"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Pat Jordan

Big Bad Momma

These days everything seems to be available on-line. And while places like the SI Vault are wonderful, there is still so much good writing–especially magazine and newspaper writing–that cannot be found with a google search.

Pat Jordan has been a freelance writer for more than forty years. The majority of his work is not about sports and not available on-line. So I’m going to feature some of Pat’s original work here from time-to-time. (The pieces are reprinted with permission from the author.)

First up is a story Pat did for Penthouse in 1999 about a woman bodyguard.

Dig it.


A Different Drummer
By Pat Jordan

She racks the slide of her Glock .40 Smith and Wesson semiautomatic pistol to chamber a round. She takes aim at a paper target, a silhouette of a human, 20 feet away. “This place is an absolute toilet,” she says.

The indoor gun range is a filthy concrete room reeking of burnt gun powder. Bullet casings litter the concrete floor. She aims at the heart of the silhouette and squeezes off a round. A loud, “Pop!” echoes off the walls. Then another, and another, spaced fifteen seconds apart.

“Guys fire in rapid succession,” she says, still aiming. “Women take their time and aim. We learn differently. We have to read the manual first to know everything before we shoot.”

She fires off 12 more evenly spaced rounds then peers over her yellow shooter’s glasses at the target. The holes are slightly to the left of the human target’s heart.

“I shot with this woman cop once,” she says. “She kept shooting across the lane into my target. I said, ‘Heh, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘Oh, I always shoot to the right, like when I killed that perp.'”

She ejects the pistol’s clip, thumb-loads 15 rounds, slaps in the clip, racks the slide, and takes aim again. She squeezes off five more evenly spaced rounds, all to the left of the heart. She says, “You’ll probably write that the broad can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

She is 32, with white skin, pale blue-green eyes that look slightly startled, and long, wild, luxuriant, curly red hair like Julia Roberts. She stands 5-5, and weighs 130 pounds, but she appears to be a much bigger woman. She has broad shoulders and muscular legs. She is wearing black sneakers; black, spandex shorts; and an oversized, sleeveless t-shirt that exposes the tattoo on her left arm. “A Japanese fire dragon,” she says. “For strength, because my left side is my weak side.”


Better with Age


My friend Pat Jordan has an essay on growing old in the latest issue of Men’s Journal:

You get old, you lose your anger. It takes too much energy to be angry when you’re old. You have more important things to do with your waning energy, so you hoard it like a dwindling resource.

You get old, it’s not always about you. You no longer wait for an opening in a conversation to talk about yourself, your dreams, your accomplishments. It becomes second nature to draw other people into talking about their lives. You’re no longer the life of the party, making people laugh. You no longer have that neurotic compulsion to be known. Why should you? You get old, you know yourself.

The photo above comes from John Loomis’ blog.

Life’s a Pitch and then You Buy


In the latest issue of Playboy, Pat Jordan profiles Billy Mays, the famous TV pitchman who died just a few days ago. It’s a snapshot of a profile but a fun, quick read.

Mays is the most famous pitchman in the world. His pitches are seen on TV in 57 foreign countries and dubbed in Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, German, whatever. The media call him ubiq-uitous, with his swept-back black hair and full black beard he touches up “by drinking only dark whiskey”—da-dum! You’ve seen him on TV, leaping out of the screen at three A.M., just before you doze off, snap- ping you awake with his screeching voice. “Hi, I’m Billy Mays, here for OxiClean!” or KaBOOM!, Mighty Putty, Hercules Hook, Awesome Auger, Zorbeez, whatever. Mays sells them all: gadgets that stick harder than any glue, dig up weeds, hold up a 50-pound gilt-framed mirror (assuming you have a 50-pound gilt-framed mirror)—so many gadgets you never thought you needed, never even thought existed until Mays went into his pitch. A 30-second pitch, never more than two minutes—a short con—screaming at you, “Watch this! I get so excited! I gotta tell you something! Buy it right now!” So you call the toll-free number, give a strange voice your credit-card information and then get a package in the mail, stare at its con tents—a gadget, a product—and wonder, Why did I buy this? But what the hell, it was only $19.95. It’s always $19.95. That’s Mays’s secret.

“It’s gotta be under $20,” Mays says. He shrugs. “I don’t know. That’s the magic number.” It also has to be an unknown item that can’t be purchased in a store, that can be seen and purchased only on TV and that appeals to a mass audience of do-it-yourselfers. Mays gets his satisfaction from sheer quantity. “I want to sell billions of things,” he says. And he has, which has made him rich (three Bentleys, million-dollar homes) and famous. There are websites devoted to either loving or hating Billy Mays. He shrugs again and says, “There’s a fine line between love and hate.” One website is dedicated to fans who want to have his baby, though most of those fans are gay men who like so-called hairy bears. They call him “one of the hottest bears on the market” and beg to be able to “boff that bear.” His haters refer to him as “an asinine piece of shit,” “a public nuisance” and an asshole. One fan says Billy Mays is his idol because he’s “so obnoxious that he’s cool” and can sell “dick to a dyke,” tap water from your own sink. A $5 bill for four easy payments of $19.95, plus shipping and handling.

