“1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas” is an experiment in storytelling, a new genre that we’re calling real-time historical fiction. The core of the project is a historical novel in the form of a diary of a pitcher on the 1927 Yankees, which will be complemented by a wealth of fact-based content from the season, all published along the same timeline as the events unfolded almost 90 years ago.
Through Myles Thomas’s diary entries, additional essays and real-time social-media components “re-living” that famous Yankees season, our goal is to explore the rarefied nexus of baseball, jazz and Prohibition — defining elements of the remarkable world that existed in 1927.
Is “1927: The Diary Of Myles Thomas” A Book? A Social Media
Experiment? Or Something Else?
Along with the diary, there are other key editorial elements designed to amplify the real-time nature of the project and provide readers with ongoing historical context about one of the most wonderfully insane periods of modern America.
The four key content elements of the project are:
- The Diary of Myles Thomas
- Letters from newspaper reporters “covering” the 1927 season
- More than 3,000 Tweets about 1927 events both on and off the baseball field — published along the same timeline as they actually occurred — with many containing links to original 1927 newspaper articles, along with video, stills and audio of those events. This will allow fans to “follow” the on-field exploits of one of the most famous teams in baseball history over the course of the 154-game season, just as it unfolded.
- Essays by historians and subject experts, designed to bring context to the events described within Myles Thomas’s diary.
About Myles Thomas
Myles Thomas was a true-life, mediocre, 29-year-old pitcher on the greatest baseball team of all time. You can see his statistics here. That’s all the factual history about Thomas you will find on these pages, for now.
For the purposes of our project, Myles Thomas is — save for his statistics and his mentions in the authentic 1927 newspaper articles we quote and display — a crafted character, around whose real-life details we spin a story. He is the guide, the narrator, the touchpoint for the entire season.
Like Nick Carraway in the The Great Gatsby, Myles is a window through which readers can experience the other characters, including his baseball Hall of Fame teammates, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs and Waite Hoyt; Yankee manager, Miller Huggins; other baseball immortals of the day, such as Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander; and famous and larger-than-life historical figures from the 1920s, including Louis Armstrong, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Barbara Stanwyck and the man who fixed the 1919 World Series and created organized crime in America, Arnold Rothstein.
About the Diary
“1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas” is more than just one player’s account of the Yankees’ extraordinary 1927 season. Myles’s diary is an intimate journey through the interconnected worlds of baseball, jazz and Prohibition.
As a work of sports literature, its models are five nonfiction sports diaries: Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four,” Jim Brosnan’s “The Long Season,” Bill Bradley’s “Life on the Run,” Jerry Kramer’s “Instant Replay,” and Ken Dryden’s, “The Game.” All five books are wonderfully entertaining and insightful accounts of single seasons, written by athletes just past their primes, focusing not simply on their own careers, but reflecting on the world around them.
In the case of Myles, though no “real” diary exists, our historical-fiction chronicles the adventures of baseball immortals, jazz pioneers, Prohibition entertainers, bootleggers and gamblers — all part of his personal exploration of youth, greatness, morality, sex, race, and the meaning of heroes.
The diary entries are written by the project’s creator and executive producer, Douglas Alden.
What Part’s History?
History is the foundation of our project. The team behind “1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas” has meticulously researched on-field accounts of the season, the non-sports events of 1927, and the real life cast of characters that we detail in the diary.
John Thorn, the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, joined the project in early 2015 and has provided almost daily guidance. In addition, throughout our research we have been in contact with numerous historians, biographers and scholars.
We have worked hard to be true to all of the characters and events that Myles describes: All the characters’ biographies have been fully researched and, with rare exceptions, all of the stories told by Myles are either historically accurate or tied to actual historical events.
For example, no two characters in our story meet if it weren’t actually plausible for them to have been in the same location at the same time. In his diary, for instance, Myles details a late night on May 7, 1927 spent with Louis Armstrong in Chicago, when Armstrong and his Hot Seven band were recording two seminal jazz tunes, “Willie the Weeper” and the more famous “Wild Man Blues.” May 7, 1927 is the actual date of those recordings. It’s also a night when the 1927 Yankees were in Chicago.
In situations where we were unsure of dates or the locations of historical figures, we’ve tried to hew to this rule: “Given what we know, is it plausible that this event could have happened, among these people, on this date, at this location?”
If It’s Fiction, Why Did We Write the Diary with Such Historical Detail?
Because tying ourselves to real life events allows us to point (via many of those 3,000+ tweets) to actual 1927 newspaper articles and box scores featuring those events and our characters, as well as historical essays that support the reality we’re creating. The goal is to bring a dramatic new level of verisimilitude to historical fiction.
