"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Bronx Banter Interviews

Bronx Banter Interview: Josh "Bad News" Wilker

The Cardboard God of Hellfire, our man Josh Wilker, has a new book out. I recently had a chance to ask him a few questions about it.


Bronx Banter: How did this project come about?

Josh Wilker: I guess the series editor, Sean Howe, is a fan of my blog. He contacted me to see if I had any interest in working on something for the series. I wrote him back an email listing several of my favorite movies, including “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.” Sean liked the idea of me writing about Breaking Training rather than any others on the list, and I was into it, too. (I also would have gotten excited about writing about “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” but it’s probably better for my mental health that I focused for a long while on Tanner and Kelly and Ogilvie rather than Warren Oates and a severed head.)

BB: How long is the book–it’s really a long essay, right?

JW: Yeah, it’s not that long, maybe a little over a hundred pages. I just checked the Word doc I sent the editor—it’s about 30,000. It’s got chapters though, which is kind of book-like. I think the idea was for the books in the series to be similar to those in the 33 1/3 books on albums.

BB: I love that this is a pocket paperback. When I got it the first thing I did was see if it fit in my back pocket. There is something so comforting about that.

JW: Right, all books should be that way. Nothing better than heading out the door and not having to carry anything and still have something to read on the train.

BB: What was the first baseball movie you saw as a kid?

JW: “Breaking Training” was probably the first. I’d read a lot of baseball books by the time I saw that movie, but I don’t think I saw any other movies. I guess the first time I saw any sort of fictional baseball on the screen was when Bugs Bunny took on the Balboniesque sluggers on the Gashouse Gorillas.

BB: Why did you chose it over the original “Bad News Bears”?

JW: Probably because I suck. There are lots of other reasons, too, among them that the second movie had a much stronger personal connection to me, and felt more like my own flawed little love rather than a generally acknowledged classic, and also that the second movie seemed to me to have much more potential as a jumping off point to talk about a lot of facets of American culture that fascinate and/or nauseate me, such as the central American myth of the road narrative, the changing ways in which children are raised in America, the malignancy of sequels, the “man alone” myth, etc. But above all that, if I’m being truthful, I don’t see myself as worthy of tackling something canonical. I’m too flawed to be some learned authority shedding light on “Citizen Kane” or “The Godfather.” I relate to the lesser sequel, even love it, and wanted to sing its praises. Maybe it’s kind of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree kind of thing.

BB: When did you see the original?

JW: Unlike my first viewing of “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training,” which I remember vividly, I don’t remember when or where I saw “The Bad News Bears.” In line with a life that has often felt like an aftermath, like I arrive everywhere just after the things that mattered occurred, I saw the sequel first, and it was years before I saw the original. I probably saw it in my twenties, during which I spent a lot of time catching up on all the classic movies from the 1970s. If I were a couple years older, I probably would have seen it in the theater when it came out, and I’d surely have a different relationship to the two films.

BB: What did you think of “The Bad News Bears” when you finally saw it?

JW: It’s a fantastic movie, one of the last great films of the gritty late 1960s to mid-1970s golden age. I don’t recall my first time watching it, as I’ve said, but I’ve watched it many times since then—as with Breaking Training, I own the DVD. Matthau is of course brilliant, and I also like the occasional long reaction shots some of the Bears get to have, those long wordless shots that you don’t see anymore in movies (and which were gone even by the time of the sequel two years later). Jimmy Feldman gets one of these, as does Rudi Stein, in both cases showing a heart-wrenching human kid reaction to Buttermaker getting caught up in a win at all costs mentality. Both of these characters are marginal, so the fact that they each get to have one of these moments lends a sense to the movie that everyone is worth something.

BB: Where did you see “Breaking Training?”

JW: I saw it at the Playhouse Theater in Randolph, Vermont. In piecing together my personal experience of the summer of 1977, I came to the conclusion that my brother and I would have seen the movie during our yearly two-week summer visit to see our dad in Manhattan, but we lost a couple of movie-going days due to the blackout. It was god to see it back home, because I saw it in a theater packed with all the kids I played little league with, which could not have been a more receptive audience. It’s the most alive, enthusiastic movie audience I’ve ever been a part of.


The Man

Over at SI.com I’ve got a 30-minute podcast interview George Vecsey about his new Stan Musial biography.

Dig it…(There is no direct hyperlink to the interview, just go to May, 2011 and you’ll find it there.)

Bronx Banter Interview: Jane Leavy

Babe Ruth was clearly the best player in Yankees history, Yogi Berra earned the most World Series rings, and Joe DiMaggio was, well, Joe DiMaggio, but somehow Mickey Mantle still stands apart. He came of age along with millions of baby boomers who curled the brims of their hats to match Mantle’s, imitated his swing, and even limped like he did.

Quite simply, he was the Mick.  Jane Leavy explores the man and the legend in her recent book, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.  Ms. Leavy was generous enough to talk with me about her book and a few other topics.


Bronx Banter: Behind every good baseball book, you can usually find an author who grew up loving the game, who grew up playing catch with his father…

Jane Leavy: Ah, ah, ah… Watch that “his,” watch that “his,” Hank!

BB: But I think that’s what I want to get at, the fact that typically most of these writers are men who were boys growing up wanting to be baseball players and then settled for being writers. I was just wondering how much of that was true of you as a child?

JL: Well, I don’t think past the age of probably five I really thought there was much prayer I was going to be a baseball player. I think the inheritance of a passion for a game, whether it’s baseball, since baseball claims a supremacy in that, though certainly I know people whose devotion to the New York Football Giants or the Jets or even, God help us, the Redskins, is handed down along with the season tickets the same way. But baseball certainly has a claim on that matter of inheritance, and yes, I inherited my love of the game from my dad. I don’t think I had any illusion that I was going to be out there on the field with the guys, and that was pretty sad. I could dream, but that’s different. And I do think that that makes a big difference in the way that women write about sports. I’ve often said, and I really do believe this, reporters are supposed to be outsiders. There’s always been a little bit of a competitive thing going on when the guys who wish they could’ve been the second baseman for the New York Yankees are trying, almost, in their question to prove to the interview subject that they know as much and they could’ve been out there with them and the whole nine yards. I don’t think any woman is going to go into a locker room with that same notion. Reporters are supposed to be outsiders, that’s what we are. When you’re a woman in a locker room, that’s what you are. You’re an outsider.

BB: It reminds me of something that I heard Suzyn Waldman once talk about. She said that when a player is traded, a male reporter will immediately think about how it impacts a team, whereas she would always realize that behind that player there’s a family that’s being uprooted, and she felt like her female perspective allowed her to see more of a situation than just what was going on on the surface. It seems like you’re kind of saying the same type of thing, I suppose.

JL:  Well, I don’t think you can make the acute generalization that every male reporter is gonna not wonder about how somebody’s nursery school age kids are gonna feel, or how every baseball wife is going to deal with yet another relocation. Not every guy is an insensitive boob, and not every woman is an empathic shoulder to cry on. As a reporter, it’s partly determined not just by personality, but by assignment. If you’re just out there to write the game, whether you’re male or female, it doesn’t matter. For a while, once in a while I would trade bylines with a male friend just to see if anybody noticed. I think I wrote this actually once. When I first started sports writing, the gig was can you write so that nobody could tell you were a girl. You had to prove that it was an okay thing to be. I do believe, and this is what I was saying, there are advantages, though it’s certainly a double-edged sword, particularly early on – but there are advantages to being a woman in a locker room. There are things that guys tell women that are different than what they tell other guys. And there are questions that women may ask that are different than what a guy may first ask. I always use this example. I’ve heard countless numbers of men say to a player, “Well, that slider didn’t do much, did it?” The question presumes that they know exactly what the pitch was. Well, maybe they don’t. Half the time the hitters don’t. But a woman, certainly this woman, would presume nothing. I would say, “What was the pitch? Do you know what that pitch was? And where was it? Where did it go? What was it supposed to do?” That’s what I meant about the competitiveness. I didn’t feel the need to show my bona fides in that way.


Bronx Banter Interview: Glenn Stout

To celebrate the publication of the 20th edition of The Best American Sports Writing, I sat down with series editor Glenn Stout. Dig our chat.

Bronx Banter: How many pieces do you read each year, and how do you find all the stuff?

Glenn Stout: I can’t answer this any more specifically than to say “many thousands.”  I don’t waste time counting. But understand, a lot of what I read I only read until I say to myself “This is not going to make the book,” so I stop. Suffice to say that I read enough of every submission, and enough of every significant story in every publication I receive, that I don’t stay up nights worrying if I read enough. Almost without even thinking about it anymore, I read a couple hours a day. It’s like feeding the dogs or working out – part of the fabric of the day.

I find things by looking and by being easy to find myself and by trying to make it clear to every writer that he or she is encouraged to submit material. Several hundred magazines and newspapers are sent requests for submissions and/or complimentary subscriptions.  I subscribe to a healthy number of publications myself, a few good friends, like yourself, and even readers, recommend stories to me, and I send out a mass e-mail request to a mailing list I’ve put together over the years. I also read some blogs and check some message boards to see if there are any stories people are talking about. But most importantly, I just keep my eyes open. A story like one by Pam Belluck in the New York Times a few years ago – “How to Catch Fish in Vermont,” wasn’t a submission, and didn’t appear in the sports section of the Times. I stumbled upon Belluck’s story while looking for something else. The same thing happened this year when I found Eric Nusbaum’s story “Death of Pitcher” from his blog, pitchersandpoets.com. I was looking for something for Fenway 1912, my book on the first season of Fenway Park which will come out next year, and I stumbled on his story. There are probably eight or ten stories each year that get sent to the Guest Editor that I “find” accidentally. But they are “on purpose accidental” because I leave myself open to finding them. I’ll steal a magazine from a doctor’s office if there is a story in it that might be good for the book.

BB: Has the process changed at all over the years?

GS: The biggest change is that 20 years ago all my browsing took place in hard copy. I worked at the Boston Public Library then and had access to where the past years’ magazines and newspapers were kept. I’d go in the occasional Saturday and spend the whole day reading. Now, with the internet, coupled with the fact I no longer have direct access to what, until recently, was one of the world’s greatest public libraries, means I spend much more time online. But I don’t think the flow rate of the word river has changed all that much.