“It’s all about trust,” says Mays. “I stay true to the pitch. I’m not a salesman. A salesman sells a product; a pitchman sells himself. I make people believe they have to own it.” He smiles and says, “Life’s a pitch, then you buy.”

Pretty Ugly

Ba Ba Booey


I groaned when Pat Jordan told me the Times assigned him to do a piece on the playwright, screenwriter, director, Neil LaBute.  Pat’s writing has an almost feral quality and when matched with a plump, if deserving target like LaBute, well, you know it is not going to be pretty.  I’ve seen a couple of LaBute’s movies and can’t think of one good thing to say about them.  I found them empty and vicious and completely phony.  The thought of what a hard old sharp shooter like Jordan would do with a misanthropic mo mo like LaBute was not exactly appetizing.

The story is in this week’s New York Times Magazine.  I think Pat went easy on him all considering though I don’t imagine that LaBute will see it that way.


Since You’ve Been Gone

For most of us, death will not announce itself with a blare of trumpets or a roar of cannons.  It will come silently, on the soft paws of a cat.  It will insinuate itself, rubbing against our ankle in the midst of an ordinary moment.  An uneventful dinner.  A drive home from work.  A sofa pushed across a floor.  A slight bend to retrieve a morning newspaper tossed into a bush.  And then, a faint cry, an exhale of breath, a muffled slump.

Pat Jordan, “A Ridiculous Will”

My father died on this day two years ago.  He was at home with his wife.  They were getting ready to watch their favorite TV show.  He had just eaten his favorite pasta dish.  He slumped over in his chair and that was it.  He officially lasted until the next day but really that was when he left us.


I always imagined that he would have a dramatic death.  He was a big-hearted and volatile man.  He was unafraid to get into it with, well, virtually anyone.  I saw him kick the hub cap off a moving vehicle that had cut us off on West End Avenue and 79ths street, and was with him when he pulled a vandal out of a parked car.  I thought he’d die in a pool of blood.  I worried about it constantly.  But he left quietly.

I think about him less now.  Of course, I still think about him but I am not consumed with it as I was for the first year after he died, when his absence was acute.  Almost every block in the city, certainly on the Upper West Side where he lived, holds a memory, some happy, others not so much, of the old man.  I miss his stories, I miss asking him questions about the theater and the Dodgers and Damon Runyon.

But I don’t miss how tough he was on me, or the fact that even as an adult, I felt anxious around him.  I don’t miss how competitive he was with me, and I don’t miss worrying about his financial state.  When he was alive, I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t afraid of him, even if it was on a subtle or subconscious level. 

I feel relief now that he’s not around. I loved him very much and the feeling was mutual.   He was proud of me, he was proud all of his kids, as well as his neices and nephews.   He and I buried the hachet long before he died and I tried my best to accept and love him for who he was not what I wanted or needed him to be when I was a kid.  Like most parents, he did the best that he could.

But I don’t compare myself to him these days.  I am my own man. I remember his warmth and compassion, his laugh and his righteous indignation, and that for all his flaws he was a good man.  I’m proud to be his son.

I Coulda Been a Contender

Remember when Mickey Rourke was going to be the next big thing? 

He had nice turns in Body Heat:

and Diner:

Some people swear by The Pope of Greenwich Village (I am not one of them): 

But as soon as Rourke became a star, he became less interesting, predictable, a flat-joke, and then he wasn’t a star long, unless you account for his runaway fame in France (and there’s no accounting for that, is there?).  He left Hollywood and became a boxer and then returned to the movies, mostly B-level action movies made for DVD.

Now Rourke is back in the mix. The critics liked him in Sin City. And you can just smell an Oscar nomination for him in The Wrestler, his new feature, which looks to be a downbeat, arty riff on Rocky.

Pat Jordan profiles Rourke (His Fists Are Up and His Guard is Down) in today’s New York Times Magazine:

You meet Mickey, you can’t help liking him. He rescues abused dogs! He cries a lot: over his stepfather’s supposed abuse; the loss of his brother to cancer and his dogs to old age; the failure of his marriage to the actress Carré Otis. He admits he destroyed his own career, because, as he puts it: “I was arrogant. . . . I wasn’t smart enough or educated enough” to deal with stardom. He is candid about the people he has crossed paths with: Nicole Kidman is “an ice cube”; Michael Cimino, the director of “Heaven’s Gate,” “is crazy” and “nuts”; and the producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. is “a liar.”

