Grant Wahl

An Interview with Grant Wahl

An Interview with Grant Wahl

“Although Beckham would not do one-on-one interviews specifically for the book – his handlers wanted a lot of money to participate, and I don’t pay the people I cover – he was available to the media before and after games – twice a week…”

“I write differently about soccer for Sports Illustrated magazine than I do for Soccer journalism in the U.S. is still very much Internet-driven, and I write for the hardcore soccer fan – American and otherwise – on

When I write for SI magazine, it’s always a challenge because I have to write for the mainstream U.S. sports fan and include things that will satisfy the hardcore soccer fan too.”

“Writer’s block used to be a big problem for me when I started at SI. I actually used to tie myself to a chair through the belt loops of my pants to keep me from going anywhere. But thankfully I don’t seem to get The Block anymore – knock on wood.”

Grant Wahl: Interviewed on July 12, 2009

Position: Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated

Born: 1973, Merriam, Kansas

Education: Princeton, 1996, BA in Politics

Career: Miami Herald sports intern 1996, Sports Illustrated 1996 –

Personal: Married, no kids.

Favorite restaurant (home): Jack’s Bistro, Baltimore. “Quirky slice of Baltimore with great food that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Waters or David Simon production.”

Favorite restaurant (away): Shiro’s Sushi, Seattle. “Not fancy or high-priced, but the best sushi you’ll ever have, anywhere – and I’ve eaten a lot.”

Favorite hotel: The Plaza, Buenos Aires. “A classic hotel in the heart of my adopted city.”

Author of: The Beckham Experiment: How The World’s Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America

Grant Wahl, excerpted from ‘The Beckham Experiment’:

Meanwhile, Beckham made an effort to fit in, and on his first MLS road trip he endured an only-in-America experience. After his first training session with the Galaxy, in Washington two days before a nationally televised game against D.C. United, he helped organize a dinner with 10 other players at Morton’s steak house in Arlington, Va. Beckham had enjoyed the players-only meals at Real Madrid, and if he was going to be just one of the lads in the Galaxy locker room, things needed to get off on the right foot. Not long after they took their table, the waiter asked if anyone wanted wine. They all raised their hands.

“O.K.,” the waiter said. “I need to see some I.D.’s.”

“I don’t have my I.D. with me,” Beckham said.

“No I.D., no wine!” the waiter announced, theatrically snatching Beckham’s wineglass.

Beckham thought it was a put-on. “Is this guy taking the piss?” he asked. But the waiter was serious. When the Galaxy’s Portuguese defender Abel Xavier couldn’t produce an I.D., his wineglass disappeared too. “What is this?” the 34-year-old Xavier thundered. “I have a kid who can drink.” The other players laughed hysterically, partly because the waiter hadn’t recognized the world’s most famous athlete and partly because Beckham and Xavier were so used to being mobbed in Europe that they didn’t bother carrying identification. Welcome to soccer in the U.S., guys.

The Morton’s dinner was the first time Beckham had held center stage at a players-only meal, and he came out of his shell, answering questions and telling stories about his days with Manchester United, the English national team and Real Madrid. The vibe was comfortable. There was no awkwardness with Beckham. “You can break his balls,” said defender Chris Albright, “and he’ll break your balls right back.” Kyle Martino, a midfielder, was stunned that Beckham could be such a regular guy.

And then the check came.

Beckham was earning a $6.5 million salary, and his income, with endorsements, would balloon to $48.2 million. Martino was making a salary of $55,297 — before taxes — and living in one of the U.S.’s most expensive cities. Nearly everyone at the table was thinking, Is Beckham going to pick up the check? But nobody said anything. Beckham, meanwhile, had never been in this situation before. The players on his other teams had all been millionaires, and Real Madrid paid for all team meals anyway. The Galaxy provided only a $45 per diem on the road. What would Beckham do? What should he do?

Donovan eyed the bill from his seat. He had paid for teammates’ dinners in the past, and he’d made his position clear even before Beckham’s arrival. “He’d better be picking up meals too,” Donovan had told teammates, “or else I’ll call him out on it.” But defender Chris Klein, one of Donovan’s best friends on the team, had a different viewpoint.

“If you’re out to dinner with the guys and you pick up a check here or there, then fine,” Klein said. “But if you start to feel like you’re being used, these aren’t your friends anymore. These are leeches. You can look at it two ways: Here’s this guy that’s making a lot of money, and maybe he should pick up the tab. But the other side of it is, maybe he’s trying so hard to be one of the guys, if he’s paying for everything then he’s not one of the guys anymore.”

Beckham didn’t pick up the check. He put in enough to cover his share and passed it along. That would be standard operating procedure at meals throughout the season. “None of us care,” said Kelly Gray, one of Beckham’s frequent dining companions. “It’s just nice to go out to dinner.”

Donovan didn’t call Beckham out at Morton’s after all, but he could never get over Beckham’s alligator arms when the bill arrived. Nobody would have believed it, he thought: David Beckham is a cheapskate.

Q. Beckham chose not to pick up the tab at his first dinner with his Galaxy teammates? What would you have done if you were him, assuming you could not expense it to SI?

A. It’s a fascinating debate, not least because reasonable people can disagree over whether Beckham – annual income: $50 million – should pick up the check at a fancy steakhouse with teammates earning under $20,000 a year.

If I’m Beckham in that situation, I would have picked up the check at the first meal in a heartbeat – and if I didn’t want to do it all the time, I would have just put in my share for future meals. If it was me personally – making my SI salary – then I would have been making similar money to several other players at the meal, and I probably wouldn’t have tried to pick up the whole thing. Then again, if I was one of the other players, I wouldn’t have wanted Beckham paying for everything all the time. I would have felt that my money was as good as his money, and I wouldn’t want to feel like Turtle from Entourage.

Q. Your access to Beckham was described as “unparalleled”. How so?

A. I saw that someone else wrote that – not me or my publisher – and I don’t think I would use that term necessarily. Beckham has done his own – ghost-written – books before, and those writers have had more access to him – even if every word is carefully approved by Beckham’s management team.

I have always had a solid working relationship with Beckham, have interviewed him more than any other American journalist – for major stories in SI – and material from those one-on-one interviews appears throughout my book.

Our arrangement for The Beckham Experiment was straightforward: Although Beckham would not do one-on-one interviews specifically for the book – his handlers wanted a lot of money to participate, and I don’t pay the people I cover – he was available to the media before and after games – twice a week, in other words, or far more accessible than at any point in his European career. I asked him a lot of questions in those sessions, and his voice and thoughts are in the book. I also spoke often – on background – to Beckham’s handlers in the interest of fairness and good journalism.

I do think I got unparalleled access inside a Beckham team. Nearly everyone on the Galaxy – including Landon Donovan, Alexi Lalas and ownership group CEO Tim Leiweke – gave me exclusive interviews during the 16-month process of reporting the book. They were very candid, and to their credit they continued to speak to me even when the team’s fortunes started declining on the field.

Q. It’s not your job to promote MLS, but if it were, what would you do to grow the audience?

A. I think star power does matter, and I hope that this Beckham experience doesn’t turn off MLS owners to the notion of bringing in other big-name players. They just need to make sure they bring in the right players and handle how they work with the team on and off the field. But you need more than one really good player per team. Soccer is the ultimate team sport, and the level of the players – and salaries – needs to increase across the board.

Q. What does your SI soccer beat entail?

A. It seems like a bit more every year. College basketball is still my main beat at SI, but I cover all the major international soccer tournaments and provide coverage of MLS and the U.S. national team for SI and I’m really lucky to be covering the two sports that I love—and, not coincidentally, the two most popular sports – soccer and hoops – on the planet. How could anyone ever complain about covering the two coolest sporting events in the world: the NCAA basketball tournament and the World Cup?

Q. Do you write soccer different for an American audience than you would for an audience in England or Brazil – to name a couple of soccer hotbeds?

A. I write differently about soccer for Sports Illustrated magazine than I do for Soccer journalism in the U.S. is still very much Internet-driven, and I write for the hardcore soccer fan – American and otherwise – on

When I write for SI magazine, it’s always a challenge because I have to write for the mainstream U.S. sports fan and include things that will satisfy the hardcore soccer fan too. But I do think there are ways to pull that off, and it’s getting easier to keep everyone happy as tournaments like the World Cup become big-time mainstream events in the United States. The U.S. television audience for the 2006 World Cup final – 16.9 million – beat out the average audiences for that year’s NBA Finals – 12.9 million) – and World Series – 15.8 million).

Q. Who were your career influences?

A. Far too many people to name here, but I’ll mention a few. The former New York Times war correspondent Gloria Emerson taught me in a writing course during my freshman year of college. She scared the hell out of me at first, but this 65-year-old woman became one of my closest college friends—I wrote my senior thesis – on politics and soccer in Argentina – at an office in her house. David Remnick of The New Yorker taught me in another intensive writing seminar in 1995; learning how to approach literary non-fiction from him was an amazing experience.

I got hired at Sports Illustrated by Bambi Wulf, whose record of writing hires at SI included Steve Rushin, Austin Murphy, Jon Wertheim and Jeff Pearlman. The entire staff of writers, editors and photographers at SI has had a huge influence. It’s a great place to work.

Q. How difficult or easy is writing for you? Ever suffer from writer’s block?

A. Writer’s block used to be a big problem for me when I started at SI. I actually used to tie myself to a chair through the belt loops of my pants to keep me from going anywhere. But thankfully I don’t seem to get The Block anymore – knock on wood. Good thing, too, since I had to write The Beckham Experiment in less than three months. My wife was working in South Africa for a year as an infectious-disease doctor – she’s the star of the family – and I landed in Johannesburg on Thanksgiving 2008 to start my leave of absence from SI – now over. I outlined for two weeks, then wrote 112,000 words in 72 days—10 hours a day, seven days a week—to make the March 1 deadline for my manuscript. It was good to learn that I could do it, and even though I wrote fast I still feel good about the quality of the book.

Q. Who and what do you read to keep up with sports – mainstream and non-mainstream?

A. I only really follow the two sports that I cover: soccer and college basketball. My wife kind of hates sports, so when I’m off the clock I’m off the clock, and I’m plenty busy staying on top of the two sports that I cover since there are so many teams.

I follow several writers in college hoops, including Alex Wolff, Seth Davis and Luke Winn from SI; Mike DeCourcy (The Sporting News); Andy Katz,

Pat Forde and Jay Bilas (ESPN); Jeff Goodman (; Gary Parrish (CBS Sportsline); and John Feinstein (Washington Post). There are also a ton of good columnists who do college hoops, including Rick Bozich (Louisville) and Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo). I could go on forever.