BB: Are there certain kinds of stories that are more likely to make it? Magazine profiles, newspaper columns?

GS: I don’t think so, but other people do. I’ve gone back and checked and the stories I set aside each year for further reading break down about 60% – 40% between magazines and other long form formats and newspapers (which includes weeklies and the handful of Sunday supplements still published). Although these days, of course, with so many newspapers cutting space, cutting back, and/or closing, I’ve noticed a drop in submissions from newspapers and their writers, and there are clearly fewer “take-outs” being written. Since it is impossible to browse hundreds of daily newspapers, newspaper writing is probably more dependent on submissions than work from magazines that can send me subscriptions. And I have to say, newspapers and newspaper writers are, for some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, hesitant to make submissions. There are some major, major newspapers that have never responded to a request for material. I can’t consider what I don’t see. And even when papers do make submissions, there have been times we’ve picked a story that the writer submitted and the paper did not. What they submit is often very telling. One very well thought of sports editor at a major paper never sent me material from his staff – but submitted his own very pedestrian work every year.

I’ll admit that longer form pieces probably have a bit of an edge – extra space is a gift to a writer — but that’s also part of the media of putting a book together. Longer form stories hold together better in a book. Obviously, there are some kinds of stories that I personally don’t care for, but in every batch of material I send to the Guest Editor, I always include a few stories that I might not like at all, but understand that someone else might.

BB: There aren’t very many accounts of single games or events. Is that by design? Do you find that the art–and of necessity–of game recaps has been devalued with the rise of technology?

GS: Very few games stories and column – I find – provide the information needed to stand alone a year or more later when the book comes out. Often there just isn’t enough context in the story, and they often depend on a great deal of assumed knowledge. That may be understandable when the story was first written, but can no longer be assumed a year or more later. And some are just plain dated. This isn’t a contest for the writers, but a book for the readers, and if a story doesn’t give the reader enough, or is dated by changing events, it’s not going in the book no matter how well written it might be. And stylistically, few game stories or columns today are written with much real form – there is a lot of radio banter and one-liners masquerading as writing. I’m not sure that technology is the reason for that, but when considering game stories, I think that when the computer allowed writers the freedom to do constant updates and re-writes, and writers became accustomed to doing so, many stopped writing stories that actually told a story.


Bronx Banter Interview: Mike Vaccaro

People talk about the electricity of a heavyweight title bout, the spectacle of the Super Bowl, or the madness of the NCAA basketball tournament, but for my money there is no greater championship than baseball’s World Series. In those years when we’re lucky enough to see the game’s two best teams engaged in a closely fought series, we witness a battle which stretches out over more than a week as the Series lives and breathes with context and texture unmatched by any other sport’s championship. Because of this, the greatest of these Series live etched in our memory, and even those which were merely good become the subjects of books.

We all remember the ecstasy and the agony (not to mention the Mystique and Aura) of the 2001 World Series; we know the significance of Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough; we’ve mimicked Carlton Fisk’s frantic waving from 1975; and we’ve seen the grainy newsreel footage of Mazeroski’s clinching home run in 1960. Because we are fans of the Game, we feel like we know all there is to know – or at least all we’re supposed to know.

But what if we don’t? Enter Mike Vaccaro and his latest book, The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs and Politicos Who Re-Invented the World Series in 1912, an engaging look at a World Series you’ve never heard of. As he describes the Hall of Fame players and personalities on both sides, as well as politicians and gamblers lurking on the sidelines, Vaccaro argues that this was the series that gave the World Series its place in our national psyche. He was kind enough to talk with me about it for a bit recently. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. (Note: As I opened the book, I had no idea of how the Series eventually turned out, and I enjoyed this added suspense. In order to preserve this for any readers who might like a similar experience, the author and I did not discuss the outcome. Where indicated, some of the links will give the result.)

Bronx Banter:  Have you always been a baseball fan? Did you play as a kid?

Mike Vaccaro:  Yeah, absolutely. Baseball was always a pretty important part of my childhood, and now it’s an important part of my adulthood. I played through high school and was never terrible, but never terribly good. Always just enjoyed it. I like to stay close to the game.

BB:  So what teams and players did you follow as a kid?

MV:  I was a Mets fan growing up. Most of my childhood they were awful and then later on they kinda gave us a nice shining moment in ’86, so that was my team growing up, for sure. I was a big Tom Seaver fan, as I’m sure almost all kids of my age were.

BB:  I suppose for a lot of your life you were probably hoping for a career playing baseball. At what point did you decide on a career in journalism?

MV:  When I realized that I not only couldn’t hit the curveball, I couldn’t throw the curveball, I could barely identify a curveball. If I was gonna do anything at all in terms of professional experience, it would have to be from the sidelines in some regard. Writing was something that I enjoyed, so it was a natural marriage.

BB:  Here’s a question that I always look forward to asking journalists: are you still a fan? Can you be a fan – not just of the game, but of the Mets, for example – and a journalist at the same time?

MV:  I’m a fan of the Mets in the sense that when they play well it’s a lot more interesting story to cover, I think. I do think that the occasional train wreck is also an enjoyable story for people to read, but let’s face it – Mets fans would prefer to read stories that have to do with the Mets doing well, just as Yankees fans do also. So I do think that it’s probably fair that when you’re working the press box you root for good stories first before you root for teams or anybody, but I do think they go hand in hand. And I do try to look a little bit through the prism of a sports fan, even though that’s hard to do. You do obviously have access fans don’t have, and so therefore you have to take advantage of that telling your own stories, but I like to think I understand what sports fans bring to the game. I try and have that color my writing. I don’t believe in the complete detachment of emotion when it comes to writing. I know a lot of people like to say, “I hate the games, I don’t like the games, I don’t care about the games,” but I think if you do that, that really informs your writing and I think it really lessens it as well.

BB:  I think I’d agree with that. So with this book, what was your research process like? Where did you get your information, how long were you researching, and when did you sit down to write?

MV:  It was actually a fairly swift process. I suppose one of the good things about writing a book in which all the characters are dead, is that you’re kind of on your own schedule, not anybody else’s schedule. (Laughing.) So it was just a matter of getting my butt to the library, to the archives, to the Hall of Fame, and all these places where you could find the information that I wanted to find. It’s interesting. In a lot of ways it was easier to write a book about that era than it even would be about the 50s or certainly today, because there were so many newspapers, there were so many stories written, there were so many of these players that were first-person reporters in their own right for all these newspapers. It was almost… I won’t say there was too much information, but there was certainly enough there to be able to weave a tale out of it. From the first moment I arrived in the library with a blank notebook trying to start taking notes, to turning in the final manuscript was probably about nine months, start to finish. And the funny part about book publishing is that it actually was longer between turning in the final manuscript and publication than the actual book itself. That’s partly because instead of having a release date earlier in the year they decided on one to coincide with the playoffs, which was a smart marketing decision, I think.


Bronx Banter Interview: Larry Tye


Here’s a little something in case you can’t make it out to Brooklyn tonight to hear Larry Tye talk about his new book, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. Larry was good enough to spend part of his morning last week talking to me about Satchel Paige and Negro League baseball. Enjoy…

BronxBanter:  Your previous four books dealt with public relations, the Jewish diaspora, Pullman porters, and shock therapy. How did you get from there to Satchel Paige?

Larry Tye:  When I was writing the Pullman porter book, the porters told that of all the extraordinary characters that they had carried on the trains, from Joe Louis to Louie Armstrong to Paul Robeson, their favorite was Satchel Paige. And I had grown up hearing wonderful stories about Satchel as being the guy that every pitcher was compared to, and yet nobody really knew much about Satchel. So the porters really reignited my childhood interest in Satchel, and it seemed like a great time to do it.

BB:  Were you a baseball fan growing up?

LT:  I was. I was a huge Red Sox fan growing up, and every time I would go to a ballgame, my dad, any time there was a great pitcher, would always compare him to Satchel. But when I would ask, “What about Satchel Paige?” nobody really seemed to know much because he had played so much of his career in a shadow world.

BB:  Right, he seems almost like a legend as opposed to a real man with real statistics and real information behind him.

LT:  He did, and sort of every journalist or author out there sort of trying to understand how much of every legend is real, and Satchel seemed a wonderful way to do that.

BB:  I wonder if you could walk me through your process a bit. What kind of research was involved, and at one point did you sit down and start wrting?

LT:  I spent more than a year reading everything that had ever been written about Satchel, which meant looking at references to him or entire books. Probably a hundred books about Satchel or the Negro Leagues or some mention. Tens of thousands of articles from African-American and mainstream newspapers, loads of magazine pieces done over the years, and most importantly interviewing. I interviewed more than two hundred old major leagues and Negro leaguers. So it was partly trying to see what was there in terms of the written evidence, and partly trying to fill in the blanks with first-hand recollections of people who had been there with him, playing with him or against him. It was only after that work was well along, after about a year, that I started writing.


Bronx Banter Interview: Arnold Hano Part II

For Part One of this Interview, click here:


Bronx Banter:  A Day in the Bleachers. I just read this book for the first time, I want to say about six months ago. I think one of my favorite things about it – obviously I knew about the game, and I knew about The Catch and the other things that come to mind – but I think one of my favorite things was your description of the atmosphere of the game. Looking back fifty years ago, what was it like seeing a game in the Polo Grounds in the ’40s or ’50s?

Arnold Hano:  Well, what it was like seeing a game in the bleachers was the camaraderie. [Showing the covers of three different editions of the book.] When the book first came out, it was a book for fans, about fans. And then the next edition, it’s Willie Mays and fans. And then the next edition it’s just The Catch. But the cover of the first one is truer. This is truly what the book is about.

BB:  Right, right, definitely. It almost seemed like the book was about the fans, and, by the way, Willie Mays made a nice catch.

AH:  That catch, which I spent a lot of time on, took up nine pages in a hundred and sixty page book. And I don’t know if you know about the $700 edition of the book…

BB:  Yes, I read something about that. There was a limited print, and you had signed them all.