So what if he cries at the same moment in the same story in every interview? So what if his candor sometimes sounds like the bad dialogue from one of his many bad movies (“I have no one to go to to fix the broken pieces in myself”) or that his self-deprecation seems culled from the stock stories of so many fading actors (“I was in 7-Eleven, and this guy says, ‘Didn’t you used to be a movie star?’ ”)? So what if he seems disingenuous, at best, when he says he can’t remember that critics nominated him one of the world’s worst actors in 1991 (“I probably would have voted with them”) or even making a terrible movie that went straight to video, “Exit in Red,” in 1996 — despite the fact that the love interest in that movie was then his wife?

Mickey Rourke is, after all, an actor. The roles he has played and the life he has lived have so blurred one into another in his mind’s eye that even he doesn’t seem to know when he’s acting or when he’s being real. He has spent his entire adult life playing not fictional characters but an idealized delusional fantasy of himself.

What’s the Vig?


Some of my favorite magazine pieces by Pat Jordan are about his past–his failed baseball career, and his childhood growing up with a father who was a professional grifter.  Here’s a fine example of the latter, from the SI swimsuit issue in February, 1987.

Bittersweet Memories of My Father, The Gambler:

I remember the day I first became aware of the pervasiveness of my father’s gambling in our lives. I was eight years old and just beginning my love affair with baseball, which was encouraged by my parents. We were Italian-Americans and my mother loved the Yankees—DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Crosetti, Lazzeri, Berra, Raschi. She hated only Eddie Lopat and, later, Whitey Ford (my secret idol) with their pink, freckled Irish faces. (Today, approaching 80, my mother has a photograph of Dave Righetti taped to the mirror in her kitchen.)

My father was a Yankee fan, too. Only for him they were less a team he could point to with ethnic pride than one he could confidently lay 9 to 5 on.

One Sunday afternoon in July, my father invited three of my “aunts” and “uncles” to the backyard of our suburban house for a cookout. None of them was, in fact, my real aunt or uncle—they were my father’s gambling cronies—and, even more significantly, my father was not a cookout kind of guy. He took no pleasure in neatly mowed suburban lawns, especially if he had to mow them.

…The afternoon of my father’s cookout was hot and sunny. My “uncles” stood around the barbecue fireplace under the shade of a maple tree and sipped Scotch. They made nervous small talk while simultaneously listening to a Yankee-Red Sox game coming from a radio propped on the kitchen windowsill. My father was bent over the barbecue, lighting match after match and cursing the briquettes he was unable to ignite. He was a dapper little man who dressed conservatively—gray flannel slacks, navy blazer—and he always wore a tie, even around the house. He was very handsome, too, in spite of his baldness. He had pinkish skin, youthful eyes and a neatly trimmed silver mustache. He truly fit the part, at least in his dress, of a suburbanite entertaining guests. Even if those guests did look as if they had just stepped out of the cast of Guys and Dolls.

…My mother, a dark, fierce little birdlike woman, and my “aunts” sat around a circular lawn table that was shaded by a fringed umbrella. They were sipping Scotch, as well, while playing penny-ante poker—deuces and one-eyed jacks wild—and chatting. I stood behind them and followed their play of cards.

Soon I got bored with the adults and I lost myself in the baseball game. When DiMaggio hit a home run for the Yankees, I shouted, “Yaa!” and clapped my hands. Suddenly, I was aware that everyone was looking at me. My father’s face was flushed. I caught my mother’s eye. Her lips were pursed in a threatening smile. She called out sweetly, “We musn’t root for the Yankees today, Sweetheart! Uncle Freddie is down 50 times on the Red Sox.”

For those of you who are so inclined, I hope you took the Jets and the over today.

All Growed Up

Mannish Boy.


Barry Zito is the focus of Pat Jordan’s latest profile for the New York Times Magazine. Another stellar job by Jordan. I always figured Zito was a superficial guy, a pretty boy phony, but he comes off as an interesting dude:

Zito told me his pitching problems were caused by the fact that he hadn’t been himself the last few years.

"I wanted to be more ‘professional,’ " he said. "This new guy. Because of the Contract, I wanted people to know I was serious about pitching, not this flaky guy. I allowed the seriousness of things to creep into my mind. The city. The Contract. The fans. My new teammates. I wasn’t a blue-collar Oakland guy anymore."