Soccer-wise, there’s some good journalism being done out there in the U.S.:

Steven Goff (Washington Post), Ives Galarcep (, Jeré Longman and George Vecsey (New York Times), Mark Zeigler (San Diego Union-Tribune), Beau Dure (USA Today), Michael Lewis (New York Daily News), Greg Lalas and Jonah Freedman ( and Andrea Canales and Kyle McCarthy ( are some who I read a lot, but there are several others too. One of the best ways to keep up with all the soccer news is a blog called Du Nord ( by Bruce McGuire.

Q. Assuming that reporters root for the best story, your feelings when the U.S. lost the Confederations Cup final to Brazil?

A. Well, that would have been a great story, wouldn’t it, if the U.S. men had won their first international soccer tournament by beating No. 1-ranked Spain and World Cup favorite Brazil four days apart? If the U.S. had held on to the lead, it almost certainly would have been the cover story in that week’s Sports Illustrated. Instead the U.S. lost, and a five-page cover story turned into a 1.5-page Inside Soccer column. I’d be lying if part of me didn’t envision a cover photo of captain Carlos Bocanegra holding up the trophy under the coverline BYE-BYE BRAZIL! But that’s okay. The U.S. run got people in America excited about next year’s World Cup. It would be an even bigger story if the Yanks got to the final of that one.

Q. What would have to happen for the U.S. to win the World Cup in 2010?

A. A lot of unexpected things. Realistically, the U.S. is one of the top 15 teams in the world, but it’s not anywhere near the top five. Then again, strange things can happen in the World Cup. The U.S. outplayed Germany in the 2002 WC quarterfinal (losing 1-0), and a win would have given the Americans the chance to play South Korea for the right to be in the World Cup final. You never know what the future may hold, but this is an exciting time to be covering soccer in America.

Grant Wahl, excerpted from ‘The Beckham Experiment’:

In August 2008 Leiweke napalmed the Galaxy’s dysfunctional management structure, pushing out Lalas, Gullit and Byrne, thereby damaging his relationship with Team Beckham. Not once did Beckham address the players as L.A.’s free fall continued, and in October he used a yellow-card suspension as a reason not to attend L.A.’s most important game of the season, a loss in Houston that eliminated the team from playoff contention. Four days later news broke of Beckham’s clandestine push to be loaned to AC Milan. Donovan was furious.

Over a lunch of lamb pizza and a peach salad at Petros, a stylish Greek restaurant in Manhattan Beach, Donovan took a sip of Pinot Grigio and exhaled deeply. It was 24 hours after he’d learned of Beckham’s desire to move to Milan, and instead of enjoying a Thursday off from practice, he was miserable. The Galaxy’s awful season hadn’t ended yet, but all the talk was about Beckham’s possible departure.

Donovan himself was convinced that Captain Galaxy had vanished in spirit weeks earlier. “My sense is that David’s clearly frustrated, that he’s unhappy and, honestly, that he thinks it’s a joke,” said Donovan, who was about to clinch the MLS goal-scoring title. “I also kind of feel [he has taken the team] for granted. I don’t see dedication or commitment to this team, and that’s troubling.”

The longer Donovan had been around Beckham, the more he’d asked himself, Who is this guy? Why is he so secretive? Donovan had tried to have a conversation with Beckham the day before, but he’d gotten nowhere. “So you’re going to Milan?” Donovan had asked.

“We’ll see,” Beckham replied. “I’ve got to stay fit somehow during the off-season.”

“It’s a nice city, right?”

“Some people say it is, but I don’t know.”

And that was it. Their lockers were side-by-side, but they might as well have been a million miles apart.

No, Donovan decided, Beckham communicated far more clearly with his actions than with his words. Donovan still couldn’t fathom why Beckham had stayed in England for nearly three days after a national-team game the previous week, had refrained from traveling to Houston to support his teammates in the most important game of the year. It didn’t matter that he was suspended, Donovan thought, didn’t matter that he’d been given permission by the Galaxy to stay away. He was the captain of the team.

“All that we care about at a minimum is that he committed himself to us,” Donovan said. “As time has gone on, that has not proven to be the case in many ways — on the field, off the field. Does the fact that he earns that much money come into it? Yeah. If someone’s paying you more than anybody in the league, more than double anybody in the league, the least we expect is that you show up to every game, whether you’re suspended or not. Show up and train hard. Show up and play hard. Maybe he’s not a leader, maybe he’s not a captain. Fair enough. But at a minimum you should bust your ass every day. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t think that’s too much for us to expect. Especially when he’s brought all this on us.”

Donovan had wanted the Beckham Experiment to work, and there was no reason in his mind that it still couldn’t be successful in 2009. But not if Beckham continued acting the way he had during the last half of 2008. “When David first came, I believed he was committed to what he was doing,” Donovan said. “He cared. He wanted to do well. He wanted the team and the league to do well. Somewhere along the way — and in my mind it coincides with Ruud being let go — he just flipped a switch and said, ‘Uh-uh, I’m not doing it anymore.’ “

By now, in fact, Donovan no longer agreed with the “good teammate, bad captain” verdict that so many other Galaxy players had reached on Beckham. Donovan was convinced that Beckham wasn’t even a good teammate anymore: “He’s not. He’s not shown that. I can’t think of another guy where I’d say he wasn’t a good teammate, he didn’t give everything through all this, he didn’t still care. But with [Beckham] I’d say no, he wasn’t committed.”

The most fascinating aspect of Donovan’s barrage was the even manner in which he delivered it. He sounded like a scientist revealing the findings of an experiment. The way Donovan saw it, he was just sharing his conclusions about a coworker, one who happened to be David Beckham.

Donovan didn’t know what would come next, but he did know that things would have to change if he and Beckham were teammates in 2009. “Let’s say he does stay here three more years,” Donovan said. “I’m not going to spend the next three years of my life doing it this way. This is f—— miserable. I don’t want to have soccer be this way.”

What could he do? “That’s my issue too,” he said. “I’ve got to confront it somehow. If that’s the way he’s going to be, fine, then hold him accountable. Bench him. Just say, ‘We’re not going to play you, we don’t think you’re committed.’ “

As disgusted as he sounded, though, Donovan still thought his relationship with Beckham could be saved — if Beckham returned to being the kind of teammate who at least wanted to come support the Galaxy the day after an England game. Then again, it all might have been moot, given the Milan news. Donovan knew how the soccer world worked, knew how Beckham and 19 Entertainment operated too. “It could be that it’s just a loan now,” Donovan said, “but he could play a few games and go, ‘S—, I want to stay here.'”

Donovan was right. Beckham produced two goals and two assists in his first five games for Milan and announced that he wanted to stay in Italy instead of returning to the Galaxy. Thus began a monthlong global saga of negotiations involving Milan, L.A. and MLS. The result: Beckham would finish the Serie A season and rejoin the Galaxy in July, midway through the MLS season.

By the time Beckham returned, Donovan planned on finally confronting the Englishman over his commitment to the Galaxy. Now, however, the tables had turned. Donovan was wearing the captain’s armband again.

(SMG thanks Grant Wahl for his cooperation)

Ian Thomsen

An Interview with Ian Thomsen

An Interview with Ian Thomsen

“It’s always a ‘person’ story in sports. If a story has any merit it’s anecdotal. You have to find out a way to find the information you’re looking for. It’s always a matter of getting somebody to tell you. Nobody can teach you how. It’s about relating to people.”

“I go to a lot because of my affiliation. But I really don’t go to websites to get a fix the way a lot of people do… I find a lot of what you read on bigger sports websites is distracting from what I want to know. A lot of people writing on the web don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re sort of wasting everybody’s time.”

“The sportswriting business would be better if they hired somebody who actually hung out in bar and knew the bookies and saw things the way Will McDonough used to see them.”

Ian Thomsen. Interviewed on August 18, 2006.

Position: NBA reporter, Sports Illustrated.

Born: 1961, Montreal, Canada.

Education: Northwestern, BS, 1983.

Career: Boston Globe 1983-89, The National 90-91, International Herald Tribune 92-97, Sports Illustrated 98- present.

Personal: married, two children.

Favorite restaurant (home): Caffe Paolina, Swampscott, MA

Favorite restaurant (road): Mandarin House, Evanston, IL

Favorite hotel: The Standard, Miami

Ian Thomsen excerpted, with Luis Fernando Llosa, from Sports Illustrated, September 3, 2001:

The Little League World Series final at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday had a thrilling finish that in other years would have served as the tournament’s most unforgettable image. For the second time in three years the series was won by a team from Japan, as Tokyo Kitasuna scored both runs in its 2-1 victory over Apopka, Fla., on a bottom-of-the-sixth single by Nobuhisa Baba, a 5’1″ third baseman…

But Sunday’s events seemed almost anticlimactic after the show put on earlier in the series by Danny Almonte, a remarkably poised lefthander from the Rolando Paulino All-Stars of the Bronx. As his team advanced to last Saturday’s U.S. championship game, in which it lost 8-2 to Apopka, Danny, a native of Moca in the Dominican Republic, seemed like a man among boys, using his lanky leg kick and effortless release to blind his overmatched foes with 70-mph-plus two- and four-seam fastballs–the equivalent, given that Little League pitchers throw from a mound just 46 feet from home plate, of 92-mph major league heat–and bamboozle them with sharp curves and changeups…

Such was Danny’s celebrity that during the tournament he received a good-luck call from his idol, Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr., and as a child version of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ towering lefty Randy (the Big Unit) Johnson, the 5’8″ Danny earned the nickname the Little Unit. Even before the tournament his physical and mound maturity had caused some to wonder if he was, as the Paulino All-Stars claimed, 12 years old -the maximum age for Little League eligibility…

According to birth ledgers in Moca examined by SI, Danny’s birth date was registered with the Dominican government in December 1994 by his father, Felipe, as April 7, 1987. (In the Dominican Republic it is not uncommon for parents to wait years before officially declaring the birth of a child.) That means that when Danny Almonte was blowing away batters in Williamsport last week, he was officially 14 years old.

Q. Which of your stories had the biggest impact on readers?

A. When I was at the Globe, two football-playing twins in small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania were in a car accident and one died. Very tragic. That was the one I heard most about.

Q. What about the Danny Almonte story for SI?

A. That one probably got the most attention. But the real work on that was done by Luis Llosa at SI, he was in the Dominican researching another story and he discovered Daniel Almonte’s birth certificate, which proved he was two years older than he claimed he was. I always thought that was his story more than mine. My own feeling is people pay way too much attention to the Little League World Series. It puts a lot of pressure on kids. It’s mind-boggling that the President of the United States goes to watch the final. It only puts more pressure on these kids to perform. It’s just all wrong, I think.