AH:  Four hundred copies.

BB:  The other thing, too, about this book is that now, that device that you used, using the game kind of as a prism through which to illuminate either a season or an era or a career, that’s a fairly common device now. But then, I don’t think so, is that right?

AH:  You’re telling me about devices. I wrote a book. I wrote a book about a day, and this is the day.

BB:  What I love about this book is that you’re writing the book and you’re telling what’s happening on the field, and Vic Wertz comes up to bat, and then suddenly you have a two-page segue on Vic Wertz.

AH:  Or on home runs hit by other people for long distances.

BB:  Exactly, exactly.

AH:  Well, I had to fill some space!

BB:  I think that now that’s pretty common. A lot of people use that.

AH:  Part of what E.L. Doctorow said yesterday on television is that writers don’t really realize what it is they’ve written. Critics tell them what they’ve written, but he said, “The result is I never read critics. They tell me things about the book…”

BB:  That perhaps aren’t there, or aren’t intended to be there.

AH:  So when you ask me about a device, I don’t know from the device in this case. I wrote a book about a day, and I filled it in with background stuff. I had to establish myself as writing a book with some reason, so I established myself as somebody who’d seen all these other things. And to that degree, I was an historian of this… thing. But that’s getting beyond where I wanted to go with it. I think of this as a nice little book. Other people think it was something else, but I think it was a nice little book.

BB:  Well, like I said, I don’t know if this was your intention as you wrote it – and it doesn’t sound like you had big intentions – but what I got from it is, I know about that catch, and I knew about that before I picked up the book. But your description of the fans in the bleachers, of what it was like on the field, in the stadium, that’s what I got out of it.

AH:  When I used to go to ballgames, of course, you don’t do this anymore, I used to go very early so I could watch fielding practice. And until a few years ago, I did not know they had suspended fielding practice. I bet the players’ union has done that because they don’t want somebody to break a finger.

BB:  Sometimes you hear people complain about that. You’ll be watching a game and someone will throw to the wrong base and someone will say, “Oh, well, they don’t have fielding practice anymore, and the only time they do that is in spring training…”

AH:  Although when you see a guy like Omar Vizquel pull a backdoor double play. Do you know about that at all? Kenny Lofton was at bat when he was with the Dodgers. Men on first and second and I think there was nobody out. They sent the runners and Lofton hit a one-bouncer to second base. Well, Lofton is about as fast going down from the plate to first base as almost anybody. So when Ray Durham fed Vizquel for the force play, Vizquel had Lofton in his sights, and he knew that he was not gonna throw out Lofton. So he whirled and he threw to third. The guy who had been on second base was playing his first game in the major leagues. He rounded third and goes two or three steps and there’s Pedro Felíz with the ball. The most embarrassed baserunner in the history of baseball – who was sent back to the minors that night! A backdoor double play! It was a 4-6-5 double play. I had never seen it before, and apparently he’s done it more than once. And apparently before that play, a few days before, he had reminded Felíz that this was something he might do. Television followed Vizquel off the field at the end of the half inning, and as he reached the first baseline he broke into laughter. He was so pleased and charmed with what he had just done. It was just a great moment. Now there’s somebody who didn’t need fielding practice.


Bronx Banter Interview: Arnold Hano

Part One

You don’t know Arnold Hano. How could you? You live in a world of bullet points and exclamation points, a place where sports writers aspire either to the pomposity of ESPN’s Sports Reporters or to the cacophony of Around the Horn. Where once a journalist would worry about supporting an argument with keen observations or weighty statistics, all that seems necessary now is a good set of lungs to shout down dissenting opinions.

Arnold Hano is more than this. If you do know him, you’ve probably read A Day In The Bleachers, Hano’s account of the first game of the 1954 World Series, or you might’ve read some of the pieces he wrote for Sport Magazine or Sports Illustrated over the ensuing thirty years. If you’re a television watcher, you might have come across some of his profiles in TV Guide, and if you’re a fan of pulp fiction, you’ve undoubtedly read one of his dime store novels.

I knew all this about Mr. Hano before I met him this past February. In some ways, he was exactly what you would expect from an eighty-six year-old man. He was direct, and to the point, and didn’t bother with unnecessary chitchat. We spoke on the phone twice, and when I asked if he’d consent to an interview, he started out by interviewing me. He asked about my interest and questioned my intentions. He wasn’t suspicious, he was just wondering why I wanted to talk to him and if I would be worth his time. Even when we finally agreed on a date, he offered to give me thirty minutes or so, with an option for more “depending upon my ability.” We ended up talking for close to two hours, the greatest compliment he could’ve given me.

Mr. Hano and his wife live in the tiny town of Laguna Beach, a city best known for its art scene and a television series on MTV. I walked up the steps to the house on a crisp Sunday morning and was greeted by Mrs. Hano, who led me into a small study, one wall of which was packed with books from floor to ceiling. In the corner sat a small, thirteen-inch television set. Mr. Hano pointed towards it, saying, “You can see that we read a lot more than we watch television.” And with that, we were off.

BronxBanter:  I want to start at the beginning. Tell me about where you grew up. New York City, right?

Arnold Hano:  New York City. Mainly I tell people I grew up in the Bronx, and sometimes I tell people I grew up in the Polo Grounds, which is across the river in Manhattan, but I was born in Washington Heights, which is at the top of Manhattan. And then when I was about four years old we moved across the Harlem River and into the Bronx. I grew up in the Bronx and went to DeWitt Clinton High School, which is the high school at the north end of the Bronx, and we were there until I was maybe fourteen or fifteen when we moved into Manhattan. The formative years were those years between maybe four and fifteen.

BB:  You talk about those formative years. How important were sports, either playing sports or following sports, in your daily life?

AH:  Both, both, both, both. I played everything, and I read everything, and I followed everything. My father brought home two newspapers everyday. He brought home the Herald Tribune and the New York Sun. I said, “How come you read the Tribune and not the Times?” And he said the Tribune was better written. So I was reading sports pages in the Tribune and I started reading Bill Heinz in the Sun when Heinz was just breaking in. Do you know Heinz at all? Great writer. I played all the ancillary games. I played punch ball, I played stick ball, I played stoop ball… There was a game in the playground called box ball, that was a very good game that we played. And then I started playing baseball in sandlot games and Police Athletic League teams and stuff like that. I was a walk-on in my senior year of college as a pitcher. I know looking at me you don’t believe all this, but I was once actually tall. I’ve lost five inches of height to issues with my spine.

BB:  And what school was that?

AH:  That was Long Island University out in Brooklyn. I’ll tell you about the walk-on later. But I played basketball, I played football, all the sports. I ran, I did everything. I was very involved in sports. I remember when I was a kid we had a stickball league behind our house. There was a length of houses, lots of room. I hit fifty-three homeruns in one season, I remember that! [Laughing.]

BB:  That’s so funny, because I remember when I was a kid we had a field, a grass field – it wasn’t stick ball in the alley – but I remember keeping track of things like that, how many home runs we had hit in this make believe season that we played whenever we wanted.

AH:  That’s right… So I was very involved.

BB:  So did young boys in the 20s and 30s, did they dream of growing up to be sports heroes as much as they do today?

AH:  I did. I can’t tell you their dreams, but I dreamed of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium and striking out Lou Gehrig. That was a dream of mine, to throw my screwball past Lou Gehrig. Carl Hubbell had been one of my heroes, so I learned how to throw a screwball. I could control a screwball better than I could control a fastball. When my brother and I – my brother was three and a half years older, he was my mentor, he was the greatest big brother anybody ever had. He and I would go to ballgames, and in those days at the end of the ballgame you could run out on the field. We would slide into the bases before the bases were uprooted, and we would stand in centerfield and see whether we could see home plate, because of the mound, and we were little kids. He could and I couldn’t, and that sort of stuff. It was just a wonderful growing up experience to have, especially to have the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium across the river from each other within spitting distance. My grandfather was a cop in the New York City Police Department, and he had year passes to the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium, and he left them to me, so I got in to see as many games as I could see every summer. I was a Giant fan more than a Yankee fan, but I was a Babe Ruth fan, so I would do both.

BB:  What was that like, growing up like that? You can’t really relate to that now. Even the Mets and Yankees are far apart, and the Dodgers and Angels here aren’t even in the same city. What was it like with those teams so close together?

AH:  I’ll tell you even how closer it was. We lived in an apartment building in Washington Heights – this was from the time I was born until I was four – where Bob Meusel and Irish Meusel lived. Bob Meusel played left field for the Yankees, Irish Meusel played left field for the Giants. One would be using the apartment while the other was on the road, so they shared that apartment. They lived one story above us. You can’t get any closer to baseball than to have as your neighbor Bob Meusel and Irish Meusel. I used to ask my father, “Who’s better, Bob Meusel or Irish Meusel?” And my father was very, very diligent about questions like that. He’d say, “Bob Meusel has a better arm, he’s a better fielding left fielder. Emil…” He never called him Irish. “Emil Meusel has more power.” I’d say, “Well who’s better?” And he’d say, “You have to decide that.” So having the two teams there, my brother was a Giant fan and I was a Yankee fan up to 1926 when Tony Lazzeri struck out against Glover Cleveland Alexander and the Yankees lost that ballgame by one run and the Series. My brother said, “See, I told you how lousy they were.” So I shifted in 1926 to the Giants, and 1927 began the Yankee dynasty that may have been one of the greatest teams ever. But I didn’t really care because I still remained a Babe Ruth fan. I loved watching him hit homeruns.

BB:  Now tell me about Babe Ruth, please. I know…

AH:  You know the fat guy.


The God of Hell Fire

Bronx Banter Interview


By Hank Waddles

For Yankee fans, Roger Clemens is a difficult case — even before all his recent steroid trouble. If you’re of my generation, you grew up despising him. Even though he pitched for Boston during an era when we all knew the Red Sox would never win anything, he was still a fearsome enemy. He was the gunslinger who stole your girlfriend before shooting the sheriff right between the eyes on his way out of town. There was some pleasure to be had when his skills began to decline during his twilight years in Boston, but it wasn’t too much of a surprise when he became great again — if irrelevant — during his time in Toronto. And when he came to New York in 1999, if all wasn’t forgotten, at least it was put aside. First of all, the Yanks were adding the best pitcher in the game; second, they were twisting the knife in the heart of Red Sox Nation. It was a win-win.