…He was particularly stunned by the vehemence with which the media and fans greeted news of the Contract. And then he was stunned by the fans’ booing his failed pitching. "Actually, I think the San Francisco fans have been pretty good to him," Righetti said. "If he was in New York, the fans would be off the chart." But Zito wasn’t used to being booed and criticized. His flaky persona had deflected such criticism for years, as if people felt it was unfair to be too harsh on such an innocent sprite. But he’s not a sprite anymore, and his critics are no longer so forgiving. Which is why he has assumed a new persona: the abused guy who can no longer be himself with people. "But it requires so much energy to be inauthentic," Zito said. Which is the point. Zito was never truly "authentic." The free-spirited kid was always something of a construct. Now that he’s a man, it’s time for "serious things," like the apparently premature demise of a once-brilliant career. This is what Zito is struggling with. But how to rewrite the narrative of his life?

"I never thought I was invincible at everything, just baseball," Zito said. "At 30, I became aware of why things happened." He now saw his parents’ psychobabble — "Don’t expect to struggle" — as something that could lead not only to awareness but confusion. "Zen is a double-edged sword," he said. "It guarantees nothing. When I went 11-1, it worked. Next year it won’t. Zen helps you solve some problems, but it’s better at creating problems. Thinking too much is good for life, but not functional for baseball." He’s searching for that mind-set all great, intelligent pitchers have. Compartmentalize. Complexity for real life, simplicity for baseball.

Can an athlete be too smart for his own good? I think so. Being bright might make a jock a more well-rounded person, but also less of a performer. Reminds me of Billy Beane in Moneyball, realizing that he would never be a great player after rooming with Lenny Dykstra who was "dumb" in all the right ways.

Joba Ranks

That kid has one of the better arms in baseball,” said former Braves and Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone. “If you have an arm like that, he shouldn’t be a setup guy. Your setup guy doesn’t do you any good if your starting pitchers can’t get you to him.”

…”I don’t think the Yankees are risking injury by starting him,” Mazzone said of Chamberlain. “I’ve always felt that if you have a regular time to pitch and programs to get the pitcher ready in between starts, it’s easier to start than be in the bullpen.”
(Anthony McCarron, N.Y. Daily News)

Pat Jordan likes to bust my chops about the Yankees, the team he grew up rooting for. He doesn’t much like them much these days and never misses a chance to get under my skin when they are not playing well. His favorite rant this spring has been about Joba Chamberlain, about how the Yankees are wasting Chamberlain as a set-up man instead of using him as a starter. Well, that’s one gripe Pat can’t beat to death now that Chamberlain has officially begun the process of moving from the pen to the starting rotation.

In the Daily News, John Harper writes that this is a sign that, without conceeding anything yet, the Yankees are looking beyond this season to 2009. I agree. One thing that occured to me yesterday was how exciting it is going to be to watch this all unfold. To see Chamberlain pitch two, then three, four, five innings. I imagine his demeanor will change somewhat. All that fist-pumping is part of what comes with being a late-inning reliever, but I don’t expect he’ll do quite as much of as a starter–unless he gets out of a big jam in the sixth, seventh or eighth. Regardless, I’m goosed about the whole thing. Ain’t you?

The Way it Was vs. The Way it Is

Slate has the latest from Pat Jordan, Josh Beckett Won’t Return My Phone Calls:

In January, I got an assignment from the New York Times Magazine to write a profile of Josh Beckett, the Red Sox pitcher. I was excited about this because I had always admired Beckett as both a pitcher and a person.

…But, alas, in a single-sentence e-mail from his agent, Beckett declined to be interviewed by me or anyone else. I could understand that. Why would he want me poking around in the closet of his life? Maybe I’d spend four days with him, and catch him saying something derogatory, in a moment of weakness or fatigue, about his manager, Terry Francona, or about Manny Ramirez. He was making, what, $10 million a year? He had just pitched superbly in the 2007 World Series after compiling a brilliant 20-7 record during the season. He didn’t need a New York Times profile or recognition for anything but his pitching.

…But, still, I thought it was a shame Josh wouldn’t let me profile him in the Times. I had a long lunch with him a few years ago, when he was with the Florida Marlins, and came away thinking he was an interesting young man. At the time, and even now, Beckett had a reputation for being a surly, hard-ass, rednecked, Texas country boy in the way of old-timey ballplayers. But the Josh I met over lunch was smart, caustic, funny, sophisticated, and a much deeper and more nuanced man than his public gave him credit for. I would have loved to have burnished his image, to have shown his fans that side of him in a profile. But it wasn’t to be. His fans then lost an opportunity to know the real Josh Beckett.

This has become the curse of modern sports journalism. Writers and fans alike no longer get to know the object of their affections in a way they did years ago. Athletes see us as their adversaries, not as allies in their achievements. They are as much celebrities as rock stars and Hollywood actors are. They live insular lives behind a wall of publicists, agents, and lawyers. They don’t interact with fans or writers. They mingle only with other celebrities at Vegas boxing matches, South Beach nightclubs, and celebrity golf events, all behind red-velvet VIP ropes. We can only gawk at them as if at an exotic, endangered species at a zoo.