Yes, there are a few flights of complete fancy in our story, but not many. That’s because upon close inspection, the Roaring 20s more than lives up to its reputation as an age of excess and wild incidents.
What Really Happened on the Field?
It’s amazing how much we’ve been able to find out about what happened on the field in 1927. The research reveals an amazing tapestry of events.
During the 1920s, baseball was the only game in town, in every town. The unchallenged national pastime, it was the game every child wanted to play and every adult wanted to watch, read, or talk about. One result of its wild popularity was that professional baseball in the ’20s provided much of the content for newspapers across America. As a result, thanks to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the New York Public Library and stunning online archives, like the New York Times’s TimesMachine, our research for this project has accessed a treasure trove of contemporaneous accounts of the 1927 season.
Newspapers were the prime conduit of news and information in the 1920s — commercial radio was still in its infancy, though it would quickly be pushed into adolescence thanks to the events of 1927 — and, as you will discover, the accounts of sports reporters like Grantland Rice, Damon Runyan, Paul Gallico, Ford Frick, and others that we include throughout the project are vibrant and vivid.
Of course, journalism is only the first draft of history.
Thanks to the Internet, new and more accurate drafts of history are now being written at a remarkable pace. For baseball historians, this has meant a significant increase in scholarship, especially by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its Baseball Biography Project. And we have drawn greatly upon that work.
The Internet has also made it possible for us to access box scores of every game played during the 1927 season, thanks to Baseball-Reference.com. (For example, here’s the box score for the Yankees’ opening day game against the Athletics, featuring Babe Ruth and Waite Hoyt versus Ty Cobb and Lefty Grove.) Through Baseball-Reference we also have access to each game’sRetrosheet, which gives us the play-by-play for every inning of every game. In fact, just about the only thing we’re missing from most 1927 games are the pitch counts. (Those we estimated.)
Letters from Ford Frick and Others
Along with publishing Myles Thomas’s diary, we’re also creating a series of letters from one of the real-life scribes of the 1927 season, Ford Frick. A Yankee beat writer, during the ’27 season, Frick — who would later serve nearly 15 years as commissioner of Major League Baseball — was also the ghost writer of Babe Ruth’s weekly column syndicated in newspapers across the country.
If Myles Thomas’s diary is the melody of our project, Ford Frick’s letters are the harmony and counterpoint. They are written by Steve Wulf, one of the deans of baseball writing and a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine. The letters will be published weekly throughout the season.
The final editorial piece of our project consists of contextual essays written primarily by John Thorn, but also by other scholars and historians, and are designed to give historical context to the diary entries.
First example: In the diary, Myles writes about his feelings towards Ty Cobb and the gambling and game-fixing scandal that erupted around Cobb and Tris Speaker that came to light after the 1926 season. (The scandal resulted in Cobb moving from the Detroit Tigers, where he had played for 22 seasons, having been the player-manager from 1921–26, to the Philadelphia Athletics for the ’27 season.) Rather than have Myles give the details of the scandal, which are murky, to say the least, John Thorn has written an essay about the incident, its implications and baseball historians’ speculations regarding what really happened.
Another example: Major league baseball may have been completely segregated before Jackie Robinson, but the world of professional baseball was not. Just two days after the 1927 World Series, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig headlined a barnstorming team against the all-black Royal Giants in Trenton, New Jersey; two days later the teams met again, this time in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Baseball scholar and author Gary Ashwill has now identified over 100 games between all-black teams and either major league baseball clubs or white barnstorming teams featuring major leaguers. We’ve dubbed this phenomenon “Parallel Play,” and Ashwill has written a remarkable essay that will accompany Myles Thomas’s diary entry about some of these games.
We also will be posting contextual essays about jazz and other non-baseball subjects throughout the project, as well.
Fact, Fiction and Imagination
Those are our ingredients: The diary of a mediocre player on the greatest team of all time. Letters from a beat writer. Contextual essays from the official historian of Major League Baseball. More than 3,000 tweets. Hundreds of links to 1927 newspaper articles, film clips and remarkable archival photos. And, finally, a portfolio of original illustrations created just for this project.
The end result is a mix of fact and imagination — and not just ours, but yours.
With this experiment in storytelling, our goal is not to capture your imagination, but to unleash it, so that you can experience the Roaring 20s in the present — and see the 1920s not as a fossilized, black and white history lesson, but as a blazing moment in time, full of color, innovation, insanity and, above all, youth; a decade much closer to our own than to any of the decades that preceded it, or most that followed.
— Douglas Alden
Creator & Executive Producer of “1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas.”