Roger helped the Yankees to a couple more championships, won his 300th game, endeared himself to the Boss and legions of fans, and said all the right things about wearing a Yankee cap into the Hall of Fame. But then came the defection to Houston, the self-serving Stadium announcement of his return to New York, and, finally, the steroid allegations. There was an embarrassment that we had once embraced him, and the ashes in our mouths were there to remind us that we had gotten exactly what we deserved.

But there is more to Roger Clemens. Sure, he cut corners, but he also worked harder than any of his teammates. Yes, he is hopelessly selfish and egotistical, but he’d be the first player to volunteer for visits to children’s hospitals. Whether you loved him once or never at all, whether you think he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown or a spot in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, you have to admit that Roger Clemens matters. In Jeff Pearlman’s latest book, The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality, he does his typically thorough job of cutting through the Roger Clemens mythology and getting to the heart of the man who was once considered one of the five greatest pitchers of all time. A few weeks ago Jeff was generous enough to spend part of his morning talking with me about the book, the steroid era, and a few other topics. Enjoy…

BronxBanter:  You’ve said that you love writing books, but when I spoke to you a while back while you were deep in this one, you described it as hell. How do those two things go together?

Pearlman:  The only thing I can really compare it to is running marathons. I run a lot of marathons. When I first start running a marathon, I’m really excited, and I love the first thirteen miles, and then the next four miles I sort of start feeling it, and then once you hit the twenties you start thinking, “I’m never gonna do this again. I’m neeeever doing this again.” And when you cross the finish line your first thought is, “Thank god this is over so I never have to do it again.” And then ten minutes later you’re thinking about the next marathon. And that’s how I feel about writing books. It’s nightmarish. It’s hellish. You’re solely focused — usually for a year and a half or two years — on one person, one subject, for all that time. You’re looking for these little details that seem insignificant to someone who doesn’t do it for a living, I would guess, but they become these gold nuggets for you. Finding out what someone used to drink for breakfast in the morning, silly little things like that that you think mean nothing, but they mean everything when you’re working on a book. Detail is what counts. When I was a kid I read every book imaginable, every sports book I could find, and I didn’t really differentiate between the good ones and the bad ones and the mediocre ones because I didn’t know any better. But now, when I’m reading someone else’s book, I really am looking for the details. If you’re writing a book about Reggie Jackson, everybody knows all there is to know about his three home run game in the World Series, but when you learn what sort of glasses he was wearing or where he got his hair cut or what he was saying to Mickey Rivers right before the game, that’s interesting.

BB:  How does that compare to writing feature articles? You used the marathon analogy; are these just sprints if you’re writing a piece for SI or some other magazine?

JP:  One of the best pieces of advice I got for writing a book was when I was doing my first book, which was about the Mets. Jon Wertheim, who is a friend of mine and writes for SI, said to me, the best thing you can do is think of each chapter as an article, as a lengthy article. So I would compare an article, if it’s long, to writing a chapter. And a book is just like a big monsoon.

BB:  I heard David Maraniss say once that it was much easier to write about dead people. If he was writing a biography about a living subject – and I think he was referring to his Clinton book – he would just pretend that the person was dead. Did you seek out Clemens at all, or did you pretend he was dead?

JP:  Well, I did reach out, and it was made clear he wouldn’t talk. Hence, it really was as if he was dead to me. I didn’t think of it in Maraniss’s terms, but he’s 100% right. And it’s definitely easier to write about a deceased person, because:
A. He won’t come back and say, “That’s not right.”
B. You don’t waste all that time trying to get him to talk.
C. People are more open when they know the person won’t get mad.
D. He can’t sue you for anything.


Barra Talks Berra

Bronx Banter Interview


Our old pal Allen Barra sat down with me recently to talk about his new book, Yogi: Eternal Yankee.

Bronx Banter: You make the argument that Yogi was a better catcher than Johnny Bench. How close was Roy Campanella to Yogi during the Fifties? Was there any catcher even close to these two at the time?

Allen Barra: In Rio Bravo, Walter Brennan asks John Wayne if Ricky Nelson is faster than Dean Martin. “I’d hate to have to live on the difference,” says Duke. The real truth is that if you take Campanella at this peak, there’s probably very little difference between Berra, Bench and Campy. The only thing I might add to that is that it’s possible that, if given the same material to work with, Johnny and Roy could have gotten as much out of as many mediocre pitchers as well as Yogi did. But Yogi did do it, and that has to give him the edge.

BB: Did Yogi really deserve the 1954 and ‘55 MVP awards? In ‘54 the Indians won and Bobby Avila had a big year, also playing a key defensive position, and Mickey Mantle had a monstrous year. And in ’55 Mantle again had another ridiculous year.

AB: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if anyone’s done a “Value over Replacement Factor” kind of analysis for those years, but it’s arguable that Yogi might have had the highest value over anyone who could have replaced him at that position. In 1954 my guess is that the difference between Mantle and Berra wasn’t that great. Avila played a key defensive position, but not more key than Yogi’s. It probably should have been Mantle in ’55, but then I think there’s an equally good case that it probably should have been Yogi in 1950 instead of Phil Rizzuto. What’s interesting is that so many people thought that it should have been Yogi those years. I think that tells us something very important about him.

BB. Was there any year that Yogi should have won an MVP when he didn’t?

AB: Well, as I just mentioned, there was 1950. And you could turn the ’54 argument on its head and ask why Al Rosen, an Indian, wins the MVP [in 1953] when Yogi’s team won the pennant. I’m not saying Rosen didn’t deserve it, I’m just saying that if Yogi had won it, nobody would have gone to the barricades to say he didn’t deserve it, and I’d argue that he was also one of the top five players in the league in 1952. It’s more difficult to figure the value of a top-flight catcher. He did so many things to hold his pitching staffs together back then, I just don’t know if you can figure his worth compared to payers at other positions.

BB: It ‘s well known that Yogi helped Elston Howard when he joined the team but did Yogi ever question or go on the record about the Yankees’ institutional racism?

AB: No, I’m not aware that anyone in that period did. For one thing, when you talked to the players of that era, they all say, “Well, every year we heard that they were brining black players up through the minor league system, and we thought each year would be the next year.” I think there’s something to that – Gil McDougald told me something to that effect. I mean, the Yankee players were ready for it. They had no objections at all to integrating the team. It was only after a few seasons of George Weiss signing a black player for the minor league system and then trading him that they began to catch on. I’d have to say, though, that while the Yankees front office was as racist in its policies as the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees themselves got good marks from Elston and Arlene Howard and Larry Doby for their overall attitudes. Both the Howards and Doby put Yogi at the top of their list of good guys. Arlene Howard told me that Yogi and Elston “hit it off right away.”

BB. I know that walk rates were up in the Fifties and comparatively Yogi didn’t walk that much. But he was contact hitter and it’s hard to point this out as a major flaw. That said, were there any noticeable holes in his game, either offensively or in the field?

AB: No, none, and it ought to be mentioned that though Yogi didn’t walk that much, his on-base average was actually six points better than Johnny Bench’s in about the same number of games, and that’s what’s important. No, Yogi had no flaws. We all know he wasn’t much of a catcher until Bill Dickey learned him all of his experience, but by 1949 he was a very good catcher, and by 1950 the Yankee staff was pretty much relying on him to call their pitches. Or rather, he knew them well enough to call their pitches for them – did I just make some kind of Yogiism? Anyway, all that crap in David Halberstam’s The Summer of ’49 about Allie [Reynolds] and Yogi not getting along is fiction. All the Yankees told me so.


Yankee Panky: Q&A with Kat O’Brien

One of the hottest stories this year has been the continuing decline of the newspaper industry. I’ve written about it in this space, and with the shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle P-I going to a completely online format, and more papers reducing coverage of their hometown teams, the current trend is not likely to change any time soon.

What does this mean for baseball coverage? Russell Adams and Tim Marchman presented a telling look at the industry in an April 7 Wall Street Journal article. Being a baseball reporter for a newspaper used to be a job people would kill for. Now it’s likely a job that will be killed.

With that in mind, I’ve begun asking numerous questions of veteran baseball writers and columnists to get their respective takes on the industry. This series of Q&As will run periodically throughout the season and beyond, as trends develop. The first is with Newsday’s Kat O’Brien, a Yankees beat writer since 2007. Prior to moving to New York, O’Brien covered the Texas Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from 2003-06.

In her short time on the beat, O’Brien has witnessed the sweeping changes and cutbacks in the industry firsthand, and has decided to leave the beat to go to graduate school. The following exchange was conducted over a series of e-mails last week.

Will Weiss: What made you want to be a sportswriter? Even more specifically, what made you want to be on a beat?

Kat O’Brien: I never really set out to be a sportswriter. I was interested in writing and journalism, and sort of wound up in sports. I went to Notre Dame, and initially worked on both sports and news on the daily (Mon-Fri) student newspaper. That was too time-consuming, so I focused on sports, as it was a lot more fun and more-read among the students. For a long time, I thought I would switch back to newswriting, but I kept having great opportunities on the sports side and I enjoyed it. Doing a beat was kind of the natural progression. Baseball made sense as it was one of my favorite sports, and I also speak Spanish, which is useful in covering baseball.

WW: When and how did you use your Spanish? I’m curious, because I speak the language also and have written several anecdotes through the years about my adventures in the Dominican Republic, and with various Latino players in the Yankee clubhouse.

KOB: I double majored in Spanish in college after studying abroad. I’ve gone to the Dominican Republic a few times to do some baseball stories. I use it more on a day-to-day basis, both in interviewing players whose English skills are minimal (i.e. Melky Cabrera) and in talking to players who are comfortable in both languages (i.e. Mariano Rivera and Bobby Abreu). Even with the latter, I often find it helps build a rapport with players when they know you speak their language. It was huge with Alfonso Soriano when he got traded over to the Rangers, who I was covering at the time.