Easy Quesy

Yesterday afternoon, Pete Abraham excerpted a portion of Cynthia Rodriguez’s chat with Michael Kay on the new YES program, YESterdays:

“As tough and big as [Alex] seems, he is real wimpy around doctors or any type of medical situation. I don’t know why I thought the birth of our child would be different. In the middle of the night, I realized that I needed to go to the hospital. I wake him up. The first thing that comes out of his mouth, ‘Can we call your mother?’ And I started, ‘No. Let’s wait and make sure that I am in labor, and make sure that, you know, it’s the middle of the night.’ And go to the hospital and everything. And finally, a few hours later, I said, ‘I think you can call my mom now.’

“Uh, and the color came back to his face when I told him he could call my mom. And then forget it. I was like not even having a baby; he was the one. The one nurse had a cold cloth on his head. The other nurse had the blood pressure on his arm. And my mother was like rubbing his back. And he is passed out on a couch. And I am there, in the middle of labor. And really, I am not being paid much attention to besides the doctor and a couple of nurses. And he is there moaning. In between pushing, I am going, ‘Honey, are you OK?’ And are you breathing? Are you OK?'”

I can’t even watch child birth on TV, so I can only imagine how I’d fare up close. Still, this story reminded me of another, more upsetting reality for baseball wives. From Pat Jordan’s classic profile of Steve and Cyndi Garvey, “Trouble in Paradise”:

The other day my daughter fell out of a tree and broke her wrist.  My husband and I rushed her to the hospital.  While she was in the operating room I had to fill out a questionaire for a nurse.  When I said my husband’s occupation was ‘baseball player,’ she asked, for what team?  I told her.  Then she asked, what position?  I got so pissed off, I shoved the paper at my husband and told him to deal with her, she was obviously more interested in him than our daughter.  Now there’s another woman who’s gonna think I’m just a stuck-up wife of a star.
Anyway, just before they set my daughter’s wrist, my husband had to leave to go to the stadium.  He couldn’t wait.  That’s the clearest vision of when the game comes first.  Before anything.  It’s so cut-and-dried with him.  I got furious.  It’s always been like that.  Another time I had a baby while he was playing in the World Series.  When they wheeled me back from the delivery room–I’m just coming out of the anesthesia–the nurse is putting on the TV.  ‘I thought you’d like to watch your husband playing in the World Series,’ she says.  I screamed at her to shut it off.  Hell, he didn’t come to watch me.  I could have died in childbirth and my man wouldn’t have been there.  The burden is always on the wife’s shoulders.  Her man is never there.

For a candid and revealing portrait of what is like to be the wife of a ball player, consider Home Games: Two Baseball Wives Speak Out, written by Bobbie Bouton and Nancy Marshall. Both women are divorced their husbands, Jim Bouton and Mike Marshall.

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.


Think About It (Just a Little Patience)

When Pat Jordan told me that he still uses a typewriter to write his stories instead of a computer I wasn’t surprised. He’s so old school, why would he change? His wife calls him a trogliodyte, kicking a screaming into the 19th century. A few years later, I visited Pat at his home in Florida and looked through hundreds of manuscripts and drafts. I saw his tools of ignorance: an old Hermes 10 typewriter (he buys old machines on ebay for the parts), yellow second sheets (discontinued), stubby corrective pencils, a glue-pot, a pair of sissors, and even a bottle of yellow white out (also discontinued). Having come from a fine arts background, I could immediately relate to the tactile nature of Pat’s writing process.

And in fact, if I’ve learned anything from Pat, it is how important thinking is to good writing. Jordan is a deliberate and meticulous writer. When he has a magazine assingment, he first researches the subject, reading as many articles as his researcher can find, then composes his own questions before he conducts interviews and takes notes. Then he transcribes those interviews, orgainzes them with his notes and then he begins to make outlines. If afforded the time, he’ll review the notes, the transcribed interviews and his outlines, and revised outlines, over and over before he starts writing. He might not stick to his outlines, might alter them as he goes, but he always has them as a safety net, a way to organize and structure his thinking. When he finally does begin to write, he goes sentence-by-sentence. If he writes two pages a day–a productive day for him–when he starts again in the morning, he’ll review what he wrote, revise anything that needs fixing, and then proceed.

The tools Pat uses to write are antiquated but they are an essential part of his thinking and his writing. When I worked in post-production, I was fortunate enough to be on jobs with Ken Burns, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers, who all still cut on film when I was with them (mid-90s). The physical nature of the medium forced the editor and director to make hard, clear descisions. For instance, if you made a cut on Tuesday, it would take a lot of time and man-power to fix it by Thursday. And even after Joel and Ethan had previewed a reel on their KEM flatbed, it would take five, six minutes to rewind the reel to the head, during which time they would sit and contemplate what they had just watched. I learned to value this down-time, how productive it was for them to be able to think things through.

