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BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: PAT JORDAN
Posted By Alex Belth On October 30, 2003 @ 1:49 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled
Pat Jordan is from the Old School. He is not politically correct. He drinks booze and calls women broads, and frankly, doesn’t care if you like it or not. He also writes in a clean, succinct style that is clearly old fashioned (God bless him). That may explain why you mainly see his work in The New York Times Magazine. Jordan was a bonus baby in the Braves organization in the late 1950ís. He was a promising young pitcher but never made it even close to the Majors. He later became a journalist, and a decade after his playing career ended, Jordan released “A False Spring,” a memoir about his baseball life (and death). “A False Spring” went on to become a minor classic. Less than ten years ago, Jordan wrote a follow-up memoir, “A Nice Tuesday,” in which he continued to examine what went wrong with his career as a jock. Jordan has also written several other sports books, as well as a thriller series, that according to the author, “isnít so thrilling, but there is lots of sex and violence.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Jordan late this summer. He is a blunt but funny guy, a real straight shooter. Some of our conversation may seem dated, but I doubt that will be a problem for the reader. The Hot Stove is here, and this is a long one, so dig in and enjoy.
Bronx Banter: You are most famous for your first baseball memoir “A False Spring.” But I actually prefer the second one, “A Nice Tuesday.”
Pat Jordan: So do I. Nobody else does. I thought “A Nice Tuesday” was much better, but thatís the way it goes.
BB: I felt that the second book actually made the first one richer, deeper.
PJ: The other thing with the first book is that I assumed a persona. You know what I mean? And some of it doesnít ring true to me today because it was a persona that I was working on. Whereas with “A Nice Tuesday” I didnít have any persona. To me, it was much more natural. In other words, I wasnít trying to create a character, it was just me. In “A False Spring” I created myself as much harder-edged than I really was. I wasnít stupid enough to go up to two girls and say, “Oh, who are the cunts?” I wasnít that dumb. It was too stylized as far as I was concerned. Whereas with “A Nice Tuesday” I didnít have any motives other than just getting it all down.
BB: There was self-consciousness about the writing in “A False Spring” that didnít exist in “A Nice Tuesday.”
BB: You were in your early 30s when you wrote “A False Spring,” and the book is about you trying to figure out what happened to you in your early 20s. It felt as if you still didnít really know what had happened yet.
BB: “A Nice Tuesday” has the advantage of perspective. Also, you only hinted at your family story in the first book, and that is fleshed out much more in the second one.
PJ: I skipped over it in “A False Spring.” I think itís only in the first chapter. The second book was really a memoir that had very little to do with baseball. You know, we had reviews that complained because it wasnít “A False Spring.” One review out in San Diego by an ex-ballplayer complained there wasnít enough baseball, and there was all this bullshit about dogs.
BB: I liked the stuff about your dogs.
PJ: Well even if you donít like dogs, it was part of the whole thing. I was trying to use Bubba, for example, as a stand-in for me.
BB: He was the dog who got so unruly that you had to get rid of him. But you sympathized with him because he was just being his natural self.
PJ: Exactly. I was trying to say that at least I could change my personality a little bit as a human being, but poor Bubba was trapped into his. The difference between the two books is that “A False Spring” was plotted, and it was mechanical. In other words, I was going to touch every base: what it was like to be in Yankee Stadium, what it was like to be in spring training. “A Nice Tuesday” wasnít plotted. I never planned on writing about dogs when I started the book. The original book was to be about pitching at 56. And then I started this stuff, and I called up my editor and said, “Do you mind if I put in this drag racing stuff?” He said, “No, go ahead.” I said, “What about this dog stuff? The dogís keep popping up.” So what I learned with “A Nice Tuesday” is be less disciplined and more open to mystery, and to let things come that intruded themselves whenever they wanted to.
BB: Was “A False Spring” your first full-length book?
PJ: No, the first book I wrote was called “The Black Coach.” It was a book about a black football coach who took over a white high school football team in North Carolina in 1971, I think it was. 1972. That was really the first book I had ever written.
BB: Was it a novel?
PJ: Oh, no. It was a non-fiction book. Itís a good book. Itís pure reporting. On e-bay, they want a fortune for it. Iíve seen it go for $175-$200 for the book. All of my books are like leaves of grass. If you are lucky enough to have an unsigned copy, you are in great shape. I tell my friends who want it signed, no, keep the unsigned copy, itís worth more.
BB: Did you write “Suitors of Spring” next?
PJ: Yeah, that was the second book. It was a collection of Sports Illustrated pieces. Then “A False Spring” was the third one. I had a three-book contract with this publisher, Dodd Mead, and “A False Spring” was the one that they really wanted. They wouldnít give me enough to write it, so I said, “Do a collection of my Sports Illustrated pieces.” This way Iíd get paid twice. That way I was able to write “A False Spring.” Which didnít do well. It didnít sell many books. None of my books have sold anything. Iím sort of like a cult failure. You know the guy from New Orleans who wrote “Confederacy of Dunces?” He was a cult success. Iím a cult failure.
BB: Hey, at least youíre alive to see your own failure.
PJ: Yeah, they either drink themselves to death or kill themselves. I canít afford to, Iíve got too many bills. I have to keep working. Every time I think, “Oh, I can shoot myself,” Iím like, “But who is going to take care of the dogs and Susan? Who is going to pay the mortgage?” I canít afford it.
BB: Susan, your second wife, is Meg Ryanís mom.
PJ: Thatís right.
BB: I really liked your observations about Meg Ryanís acting. About how she plays it safe.
PJ: Oh yeah, she plays it safe. And at first I was putting her down. But when it came time for me to pitch again, I realized the kind of fears she must have to branch off into something different. Actually, my wife is doing a fit, because Meg Ryan is doing a movie called “In the Cut” which she has naked sex scenes in. I said, “Maybe sheíll blame that on you Susan, she blames everything else on you.” Iím dying to find out what kind of body she has. I said, “Iíve only had your body, maybe hers is better.” But I understand her completely. Itís like when you get that sliver of success, you are terrified that you might lose it. So you never do anything different. One of the problems with what Iíve done over the years is that Iíve never done the same thing. I didnít do what George Plimpton did and write the same book five times. I have a novel out right now, and nobody has any idea that itís me. Itís called, “AKA Sheila Weinstein.”  Itís the second novel in a trilogy and there is no sports in it. But it keeps me interested.
BB: How long did you write for Sports Illustrated?
PJ: Seven or eight years. 1970-í78, something like that. Then I did books for a couple of years, then I worked for GQ for a couple of years. I write mostly for The New York Times [magazine] right now. I write for everybody, you name it. I had a piece in Playboy last month. I do whoever pays.
BB: The piece you did on Clemens a couple of years ago really changed my perception of the guy.
PJ: Roger? What did you think of him before you read it?
BB: Well, Iím a Yankee fan.
PJ: Iím a Yankee fan.
BB: Yeah, well, then you should know how I feel. I rooted against him for all those years. I hated Clemens. I just thought he was a big prick from Texas, by way of Boston and how much worse can you get than that for a Yankee fan? But I felt that you painted him as this big, goofy narcissist.
PJ: Yeah, heís a total narcissist, but heís also
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