Brosnan’s The Long Season and Pennant Race than Bouton’s Ball Four…and miles above what active and former players are coming out with these days.” —Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf
is Snake Jazz? - The baseball term, “snake
jazz”, refers to those squiggly pitches (curve, slider, screwball,
etc.) that deviate from a direct path on the way to
the catcher. This
could also describe the strange and sometimes amusing
twists in Dave Baldwin’s progress toward the big leagues.
Destroying His Elbow
As a skinny, awkward kid in the 1940s, Dave learned to throw under
the searing Arizona sun amidst cacti and snakes. Despite
that modest beginning, his father convinced him success would come
with focused hard work, and he became one of the most highly sought-after
pitching prospects in the nation. Scouts and sportswriters
said he was a “natural,” “another Bob Feller.”
This seemed true enough until one day during his sophomore
year in college he threw a curveball that severely damaged his
arm. All that “natural” ability went out the
The injury would have ended his career except he couldn’t
see life continuing without baseball. Thus, he started an
eight year struggle that brought about his transformation into
an unorthodox but successful major league pitcher.
Meanwhile, Dave’s baseball odyssey was eventful.
- He found a roommate who sleepwalked swinging a bat, another
who chewed Gillette double-edged razor blades, and still another
who was working up to a stretch in prison.
- He survived a burning airplane, a death-defying bus trip, epicurean
brushes with the criminal underworld, a kamikaze moth, and the
bullet that ripped through a taxi window in Indianapolis.
- He dodged tornadoes, lightning, and baseball hobgoblins.
- He got a good look at post-Fidel Havana.
But here’s the plus side.
- He experienced the bonding effect of minor league pranks and
- He enjoyed playing baseball askew in the metaphysical whirl
of Steppenwolf and the hippie generation, and he learned the
irresistible attraction of Janis Joplin and the dry spitball.
- But best of all, he played for five seasons in the Termite
Palace in Hawai’i.
The odd adventures didn’t end once Dave made it to the major
- He was rewarded with a Niagara Falls vacation in mid-summer.
- He spent a season busily tormenting Ted Williams.
- He once found himself teaching the knuckleball to Seri Indians
in a remote desert village in northern Mexico.
A Pitcher’s Pictures
Many photographs illustrate Snake Jazz.
- A two-year-old Dave tries to get the hang of baseball.
- Bob Feller gives Dave some pitching instructions.
- The weird and now extinct Sulphur Dell ballpark in Nashville.
- Two of Dave’s Topps baseball trading cards – one,
his well-known Howdy Doody impersonation and the other, a disgustingly
popular card with a smiling brontosaurus on the card’s