All three filmmakers cut on computers now. Last winter I spoke with Paul Barnes, Burns’ longtime editor, and asked if he’d ever go back to cutting on film. “Not in a million years,” he said. But he doesn’t need to. He got his chops the old fashioned way, so the new technology is simply a dream. However, for a younger generation, who didn’t grown up cutting on film, there can, at times, be too many choices, so many options that the creative process is overwhelmed by possibilites.


Diggin in the Crates (Rain, Rain Stay Away)

One of the most exciting events of the spring has been the recent launching of the SI Vault. Talk about an embarassment of riches. Dag. To my dismay, the site does not offer anything close to a complete author index, making finding stuff a frustrating experience at best. I can only hope that this is a temporary problem, because it would be a real shame for something as rich and varied as the SI archives to be needlessly difficult to navigate.

Still, here are a couple of gems for you as we wait for today’s game. No telling if the rain will mess with things this afternoon. It’s warm and foggy this morning and the sun is even shinning here and there in the Bronx. I’m gunna throw up this game thread now cause I won’t be around for the start of the game. If they get it in, Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the year. If there is a delay, grab another bowl of soup, and consider the following bag o treats from the SI vault.

Come Down Selector:

A Diamond in the Ashes: Robert Lipsyte’s highly critical take on the rennovated Yankee Stadium (April, 1976).

This Old House: William Nack’s essay on the Stadium (June, 1999), and The Colossus, his piece on the Babe (August, 1998).

The Play that Beat the Bums: Ron Fimrite’s look back at the Mickey Owens game and the 1941 season (October, 1997).

Mickey Mantle: Richard Hoffer’s piece on the legacy of the last great player on the last great team (August, 1995).

A Real Rap Session: Peter Gammons talks hitting with Ted Williams, Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs from the Baseball Preivew issue (April, 1986).

Yogi: Roy Blount’s takeout piece on the Yankee legend (April, 1984).

Once He Was an Angel (March, 1972) and Tom Terrific and His Mystic Talent (July, ’72), two classic portraits (Bo Belinsky and Tom Seaver) by Pat Jordan.

No Place in the Shade: Mark Kram considered this portrait of Cool Papa Bell to be his finest work for SI (August, 1973). And while we’re on Kram, check out A Wink at a Homely Girl, his wonderful piece about his hometown Baltimore that appeared on the eve of the ’66 World Serious (October, 1966).

Laughing on the Outside: John Schulian’s fine appreciation of the great Josh Gibson (June, 2000).

And finally, He Does it By the Numbers: Dan Okrent’s landmark essay, you know, the one that “discovered” Bill James (March, 1981).

There, that should keep you busy for more than a minute.

The Last Five Minutes of Jose Canseco

Pat Jordan has a funny story about chasing Jose Canseco for a magazine profile over at Deadspin:

I have been pursuing Jose, like the Holy Grail, for three months now, trying to nail him down for a magazine profile he’d agreed to do in January, partly because, as his lawyer/agent had told me, “Jose’s on the balls on his ass,” and partly because Jose was trying to interest a publisher in his second steroids-tell-all book, which existed only as a two page proposal of typos that had yet to interest any publisher. This second book would be titled “Vindicated,” and it would “encompass approximately 300 pages and will require six months to complete.”

My pursuit of Jose began in January when I called him in California. His girlfriend, Heidi, answered the phone. I told her that I was writing a magazine story about Jose writing a book. “And a movie,” she said. “Jose is writing a book and a movie about himself.” I said, “You mean a screenplay?” She paused a beat, then said, “No, a movie.” I said, “Of course.”

Uh, and nice zinger to end the piece, right? One commentor on Deadspin said you could just skip the entire story and go right to the last line and that pretty much sums it up. Yow.

Yeah, I Gotta Rash, Man

Did anyone catch the segment on Lenny “Nails” Dykstra on the latest edition of HBO’s Real Sports? Ex-ballplayer-turned-shrewd-businessman. It’s worth watching for the highlight clip they show of Nails throwing bolos at Dodger catcher Rick Dempsey back when he was with the Phillies. It’s also interesting to see how Dykstra looks and sounds like a troll, almost as if he’s drugged. (And if you want to get good and steamed, wait around until the post-segment interview between reporter Bernie Goldberg and host Bryant Gumbel, and dig how Goldberg cops out of telling the truth about Dykstra’s alleged use of PEDS.) Pat Jordan wrote a piece on Dykstra for Fortune.com back in December of 2006. The published version concentrates mostly on the nuts-and-bolts of day trading, but Jordan’s original (“The Dude Abides”) focused more on what it was like to hang out with Dykstra.


