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Interview: Talmage Boston: Litigator Doubles as Baseball Historian

Talmage_1 Talmage Boston is a seasoned litigator working out of the Dallas office of Winstead Sechrest & Minick P.C. where he is one of only 70 lawyers in Texas who are board certified in both Civil Trial Law and Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Then there's Boston's other career - that of a baseball historian and writer. Boston's passion for baseball is quickly evident from the healthy display of baseball memorabilia adorning his office: bats used by Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson and Lou Gehrig; replicas of Fenway Park; and a picture of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio with former President Bush.

And then there's Boston's book - 1939: Baseball's Tipping Point, which chronicles the pivotal 1939 season during which the Baseball Hall of Fame opened, the Little League was founded, and a baseball game was first broadcast on television. It was also Ted Williams' first season and Lou Gehrig's tragic last season. You can buy Boston's book on Amazon.

Click below to read Boston's interview.

JD Bliss (JDB):  You’ve been a successful civil litigator in Dallas for nearly 30 years, including a term as chair of both the State Bar of Texas Litigation Section and the Dallas Bar Association Business Litigation Section.  And then there’s your other “career” as a baseball historian that has led you to author a highly praised book on baseball’s pivotal 1939 season, write dozens of articles on baseball history for many publications, and be inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.  Let’s start with your history as a lawyer – what initially drew you to the law?

Boston:  It actually goes back to my childhood.  I think my parents were alarmed by my early obsession with baseball cards, and my mother tried to focus me in other directions by giving me a set of information cards about the presidents.  I became fascinated with Lincoln and other presidents, and when I learned that many of them had been lawyers I formed the general idea that the law is a path to success.  Two events in 1963, when I was in the third grade, cemented all my conclusions.  My parents took me to see the film To Kill a Mockingbird, and Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch became my most unforgettable movie character ever.  A few weeks later, in a book about Thomas Jefferson, I read a life-changing sentence:  "As a boy, Thomas liked to argue and, therefore, when he grew up he became a lawyer."  Knowing that nothing in life made my juices flow like a good argument and wanting to be like Lincoln, Finch, and Jefferson made me decide I wanted to be a lawyer.  I never lost focus on my goal from that moment on, pursuing it through high school debate tournaments, college politics, and law school at the University of Texas.

JDB:  You have an active commercial litigation and dispute resolution practice at Winstead Sechrest & Minick.  What do you find most satisfying about your current practice?

Boston:  It’s the relationships I’ve formed on so many levels – working with my colleagues at the firm, working with clients to help them achieve their goals, and getting to know lawyers throughout Texas in my roles with the State Bar.  Plus, my two favorite things to do are writing and public speaking, and being a trial and appellate lawyer gives me ample opportunity to do both.

JDB: You’re a sought-after speaker at CLE and community events, and devote considerable time to public service and State Bar activities.  How do you balance those activities against the demands of your practice?

Boston:  Efficiency and focus in setting priorities are the keys.  I believe a big part of being a successful lawyer is building your network of relationships in every way you can, and Winstead wants its attorneys to be involved in the community.  The civic arena is particularly active in Dallas, and because I’ve practiced here for over 27 years I know a great many people and use my public speaking to build even more contacts.  I probably devote 25 hours a month to writing, pursuing professional activities, and in speaking to civic groups on a wide range of topics – especially motivational presentations that focus on lessons from baseball.  In addition to my baseball writing I now do regular columns for the Park Cities People and Dallas Business Journal newspapers, as well as guest columns and book reviews for the Dallas Morning News.  Of course, it helps to be a member of a large firm with talented associates who can help with my practice.  But because there are only so many hours in the day, it ultimately comes down to how you choose to spend them.  My family comes first, and I know how many hours my practice requires me to work to support my family and help my clients.  I could use my remaining time to golf, hunt or watch television.  Instead, I devote it to speaking and writing.

JDB:  Let’s turn to your focus on baseball history.  You mentioned your early interest in baseball cards.  How did that translate into an avocation as a baseball historian?

