Page 2 and current SI
scribe Jeff Pearlman was kind enough to answer some questions for me in an email
exchange. Pearlman, the author of three
books, frequently provides updates at his blog,
which is a daily morning read for me.
Our electronic conversation is below:
Jeff, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Let's get right
Your "Not for
you, bud" post discussing Jayson Werth's rude response to one of your
writing colleagues generated quite a buzz. While I agree with you that Werth was
out of line, I had a different reaction to the piece overall. Are player quotes
that important, I kept thinking, that beat writers should spend "60% of
their life devoted to standing in a corner" waiting for a few minutes of
Jeff: Fair question. For most of us, it's not about the quotes, per
se, but the insight. That's something a lot of media bashers don't understand.
Sure, you're always looking for a good quote. But what I always enjoyed most was
getting inside a ballplayer's head, often just to improve my own knowledge in
order to cover the game. For example, one of the best baseball conversations I
ever had came back when Shawn Green and Shawn Estes were with
, and the three of us just shot the s--- for, oh, an hour. It was detailed and
fascinating, and I learned a ton about what hitters look for in certain spots.
Did I use any of it that week? No. But it was hugely important for me.
: In the piece, you wrote:
In a sense, Werth's words sum up a
primary reason I left Sports
Illustrated as a baseball writer back in 2002. I just couldn't handle
chasing around these guys on a weekly basis. Others in the profession rave about
the access that comes with covering the diamond, but the 3 1/2-hour clubhouse
window is truly a blessing (time to talk) and a curse (time to talk). Literally,
a solid 60% of a baseball writer's life is devoted to standing in a corner of a
room, waiting ... waiting ... waiting ... waiting ... waiting ...
waiting for, oh, Derek Jeter or Brian Giles to put down the Maxim so
the scribe can slink over and ask a few questions (guaranteed to be answered in
I completely agree about the cliché
responses. Beat writers can certainly break the cliché mold by asking the right
questions, but often times it seems as if a writer could insert a regurgitated
player quote into an article and no one would seem to notice or care. Which
brings me back to the last question: do writers need to put it up with that kind
of abuse, solely to add a few sentences about how a certain player think he is
doing better because of some frivolous reason that in reality probably has only
a minimal correlation to his success?
Jeff: Well, I'd say bad
reporters embrace bad quotes--and they're usually the ones who work for TV and
radio stations and are just looking to fill that 30-second gap in air time. The
good print reporters dig and dig and dig for unique and in-depth answers. And
they put up with the crap because, for every 100 lame, regurgitated insights,
there's one brilliant one that knocks your socks off.
: I thought that your take
on the Jerod Morris/Raul Ibanez controversy was spot on, especially given how
Ken Rosenthal and other critics have written columns saying how they felt duped
by the Home Run Chase of 1998. As a writer who took a hard stance on steroids
early on, do you feel that the response in some circles reeks of hypocrisy?
Jeff: More than anything, I thought it was silly. Ken is a friend, and
he's one of the absolute best out there. But a few days before this all happened
he wrote a column questioning David Ortiz and performance enhancers. He
obviously saw it as a different circumstance--but I didn't. Without question,
Morris had a perfect right to write what he did. It was fair and honest and a
realistic response to what's been going on. Hell, everyone was thinking it about
Ibanez. I'm glad someone wrote it.
: Less than a month after being featured in SI, phenom baseball player Bryce
Harper has announced his plans to forego his junior and senior years of high
school to instead pursue his GED and enroll in junior college next fall. Harper
may then enter the 2010 draft, and, even at 17, would instantly become the
favorite to be the number one overall pick. As expected, the Harper family has
been dealt a considerable amount of backlash regarding the decision. In a post
on your blog, you came down hard on the issue. Solely because of the insane
talent level, I disagree with you, to an extent, since it is fairly clear that
he is not your typical teenager. And, while he will miss out on prom and other
fun high school events, he is just getting a head start on his career, it seems.
What were your thought processes behind that post?
Jeff: My thing is (and this is obviously not a viewpoint shared by
many) ... professional baseball is soooo limiting on the brain. It really,
really is, and I don't care how snobby I sound saying that. It doesn't lend
itself to thought or introspection or selflessness. I don't know how many times
I've heard people make excuses for a ballplayer's horrible behavior with,
"Well, you'd be that way too if you had this sort of high-pressure
job." Weird, but true. So I guess, for me, it comes down to this: Play
baseball as a career, have fun, do it well. But don't rush your kid into the
lifestyle. Let him develop into a human being; let him have his childhood and
teenage years. Let him live. I guess I say that as a parent more than anything
else, but it's how I feel.