Look at Me! I Can Be, Centerfield (Really, I Can!)

Billy Crystal will suit up and play in an exhibition game with the Yankees tomorrow. It’s a frivolous, ego-driven stunt, that is being promoted as a good, light-hearted time for all. The Yankee players, management and announcers, seem to fawn over celebrities like Crystal, and, as we well know, stars like Crystal just love being around jocks. Maybe I’m turned off by it because I wish I was Crystal, being able to live out my fantasies. More than that, though, I’m embarassed by his need to fulfill his every desire. Color me a spring training Scrooge.



Mike Lupica and Allen Barra, an incongruous couple if I’ve ever heard of one, both mention W.C. Heinz this week. Barra has a tribute to Heinz in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Perhaps the lasting legacy of Bill Heinz is something he told me in a phone interview 15 years ago. What, I asked him, was the greatest lesson he had learned in nearly half a century of sportswriting? His answer was surprising. “In the end, all of us — fans, writers, coaches, athletes — have something in common: We’re all losers. Everybody is a loser, let’s face it. None of us wins all the time, in games or in life, not Joe DiMaggio, not Muhammad Ali. And none of us is going to live forever.”

Not even Roger Clemens…

This reminded me of what Roger Angell once said about failure, and why, when he started writing about baseball, he was drawn to the Mets and not the Yankees because, he contended, there is more Mets than Yankees in most of us. Most of us can generally relate more to failure than success. Pat Jordan was a failure as a pitcher and then made a career out of profiling so-called “failures” (though he writes just as convincingly about success stories). Check out Jordan’s latest, from last weekend’s Play magazine, on two young golfers.

Soul on Ice

I tried to represent as many different sports as possible when I put together The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. Funny thing is, while there may be more great writing about boxing than any other sport, including baseball, no boxing stories made the cut, though Pat’s done some decent ones, like this one about Amir Khan, the Great British-Pakistani-Muslim Hope:

At 10 p.m., Amir Khan walked into the arena amid the flash of cameras and TV lights and the Asian girls aiming their cellphone cameras at him. He was wearing his trademark silver trunks, but with a slight alteration: tartan trim had been sewn in. Steve Gethin stood in his corner, his blue eyes wide.

The bell rang for Round 1. Khan loped into the center of the ring and began to stalk Gethin. He moved gracefully, bent over at the waist, bobbing and weaving left and right, his hands dangling low to the canvas. Khan did not look so young now, nor so slight. He looked huge next to Gethin and dangerous in a primitive way. Suddenly he attacked Gethin, hitting him with three quick punches before Gethin could react. Khan did resemble Muhammad Ali in the ring. It’s almost sinuous, the way he moves. He’s a trained fighter, but an instinctive one too.

Khan pursued Gethin, who backpedaled, Khan weaving hypnotically, and then he sprang again, pummeling Gethin with so many quick punches it seemed as if they were all one long, continuous punch. Gethin wrapped his arms around Khan and waited for the referee to separate them.

The fight didn’t last very long. The referee stopped it in the third round, after Khan again battered Gethin’s head with so many quick blows in succession that Gethin could only cover his face with his gloves and forsake any thought of throwing a counterpunch.

Khan raised his arms in victory. Some cheered; others were upset the fight had been stopped early. The members of “Khan’s Barmy Army” poured out of their seats. They began to leave the arena, waving their Union Jack-Pakistani flag at the seated fans. The Scottish fans began to throw things at them. Bottles. Sharpened coins. Cups of beer. “Khan’s Barmy Army” covered their heads. Security appeared from the runways, surrounded Khan’s “army” and hustled them out of the arena. In the ring, Amir Khan, oblivious, was being interviewed on ITV with his father.

Pat did a handful of hockey pieces for Sports Illustraed in the ’70s including a good one on Derek Sanderson. We included a hockey story in our collection, one of his earliest pieces for Sport magazine, about the Bruins at the old Boston Garden. Here is a good little profile Jordan did on Mike Keenan for The Sporting News in 1994, just after coach Keenan left the Rangers for St. Louis.

Italian waiters at Gian-Peppe’s Restaurant in “The Hill” section of St. Louis are wearing tuxedos with frilly shirts. They hover around Keenan at his table as if he were the Mafia Don out of “A Bronx Tale.”

“I used to hang around with seven Italian brothers when I was a kid,” he says. “I was the only Irish kid. If they got a beating from their mother, I got a beating from her, too.” He laughs, and drains his beer. Keenan asks a waiter to bring him a phone. He has to call his daughter, who will visit him tomorrow, and he’s worried that she might not have gotten the airplane ticket he sent her.

