Book on Homer baseball recalls games, controversy
By Mike Warner
Followers of Homer High School baseball will have a chance to relive the Trojans’ remarkable three-year run from 2004-06 that included a pair of state championships and a national winning streak in a book written by Battle Creek Enquirer sports reporter Jeff Karzen.
The book is entitled “Homer: The Small-Town Baseball Odyssey,” and includes a foreword from Detroit Free Press sports writer Mick McCabe.
It’s difficult to gauge how much appeal the book will have for those unfamiliar with HHS, but for Trojan supporters and other readers familiar with the program, the book is a wonderful opportunity to revisit that once-in-a-lifetime period when Homer was at the center stage of the high school baseball world.
Be aware, not only are the good times highlighted – such as the championships and 75-game winning streak – but also the disappointments, such as the losses to Saginaw Nouvel and Grand Ledge.
“I thought it was very favorable,” coach Scott Salow said of the book. “Jeff did a very good job of going back to an important era in the school’s history.”
The book includes plenty of insight from players, coaches and fans. There is also a bit of intrigue and conflict in the book. As Karzen follows the exploits on the field, he also takes an in-depth look at what was going on behind the scenes.
In addition to game action, he weaves a parallel story of how Salow had to fight for his job.
If you remember, Salow was offered the middle school principal position on the condition he give up the baseball head coaching job. Salow reluctantly agreed, then later had a change of heart. He planned to resign as principal and ask for his coaching job back.
In a spontaneous outpouring of community support, Homer residents flooded a board of education meeting, pleading with administrators to allow Salow to do both jobs. After hearing person after person speak on Salow’s behalf, the board was persuaded, and voted 7-0 to rehire Salow as baseball coach, and 7-0 to not accept his resignation as principal.
The decision infuriated Chuck Finch and the Homer Education Association, who insisted it was the past practice of the district to not allow administrators to coach. Finch, who, according to the book, boasted: “The baseball job is mine,” then filed a series of grievances against the district, all of which were denied. The matter finally went to arbitration, where the issue was settled in favor of the district.
The book quotes Finch as saying he will never forgive or forget that Salow didn’t make him an assistant coach.
Karzen describes how the conflict was difficult for the team because Finch’s son, CJ, was a valuable member of the squad, as was pitcher Dan Holcomb, whose father was the superintendent.
The controversy produces some interesting quotes, most notably from CJ Finch, who infers Salow didn’t teach the team anything, that all their baseball skills were learned from his father and another summer league coach.
The younger Finch goes on to claim Salow was a great manager of the game, but he couldn’t compare to his father in terms of baseball fundamentals.
“When it comes to baseball intelligence, we know who we are listening to, and that’s my dad,” he said.
While the controversy makes for good reading, it probably is overstated in the book. The issue was decided in 2004, and wasn’t a factor in 2005 or 2006. It wasn’t an issue that tore the community apart, either, as the vast majority of the community was solidly in Salow’s corner.
Throughout the ordeal, Salow has remained very classy, refusing to enter into the fray. While hurt, he refused to criticize CJ Finch.
“I know he must have been under a lot of pressure,” the coach remarked. “CJ will always be one of my favorite players. It was never my intention to take all the credit for the program’s success. All the summer league coaches should feel good about our accomplishments.”