WW: Did anything specific happen to make you thinking about changing your career path?

KOB: It wasn’t any one thing but a combination of things. The writing jobs I had aspired to long-term, like writing takeout features and so on, barely exist anymore. I feel that there are other jobs I would enjoy doing and would be good at, and that this would be a good time to move in that direction. I’ll miss a lot about writing and covering baseball, particularly the relationships you form on the job. But this is the best move for me long-term.

WW: What changes in the industry have you witnessed in your time on the beat?

KOB: Wow, so many, and that is in just a few years. The Internet was not even a shadow of what it is now when I began. Now the Internet is priority No. 1, and it should be. The blogs have become extremely important, and most of those did not even exist when I started.

I also think there is a tendency towards more negativity and sensationalism, not necessarily on the beat, but in the media in general. This may be at least in part due to trying to compete with Internet sites, some of which are more gossip than news, but it’s not a good change in my opinion.

WW: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said recently that newspapers should give up trying to compete (with Internet sites). In your opinion, are newspapers dead? If not, what would you do to try to revive them?

KOB: I really hope that newspapers are not dead or on life support. That said, things don’t look good for most papers at the moment. One thing that is crucial is finding a way to get revenue from the internet. One idea I like is that of getting as many papers as possible to join a consortium. Then a person could pay a subscription fee — say $10-20 per month — and get access to all those papers. Because it’s not realistic to think people are going to pay to read every paper they ever look at online, but papers need revenue.

But papers have to stop cutting costs so much that their best and brightest are either forced out or leave because they don’t think the quality of the product is worth sticking around and being a part of.

WW: You told me offline that given the current state of affairs, leaving the beat is the best decision for you and your future. Why?

KOB: Unfortunately, I am not at all confident about the future of newspapers. I’m sure there will always be some sort of journalism by which people get their news and information. But it’s been devastating to watch newspapers get torn apart in the last couple years, due partly to the failure of the industry to get on-board with the internet early and adapt, and partly to economic conditions.

I see so many colleagues who have been forced from their jobs, or who want to try something else but are constricted due to family considerations, children and mortgages. I am young enough that I can go back to school, so I am doing that while I can.

WW: While it may not be the case with the major New York papers, numerous papers around the country have cut costs by not sending writers to road games, etc., and in some cases local teams receive no hometown coverage at all. Is this a disservice?

KOB: It is a disservice, but unfortunately an unavoidable one right now. Many papers are barely surviving — slashing jobs and costs wherever they can. Local team coverage is one of those costs being cut.

WW: Is the philosophical divide between print and online generational?

KOB: I think there is somewhat of a generational divide between print and online. I see a bigger generational divide over blogging, though. That seems by and large to be more accepted among younger people.

WW: I remember that some of the beat writers who are staunch traditionalists resisted to the blog movement; not only that they were being required to post to blogs, but to the group of writers that has made a name through the blogosphere. What was your reaction to this, and what’s your opinion of baseball writing on the web? Who do you read now and how do you see baseball reporting growing?

KOB: I think there is a place for all sorts of baseball coverage, both traditional and of the blog variety. I think the web permits a much broader amount of coverage. There’s a long list of blogs that I follow. But an example of the different types of writing would be in three of the Yankees blogs I read most often: RiverAveBlues, BronxBanter and WasWatching. All three do a great job of keeping up with Yankees stuff, but each has a different slant/angle. Each site has its favorites and its least favorites on the team, and each provides a different writing style.

Still, there can be a danger in losing sight of the fact that the blogs don’t necessarily provide the same information as the traditional newspapers/sites since many are giving opinion or compiling information instead of doing reporting themselves. I am not saying this in any “anti-blog” fashion, just that I think both are necessary.

WW: Thanks for the compliments and for following us here at BB. What, if anything, could both the blog sites and the newspapers do better to coexist?

KOB: Probably give each other a little more credit where credit is due. Not in all cases, but there are definitely some snarky comments from one side to the other, and vice versa.

WW: What will you miss most about the beat? The least?

KOB: Most: A number of things. Being there to get the story firsthand, the story that people are talking about and reading about and you are giving it to them. Writing for a large and passionate audience. And I’ll especially miss the people — the other writers and the people I am writing about such as players, coaches, managers, GMs, and behind-the-scenes folks.

Least: Witnessing and worrying about the constant decline in the newspaper industry. And it might be nice to have a somewhat more normal schedule, with less travel and more nights and weekends off.

WW: What’s next for you? Do you see yourself eventually getting back into sport media, or editorial?

KOB: I’m going back to school. I start a dual degree program at the University of Pennsylvania next month, getting a Wharton MBA and a Masters of Arts in International Studies from the Lauder Institute. I don’t envision myself getting back into sports media or editorial on a full-time basis. I would love to keep my hand in by doing free-lance writing. After I graduate I might get involved in the business side of sports, but that’s yet to be determined. I’ll miss sportswriting and all my friends in the biz, though.

Bronx Banter Interview: Bob Smiley

By Hank Waddles

Imagine that it’s the spring of, say 1931, and you’re starting to think that Babe Ruth just might end up being one of the best players ever to grip a bat. The recent downturn in the economy has left you without a job, so you figure, hey, why not spend the year following the Babe – every game, every at bat, every swing. You drive to places like Boston and Philadelphia, take the train to Washington, and ride busses to Detroit and Chicago. Along the way, you make friends in the bleachers in Cleveland, catch a series with a cousin in St. Louis, and sleep on couches in all corners of the American League. Your bank account feels the bite of your mission, your wife and children become strangers, and close friends question your sanity, but somehow it’s still worth it. I mean, this is Babe Ruth we’re talking about, right? If you could, you’d go back in time and do it in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you?


Now flash forward to 2008 and the Babe Ruth of this generation, Tiger Woods. Writer Bob Smiley shadowed Tiger for every swing of every hole of every tournament in places like San Diego, Augusta, and Dubai, and the result is an extremely engaging book, Follow the Roar: Tailing Tiger for All 604 Holes of His Most Spectacular Season. Last week Bob was kind enough to spend some time talking about his journey. Check it out…

BronxBanter: One of my favorite aspects of the book was that it wasn’t just about Tiger Woods, it was secretly about you, so I thought we might start with Bob Smiley. How important was golf to you when you were growing up?

Bob Smiley: It was really important. It was the first and really only sport I could every really play with my dad. I mean, I played little league and basketball, but golf was something that he taught me how to do when I was eight years old. We would go out and he would try to teach me the point of the game, but I would purposely hit it in the sand trap so I could play in the sand. He really wanted me to embrace the fact that golf is fun and when you get older you’ll appreciate the challenge of it. So for me it was always just a great place, and I had so many memories with my father as I was growing up. When my parents split up when I was a teenager that sort of remained the one spot, even to this day, where he and I still see each other is on the golf course.



“It bothers me to have been careless on some of these small details, especially when I was painstaking about most others…I trusted my notes and my memory on some smaller details, and there were obviously a few instances in which I didn’t have things quite right. That’s my fault, and I’ll take the blame…But if people are waiting for me to break down and confess that I made everything up, it’s not going to happen.”
Matt McCarthy, USA Today

Mr. McCarthy has asserted that the Times has “crafted a chronology that simply doesn’t exist.” We did not create any chronology. The chronology already existed and we merely followed the chronology of the season that Mr. McCarthy claimed to be writing about. Obviously, some errors are endemic to publishing. No one understands that more than a daily newspaper such as ours. Rather, what we wrote about were events and quotations attributed to real people that could not possibly have taken place as Mr. McCarthy asserts. Given that many people to whom those events and quotes are ascribed are claiming that they didn’t happen, the examples that we found to be provably false lend credence to those concerns.

Alan Schwarz, New York Times

Last week, Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwarz wrote an article in the New York Times about Matt McCarthy’s recent memoir, Odd Man Out. The piece pointed out a series of factual errors made by McCarthy while calling into question the authenticy of the book.  A second article lists the errors that the Times reporters found.

I read Odd Man Out and enjoyed it.  I also interviewed McCarthy for this site.  Needless to say, I was disturbed when I read the two articles in the Times.  

If he was guilty of embellishing the truth or of flat-out lying, I reasoned, McCarthy deserved condemnation. That said, I was struck by how forcefully the Times went after McCarthy.  I thought it was a stretch on their part to associate McCarthy with James Frey, infamous for his memoir fraud in A Million Little Pieces.  Many of errors that were listed seemed innocuous to me, and suggested sloppiness on the part of McCarthy and Viking, his publisher.  I didn’t find anything malicious behind it.  On the other hand, the sheer amount of mistakes the Times brought to light was troubling.  They had McCarthy placing people in places where they were not, having conversations that could not have occured, at least not as how they have been presented in the book.  

I don’t think McCarthy was trying to be lurid necessarily, but the accumulation of so many errors led me to question his authority as a writer.  I was left wondering, “What was really true?” Whether McCarthy was being naive or arrogant, I can’t say.  But his carelessness, as reported by the Times, did not reflect well on either him or the book. 

As a writer, my greatest concern is how this could potentially make things more difficult on the rest of us, simply by creating a standard of excellence that can’t be met without stretching the truth.

McCarthy toured the country promoting the book last week.   He first responded to the Times’ articles in this piece for the USA Today.   Here is one TV interview McCarthy did later in the week, and another.

I conducted a second Q&A with McCarthy via e-mail this week, and I also spoke to Alan Schwarz.  McCarthy has been amiable and professional with me.  I know other journalists in the industry who think highly of him.  I also know he’s in the business of promoting his book.  I’ve known Schwarz for several years and think he is a first-class reporter, as well as an exceedingly ethical and even-handed journalist. 

I will leave it to you to decide what to make of this fine mess.

BB: Your book has achieved a good deal of early success, but that was marred last week by the New York Times article which reported many inaccuracies in your story.