Q. Do fans want investigative exposes?

A. On interesting subjects, which almost never get written, because they’re impossible to gather up. They wanted to know if Daniel Almonte was 12 or 14. I don’t think they want to know if some minor infraction of NCAA rules takes place. I don’t think they care if NFL players are on steroids. It’s almost accepted they want them on steroids because they want them as big and fast as possible. They do want to know about Barry Bonds on steroids. So it’s a very narrow frame of investigation. Ultimately they want to be entertained. They don’t want to take it seriously to the point they have to approach it like reading a tax manual.

Q. Aren’t sports supposed to be an escape from life’s grimness?

A. I never bought the idea that it’s an escape. If you’re a sports fan that’s just part of your life. People get awfully upset about sports. You hear all these people who call in to talk radio – they’re not escaping anything. They’re getting more upset about sports than other things in their lives.

Q. How does someone become an informed sports fan?

A. To me it all depends on how much common sense you have personally. You have to read in between the lines to know what’s going on. You rarely get the full story out of any one newspaper article or magazine article. And then because it’s such a subjective avocation it’s all a matter of opinion anyway apart from the hard stats. A lot of it in a larger sense doesn’t matter anyway. It’s for fun. To me people should get out of it whatever they put into it. If you want to be a hard-core junkie you can figure out your own route to learning. It’s like my business. You figure out your own way to what a story is. You come to your own opinion and conclusions.

Q. Where do you get your sports information?

I focus mainly now on the NBA. For NBA information I use a couple of websites that provide daily news compendium: and Both give a good roundup of what newspapers are reporting everyday. I read SI every week. I read the Boston Globe. I get very little from TV. I don’t watch a lot of SportsCenter. Almost all is from print.

Q. What about the major sports websites?

A. Only when I’m really looking for something. I go to a lot because of my affiliation. But I really don’t go to websites to get a fix the way a lot of people do. Don’t feel the need for it. Everything I need I still get through the traditional vehicles. I’m a dinosaur. When I try to go to I feel like I can just get lost in there.
I find that there’s just so much drek on the web I don’t’ want to waste my time sifting through to get to what I’m looking for. The conventional sources get right to the point of what I’m looking for. I find a lot of what you read on bigger sports websites is distracting from what I want to know. A lot of people writing on the web don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re sort of wasting everybody’s time.

Q. Writers you admire?

A. The Globe writers – Jackie MacMullen, Bob Ryan, Ron Borges, Dan Shaughnessy – all are very reliable – you don’t miss much reading the Globe every day. That will fill me in on what’s going on in Boston and around the country. Everybody who writes for SI is reliable and gives you a deeper perspective.

When I first got into the business sportswriting was in a golden era – there were so many terrific writers writing about sports. That era in my mind has passed. It’s hard for me to find many people who live up to that standard. Hard for me to read this stuff knowing how good it should be. Same complaint I hear from people talking about the NBA. They remember the 80s with Bird and Magic and now it’s hard to watch it knowing how it should be.

Q. NBA reporters you admire?

A. A lot of good ones. But I’m competing with them so I don’t want to give them any ink. Mention that I laughed when I said that.

Q. How useful are and

A. All the people who work in the NBA look at those websites to get a roundup. They don’t catch all the news but they cast a wide net. So you get a roundup. They don’t just go to the bigger papers. They miss the point sometimes but do a pretty good job. It’s a good starting place.

Q. What is your work schedule?

A. Out of four weeks I probably travel parts of three weeks to NBA cities. When I’m working at home on a typical day I’ll start online to see what the news is. Depending on what my assignment is I’ll start making my calls. And fish around to see what I can find to write about. I go online to find out what not to do. If something is already written I’ll cross it off my list and try to find another direction to go. The magazine comes out five days after I file a story. It has to hold up. That’s the hard part of working for SI but when it works out it’s the rewarding part, too.

Q. How is your job on family life?

A. No harder than other jobs. Lawyers work 70 hours a week. Salesmen travel all the time. Every job requires balance.

Q. Can sportswriting be taught in a textbook?

A. No. It’s all common sense. It’s always a ‘person’ story in sports. If a story has any merit it’s anecdotal. You have to find out a way to find the information you’re looking for. It’s always a matter of getting somebody to tell you. Nobody can teach you how. It’s about relating to people. Which is exactly how fans relate to sports. It’s a personal process. That’s why to be a sportswriter you really don’t have to go to college. You just have to have street smarts and be able to figure out how things work.

The sportswriting business would be better if they hired somebody who actually hung out in bar and knew the bookies and saw things the way Will McDonough used to see them. It’s become very academic now. We don’t hire people in bars. There’s nobody like Willie around. There never was. If Willie tried to get a job today at the Globe I’m convinced they wouldn’t hire him. Because the qualities that used to be so obvious to newspapers are now almost shunned.

Q. What’s your advice for young sports media?

A. If somebody wants to be a big star as a sportswriter they should try to be a very good stylish writer and develop a voice. There is so little of that going on anymore that’s how you really stand out today and you’d provide a service. More people than ever are reading sports news and yet the quality of writing has suffered in spite of a growing audience. If somebody would take a 1960s or 1970s approach they’d be a big star in the business.

Everybody talks about the Sopranos as cutting edge TV. What is it except old-fashioned story telling? The producer didn’t go into the future – he went into the past and conjured up all traditional themes of storytelling. That’s what people should be doing if they want to set themselves apart. Be like Leigh Montville or Jim Murray. Don’t worry about breaking news so much but worry about how to tell a story.

(SMG thanks Ian Thomsen for his cooperation)

Wright Thompson

An Interview with Wright Thompson

An Interview with Wright Thompson

“I don’t consciously imitate other southern writers but I write like I talk and I was born in Clarksville, Mississippi. The voice is southern, simply because that’s the only voice I’ve got. There are certain phrases and a certain bit of nostalgia in looking at things that comes through.”

“The ideal interview is for a person not to feel interviewed but to feel like they sat down and had a conversation. When somebody starts cursing that’s always a good sign, because you’re just talking now, you’re not thinking about every word that comes out of your mouth. If you hear ‘fuck, shit, hell, goddamn’ I know you’re not parsing words. You’re just talking.”

“I’m an early riser – I was raised on a farm. I try to get up early – that helps. You need to spend the hours. The most important thing is, if you don’t have the information to come home and write, you’re royally screwed. Nothing reads as flimsy as an underreported magazine story. I obsess about these things – they consume my life.”

Wright Thompson: Interviewed on September 14, 2007

Position: senior writer, and ESPN the Magazine

Born: 1976, Clarksdale, Miss.

Education: Missouri, BJ, 2001

Career: New Orleans Times Picayune 2001-2002, KC Star 2002 – 2006, and ESPN the Magazine 2006 –

Personal: married

Favorite restaurant (home): City Grocery, Oxford, Miss. “as good a restaurant as there is anywhere – a world class bar upstairs with a balcony that overlooks the whole square – a home away from home – few places make me happier”

Favorite restaurant (road): Le Fou Frog, KC “best steak in KC, a French restaurant – when you walk inside you feel like you’re in Marseilles; PJ Clarke’s, New York, “the béarnaise bacon cheeseburger – if Scarlett Johansson were food she would be a béarnaise bacon cheeseburger”

Favorite hotel: Hay-Adams, Washington, D.C. “I don’t stay there much because it’s really expensive, but it was my daddy’s favorite hotel – it’s one of the places I can feel his presence. I don’t know if that makes me nuts but I swear it’s true.”

Wright Thompson, excerpted from, August 30, 2007:

OXFORD, Miss. — Two friends, both unhinged football fans, got married earlier this year. During the wedding reception, the bride’s father somehow got the Ole Miss band to march into the room, a blaring chorus of starched uniforms and shining brass. The groom conducted. The crowd stomped and cheered. You’d have thought folks were celebrating a 12-play scoring drive, not holy matrimony.

Soon after the wedding, I watched video of this event. Immediately, I recognized the feeling deep down in my gut. It’s something I’ve felt in so many cathedral-like stadiums. I closed my eyes, and the familiar notes sent me rushing months into the future, longing for a tailgate that escalates from simmer to burn, for the chill bumps that always come in the moments before kickoff, for the evening breezes rustling the white oaks when the game is done. My body sat in front of a computer screen. My mind was in a stadium. It was only April, and I longed for September.

I missed football season.

As you might have guessed, I live in the South, a little town named Oxford, which means my life is governed by a set of rhythms as familiar as the white-columned mansions up and down Lamar Boulevard. I love air conditioning, and I love cocktails in the gloaming on the City Grocery balcony, and I love a plate of shrimp and grits when the sun finally goes down. I love honking at Faulkner’s grave on the way home from the bar. I love cruising 18 miles an hour through campus, the speed limit set in honor of Archie Manning’s college number, passing pretty blondes driving foreign cars, courtesy of Daaaaddy, and seeing a boy sporting khakis and an SEC haircut and realizing our fathers looked just like that a half century ago. I love “Dixie” played slow and the Bob Dylan song. I love the magnolias blooming in the late spring and the incandescent heat of the summer but, mostly, I love the insanity of the fall.

Q. Do you think of yourself as a southern writer?

A. I don’t. But I hear from people all the time who think I am. I don’t consciously imitate other southern writers but I write like I talk and I was born in Clarksville, Mississippi. The voice is southern, simply because that’s the only voice I’ve got. There are certain phrases and a certain bit of nostalgia in looking at things that comes through.

My pet topic is disappearing America, and things that once were and are no longer. Those things popped up in a story in Nazareth, Texas about the girls high school basketball team, and in the Mark McGwire story. I would love to write a book about disappearing America, and what it says about America today. This comes from growing up in a place that is both disappearing physically and is losing some of its long-held idiosyncrasies.

Q. You mean like obesity?

A. We’re number one in obesity and teen pregnancy and 50th in education. In Mississippi we like to say ‘thank god for Arkansas’. That shit’s real. This is a messed up place, dude.

Q. But you love it.

A. It’s part of being from the south. It’s what Willie Morris wrote – being from the south is about having an intense love of so many things yet, if you are of a certain frame of mind, also having pretty deep regrets and embarrassments and other adjectives about the racial history of it. I had a line in my southern football story – “I love Dixie played slow and the Bob Dylan song.” That’s the essence of the south – you love the history but you also love the fact that other people had to come in to force it to change. I went to a day of the Bobby Cherry trial – as a southerner I needed to see this – to sit on those hard benches in a sultry courtroom and see racial reconciliation 40 years too late. Rick Bragg’s lead the day after it was over is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read.

