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Author's 'Eight Men Out' told of baseball scandal

Obituaries / Eliot Asinof, 1919 - 2008

June 12, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Eliot Asinof, an author who invited readers behind the scenes of the sports world with books including "Eight Men Out," died Tuesday. He was 88.

He died at a hospital in Hudson, N.Y., of complications from pneumonia, said his son, Martin.

Asinof was best known for "Eight Men Out," his 1963 retelling of the "Black Sox" scandal in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox agreed to throw the 1919 World Series in a gambling scheme. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver were among the players banished from baseball for life by then-Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis when the fix was revealed.

Asinof spent more than three years researching the story, originally intending to write a screenplay for a television documentary. He later said Ford Frick, baseball's commissioner in the 1950s and early '60s, put pressure on the filmmakers and sponsors to end the project because it would put baseball in a bad light. "Everybody dropped it like a hot potato," Asinof told Chicago Tribune baseball writer Jerome Holtzman in 1987.

Asinof turned his efforts into book form, which former Times book critic Robert Kirsch called "an exciting and moving account of the scandal and a searching piece of social history."

Director John Sayles made a 1988 film version of the book by the same name starring John Cusack and Charlie Sheen.

Asinof wrote more than a dozen books, including 1968's "Seven Days to Sunday," for which he spent a year traveling and living with the New York Giants. A novel, "Final Judgment," is due to be published this year, his son said.

Born in Manhattan, N.Y., in 1919, the year of the Black Sox scandal, Asinof grew up a baseball fan watching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play at Yankee Stadium.

He earned a bachelor's degree in history at Swarthmore College, where he also played baseball. He briefly played in the Philadelphia Phillies' minor league organization before joining the Army and serving in World War II.

His first book was "Man on Spikes," a 1955 novel about a journeyman baseball player. He also wrote for television and film, working on western shows "Maverick" and "Wagon Train," his son said.

During the McCarthy era, Asinof was blacklisted and had to resort to writing under the names of other writers, his son said. Years later, after he obtained his FBI file, he told his son that he had been targeted because he once signed a petition outside Yankee Stadium saying that black ballplayer Jackie Robinson should be allowed to play in the major leagues.

In 1950, Asinof married Jocelyn Brando, the sister of actor Marlon Brando, after meeting her when she was appearing on Broadway.

His parents met, Martin Asinof said, when his father was dating Rita Moreno, and the Brando siblings -- who were starring in separate productions on Broadway at the time -- joined them for dinner. Moreno and Marlon Brando left together, and the other two became smitten with each other. By 1955, Asinof and his wife were divorced.

Earlier this year, Asinof completed a memoir about his wartime service, his son said. "He was writing right up to the end," Martin Asinof said.

In addition to his son, Asinof, who lived in Ancramdale, N.Y., is survived by a sister.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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