MM: I stand by the contents of Odd Man Out. The journals I kept were very specific and extremely detailed with regards to dialogue. I was a ballplayer keeping a journal, not David Halberstam, and so I made several mistakes in chronology. But I can say this with absolute certainty: not a single one of them changes the tone or meaning of my story, or makes me doubt the truth of the experience as I wrote it down in the book. The lies James Frey and Herman Rosenblat told were fundamental to and pervasive in their narratives – to compare that with a mix-up here and there in dates in Odd Man Out, which has no true effect on the book’s nature, is at best grossly unfair and at worst sensationalistic on the part of a newspaper.

BB: So do you believe this is an unfair attack on the part of the Times?

MM: It appears to me that Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwarz in the New York Times story are writing a partisan article and acting as advocates for Tom Kotchman et al., and using their lawyer’s letter as gospel truth and accepting their statements as fact. I find it interesting that Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwartz have constructed a detailed chronology of dates, which is 90% of their “error’ argument, when in Odd Man Out I do not use dates. I use only general references (a day later, two weeks earlier). Many of their claims to so called “errors” in the book have been created because Hill and Schwarz assign dates to events that I did not assign dates to. Each of the players and former players quoted in the New York Times piece are naturally nit-picking at minor details since they are not represented in a positive light. They are not going after the fundamental truths in Odd Man Out.

BB: I understand that you didn’t use dates, but since you are writing about a specific season it is easy enough to re-construct one. Why do you think the Times would want to pick on you?

MM: I don’t know if I should be the one to speculate about why the Times wrote their article. But I encourage your readers to check out my book and read the Times article and decide for themselves. I’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from people who have read both.

BB: You mentioned that you were a ball player keeping journals and not David Halberstam. Still, you were writing a book for publication, and I’m sure that Halberstam, too, needed someone to double-check his reporting at times… Can you understand how people might feel that if the facts that can be checked don’t check out how it throws the rest of the material into doubt, lending credence to the criticisms by Kotchman, etc?

MM: My book contains tens of thousands of details that I recounted from journals I kept. For example, from pages 102-104 I recount my performance against the Ogden Raptors inning by inning (and pitch by pitch in some cases) and it was all accurate down to the type of pitch I was throwing. At one point I write that Manuel Melo popped out to end the inning when it turns out someone else popped out to end the inning. In no way does this oversight change anything material about the book.

BB: Based on the kinds of errors you admit to, why should readers not question the veracity of the remainder of the book?

MM: I have acknowledged several errors related to box scores and chronology. Not a single one of them changes the tone or meaning of my story.

BB: The Times pointed out dozens of errors in their piece. Were they in fact correct on the amount of errors?

MM: No. Numerous situations were taken out of context. Is it an error for me to write “Breslow had something like 9 scoreless innings” when in fact he had 12 scoreless innings? They also consider it an error for me to quote Jon Steitz as saying, “I’ve pitched in 11 games and lost all of them,” despite the fact that he went 0-11 that season. They say it’s an error for me to say Joe Saunders “made batters look silly” because he gave up four runs in a game even though batters were swinging at balls over their heads and in the dirt.

BB: I think it is understandable that you could make some of these errors. However, the more puzzling ones include the incident on Larry King night where a person is placed at a scene where, as the Times claims, he was not. Was the Times correct in pointing out this mistake? And if so, do you see how that could effectively undermine your credibility as an author?

MM: Regarding Larry King Night: I said that King’s kid went around punching a bunch of my teammates in the groin and I mistakenly included Matt Brown in this list. I regret including him in the list, but it doesn’t change the fact that King’s kids were in the clubhouse before the game wreaking havoc on our midsections.

BB: I thought the suggestion that your book was like A Million Little Pieces was a stretch. Still, while a fraud, Fray was writing about himself, while you are being accused of hurting other people’s reputations. Do you regret any misleading characterizations that were the result of an error on your part?

MM: No. This book wasn’t about the box scores. It was about brining people closer to the game and I’ve received countless emails from fans who now feel closer to the game. It’s a great feeling.

BB: Have you had any direct contact with the authors of the Times piece since it appeared?

MM: No. I offered to correct the errors they have attributed to me and the errors that appear in their own article, but they said it wasn’t necessary…

BB: Who at the Times did you contact to correct the errors? Did they give any reason why it wasn’t necessary?

MM: I created a point by point rebuttal and gave it to the head of publicity at Viking who was in frequent contact with the Times authors. She offered them my rebuttal but they said they were going ahead with their story and didn’t need my side.

BB: How did the writing process work with your publisher?

MM: I worked closely with my editor on the organization and the overall tone and message of the book and it went through copy-editing and was vetted by legal.

BB: Looking back on it now, would you have used a fact-checker? Or do you feel that the mistakes that have been publicized are essentially innocuous?

MM: I suppose the simple answer is that I would’ve used a fact-checker.

BB: SI ran an excerpt from the book. What involvement, if any, did they have with the publication of the book?

MM: SI read an early draft of the manuscript and requested the opportunity to excerpt a portion.

BB: I know you faced some criticism even before the Times article came out last week. An Angels blogger left a comment in the thread for our original interview. Still, what was your initial reaction when you read the article in the Times?

MM: There have been a wide range of responses to the book and at some level you prepare yourself for anything.

BB: But how did it make you feel? Angry? Do you feel that in essence, the Times’ article is making legitimate criticisms or do you feel that it is an unfair attack?

MM: You’re upset any time someone takes things out of context, but that’s to be expected and there’s nothing you can do about it but defend your work.

BB: You say that you stand by your book. Would you have changed anything in your process knowing what you do now? What has this taught you?

MM: In hindsight it would have been nice to have gone through the box scores from the 350 to 400 high school, college, and minor league games that I played in.

BB: I read that Viking is considering putting out a revised version of the book. Doesn’t that suggest that they are unhappy with the book, or that they could be facing a lawsuit?

MM: Viking was misquoted in the USA Today article when it says, “McCarthy’s publisher, Viking, said it’s likely a revised version of the book will be released…” There are no plans for a revised version at this time.

BB: How has this controversy impacted sales?

MM: Sales have remained strong- last week the book was number 21 on the New York Times Best Seller List.

* * * *

I contacted Schwarz to get his take on some of McCarthy’s responses. I have set up Schwarz’s answers in paragraph form for easier reading.

Mr. McCarthy’s claims that he was denied an opportunity to, in his words, ‘rebut’ his own errors are not only preposterous but adds to his growing list of outright falsehoods. Our interview spanned more than an hour and was comprised mostly of my describing to him every substantive error — sometimes literally showing him things like transaction logs that proved he had the wrong person involved in some distasteful scene, and a copy of his own original contract that proved one quote-laden episode with Tony Reagins to be completely fabricated — and explaining its relevance to the larger picture. He offered explanations for each of them (and I put the most relevant ones in the article so that his side was fairly represented). This went on for probably 10 or 12 of the most substantial errors, with my explaining at every juncture that, while some were clearly not that big of a deal, they called into question the veracity of many other, less provably false scenes that real people said had not happened as he described.

I said that I would be happy to quote portions of the journals he said corrorborated what he had written in the book; he declined to let me do so. I asked to speak with the teammates he claimed supported him; he declined to say who they were.

At the end of the interview, I asked Mr. McCarthy if there was anything he wanted to add, anything that was important given what the story was going to be about. He thought for a moment and said no. I then told him that if he realized there was anything he wanted to add or clarify, that he had my cell phone number and I would be available to him all day for as long as he wanted. He said OK. I have not heard from him since.

The only person I did hear from, in mid-afternoon, was a call back from the Viking publicist. She said that Matt had given her explanations for each error, and would I like to hear them? I said that, to be honest, I had already gone over the errors with Matt in great detail, and that the purpose of my call was to provide opportunity for Viking to comment itself on the situation, its vetting procedures, et cetera. With no objection or hesitation she continued the interview, answering a few questions and offering a few comments — the relevant ones of which I put in the article. She asked if I had talked to Craig Breslow to seek corroboration of McCarthy’s version of events; I explained that Mr. Breslow, McCarthy’s best friend from Yale, was not on the Provo team and could not possibly speak to what happened in 90 percent of the stories told in the book. I mentioned that I had asked McCarthy for the names of the Provo teammates he said supported him so that I could call them, and that he had declined. At the end, knowing that the story was running that evening, the Viking publicist said she wanted to check with Matt on some things and she would call me back. She never did, which is of course her prerogative.

Mr. McCarthy is now saying that the New York Times told him about his list of rebuttals, and I am quoting him here, “We don’t want to hear it. We’re running our story.” Once again, he is putting words into people’s mouths that are blatantly untrue only to further his distorted (and false) image of reality.

And once again, he has done so forgetting that there is 100 percent proof of his dishonesty — in the form of my recording of his interview and a transcript of my conversation with Viking, which I can make available to any interested party. Last I checked, he still has my number.

A virtual “Field of Dreams”

Many of us long for the ballparks of our youth.  We’d love one more chance to walk through the corridors and glance upon the field where our childhood heroes played.

One enterprising Yankee fan is pursuing that desire in a unique way. Rick Kaplan, by day a mild-mannered CAD Systems Administrator, is in the midst of building a 3-D interactive recreation of the old Yankee Stadium, circa 1973.

Right field alley

Right field alley

Aerial view

Aerial view

I got the chance to interview Kaplan regarding his Yankee fandom, the reasons behind this audacious project and the challenges inherent in bringing the old Stadium “back to life”.

BB: How old were you on your first visit to the Stadium?

RK: Having grown up in the Bronx (Mosholu Pkwy), the Yankees were my home team. We used to get Yankee tickets through the PAL (Police Athletic League). I guess I went to my first Yankee game around 1965.

BB: Did you have any favorite players or memories of the Stadium?

RK: Most of the Yankee games I went to, we would be in the upper deck and I vividly remember how thrilling it was to walk out on the catwalks to get to our seats. You would be suspended above the mezzanine level – looking down on the crowd – and then emerge through the portal into the upper deck stands, which were impossibly steep. It was both thrilling and scary at the same time (I don’t think liability would permit such a design today).

I also remember being in the bleachers a few times (left field) and how far away from the field it seemed.

My favorite player as a kid was Horace Clarke.