Q. Do you feel the spirit of Faulkner tapping at your window?

A. No. I just feel my editors, Jay Lovinger or Chris Berend or Kevin Jackson, wondering where the fuck their story is.

Q. As a long-form writer, are you a dying breed?

A. I don’t think so. The Internet has created a world where you can have all different forms – they can all co-exist and be successful. On we can run a 3600-word story about a young man from Georgia named Genarlow Wilson who is or isn’t wrongfully imprisoned, and also a Bill Simmons column about the Celtics. Both can appeal to different people or the same people, and both can be well read and well received. We do a lot of different things well at

If you ask young writers who they want to be a lot will still say Gary Smith. I have Gary Smith’s phone number and I won’t call it because what am I possibly going to say to Gary Smith? A lot of people still want to be Gary Smith or Scott Price – one of those people who write those stories people remember long after they forgot who wrote them.

Q. Are there readers for long form?

A. I think so. Absolutely. Poynter did a study that showed people are more likely to read long stories online than in the newspaper. I know this anecdotally and also I get a lot of hits on stories that require an investment of time and emotion from people. Think about it. You’ve got a captive audience of people at work, bored to death in their cubicles. They’re more likely to get through a long story at work than at home when they’re trying to make lunches, get the kids ready for bed, or walk the dog.

Are there as many people who want to read Gary Smith as want to see Jenna Jameson naked? Probably not. But different story styles suit different kinds of stories. There are long stories for a reason.


Q. Would you describe your job as rarefied?

A. I want to answer that without sounding like a jackass. That’s true. Everybody knows those jobs are harder to get than they are to do. Frankly, I think I’m very lucky – there are a lot of people who could do my job. By hook and crook and a lot of hard work I happened to get it – I’m incredibly lucky I’m allowed the time and resources to write stories important to me, my editors and readers. It is a kind of rarefied job, not a day goes by I’m not incredibly thankful for it. I love it. I love getting up in the morning to do my job. I was transcribing tape today for a magazine story and as much as I hate doing that I love it too.

Q. You seem like a humble guy.

A. If you ask a lot of people who know me I’m a stark raving egomaniac. I think everybody’s life is interesting. I think that most of the time the story is about them – which is not to say I won’t write myself in when it helps the arc or makes it clearer. While I like first person I don’t necessarily like ‘I think I think’ stories – I think x about y so therefore z’. I like stories that are about people and especially about places. The only way to go to a new and strange place is with a little bit of humility because no matter what you know about you are talking to people who know everything about what you’re reporting on. You can’t help but go hat in hand to those places that are foreign to you.

Q. What makes a good story to you?

A. People and place. It needs to be about people. If the readers feel when the story is over that they’ve been to a place you’ve done your job. All the things Jon Franklin (“Writing For Story”) talks about – conflict and resolution, an arc – it should be muscular and flow in a logical way, and be cinematic. It’s the old movie test – if you paid seven bucks to see a story would you get up and walk out? I think it’s hysterical that we have a graf to tell people about what we’re about to tell them. Can you imagine if that happened five minutes into “The Departed”? You want to give people a road map in the story so they don’t feel lost in the desert, but also in a cinematic way that’s interesting to read.

Q. Explain cinematic.

A. In your own head you need to think about words a movie director would be thinking about. Look at the scene and character and how that first scene would introduce the character. Report visually – write down moments that are striking to you – if you write that way it will be striking to the reader. I did a road trip through China for a story and had reams of notes and I found when I looked at those notes, if I could remember it without the notes, it probably should go in. That’s the whole thing with quotes – if you can’t remember the gist of it it’s probably not that great a quote.

Q. What is your interview technique?

A. Professional interviewers might read this and have a heart attack. I try to sit down and talk to somebody. I tell them things about myself if I feel it’s relevant – it’s a two-way conversation. I look for common ground if we have similar life experiences. We just talk. The ideal interview is for a person not to feel interviewed but to feel like they sat down and had a conversation. When somebody starts cursing that’s always a good sign, because you’re just talking now, you’re not thinking about every word that comes out of your mouth. If you hear ‘fuck, shit, hell, goddamn’ I know you’re not parsing words. You’re just talking.

Q. Where do you do your best talking?

A. You have to catch me at the bar at City Grocery – on the balcony.

Q. What’s your drink?

A. Gin and tonic, if it’s still light.

Q. After dark?

A. Makers Mark and Diet Coke. I apologize to serious whiskey drinkers out there. I need a little caffeine in my life.

Q. Do your editors help you conceptualize?

A. I have great editors. A lot of times I have heavy conversations with them before I make a phone call and then during the entire process. My main e-ticket editor is Jay Lovinger – Jay is one of the deans of American magazine editing – it’s a daily honor and privilege to have his phone number, much less to call him, which I do, obsessively. His poor wife and kids must wonder who is this psychopathic redneck that keeps calling his house. His boss is Kevin Jackson, one of the head guys at and one of the smartest guys I’ve ever worked with. My editor on the column length stuff is Michael Knisley, who is a former newspaper and magazine reporter himself. He gets it.

Any success I’ve had at has a lot to do with those guys. At the magazine it’s a guy named Chris Berend, the senior articles editor who came over from Esquire. He’s great on the front end and I talk to him when I’m reporting – this is what I saw today – almost like dailies on movies. My old boss at the KC Star, Mike Fannin, was another great editor. His attitude was don’t go somewhere and scrape your nuts on the pavement – don’t waste time.

Q. How much time do you take on a story?

A. I’m so much better with more time. Reporting on a tight deadline you have to get things you know are going to work. If you do a magazine story or a long form piece for you talk to everybody and the more you talk the more you funnel it down to the essential people. I’m sure some is a crutch – I over-report to the nth degree. I’m petrified of sitting down and realizing ‘oh my god I didn’t do this’. I don’t want to stare at another flight.

I’m an early riser – I was raised on a farm. I try to get up early – that helps. You need to spend the hours. The most important thing is if you don’t have the information to come home and write you’re royally screwed. Nothing reads as flimsy as an underreported magazine story.

I obsess about these things – they consume my life.

Q. Is that healthy?

A. I don’t know. It’s the only way to do it right. You’ve got to live. The amount of stuff I read before and during a story is endless. I’m an Amazon junkie. You should see my bookshelf for ‘History of Mistrust’, which I wrote in August.

Q. How are you on deadline?

A. It’s easy to me. It’s much easier when you know this story has to be written and done at this time. You just do it. I write quick anyway. It’s instant gratification. It’s the greatest thing ever if you don’t have to spend months doing it.

Q. Do you see yourself writing outside of sports?

A. I might do something like that, probably on the side. Knock on wood – I’d like to have my job for as long as they want me. It’s a big audience. These are people who are passionate about great work and know what it is when they see it and know how to make good work great. I sound like a freaking SportsCenter commercial but I really mean it.

I like writing under the aegis of sports – you have all these people together in a lockerrom or on a team for no other reason than they hit the genetic lottery. You have a really random cross-section of people – a Jason Grimsley and Mike Sweeney in the same clubhouse, one of whom is a big cheater and the other might be the best person in sports. That’s interesting to me. Through sports I get to look at all the themes interesting and important to me.

I have two dreams. I want to write in celebration of food – there’s no food I don’t like. And I’d like to be a Waffle House short order cook one day a week.

Q. Who do you read?

A. Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times). Scott Price (SI). At the risk of offending a lot of my friends I think Eli Saslow (Washington Post) might be the best reporter in America. Seth Wickersham (ESPN), a dear friend, does the NFL as well as anyone. Jim Sheeler (Rocky Mountain News), wrote the Pulitzer Prize winner on the Marine who has to knock on doors. Ben Montgomery at the St. Pete Times doesn’t do sports either. Rick Maese (Baltimore Sun).

Larry Brown, a fiction writer in Oxford. You read him and you think in a million years with a million typewriters I couldn’t do this. It’s not helpful – it’s just annoying. Joe Posnanski (KC Star) is great. Brady McCollough (KC Star) who covers Kansas, is a talented young guy who writes long form stuff.

There’s lot’s of amazing talent out there. Sally Jenkins (Washington Post). Eric Adelson at The Magazine is as good a writer as there is. The E-Ticket group – Eric Neel, Wayne Drehs, Jim Caple, Patrick Hruby. It’s really exciting when you make a list – it restores your faith.

Q. How much time do you spend reading?

A. People send me stuff – I have Google alerts for people I like, for Eli and Geoff Caulkins (Memphis Commercial Appeal). I try to read the long stuff. There’s a group of us I read before it comes out and there are people I send to. Eli is always a big help. Seth is a big help. Eric Adelson is helpful. Patrick Hruby has really good stuff to say. It depends on the story – you know who can be critical or helpful. You want people who aren’t going to say ‘I love it’. You want them to say ’Here are the flaws.’

Q. Do you think gamers are obsolete?

A. They’re obsolete unless you’re writing about high school in a town, and they’re obsolete if done wrong. But they’re incredibly relevant if done right. The word ‘gamer’ kills this process before it starts. It’s a story about a game – there’s a subtle difference. There’s a reason all the winning game stories at the APSE are columns – because they’re not writing in some archaic form as dictated by an editor. They’re trying to write the most interesting story. People love those. They can be like an SI story done well, with excellent access. like Michael Silver on the balcony of John Elway’s hotel room. That’s always relevant, because it’s new.

Q. Should sports matter as much as they do?

A. Of course they should. We’re not cheering for only the Redskins or whoever. We’re cheering for their past and our association with the team. We’re cheering for and with friends who use this as social pivot. We’re cheering for our father who loved that team, for our grandfather who only wanted to see the Cubs win a championship, or for our brother who went to Bama.

These teams are physical manifestations of feelings people have for where they’re from. As people move around and are less rooted it’s a way to hold on to things that matter to them, to hold on to some part of their identity. Absolutely, it should matter. Do we have people who are obsessive – yeah. Do people seem to be more concerned about sports than politics – absolutely – and that’s ridiculous.

One of the things people have a hard time verbalizing is that down there in front of me someone is physically like me but mentally stronger. There’s a normal person who somehow can withstand the stress of making two free throws after the clock ran out. We like seeing people who are theoretically like us but can do things we can’t do.

Q. How did you approach the Mark McGwire story?

A. The initial thing was to contact everybody he ever had contact with – I called a lot of them. I kept thinking about how McGwire in essence was a story about legacy, and how legacy, if you look at it, is the things we leave behind. I wanted to go to where he came from and see the things and places he left behind and what if anything it said about where he is now. That was the concept. It started from an esoteric conversation about what is legacy – after that it was easy. You just went to the places. I got lucky with the USC alumni game – I didn’t know it was going to be on when I picked my date to travel – so the journalism gods were looking out for me. Which happens a lot – I’m amazed at the number of things you stumble into.