Boston:  Well, I grew up in Houston just as the Colt 45s (who soon became the Astros) were bringing major league baseball to Texas.  But the Boston Red Sox became my team – after all, they had my name on the front of their uniforms.  A friend and I made a vow that when our hero Carl Yastrzemski was inducted into the Hall of Fame, we would be there.  That happened in 1989, and I was there in Cooperstown thanks to my friend Bobby Brown, who was president of the American League at the time.  On the flight back to Dallas, I wrote him a thank-you note that turned into an essay on why I love baseball and baseball history.  That sparked me to read even more about it, and to write about what I learned.  My role model as a spokesman for baseball was Bart Giamatti, the former president of Yale University, whose love of baseball led him to become Commissioner.  He autographed a baseball for me at the Cooperstown ceremony, thanks to Bobby Brown’s wife Sara, and then died a month later.  I wrote a tribute to him for the Dallas Times Herald that became my first published baseball article.  Several others followed, and my search for new topics ultimately resulted in the writing of my book: 1939: Baseball's Tipping Point.

JDB:  Why did you choose that topic – and how did you research and write a book while maintaining your practice?

Boston:  In all my readings the year of 1939 kept popping up.  So many things happened:  baseball celebrated its centennial and opened the Hall of Fame, Lou Gehrig stopped his consecutive game streak and gave his famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, Ted Williams played his first season, Joe DiMaggio won his first MVP award, the Little League and televised baseball made their debuts.  Each of these events was a story in itself, and together they defined a year that was, as I said in the book’s subtitle, Baseball’s Tipping Point.  It took me two years of squeezing out time around my legal practice, plus the patience of my wife and two children, to produce the book, which was first published in 1994.  It was an enjoyable process, because the skill set to being a good trial lawyer is identical to the skill set of being a baseball historian.  You need to be able to research accurately and express yourself clearly.

JDB:  How did you handle marketing and publicizing the book?

Boston:  At first there wasn’t much of either.  My publisher was a small local company that just marketed it in a few Texas cities.  And, because 1994 was baseball’s strike year that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series, enthusiasm for the sport was down.  But the book gave me opportunities to do more work in baseball history here in Texas – everything from writing essays on Nolan Ryan, to talking history on the weekly television show of the Texas Rangers’ manager at the time, Johnny Oates.  In 1997 I received the honor of induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame for my historical work, and continued to write and lecture on the sport’s history.  Eventually in 2005 I was able to bring out a revised and updated version of 1939, for which John Grisham was kind enough to write a foreword.  The visibility from that, and marketing on, has given me more success with the book this time around.

JDB:  What do you think has made you a successful popular writer who is able to go beyond the typical lawyerly way of expression?

Boston:  Stephen King, the novelist, has said that to be a great writer you have to be a great reader.  I am a passionate reader and pay close attention to an author’s readability and rhythm – which is what good writing is all about.  Another thing that is important is the commitment to rewrite and improve what you’ve done.  On average, I revised each chapter in my book 15 times before it met the standard of excellence I demanded of myself.  Another successful contemporary writer, the historian David McCullough, has observed that nothing so focuses the mind as writing, the process of generating new ideas.  That creative process has certainly made me a better lawyer.

JDB:  What impact has your work as a baseball historian had on your ability to market your practice?

Boston:  Certainly it’s been a plus.  Business people are my typical clients, and they’re generally big sports fans, so my baseball connections help give me a shared, down-to-earth common interest with them.  Just as important, in my view, is that my baseball research has given me stories that everyone can relate to in the motivational speaking that I do.  There’s Lou Gehrig’s courage in adversity, and Joe DiMaggio’s concern for the success of the team above all.  Carl Stotz, who founded Little League Baseball, was turned down by the first 56 potential sponsors he approached with his idea.  I’ve brought these messages to chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs, corporate functions and high school audiences throughout the state.  This kind of speaking not only enriches my practice, it enriches my life.

JDB:  Your success in following your passions while maintaining your practice is a good example to other lawyers.  What do you think is most important for someone who wants to take a similar path?

Boston:  I think it comes down to prioritizing what’s important to you, persistence in pursuing it, and creativity in expressing it.  Again, we all have demands from clients and family, yet we all have time that we call our own.  Each of us has the ability to decide how effectively we use that time, and for what – watching television, or pursuing a passion.  I think it’s tremendous that the State Bar of Texas this year is sponsoring a short story contest for members.  All the submissions have to have a theme based in the law, but just the opportunity to pursue a different means of expression on familiar topics illustrates what one can do.  I made a submission and it was my first attempt at fiction; and I’ve also tried my hand at poetry for the first time.  Taking even small new steps like that can enrich your life and your practice in ways you might never expect until you try them.

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