I remember before the 1967 whitewash, the exterior concrete skin was badly cracked. It looked a bit tired. I really like the post-‘67 look, with the white paint on the outer walls and façade and the blue seats. That’s the time period my model represents.

BB: Did either of your parents get to the pre-renovated Stadium?

RK: Before my brothers and I started taking the subway on our own, my Mom would take us to Yankee Stadium. My dad, a Giant fan (and then a Met fan after the Giants left) would take us to Shea to see the Mets. I found out later that he and Uncle Fred never set foot in Yankee Stadium all the time they lived in New York (My uncle Fred still lives in Queens). I think they considered it enemy territory.


As I Lay Dying: The Anatomy of a Failed Minor League Career


It’s that time of year again, time for the new crop of baseball books to hit the shelves.  The Joe Torre/Tom Verducci book made a splash several weeks ago, and Selena Robert’s forthcoming biography of Alex Rodriguez is sure to make the best-seller list when it comes out in mid-April.  But there are a bunch of other interesting titles set to drop this spring as well, including “As I See ‘Em,” Bruce Weber’s book about professional umpires; “Heart of the Game,” S.L. Price’s account of Mike Coolbaugh, the minor league coach who was killed by a foul ball in 2007, and “Odd Man Out,” Matt McCarthy’s evocative and entertaining look back on his brief minor league career with the Angels.

McCarthy pitched at Yale, played for a year with the Angels, and then moved on to a career in medicine.  He’s now an intern at Columbia Pres uptown, just a stones throw from where the New York Highlanders once played.

Last week, Sports Illustrated ran a long excerpt from “Odd Man Out”, and on March 3rd at 6:00 p.m., Matt will  be at The Corner Bookstore (1313 Madison Avenue at 93rd street) to talk about the book.  I was fortunate enough to get together with Matt recently and talk about his life in professional baseball.


BB: John Ed Bradley wrote a terrific memoir about playing football at LSU called “It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium.” His experience might have been unique, but he describes the bond between his teammates almost like something soldiers feel. But I don’t get that same sense of being a team in baseball, even in college. Did you?

MM: Minor league baseball is a unique environment. It’s hard to be a good teammate when your primary goal is to leave the team- to be promoted to a higher level. And I was as guilty as anyone. If I pitched two scoreless innings and our team lost, I was relatively happy. No one makes the big leagues solely because they were on a winning minor league team. College baseball couldn’t be more different. We rooted for each other and still do. I still get a dozen texts every time Craig Breslow (my teammate at Yale who now pitches for the Twins) gets a big strikeout.

BB: Can you talk about the arrested development of the clubhouse culture. How do boys become men in that world?

MM: See: Kotchman, Tom. The Angels are very fortunate to have Kotchman. He could easily be a big league manager but instead he’s chosen to coach a rookie ball team. He’s able to influence players who’ve just signed very large (and very small) contracts and instill in them a culture of winning and for that the franchise owes him a large debt of gratitude. I don’t know if there are many guys like him still around, but I hope there are. That lucky charm of his- a large black dildo with two baseballs glued to the base- is something I’ll never forget. And the same is true of his Andrew Dice Clay impression. I’ve been out of baseball for six years and I still think about the Dice Man. He’s mentioned in recent interviews that he’s planning to retire from coaching sometime soon to become a full time scout. As I say in the book, I hope he reconsiders.

BB: Some of your teammates busted your chops about coming from Yale and assumed that you had a privileged life set up for yourself as a fallback in case baseball didn’t work. While they were wrong about you being on any kind of gravy train, you did have another career to turn to. How aware were you of that while you played?

MM: When you’re on the bottom rung of the minor league ladder, you can’t help but be aware of how expendable you are. That life after baseball is not just a possibility, but a reality. I was surrounded by guys who were coming to that realization and it was interesting to see how they responded. The realization came to me rather quickly- the first pitch I threw as a professional resulted in a bases-clearing double. I’m not sure if I ever recovered.


The Nack: Great Reporting, Vivid Writing

Looking for that ideal last-minute holiday gift for the sports fan in your life?  Look no further than The Best American Sportswriting of 2008, edited by Bill Nack, who is one of the finest sports writers we have.  

Nack is a first-rate reporter, a dedicated craftsman, and a true storyteller.  He came up with Newsday in the late Sixties and wrote about horse racing.  His experience in the field culminated in the seminal book, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.  In 1979, Nack joined Sports Illustrated where he excelled at the bonus, or take-out piece, writing beautifully about Willie ShoemakerKeith HernandezRick PitinoBobby Fischer, Rocky Marciano, and, of course, Secretariat, to name just a few. (Nack’s best work is compiled in the stellar collection, My Turf.)  

Nack now works for ESPN.com.  Roger Ebert, who has been friends with Nack since they went to college together, wrote a wonderful essay about his friend last week.  If you love words, and care about language, you must check this out.  It could be the highlight of your week. 

I recently caught up with Bill recently to chat about The Best American Sports Writing 2008.


Bronx Banter: As a writer, how do you approach a project like this?

Bill Nack: I just look for the stuff that I liked the most. The stuff that I thought was the best written and best told stories. I read 70-80 stories that Glenn Stout sent me. I got it down to 35-40 and then it became really tough to pair it down. The last ten were very difficult.

BB: Did you work with Glenn or alone?

BN:  I did it on my own. There were a couple of pieces that I had questions about but not many. He left it up to me totally. I trusted him to give me what he thought were the 70 best and after that I felt it was up to me to find the ones that I thought were the best. And occasionally, I’d call him up and say, “What do you think of this one?” Some to me were slam dunks, in fact most of them were. Jeanne Marie Laskas, SL Price. The only problem that I had was in trying to get a mix–of traditional sports with obscure sports. And I was very conscious of the mix.

BB: Did you also want to mix-up bonus pieces and newspaper stuff?

BN: Yeah I did actually. I wanted to make sure there was an adequate representation of newspaper columns which are a dying species. And when I read Rick Telander’s piece on Doug Atkins that was a no-brainer. Same thing on Rick Reilly’s piece. The piece on Bo Jackson, by Joe Posnanski, that was kind of a column, that to me was an easy one. That raised a problem because I wondered if we should have two Bo Jackson stories in one book. And I really liked the ESPN.com piece by Michael Weinreb. I loved both of them. And what I liked about them together is that they were completely different takes on the same guy. I think I did consult with Glenn on that one. I said, “Do you mind if we have two Bo Jackson stories?” And he said, “No, no, they are both very different.”


BB:  I actually like having them back-to-back for just that reason.

BN:  The one thing that I noticed in the first batch of stories that Glenn sent me was that there was no humor. It was very serious. The poor woman who was lost in the wilderness and saved by her dog, the Terry Fox run across Canada, the world’s tallest tree, Scott Price’s piece on the poor coach who died from a foul ball.  And I looked at it and thought, “God, some of this stuff is really gloomy.” I happened to be a subscriber to Golf Digest and Dan Jenkins is a regular contributor. I started looking through my old issues and ran across Dan’s piece about trying to play golf as you grow old. I started laughing as I read it, because he’s one of the funniest writers that’s ever written about sports. I finished it and thought this has got to go in there. So that’s the one humorous piece that I found. I also liked it because I’m 67 and play golf. And there are a lot of older men who still play, so I thought it had a wider appeal. It was not just funny, which I needed, but it was something that a lot of guys could relate to. You don’t have to be 67, all you have to do is be 50.

BB: Was there a sense with the Tom Boswell column on Clemens and the Hank Aaron story that you wanted to get in pieces that were timely?

BN: Oh, definitely. I did think of that. I thought people would like Tom Boswell’s piece because it is a comment on Clemens.

BB: I thought the Aaron piece was phenomenal.

BN: I showed some of the pieces around before I made my final choices. Some people loved the Tommy Craggs thing and other people said, “You can’t put this in there. Who is this guy?” I just laughed. But they were bent out-of-shape because Craggs is criticizing the press in his piece. Who is this guy to criticize the press? I said, “I have no idea and I don’t care who he is.” I thought he had a very interesting, sharp take. And when I read it I thought, you know there is a lot of truth in this. I might not agree with everything, but I thought there was a lot of truth in it. I had friends in the piece that he criticized but I ran it anyway.

BB: The collection has some good young talent, like Wright Thompson, who has made the series several times now.

BN: I thought that was a terrific piece he did on Beijing. Really well done. Almost personal in a way. He didn’t just write a piece. He got you into it with vivid imagery. I’ve never met Wright Thompson, I’ve only read a little bit by him but I thought, this is really good. I didn’t know anything about him, but like Tommy, I liked his work and was happy to put it in this book. If you want to know the bottom line, I didn’t consider personalities, I didn’t consider names, I just put in people who contributed to making this the best possible anthology I could put together.


The Last Knight of the Freelance

Getting to know Pat Jordan has been one of the highlights of my brief time hanging around sports writers. First, Pat was candid and funny in an interview I did with him for Bronx Banter back in 2003, then he occasionally gave me writing tips as I worked on my first book, a biography of Curt Flood. After that book came out, I approached Pat about doing a compilation of his best stories. I was shocked that one didn’t already exist. It’s the kind of project he’d never offer up on his own but he was more than delighted to be involved. So I wrote a proposal, got the book sold, and then we had a wonderful time going through well over one hundred profiles and finally selecting 26 stories to appear in the collection The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan.

The book is now out and Pat, a self-diagnosed troglodyte who still uses a typewriter and refers to himself as “the last knight of the freelance,” might be just that–the last guy who still makes a living strictly as a freelance magazine writer. Which isn’t to suggest he’s completely resistant to change, as he’s been busy doing publicity all ’round the ‘Net ever since his Jose Canseco piece appeared at Deadspin at the end of March. Derek Goold caught up with Pat for a nice blog entry he did on Rick Ankiel, and here is a profile on Jordan from the Florida Sun-Sentinel. There are also interviews with Rich Lederer, Will Carroll, Bill Littlefield for Only a Game, and Deadspin.