Wright Thompson, excerpted from, December 4, 2006:

IRVINE, Calif. — In the last house on the left, behind two gates in a heavily secured Orange County community, Mark McGwire is reinventing himself.

One part of his life, the public part, is over. A second act, in a new place with new friends, is just beginning. Bunkered within the walls of his exclusive enclave, across the street from a U.S. congressman of all things, he can look out the windows and see the mountains rising in the distance.

He likes it here on lots 82 and 83 in the Shady Canyon neighborhood, billed as a place for folks with “quiet wealth.” Far from the glitz of Beverly Hills and from the O.C.’s ocean-front palaces, it’s for people who don’t want to be found. A computer system scans license plates for undesirables; security guards stop strangers and, if a home owner doesn’t say “yes,” send them on their way. From the outside, the houses look like battleships.

This is where the 43-year-old McGwire spends his days. Five years ago, he retired as one of baseball’s most beloved players. His legacy is different now. The Hall of Fame ballots went out last month, and no one knows if he’s in or not, or if he even cares or not. That’s how he likes it, of course. He’s not here to talk about the past.

He sidestepped questions from Congress. He doesn’t do interviews, including one for this story. He didn’t go back to St. Louis during the World Series. But it’s more than just avoiding the media and fans. McGwire never seems to talk about the past. To anyone. In fact, he seems intent on leaving his past behind.

“I haven’t even spoken to him since he retired,” says Randy Robertson, a buddy from childhood and one his college roommates at Southern Cal. “I don’t know who his best friend is now.”

“I haven’t spoken to him in a while,” says Mark Altieri, the slugger’s former spokesman.

“I haven’t seen him in ages,” says Tom Carroll, his high school baseball coach.

“He just wants to slink away,” says Ken Brison, son of a former McGwire foundation board member.

“We never talk about politics or baseball,” says U.S. Rep. John Campbell (R-CA 48th), his neighbor.

His Mediterranean-looking mansion at the end of a cul-de-sac is such an unlikely end for a star of one of the most magical summers baseball has ever known. McGwire’s future will be inside Shady Canyon, with his new wife, Stephanie, and young kids, Max and Mason, and at the breathtakingly expensive golf course nearby.

“That’s where he is all the time,” says friend Justin Dedeaux, son of the late Rod Dedeaux, McGwire’s coach at USC. “He stays behind those walls and that’s it. No one ever sees him. He just completely dropped out. I don’t know if he talks to anybody.”

“But what of the past that he wishes everyone would forget?” Even if he cuts ties, it’s still there. The places where he grew up, the friends he once knew, the life he once lived, that’s McGwire’s legacy. Even if he doesn’t speak, it speaks for him….

(SMG thanks Wright Thompson for his cooperation)

Phil Taylor

An Interview with Phil Taylor

An Interview with Phil Taylor

“Something I’ve been kicking around for my web column – I find it odd that Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner are considered among the greatest players of all time – we have no idea how they would have done in an integrated league. Maybe they would be just as good, or maybe not quite as good. We kind of take the numbers from the pre-1947 segregated era at face value when really they were diminished, by definition, by playing in a segregated league. We say we can’t really judge how good Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell were because we didn’t see them against major league competition, but we accept the accomplishments of white players. I find that double standard to be strange.”

Phil Taylor: Interviewed on May 22, 2008

Position: Senior writer, Sports Illustrated

Born: 1960, Flushing, NY

Education: Amherst, BA, 1982; Stanford, MA, 1983, communications

Career: Miami Herald, 1983-87; San Jose Mercury News 87-90; The National 90, SI 1990-

Personal: married, three kids

Favorite restaurant (home): Del Sol, Menlo Park “little hole in wall but really good Mexican food – great seafood enchiladas:

Favorite restaurant (road): Legal Sea Foods, Boston “the clam chowder stands out – when I took my daughter to college at Brown we stopped there”

Favorite hotel: Mayfair Hotel, Coconut Grove, Fla. “very funky hotel with an eclectic design – all the rooms have hot tubs”

Phil Taylor, posted on, Feb. 15 2008, 12:39 a.m.

If the philosopher Diogenes thought he had trouble finding an honest man in ancient Greece, imagine how frustrated he would have been in the 21st century world of American sports. After watching Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee play “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” in front of a Congressional panel on Wednesday, it would have been hard to blame him if he’d thrown up his hands, given up the search and headed for Cabo with Jessica Simpson.

It wasn’t just the dispiriting scene of one man lying through his teeth about another, under oath, that left us so disappointed. (You can draw your own conclusions as to who was lying about whom, but if you really believe Clemens was more truthful than McNamee, you’re probably expecting O.J. to find the real killers any day now.) It’s that this steroid dust-up is just the latest of many indications that honesty, the ability to tell the basic and unvarnished truth, is disappearing from sports faster than the $2 hot dog.

On Wednesday alone there seemed to be an epidemic of dishonesty, with some of the evidence crawling across the bottom of the television screen during the Congressional grandstanding, uh, hearing, on Wednesday. Right around the time that Clemens was asking the panel to believe that McNamee had injected Clemens’ wife, Debbie, with HGH but not Clemens himself (What? You find that hard to believe?) The TV ticker told viewers that Indiana’s basketball program was facing charges of five major NCAA violations, including the allegation that coach Kelvin Sampson provided “false or misleading information” to university officials and NCAA enforcement staff.

In other words, while we were listening to one sports figure (Clemens or McNamee) who quite likely was lying, we were reading about another who might very well have done the same — a veritable daily double of dishonesty. This is in addition to the ongoing NFL investigation of the New England Patriots’ Spygate affair, and Sen. Arlen Specter’s investigation into that investigation….

With all the news of the Clemens affair, the Indiana investigation and Spygate, let us not forget that depositions are currently being taken in the lawsuit against Reggie Bush, in which Lloyd Lake, a former associate from Bush’s college days at USC, alleges that Bush failed to repay him the more than $200,000 he accepted from Lake — in violation of NCAA rules — during Bush’s college career…

Who can we believe in these scenarios? Who knows? It wouldn’t be surprising if all of them were shading truth to some extent to suit their agendas. It’s difficult to look at just the past few days and not come to the conclusion that our sports are full of scoundrels — duplicitous men who evade, manipulate or even ignore the truth…

Q. You wrote recently about an “epidemic of dishonesty” in sports. Are you disillusioned with sports?

A. I guess its fair to say I am. I wasn’t naïve – I certainly knew that everyone in sports wasn’t as pure as driven snow. But it does seem as though in the last decade or so I’m just kind of stunned by the absence of integrity all over sports.

For me the steroid issue isn’t so much about who took them or how much it improves performance, it’s just the fact that all these people were walking around with this tremendous secret knowing they were cheating, going off in the shadows knowing that the adulation and compliments were really not completely deserved. It’s hard for me to understand how people could walk around with that sort of secret every day – it seems it would be a huge burden. Just the whole idea of cheating – Spygate and O.J. Mayo taking money – it seems anyone is capable of anything. It seems there’s no line people are not willing to cross, more so than in years past, as far as I can tell.

Q. Is it true you nominated the Balco reporters to be SI’s Sportsmen of the Year?

A. Yes. I felt that if by Sportsmen of the Year you mean who the greatest effect on the world of sports in that year I think you could make the case for Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. I thought they were the first ones to shine a light – that they really dragged it into the nation’s consciousness. I think so much of what we’re seeing now in terms of drug testing in baseball and all the people who confessed or were found to have used comes from them. I think that the performance enhancing drugs issue touches every corner of every sport. I really felt that the fact that they had exposed some of the dishonesty and lack of integrity made them as a good a candidate as any athlete, coach or executive.

Q. Was your nomination taken seriously?

A. I would say no. They asked a lot of us to nominate people for a website package, but there are a lot of factors that go into choosing Sportsman of the Year, including how well the issue will sell with them on the cover. Certainly a couple of reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle were not seriously in the running.

Q. What’s the best sport to write?

A. Interesting. I would probably say baseball because of the everyday-ness of it. The fact that you’re around people pretty much daily, or you can be, and have greater access to them than in the NFL or NBA. You can build more of a narrative of a season in baseball than in any other sport – it’s a constant daily every-changing picture.

Q. Do you say that because of the influence of the ‘69 Mets on you as a child?

A. Did I write about that?

Q. Yes. (see story at bottom)

A. Oh, I did. No, not because of that. In some ways baseball players can be more difficult to deal with. I’ve had more problems getting baseball players to talk to me than in any other sport, but once you do they can be interesting and form a narrative.

Q. Who gave you trouble?

A. I remember Frank Viola being a real jerk years ago when was with the Mets. He had pitched and lost a game and hadn’t pitched well. The first wave of reporters came and he said he would talk after he got dressed. But I wasn’t in that wave and I came up and asked him a question and he said, ‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ and it became a huge screaming thing. I didn’t find it all that unusual among baseball players – it seems to happen in baseball clubhouses more than anywhere else. I don’t know why that is.

Q. Could it be the forced intimacy caused by daily games?

A. Maybe. It’s getting tougher across all sports to talk to athletes in the clubhouse. I used to cover the NBA beat for SI. In 2000 I went up to Brian Shaw, who was with the Lakers at the time, and asked if I could talk with him for a few minutes. This was 90 minutes before game time – NBA rules are that the lockerroom is open from that point until 45 minutes before tip-off. He knew who I was – I asked about the Shaq-Kobe situation at the time – and though he had talked before games in the past, now he said ‘Not before the game’. He was polite about it, but I thought, ‘Are we to the point where Brian Shaw, who is nice enough but not a star, is telling people he won’t talk’? That flipped a switch in my brain – at that point I wanted out of the NBA on a regular beat basis. It was just getting too hard to get access.

Q. How do the beat guys manage now?

A. It’s getting to the point where a lot of beat guys are getting as much information from people around the players, if not more. Agents, team executives, even members of entourages, become much bigger players in the game. They’re the ones you can get to and who will talk to you, and you won’t have to go through all the layers of publicists and lawyers.

Q. If publicists disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow how would you feel?

A. I think it would be great. Some Sports and Media Information people are fantastic and nothing but helpful, but I do feel there are a growing number who see their jobs more as gatekeepers – to be obstacles between media and athletes. It wasn’t always that way. It used to be they saw themselves as advocates for the media. For a growing number that’s not the case, especially those with teams. Now there’s a whole other layer of personal publicists – sometimes team publicists don’t have the final say. If we could strip away some layers, I’d be all for it.