: You ended your post like this:
Well, I've seen that life up close.
Yes, the money is good, and the perks are nice. But it's a profession I pray
neither of my kids pursue. The sports world frowns upon curiosity and
free-thought. You are a robot--show up at 2, lift at 3, run at 4, stretch at
, etc ... etc. Yes, you might get to
, but 99% of that time is spent in a
hotel room. Or on a court. Or a field.
Personally, I want my kids to crave
life; to see everything, experience everything; try this; try that. Athletes
rarely follow such a path.
They're too busy being, well,
Is it fair to label all athletes/baseball players with such a broad brush?
Jeff: No. Just most.
: What has the steroid era done to how you personally view the sport of
baseball? Has it taken out any joy for you?
Jeff: Definitely. It's made writing about the game less fun, because
I'm always suspicious and I'm no longer dazzled. I covered Bonds' pursuit of
McGwire's single-season record, and it was a joyless trip from hell. Everyone
knew it was bull----, so what was the point? Even now, I look at Raul Ibanez and
Ryan Howard and guys like that and think, 'Hmmm.' I trust no one.
Truth is, however, most of the passion I've lost--and I've lost a lot-comes
from repetition. Every year is the same: A dominant team, a disappointing team,
a hot rookie, a fading veteran. It gets sorta old. So, nowadays, my favorite
thing about sports is the nostalgia. I like looking back 1,000,000 times more
than looking at the present.
: Jeff Fletcher over at FanHouse wrote an interesting post
recently about how professional baseball players have always tried to cheat. Do
you think that a lot of the greats from previous generations would have avoided
succumbing to the drug culture of today, or, had the technology been available,
would many past greats have been temped to cheat, too?
Jeff: I don't think this generation is more predisposed to dishonesty
than, say, the 1970s or 1890s. But, to me, that's irrelevant. It reminds me of
when George Bush would justify invading
by saying, "Even President Clinton believed
had nuclear weapons." Yeah, he did--but he wasn't f---ing dumb enough to
. So the whole, "Ty Cobb woulda cheated" argument doesn't work for me,
because he didn't cheat. Not in that way, at least.
: There are still a number of years before the stars from this era will be
eligible for the Hall of Fame. What is your take on the Hall when it comes to
candidates who have been linked to PEDs? Down the road, do you see the voters
looking at the era for what it was and softening their stance on the issue?
Jeff: I hope not. I hope voters give a big, fat middle finger to the
entire era. I really do. Look, the players who used are, by far, the most
guilty. But what about all the cowards who knew their game was being corrupted
and did nothing? Let's say Derek Jeter knew all this was going on, but didn't
use PHD and said nothing. Well, he's certainly not nearly as guilty as a Giambi
or Clemens, but he's not entirely off the hook. Someone needed to step up and
say, "This is bull----! This is ruining my game!" Nobody did.
: You once wrote
that Barry Bonds was evil. In light of the recent names leaked of players linked
to PEDs, do you still feel the same way? I feel that a Hall of Fame without
Bonds--steroids or not--would be a shame, missing out on honoring one of the
most impressive hitters and players of all time. For you, would you vote him in
Jeff: No way, but the same goes for Clemens, Giambi, Sosa, McGwire.
Bonds isn't evil because he used steroids--he is evil because he treats everyone
like dog crap and cares only about himself. The reason I wouldn't vote him in is
this: The Hall of Fame lists several criterion for enshrinement--one of which is
GOOD OF THE GAME. What these guys have done by cheating far, far, far, far, far,
far, far, far, far, far outweighs their statistics. They have voided an era. I
mean, think about that--they have literally made an entire era statistically
irrelevant. Or, as I always say, I wrote a biography on Barry Bonds, and right
now I don't know what the all-time home run record is. That was the biggest mark
in sports. Now? Meaningless. Totally meaningless.
: Donald Fehr announced that he is stepping down from his post earlier this
week. Hate him or love him, he felt that it was his job to do what was in the
players' best interest. Did he accomplish that, in your opinion? What is your
take on his legacy?