“It causes me great pain to be away from her,” he says, as the waiter returns with the phone. “I’m proud of my accomplishments, but maybe my ambition was selfish. You pay a personal price. Loneliness. It’s the only thing that scares me.” He makes the call, but his daughter is not home. The other waiter returns with a beer. For a tough-guy hockey coach, Keenan talks a lot about pain and lone-liness and even fear. He had a fear of failure when he took over at Philadelphia.

“I was confident,” he says. “I felt ready. But there’s always that fear in hockey if you’re not successful you’ll never coach again. I felt I had to be firm with my players and then I’d back off after a while, you know, the way a teacher does. But the players didn’t think I let up as much as I should have. I like to think my relationship with players has improved. I’ve improved. After the separation, I learned to reflect on life. To be introspective, tolerant and understanding. It was an awakening.” He picks up the phone and dials his daughter again.

I’m not a hockey fan and I never have been. I don’t follow boxing but I liked it as a kid. Hagler, Hearns, Sugar Ray. The tail end of Ali. The Rocky movies (seeing Rocky III in the balcony of Loews 83rd street–a theater no longer with us–with the place literally shaking during the big fight at the end, was one of the more memorable movie experiences of my childhood). Larry Holmes v. Tim Witherspoon, vs. R. Tex Cobb, all the way through Iron Mike’s early days.

I want to read more boxing writing at some point–there’s so much good stuff out there. I’d at least like to give it a shot. It’s such an appealing sport for writers because, as Len Shapiro of the Washington Post says, “It’s the greatest sport in the world until they get in the ring.”

Lot of good boxing movies too, come to think of it: Body and Soul, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Fat City, Rocky, Raging Bull, When We Were Kings. And Slap Shot is arguably the greatest sports movie of them all.

C’MMMMMOONNNNN (That’s a Terrible Call)

The Pat Jordan pick of the week is a profile he did on the ol’ red-headed Deadhead for the New York Times Magazine back in 2001. Here’s Bill Walton’s Inside Game:

Back at the house, Walton goes to practice his piano while his sons go outside to play one of their fierce two-on-two basketball games. Nate and Bruk Vandeweghe, who has lived with the family for 20 years, team up against Chris and a friend. Luke, limping from an ankle sprain he suffered in one of the boys’ recent games, sits in a chair and mimics his father broadcasting the game that is filled with rough play and profanity.

Nate fakes under the basket and tosses in a hook shot. “Nice utilization of the body,” Luke intones. Chris immediately hits a long jumper. “But Chris will not go away,” Luke says.

Chris drives toward the basket and tosses a pass behind his back that goes out of bounds. “A good look,” Luke says, “but a little too fancy.”

Nate and Chris dive for a loose ball and bang heads. Chris screams a profanity at Nate, and Nate curses back. As play resumes, Walton hobbles out on his crutches to watch. “What are you doing here?” Nate says. The boys’ game is deflated. They continue to play, but without their previous fury; no more curses, just a lot of uncontested jump shots until the game expires.

After the game, Vandeweghe sits by the pool and talks about his life with the Waltons. He acts as their unofficial manservant, serving drinks, giving the boys massages on the living-room table and running errands. “This house is in a time warp,” he says. “Like a monastery. Still, there’s a lot going on here you don’t know.” He smiles. “Bill wants everyone to have a good time. At his parties, there are three girls to every guy. Bill lets you do anything with girls as long as you don’t talk about it in front of Lori. She’s subservient, like a geisha. She serves her purpose for Bill. She’s thrilled to be with a star.” He says that the Waltons’ divorce was hard on Susie. “She was like my second mom. She can’t lie. Bill can’t talk about her because he knows she’s right.”

At that moment, Nate, furious, comes out of the house toward Vandeweghe. “Same old garbage!” he snaps. “I told Bill I was gonna see Mom, and he says he wants to talk to me for five minutes, and it goes on and on, nowhere.”

Not everybody loved Jordan’s story. Here is a letter the Times published on November 25, 2001:

In the 20 years since I wrote about the Portland Trail Blazers in an earlier book, Bill Walton and I have become good friends, and I have spent a good deal of time with him and with his sons (Pat Jordan, Oct. 28). The relationship between father and sons has always struck me as loving, supportive and mutually generous; I think it is not unimportant that in a home where the father let all of his sons follow their own stars, all four wanted to play basketball. More important, what Pat Jordan missed was the story right in front of him: the rarest kind of courage and exuberance on the part of an athlete, once gifted, whose ability to maximize the uses of his body is so critical to his psyche but is now so seriously jeopardized by the cruelest kind of injuries to both feet.

David Halberstam
New York

Clearly, Pat never read How to Wins Friends and Influence People.

[Photo Credit: L.A. Times]

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