Q. What’s your approach to writing for SI for Kids?

A. I got some good advice from my editors – don’t try to write down or simplify for younger readers. Write the way you write – if editors feel it’s over their heads or too complex they’ll tell me. That’s how I approach it. I haven’t written for SI for Kids a lot, but when I do I try to write exactly the same way. I’ve been told I’m an easy read – I don’t try to impress people with the beauty of my prose. I try to say things in interesting ways. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’m suited to writing for SI for Kids.

Q. Your writing influences?

A. Not a lot of individuals I would name – my writing influences came from growing up on Long Island in the 70s and reading all the newspapers: the Times, Daily News, Post, Newsday, Amsterdam News. I read a lot of newspaper sports all day every day. I remember reading Dick Young and Paul Zimmerman and Dave Anderson and I suppose they did influence me subconsciously. But there wasn’t a particular writer who influenced the way I write. But maybe there’s a bit of the New York newspaper flavor somewhere deep in my subconscious.

Q. You recently wrote about Tom Osborne’s return to the Nebraska football program. I graduated high school in Omaha. Why should I believe Tom Osborne still can get it done?

A. I think you should believe Osborne and Bo Pelini will. I don’t think Osborne has the energy to revitalize the program himself. But I think Pelini does with the guidance of Osborne, who understands the traditions to uphold, and who he should make time to see to keep the populace on his side. Osborne gives Pelini the stamp of approval Nebraskans want to see with their football coach.

Maybe I just went out there and drank the Kool-Aid but I was impressed by both men. They both realize what the other brings. Together they’re probably going to get Nebraska back in the hunt for a championship. It was amazing. I remember checking into the Cornhusker Marriott in Lincoln and making small talk with the woman behind the desk. As soon as I mentioned Nebraska football she launched into a complete analysis of the team’s Xs and Os, and what was wrong with the defense. The moment I stepped foot in Lincoln I realized it was a different kind of place.

The thing I never really could get – and (former head coach Bill) Callahan wouldn’t talk to me – is that it seemed like he sabotaged himself. If I could get the lay of the land in 10 minutes, why would someone go out there and willingly disregard it? It’s almost like he was trying to make enemies. I guess it was just ego, but it was illogical the way he went about things. I think (former AD Steve) Pederson was a big part of it as well.

Pelini talked about how much Osborne helped him. Though it wasn’t for attribution, he told me that although Callahan was to blame for what happened, he didn’t get good guidance from Pederson. Neither one of them had the kind of appreciation of what you need to make a go of it there.

Q. Would you have enjoyed covering the Negro Leagues?

A. Good question. I certainly would have enjoyed seeing some of the great players who mainstream fans don’t know much about. I probably would have felt more anger than joy. I would have felt angry these guys weren’t seen and appreciated by a wider audience. I hope I would have had the courage to write about segregation and discrimination. Would I have enjoyed it? I would have relished the chance, but I would have been too angry to enjoy it.

Something I’ve been kicking around for my web column – I find it odd that Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner are considered among the greatest players of all time – we have no idea how they would have done in an integrated league. Maybe they would be just as good, or maybe not quite as good. We kind of take the numbers from the pre-1947 segregated era at face value when really they were diminished, by definition, by playing in a segregated league. We say we can’t really judge how good Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell were because we didn’t see them against major league competition, but we accept the accomplishments of white players. I find that double standard to be strange. It was no fault of white players at that point – they weren’t given the opportunity to play against top competition.

Would DiMaggio have hit in 56 straight games if there were an Andruw Jones equivalent in center field – how many balls would have been caught? – or if he had faced the equivalent of Bob Gibson in that stretch? It seems that critical thinking or analysis of players pre-47 is absent. Historically we’ve been told these guys were great, but only in the last couple of decades have fans realized that there were great Negro League players. I can’t consider Cobb and Wagner to have been as great as they are made out to be – they didn’t have the canvas against which to prove it.

Q. Wouldn’t you have loved to see Gibson drill Cobb in the ribs?

A. Yes, that’s the video game I want. The Negro League video game – give me Cool Papa Bell or Josh Gibson behind the plate. Maybe that’s the next good idea – it will make me enough money to dump this profession.

Q. What do you read to keep up?

A. I read a lot online, which shocks me because 10 years ago if you had told me that I would have told you no way. Lots of papers – the Globe, LA Times, New York Times – all the New York papers because at heart I’m still a New York sports fan – the Mets, Jets and Knicks. Also some websites and blogs creep in – Deadspin, The Big Lead – and I check in with as well as and The San Jose Merc News is the paper I subscribe to here, but some days it sits on the porch because I’ve read it and others online. That’s scary to me. I feel like a traitor to print journalism.

Q. Your thoughts on Deadspin and The Big Lead?

A. The good points are that in some ways they keep those of us in mainstream media honest and on our toes. They point out when we’re getting stale and leaning on the same old clichés – they don’t let mainstream media get away with that, which is a good thing, it’s definitely something we needed. In the past if you wanted to be lazy and get by in this profession you could. You could write paint-by-number stories and features. Now people have more of an option. They call us out when we slip into that easy rut.

The bad point is that they can have a mocking tone sometimes, not as much from the bloggers themselves as from the commenters, that can get a little mean-spirited. In terms of Deadspin and Big Lead, if they go a little too far in that direction it’s because they’re not getting enough scrutiny and they have to look at themselves. They have to step back and decide whether the tone does go over the line. They need to make the same decisions that other journalists do. Up to now it’s been a bit like the Wild Wild West. Slowly they’re starting to regulate themselves.

Q. Deadspin is corporate and Big Lead isn’t. Do you make that distinction?

A. Good point. Big Lead is more willing to push the envelope with hot actresses and the whole leering frat guy mentality – but it’s not over the top. Some places I just click off because the sophomoric raunchy stuff is not that interesting to anybody over the age of 25 – the Big Lead has a little of that, but it has enough to keep me coming back. Which is not to say it doesn’t go over the line. It ran an item about Rick Reilly and his hi-jinks in the pressbox and to this day I have not seen confirmation. That’s these websites at their worst – they throw up rumors without any effort to confirm them. That’s failing Journalism 101.

Q. What became of Julio, the tough guy from your neighborhood?

A. I wish I knew. I’ve toyed with maybe doing a memoir and finding out what happened to these guys. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were dead or in jail, or running a successful sports apparel company. He had leadership qualities – he just needed to polish them a bit and chip away some of the rough edges. I’d like to think that’s what happened along the line.

Phil Taylor, from Sports Illustrated, May 31, 2004:

I was in the backseat of our Chevy station wagon the first time I saw my family’s new home, a two-story, gray-shingle house in the East New York section of Brooklyn, in April 1969. We unpacked what we had in the car, and after the moving van delivered the rest of the boxes, my father got back behind the wheel and drove away, telling us that he would be back soon. “He wants to get his bearings,” my mother told us. At eight years old I wasn’t sure what bearings were or where my father had to go to get them, but from the reassuring tone in my mother’s voice, I was sure that we would all be better off once he returned with some. We had come to New York from Annapolis, Md., where I could remember rolling down grassy hills near our house and lying down in fields of tall weeds in games of hide-and-seek. Compared with that, my new neighborhood seemed like a different, frightening planet. Concrete was everywhere.

Even the small garden of hollyhocks and figs that grew in front of our house, softening the property a bit, was surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence. Everything about my little corner of New York seemed dangerous and unforgiving. There would be no rolling around or lying down on this hard ground. Fall here, I thought, and the scars could last forever.

For the first few weeks I passed most of my free time listening to, watching or reading about Mets games. It was the first year I had paid much attention to sports, and I quickly became a Mets expert, knowing that when Tom Seaver was on the mound it was almost an automatic win. Jerry Koosman was only slightly less reliable, and that kid pitcher, Nolan Ryan, threw flames but was so wild he’d probably never amount to anything. I was told that the other team in town, the Yankees, used to be kings of New York, but watching them then, floundering with players like Horace Clarke and Jerry Kenney, I found it hard to imagine that anyone could prefer them to the Mets. Believe it or not, I still do.

Following the Mets from inside my house seemed much safer than what was going on outside it. East New York was a rough place. It wasn’t unusual for one of the older kids in the neighborhood to come walking down my block, Elton Street, with a welt over an eye or a blood-soaked bandage, the result of some recent brawl. The leader of the neighborhood kids was a teenager named Julio, who was short enough that most of the other teens towered over him and so slender that the white T-shirts he always wore seemed a size too big. A black porkpie hat usually sat precariously on his head, but somehow it never fell off, even when he was playing basketball or baseball.

Despite his size, Julio had a way of intimidating every kid on the block, including me. Because of my age he clearly didn’t think I was good for much of anything, but that changed when he discovered my knowledge of sports in general and the Mets in particular. Julio was the kind of sports fan who had strong opinions but few facts to back them up, which was how I was useful to him. He would argue with another kid that the Mets’ leftfielder, Cleon Jones, was the best outfielder in the National League, and I would be there to point out that Jones was third in the league in hitting, and what’s more, he went 3 for 4, with a double, against the Reds last night. “You see? You see? What did I tell you?” Julio would say.

The Mets captured New York’s attention that summer with a dramatic pennant race, and I helped Julio and the other kids on the block keep up with it. I was the one who always knew how many games ahead the Cubs were or who was pitching for the Mets in Saturday’s doubleheader. By the time the Mets won the World Series in October, I had a newfound respect on Elton Street. Kids were coming over to play baseball in my yard, and Julio was teaching me that I would hit with more power if I stopped holding the bat cross-handed. Suddenly my new environment seemed much more welcoming. As my father obviously knew, New York isn’t nearly so threatening once you have your bearings.

(SMG thanks Phil Taylor for his cooperation)

Glenn Stout

An Interview with Glenn Stout

An Interview with Glenn Stout

“I worry that even though the online reaches everywhere, and even though anybody can blog, that it is harder for quality to be seen and read amid all the white noise. It seems that everyone is either famous or unknown, and there seems to be no well-defined track for writers to move up through the ranks anymore and learn their craft. This kind of compression squeezes good people out, and in the long run, isn’t good for the field.”

“But here’s the thing – no one and no thing has ever been able to keep people from writing and breaking through. Despite all this – perhaps in spite of all this – committed writers of talent keep writing their asses off and do great work. And if you do great work, I believe it eventually gets found. My job is to find it for BASW. That’s the goal anyway.”

“I select as if I am a reader. All I’ve ever looked for are stories that, after reading them once, I want to read again.”

Position: Series Editor, Best American Sports Writing; author and editor of numerous books

Born: 1958, Columbus, Ohio. Raised in Amlin, Ohio.

Education: Bard College, 1981, B.A. in creative writing (poetry); Simmons College, 1987, M.S. library and information science.