Jeff: Certainly, most of what he did for the players was in their best
interests. That's undeniable. But in relation to PHD, he failed hugely. He
always seemed to see this in a very narrow scope--'We don't want the players to
have to face invasive drug testing.' Well, what about the health risks of all
these drugs? What about the long-term life impact? If Fehr really cared about
the health of his legions, he would have said to them that, first and foremost,
the goal must be to rid the game of drugs. If not for the good of the sport,
then for the personal good of the athletes themselves.
: With her book coming out, Selena Roberts continued to take a lot of heat
for her Duke Lacrosse columns. Despite evidence proving that Roberts got the
issue dead wrong--the story was about the systematic abuse of innocent young men
being railroaded by a corrupt prosecutor and a media willing to rush to accuse,
not the oppression of minority women--she has not only refused to apologize, she
continued to make baseless assertions in defense of her view while promoting her
tell-all book about Alex Rodriguez. As many bloggers and Jason Whitlock noted,
it was tough to accept any fact from an unnamed source in her book without a
grain of salt after her refusal to take accountability for her Duke columns. You
wrote a couple of posts defending her career, but, in light of this Fire Joe
courtesy of Duke case expert K.C. Johnson, do you feel any differently on the
Jeff: I don't, because I don't think what she wrote was nearly as
terrible as people made it out to be. If you read her work at the time, it's
more an attack of the culture, not the athletes themselves. And she was right,
in that regard. That said, would I have handled the aftermath differently?
Probably. The one thing I've learned the hard way in this business:
Acknowledging shortcomings almost always goes well in the long run. Again, I
didn't think her stuff was nearly as offensive as many do. But clearly it was
taken in a certain way--one I don't think she intended.
: Out of all of the media outlets you have worked for, what has been your
favorite gig? Do you prefer writing books?
Jeff: The best media job I ever have came in the early-2000s, when I
went to work for Newsday. I was tired of writing sports on a weekly basis, and
Newsday came to me with this: You can write about anything you find in
New York City
and you can write really long, and we only need two or three pieces per month.
It was fantastic and liberating and soooo fun. Then, after about two years,
Newsday hit the crapper and told me they wanted 500-word pieces on Jessica
Simpson's hair and that American Idol dude (Clay whatever) and his sexuality. No
thanks. And yes, I love writing books. Painful at times, but mostly joy. The
ultimate literary challenge, for me at least.
: To some more baseball-related stuff, what do you think have been the most
surprising storylines of the 2009 MLB season?
Jeff: The surging Texas Rangers, the (early) surging Toronto Blue
Jays, David Wright losing his power, all the Met injuries, fans rebelling at the
new Yankee Stadium, the Dodgers not really needing Manny Ramirez.
: Who were your favorite baseball/sports writers growing up? What about
Jeff: When I was a kid, I loved Rick Telander at Sports Illustrated,
Dave Anderson at the New York Times, Dick Schaap. I went to the
, and Mike Freeman came along about five years before I arrived. He was covering
the Giants for the Times when I was in college, and he was the one who really
gave me hope that I could make it in the biz. Now, I really enjoy Tyler Kepner
of the Times--great guy, great writer. Steve Rushin's blog, Jon Wertheim. More
than ever I pay attention to sports books, and there are few better than
Jonathan Eig, Mark Kriegel and Leigh Montville. I sorta feel like we're all in
the same club--crazy people who write sports books.
: Have you gotten into sabermetrics at all?
Jeff: Not one iota.
: Looking back, do you feel that, as an aspiring writer, you would have
preferred to have the luxury of the Internet, where anyone can blog now?
Jeff: No, because I was always able to find a place
to write. If it wasn't my high school paper, it was the local weekly where I
interned. I enjoy my blog--it's fun and cool, and the feedback and interest has
surprised me. That said, it's very self-indulgent-me rambling on about whatever
enters my brain. That's fine at age 37, when I sorta know what I'm doing and can
see it for what it is. But I think a lot of bloggers could use editors, and
don't realize it. I recently attended the Blogs with Balls conference. It was
tons of sports bloggers--fun and cool. But a lot of these guys were patting one
another on the back, saying how great this blog was or that blog was. Most of
these guys are 24, 25, 26, 27. They're learning--hell, we're all learning. But
they have nobody ever editing them, and often it shows. You see the talent, but
you also think, "What is this?" So I'm glad I didn't have a blog back
in the day, because the editing I received was invaluable.
Tyler Hissey is the editor of Around The Majors and a frequent contributor to Philly Baseball News.