I like the following bit about the craft of writing from a Q&A with Playboy:

JORDAN: I grew up with radio and as a result I’d go to bed at night listening to “The Shadow,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Batman and Robin,” “The Green Hornet” and with radio I had to use my imagination to figure out what they look like. What does The Shadow look like? And so it stimulated my imagination and it made me very conscious of the way things look. To this day I’m very detail oriented, but unlike Tom Wolfe, who lists 48 things that a guy is wearing to supposedly describe him, I say it is not the accumulation of detail, it is right details. If you get the right details, you allow the reader to create the scene himself. It is always about the reader, I want the reader to think he wrote the story and that I didn’t.

PLAYBOY: You mention this in the book’s forward…

JORDAN: You create the ideal story when at the end of it the reader can’t yellow out a paragraph on page three and point to where you told him what the story was about. The reader needs to think that they discovered something in the story that the author didn’t because the author didn’t spell it out. If the writer doesn’t hand it to him the reader to thinks that they are in the process of discovering more of the story than the writer intended to put in. I think of it as a collaborative deal.

PLAYBOY: So you’ve made a living by making people think that you aren’t as smart as you actually are?

JORDAN: Exactly. They don’t think that you are leading them and they don’t know you set it up bit by bit. As far as sentences go, I feel that you should never have a sentence so complex that the reader has to stop and go over it again to get the meaning. The same applies to images. If you use a metaphor you need the reader to not reread the metaphor over again and sit down and think, “What does he mean a cow is like a moon?” If the reader has to unravel a sentence or a metaphor, that’s bad. You want them to read it all through effortlessly so they would be reading the story as if they were looking over your shoulder when you were typing. Some stories come easily. The stories you think came easily you think are genius and it comes out later that they weren’t that good. And the one that was like pulling teeth, that you had to bang on your typewriter like hammering nails into wood, that you hated doing because it was so hard to get right, you find out that that was the good one. In the end you want it to appear that the story is flowing out of you and that it is effortless. These are all the things that you do that nobody knows about.


Bronx Banter Interview: Joe Posnanski

I sat down with Joe Posnanski, the author of a new book on Buck O’Neil, The Soul of Baseball, recently to talk about all things Buck. (In turn, he interviewed me about all things Yankees at his new blog.) Here is our chat. Hope y’all enjoy.

BB: Buck became a celebrity after appearing in Ken Burns’ PBS series. What did he do for the previous twenty years? Was the PBS thing really life-altering for him?

Pos: There’s no doubt it changed his life. He was a scout in the ’70s and ’80s — mostly for the Cubs, but later for the Kansas City Royals — and he told most of the same stories. He carried himself in the same way. It’s just that people really didn’t listen to him much then. I’ve heard a long interview with Buck from the early 1980s, it was just the Buck people heard a decade later. You can hear all the same joy and optimism and love in his voice. It took Ken Burns to really hear that voice and bring it to America. And it was never the same for Buck after that. Suddenly, he was in demand — an overnight success at 82, he said.

As for what kept him going in those dry years — well, I would say part of it was always baseball. He loved scouting. He was involved with the Hall of Fame veteran’s committee; Buck was such a driving force in getting so many Negro Leaguers into the Hall. But there was more to it. If I had a key question in this book, it was exactly this question: “Buck, how did you keep from being bitter?” There’s no easy answer for that. Some people just have a gift for loving life.

BB: I was so moved by Buck’s reaction to not being elected into the Hall of Fame. Obviously, he was hurt by it, but he recovered–at least on the surface–faster than those around him. Then he told you, “Son, what is my life about?” It wasn’t about the glory, it was about the giving.

Pos: That’s exactly right. It was so vivid to see the way Buck responded to the Hall of Fame. So many of the other things Buck overcame in his life — not being able to attend Sarasota High School, not being given the chance to play or manage in the Major Leagues, on and on — were just concepts in my mind. But here was something I saw first hand, and I know Buck was disappointed that he did not get elected into the Hall of Fame. But he recovered, I think, on the surface and beneath. That’s what his life was all about. You move beyond bitterness and disappointment. You embrace life.

BB: You know the famous Satchel Page line about not looking back. Do you think that applied to Buck at all? Do you think he ever had reflective moments of sorrow or anger but just dismissed them and kept moving ahead?

Pos: I can’t see how he could be human and not have those reflective moments of sorrow and anger. He dealt with so much injustice in his life … the worst of America in the 20th Century. But I can tell you this, I was pretty close to him for this book. I mean, you travel a year with someone, and you see them in all sorts of moods. I never saw things back up on him. He was a very spiritual man. And he gained so much from his contact with people. Anytime he seemed to need a burst of energy, he would go up to a stranger and just start talking.

BB: Buck really did need people as much as they needed him, didn’t he? I love the story about him taking a break during a hot day, and finding a young boy to talk to, and by the end of their chat, he was revitalized.

Pos: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Buck’s connection to people is what kept him so alive and so hopeful about the world through 94-plus years. There is a constant theme in this book, I think. Whenever Buck felt a little tired, a little down — a little bit “old,” you could say — he would find someone to connect with. Sometimes, like in the chapter you mention, it was a child. Other times it was woman in a red dress or a man in an art gallery or a couple kissing in an airport. He never talked about these things — it wasn’t like he said, “Hey, I need to go talk to some strangers now.” He just did it. And it was always amazing to me the way he seemed reborn after connecting with someone.


Alchemy in the Boogie Down

Bronx Banter Interview: Joel Sherman

This is a tidy year for baseball anniversaries here in New York: Thirty years ago, the Yanks returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1964; twenty years ago, the Mets enjoyed the best season in their organization’s history and won the World Serious, and ten years ago, of course, Joe Torre managed the Yankees to their first Serious victory since 1978. So it is entirely fitting that Joel Sherman’s first book, “The Birth of a Dynasty”–an insider’s account of the 1996 Yankee team–has just been released. Sherman has been a columnist for the New York Post since ’96 and his book is a must-read for both casual and die-hard Yankee fans. I consumed the book in a few days and was excited about how much I learned (I never heard of a six-tool player before, but Ruben Rivera apparently fit the profile).

Sherman took some time out this week to discuss “The Birth of a Dynasty.” Hope you enjoy our chat.

Bronx Banter: You are a veteran baseball writer–first as a beat reporter, then as a columnist. Both of those jobs require different skills, but in both positions you are still working on a deadline and have only a limited amount of space to get your point across. This is your first book. What challenges did you encounter with the new medium? What was the most difficult transition for you, and what did you learn about yourself as a writer?

Joel Sherman: This is an excellent question. My whole temperament is built to be a newspaperman. I am almost a New York stereotype. I like to work quickly and move on to the next thing. The column feeds that. At the New York Post, you work on three deadlines a day. So you are constantly working all day on the days you write and then, boom, you are done. It is in the paper for various editions and you are on to the next day. When you write a book, there is no instant gratification or negative reaction, at all. It is a long-term process and my Brooklyn mindset had a tough time with that. As for what I learned during the process was more something that was re-established in my own mind, which is how much I love to report. The 1996 Yankees were an extremely well covered team and interviewing folks to try to find new information and new avenues to tell these stories really energized me.

BB: Did you enjoy the process?

JS: Mostly no. It was a difficult time for me to take on this process. My wife and I had our first children, our twins Jake and Nick, and trying to research/write as an extra job during first a pregnancy and then the early months of the lives of my children was straining. Also, a relationship with a publishing house is like a brief, shot-gun marriage. You are forced to deal with people for a very short, intense period that you probably would not associate with at other times.

BB: How long did it take to write?

JS: The research and writing took about 18 months, but there was no continuity to it because of the pregnancy. I went long stretches of doing nothing.

BB: It sounds like it was a humbling experience for you, going from the immediate gratification of newspaper writing, to the grind of a longer project. The scope is so much larger as you mentioned. Also, book writing is often a collaborative situation, which means you don’t have as much control as you have been used to. How important were the contributions of your editor–or colleagues who looked at different versions of the manuscript–in terms of helping you compose a dramatic arc for a book as compared with a column?

JS: The publishing house provided very little guidance. But I am blessed with great, talented friends. Mike Vaccaro, a columnist at the Post, was terrific at encouragement. When he was interested or intrigued by a topic, I knew it was a topic to pursue. I wanted to have moments all over the book where even people who follow the team religiously would go, “wow, I didn’t know that.” Mike was fantastic at helping me with that. Lou Rabito, an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I went to school at NYU. Among Lou’s many skills is that he is the best line editor I have ever worked with and he is brutally honest. So he not only cleaned up the copy, but he told me frankly when items did or didn’t work. His touch is on nearly every page of the book. Also, Ken Rosenthal, now of Fox Sports, worked at the Baltimore Sun in 1996 as a columnist. He was in fact, a great columnist. The Orioles were the Yankees’ foil in 1996 and I had Ken read passages about the Orioles just to make sure I was getting them right. He was invaluable, as well. I think the key thing all three did was give me confidence. With no instant gratification, I needed people along the way to tell me, you are going right or you are going wrong. They did that.


Bronx Banter Interview: Chuck Korr


(Click here for Part One)

Here more of my conversation with historian Chuck Korr. Enjoy.

BB: Ralph Kiner writes about the early days of the Players Association in his new book. But for the most part, did the older generation of players, who grew up during the depression and who played in the 40s and 50s genuinely believe they should be grateful for playing the game, forget about getting involved with a union?

CK: Yes, they did like both the money and the adulation that came with being a major leaguer, but few bought into the idea that they should be grateful. They knew that ownership would get rid of them when they were no longer useful. We also tend to forget that many of these players had also come through World War II and they knew the importance of fighting for themselves.

BB: When did that attitude start to change?

CK: The changes started in the early ’60s. A couple of features are responsible for that. The most important was expansion, since it made even marginal players feel more secure. The corporate entry into baseball (CBS) also showed a lot of players the business dimension of their sport/occupation. Jim Bunning made that point forcefully to me when we talked. Finally, it’s impossible to overestimate the general climate that marked the ’60s–the questioning of authority on previously accepted norms. The idea in baseball of “owner knows best” or someone will “take care of you” was both untrue and was out of step with so much of what was happening in
the country.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver