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.