Career: construction worker, painter, security guard, library aide, 1978-1984; library aide and librarian, Boston Public Library, 1984 –1993; Best American Sports Writing 1991 – “Didn’t do anything you think a librarian does, but that’s where all the books were. I started freelancing in 1986 and have not been without an assignment ever since. I have been writing fulltime since 1993 and have now written ghostwritten or edited more than seventy-five titles, including Red Sox Century and Nine Months at Ground Zero. My next book is Young Woman and the Sea.”

Personal: married, one daughter.

Favorite restaurant (home): Wits’ End, Hemmingford, Quebec. “I live on Lake Champlain in northwestern Vermont and it’s only about twenty miles away. Guinness and the continent’s best fish ‘n chips.”

Favorite restaurant (away): “Don’t have one, but Guinness on the menu helps.”

Favorite hotel: “I generally don’t generally travel very much as part of my job, but I built a small cabin I consider BASW World Headquarters in the swamp behind my house just off the lake. Does that count?”

Glenn Stout, excerpted from the introduction to “Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam”:

A number of great American writers were, at one time or another, sportswriters, ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, James Reston, and Richard Ford. What is unique, however, is that David Halberstam, while moving beyond sports, did not, I think, move past sports. While he never elevated sports out of proportion, sports never ceased to be important to him and he never cast sports aside as insignificant, once writing that “I do not know of any other venue that showcases the changes in American life and its values and the coming of the norms of entertainment more dramatically than sports.

Q. Do you agree with what Halberstam wrote of sports? Or was that an aficionado, in fact, elevating sports out of proportion?

A. I think that what he meant was that sports was one of only a few venues that has the reach in our society, and in our common conversation, to make those changes visible and intelligible to a great number of people. Halberstam was wise enough to see that. Another writer might have selected some other setting in which to make a similar argument, but I can’t think of anything else that has the same coherent reach as sports. After all, the only two things you can talk to a stranger about are the weather and sports.

I think the significance he attached to sports, both in the larger sense and individually, was about right. He wrote a post 9/11 essay reprinted in the book entitled “Sports Can Distract, but They Don’t Heal” that makes it clear that he certainly felt there were limitation to the role sports should play in our lives. Yet I think he also recognized that to each of us as individuals, our personal attachments to sports, either as participants or as fans, can often appear elevated from the outside, and that was even the case in his own life. His stories about fishing and being a football fans are, in a sense, out of proportion, just as is the attachment most “fans” have to sports.

He didn’t view his personal connections to sport from an academic or overtly intellectual perspective, but emotionally. And although as the quote you cited indicates he saw sports as lens that occasionally illuminated changes in our society and culture, that didn’t mean he always sought out the larger meaning in sports. When he wrote about fishing or watching football, it was because valued the way sports connected him to other people more than anything else. That’s what I particularly enjoyed about editing “Everything They Had”. You get to know Halberstam as a person in that book in a way you do not in his other work.

Q. Halberstam had a romantic view of sports and athletes, broadly speaking. Is his body of sports work conspicuous for lack of a critical investigative effort?

A. Not in a way that diminishes his work. He made it very clear that he considered his sports books and sports writing to be a different kind of work than his books on history, society and politics. They were entertainments, breaks between work he considered to be more rigorous, and intentionally different in tone and subject. I think his sports books and articles were akin to the short stories, profiles or poems a novelist might write between novels.

I write across various genres and to different audiences and I know that I approach each somewhat differently. I think Halberstam was making a conscious decision not to be overtly investigative when he wrote about sports. I’m guessing, but I don’t think he wanted to strip sports of the obvious enjoyment he took from it.

But that does not mean that he turned his back on larger issues or didn’t emphasize reporting when he wrote about sports – he was always a rigorous reporter, no matter what he was writing about. While his shorter sports stories, in particular, may not be investigative in the purest sense, books like the “October 1964” and “The Breaks of the Game”, are investigative in their approach – they reveal some essential knowledge of their subject that few other books approach. Halberstam was a smart guy – obviously. He understood and had the confidence to write each story and each book within it owns borders and not try to write in the same shape and tone every time out. I mean, “The Teammates” and “The Best and the Brightest” have radically different intentions. His approach in each was, I think, completely appropriate to the subject.

Q. Can you describe the process of selection for BASW? Numbers and types of submissions? Your role vis-à-vis the guest editor?

A. My primary role is to provide material to facilitate the selection process, and to give advice to my editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in regard to who we should consider as guest editor. I am adamant that it should be someone who is known for their writing first, and has shown an ability to write about a variety of sports.

Every year I send out a letter and ask hundreds of newspaper and magazine editors for submissions and/or, in the case with magazines, guest subscriptions. And in the foreword of the book I always invite writers and readers to submit work they feel is worthy of inclusion, and I try to make it clear that I don’t attach any stigma to a writer who submits his or her own work. The same instructions also appear on my website, Really, and I try to make this absolutely clear, if I never read a story, I can’t select it, so I really don’t care how a particular story gets brought to my attention, or who brings it to my attention, as long as it does. My only frustration is that after eighteen years I still get the feeling that writers, editors and readers are not quite as forthcoming with suggestions and submissions as I would hope.

Nevertheless this still generally results in a hundred or more magazine subscriptions and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of submissions from either writers or their editors, particularly at the end of the year. I also troll around quite a bit on the internet, and receive submissions from quite a few online venues as well, and occasionally spend time in libraries looking at magazines I either don’t get in the mail or who do not send me anything. One way or another thousands and thousands of stories pass by my eyes each year, and now I have the bifocals to prove it.

I would guess that probably 80-90% of the works submitted are, roughly speaking, features and profiles or essays, as opposed to columns and game stories. Somewhat more than half come from newspapers, but that is offset by the magazine subscriptions I receive or read on my own.

My job is to pick approximately 75 stories or so that I forward to the guest editor a few weeks after the February deadline. As I make my selections I don’t worry about balance between different sports, sources or story type. If I pick the best stuff those questions will work themselves out. I even pick a few stories along the way that I personally don’t like but understand that someone else may have an opposite reaction.

The guest editor makes the final selection of the 25 or so stories to make the book, but is always welcome and encouraged to include material not submitted by me. Some, like David Halberstam, Bill Littlefield, Bill Nack and a few others have aggressively solicited my opinion and input during the selection process. Some have not. That is entirely their prerogative.

Q. Characteristics of a BASW selection? When you come across a worthy piece, how do you know it?

A. The best work announces itself pretty quickly – one example of that, I think, was J.R. Moehringer’s story “Resurrecting the Champ.” I wasn’t at all familiar with Moehringer at the time but the lead was so good I just knew the story would be terrific – it felt like a part of something much larger, which it was. I didn’t even read it all the way through before I submitted it to the guest editor.

I had a similar experience the first time I read Bill Nack’s “Pure Heart,” about the death of Secretariat. In the opening scene the vet discussed the physical size of the horses’ heart, provided a similar experience. As for the stories that don’t make the book – well, I usually recognize those in the first graph or two. If the lede fails terribly, I can’t expect a reader to keep reading and hope it gets better. Sometimes, if I read a lede and like it, I’ll skip directly to the end, to see if that holds up. I try to think like a reader in the bookstore who may pick the book up, flip it open to a story, and maybe read two facing pages – the end of one story and the beginning of another. If they don’t like what they read, they put the book down and walk away. Obviously, I don’t want them to do that.

I’ve never been able to come up with a criterion for selection that’s very complicated, and I gave up trying to do so a long time ago. I select as if I am a reader. All I’ve ever looked for are stories that, after reading them once, I want to read again. I usually read just about everything when it first arrives, and those stories I want to read again go in one pile that I save and all the others go in a much larger pile that I take to the town transfer station every Saturday. As the deadline approaches and then passes, I go through that pile I’ve saved over and over again until I’ve winnowed it down to about seventy-five stories. Then I start all over again.

After eighteen years the process is like the M.C. Escher drawing “Relativity,” the one that shows people simultaneously climbing both up and down the stairs in a loop. That’s me. This process never ends.

Q. Have bloggers cracked BASW? Do you envision that happening?

A. Oh yeah, Derek Zumsteg did in 2007, with a story from the Seattle Mariners website He analyzed the “Baseball Bugs” Warner Brothers cartoon as if it were a real event. Great stuff, and utterly, completely and entirely original.

I’m sure it will happen again, although the problem with many blogs is that since there are no space restrictions, and publishing is often instantaneous, very little editing taking place, particularly self-editing by the author. So the work can tend to meander around too much, and lack shape, or reach “print” with a glaring mistake. Obviously, too, I can’t read every blog post either, so to consider work from a blog the author has to be pro-active, print it out and send it to me. I’m not sure why, as I make it clear that I welcome online material, but although I regularly receive submissions from commercial online outlets very few “bloggers” have bothered to submit work to me.

Q. You wrote about the difference between sportswriting and writing of sports. Can you explain?

A. The first decision I made in regard to the book was to suggest we call it The Best American Sports Writing, two words, rather than The Best American Sportswriting, compound word. Sportswriting, I think, is more constrained and makes the reader think in terms of the newspaper only, writing primarily about the daily event. Given the fact that the book can appear almost two years after some of the stories inside were written, the book had to be more wide open than that, to allow for writing that was about sports outside of daily journalism.

There is simply more room to write when sports is an adjective to a noun and not the noun itself. Similarly, I use the widest possible definition of sports. I suspect at one time or another virtually every reader of the book has read something and said, “I don’t think that’s a sport.” That’s okay, because I hope the writing is good enough that they still enjoyed the experience, and if I tried to confine the definition, we’d miss out on a great deal of terrific writing. My ideal BASW story would be about a subject the reader knows nothing about, written by a writer they’ve never heard of, from a publication they have never read before.

Q. How good is sports journalism today in a historical context? How has it been affected by the decline of print, and the rise of Internet publishing?

A. You know, as a literary genre sports writing – and sportswriting – is a very young field. You can hardly identify it at all before about 1880. In most of my other work – authoring big survey history books of the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs, writing dozens of articles on sports history and editing some historical anthologies, I have read a tremendous amount of period sports writing – more, I’d wager, than just about anyone else alive.

The very best work today is, I think, better than most of the best work of thirty, or forty or fifty years ago, and far, far better than the vast bulk of work before the World War II. Writers today are more creative and have more instruments at their disposal, as well as a wider viewpoint. It is also not just the sole domain of white guys anymore, and the entry of more minority writers and female writers into the field has strengthened it immeasurably.

But the average, run-of-the-mill work – the stuff I send to the transfer station – has not improved that much. Day to day, I find far too much writing that lacks style, or else tries to substitute cleverness for style. Too much is either too dry or edited into paste and completely style-less, or a series of one note jokes pounded over and over again, writing that apes sports talk radio.

This series started at an interesting time, 1990, just before both the online explosion and the cable/satellite TV explosion. There is no question that we are in a transition, and that as the online and electronic reach expands, the print world narrows. When this series started there were at least fifty Sunday supplement magazines. They were a terrific source for stories that didn’t fit the sports page, a place for writers to grow and experiment, as well as a significant freelance market. Almost all are gone now, and many of those stories simply don’t get written anymore.

I worry that even though the online reaches everywhere, and even though anybody can blog, that it is harder for quality to be seen and read amid all the white noise. It seems that everyone is either famous or unknown, and there seems to be no well defined track for writers to move up through the ranks anymore and learn their craft. This kind of compression squeezes good people out, and in the long run, isn’t good for the field.

But here’s the thing – no one and no thing has ever been able to keep people from writing and breaking through. Despite all this – perhaps in spite of all this – committed writers of talent keep writing their asses off and do great work. And if you do great work, I believe it eventually gets found. My job is to find it for BASW. That’s the goal anyway.

Q. Five BASW pieces that should be on every bathroom shelf?

A. I’ve often thought the entire book should have a hole perforated in the corner to facilitate being hung in the bathroom, because I suspect that’s where it gets read. I’ll leave aside both the Nack and Moehringer stories I’ve already mentioned, but would otherwise be on the list, and a few more that probably should be on there are in BASW of the Century. Here goes, but if you asked me tomorrow I might make different selections.

Bill Plaschke. “Her Blue Haven”, a profile of a Dodgers fan.

Charlie Pierce. “The Man, Amen”, Pierce’s infamous story on Tiger Woods.

Gary Smith. “Shadow of a Nation”, about Native American cross country runners.

Paul Solotaroff. “The Power and the Gory”, a cautionary tale about steroid use by a body builder.

Florence Shinkle. “Fly Away Home”. A very quiet story about pigeon racing, a subject I knew nothing about, by a writer I’d never heard of. I think its tone fits her subject precisely. Her editor hated it; David Halberstam and I loved it.

Q. You are named editor of the All-Time Greatest Sports Staff? You get 10 hires. Who are they and why?

A. There are probably a hundred names I could select and not go wrong. I hope you understand that I don’t feel that it is appropriate for me to include anyone still writing – in my position I cannot and do not play favorites. So I’ll confine this primarily to the giants we stand on today, a list that is quite a bit more pale and includes more testosterone than if I were to include contemporary authors:

Ring Lardner, for his ear for the language, and because there are very few writers ever who I have found funnier. It is a real pity no one has ever collected his newspaper sports writing.

W. C. Heinz for the music of his work and the big heart that comes through it. As I wrote in the foreword to this years’ volume, I think part of BASW starts with me reading Heinz in the old Best Sports Stories collections when I was a kid.

A.J. Leibling. If for no other reason that the line he wrote about the younger writers of his generation, about whom he complained did their work and then ran home to “wife and baby” instead of, as he put it, sitting at the saloon and “soaking up information” like they should.

Red Smith because I still think he’s the best sports columnist we’ve ever had. Some people in newspapers complain to me that we never reprint enough columns in BASW. Well, that’s because not many are writing them very well – too many columns today are just brief anthologies of one-liners.

Wendell Smith, because advocacy journalism sometimes has a place. The work he and other African American sports writers did to put pressure on baseball to break the color line deserve our lasting gratitude.

David Halberstam, for his example as a reporter and for his generosity to young writers.

Harold Kaese. A bit of a sentimental choice. Kaese, who won the Spink award in 1976, wrote for the Globe for more than forty years, was a pioneer in the accumulation and use of baseball statistics as well as a terrific writer. When I worked at the Boston Public Library I pored over his archive, which gave me a crash course on not only Boston sports history, but on the life of a sportswriter.

Frederick P. O’Connell. This little known writer for the Boston Post died in 1907, before age thirty. But he was extraordinarily good for the era – the best of his work reads as if it were written today.

Shelby Strother. I encountered Strother, of the Detroit News, while editing the first edition of BASW, and only learned that he had passed away when I tried to contract him to inform him of his selection. He was really good, and, like Wells Twombley, another great writer who died too young, should not be forgotten.

Frank MacDonnell. A personal pick. He was sports editor of the Detroit Times in the 1930s and my wife’s grandfather. He took her mother out of school to meet Babe Ruth once and died young, in 1941. I have his BBWA wallet and press card and would have liked to have met him.

Glenn Stout, excerpted from the foreword to Best American Sports Writing 2007:

One writer I know recently left one high-profile writing job for another. In this person’s former position, I usually knew within a sentence or two who I was reading. But now, in the new job, each story reads just like every other story in the same publication. The writer’s style – presumably one of the reasons this person hired in the first place – is nowhere to be found.

I have since learned why. Many stories my acquaintance files are edited, not just once or twice by one or two people, but up to five or six times by a like number of editors. Machine-readable text is so easily manipulated that each editor makes change upon change upon change upon change. And each time the story is passed down the assembly line it becomes a little less distinctive and a little safer and a little more bland, until it is finally spit out upon the published page the precise same shade of gray as everything else that goes through that process. On occasion my friend show me the original copy. It is often just that, original. After comparing the original to the final product, I have sometimes wondered why the publication even bothers to include my friend’s byline. A more accurate attribution would read simply “By Just About Anybody”.

As anyone in the newspaper or magazine industry knows, these are perilous times. Print circulation is shrinking as more and more readers dive en masse into the great online sea. While reading online is, in a sense, cheaper and easier, I don’t think that’s the only reason more and more readers are doing it. I think some of it has to do with the fact that, at least to my eyes and ears, much of the material online isn’t over-edited like so much print-based writing is. Yes, lack of editing can and does result in writing that is awkward, sloppy, fatuous and indulgent – the verbal equivalent of any American Idol tryout – but sometimes it is also more lively, distinctive and ambitious.

I am not arguing that there should be no editors (well, I do know of one the world could do without), but in the wrong hands a word processor can be a dangerous, dangerous thing. If I were in charge, there would certainly be fewer editors, and most would be encouraged to take a lot of time off. Editing done for any reason other than space, accuracy, and basic clarity is pretty much guaranteed to kill any chance of authentic communication. As I prepare this book each year I read hundreds of stories that I suspect may once have been memorable but were edited into paste…”

(SMG thanks Glenn Stout for his cooperation)

Art Spander


An Interview with Art Spander

“I don’t like to get too political in sports because you turn people off and they’re trying to escape the real world in sports. I don’t blame them but in the last 20 years the real world has invaded sports.”

“I got an e-mail…from an attorney who deals with First Amendment issues and said I hit it right on – that this Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, is the worst ever – far worse than John Ashcroft – as far as protecting the First Amendment.

“I started thinking about the Guantanamo trials – this Gonzales is a bad guy – and I’m a fairly liberal guy as most journalists are. I said ‘okay, I’m going to take a stand here’.”

Art Spander: Interviewed on September 25, 2006

Position: Columnist, Oakland Tribune; contributor, London Daily Telegraph

Born: 1938, Los Angeles

Education: UCLA, 1960, political science

Career: UPI 1960-62; Santa Monica Evening Outlook 1963-65; SF Chronicle 1965-79, SF Examiner 1979-96; Oakland Tribune 1996 –

Personal: married, two daughters, one grandchild

Favorite restaurant (home): Boulevard, SF. “Nancy Oakes is the chef – wonderful food and service – incredible walnut bread and hard-crusted sourdough bread.” Garibaldi’s, Oakland-Berkeley line. “Nice wine list – good salmon and ahi.” North Beach Restaurant, SF. Quince, SF.

Favorite restaurant (road): Felidia, New York. “Italian food, one of the great Barolo wine lists – all unaffordable.”

Art Spander excerpted from the Oakland Tribune, Sept. 22, 2006, on the sentencing of SF Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams for refusing to disclose sources of leaded grand jury testimony in the Balco case:

Months will go by before the reporters are incarcerated, if they ever are incarcerated. Their attorneys said the case will be appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court if need be, and the way the Bush administration is trying to intimidate the press these days, it might need to be.

“They’re bit actors in a drama being played out as some in Washington want it to be. The man who knows, the attorney, said the Department of Justice, the people George W. Bush appointed, the people encroaching on our freedoms, don’t care about Fainaru-Wada and Williams, steroids and baseball. They care about stories in the New York Times or Washington Post, stories that come from government sources, stories that embarrass or contradict the administration.”

Q. You are the only sports columnist who came at the Chronicle “leak” story from a political angle. Why?

A. I’m 68 – I’ve been doing this for 46 years and I’ve got a lot of passions. I went to the courthouse because Rick Telander (Chicago Sun Times) asked me to go and he is a friend of mine. I would rather have been at the Ryder Cup but it was horribly expensive so I was home doing local stuff. I wanted to be there and told the office I would write a column.

I just looked at things and said this is wrong. It’s the First Amendment – not the Ninth or the Fourteenth. You’re supposed to be able to talk and write and say things in this country. Obviously some people don’t like you to do that. I don’t like to get too political in sports because you turn people off and they’re trying to escape the real world in sports. I don’t blame them but in the last 20 years the real world has invaded sports.

Roger Cossack, the attorney who advises ESPN – we spent a lot of time outside the courthouse talking. I said ‘what’s going on here?’ and he made me realize a few things. Not long ago Bush praised Fainaru-Wada and Williams for bringing attention to steroids. All of a sudden nobody wants to step in and help them. I got an e-mail – my daughter Debbie is an an attorney – she forwarded me a note from an attorney who deals with First Amendment issues and said I hit it right on – that this Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, is the worst ever – far worse than John Ashcroft – as far as protecting the First Amendment.

I started thinking about the Guantanamo trials – this Gonzales is a bad guy – and I’m a fairly liberal guy as most journalists are. I said ‘okay, I’m going to take a stand here.’ I know Mark Fainaru-Wada – one year I roomed with him covering Wimbledon. He’s very serious about what he does. His brother Steve (Fainaru, Washington Post) went from sports to news – it runs in the family. This is so ironic to me. They send Victor Conte to jail for four months and he made the drugs. The guys who write about it get 18 months.

Q. How did your readers react?

A. I got an e-mail ripping the hell out of me – these guys broke the law and why don’t I stay out of it. Before I was getting hate mail from Raiders fans. You gotta expect it as a columnist.

My first job at UPI was as a copy boy on the 10 pm to 6 am shift – we were covering the Democratic convention in LA. It was made clear to me that I am not the story. But today the reporters and columnists and TV people think they are the story. It bothers me – always writing about yourself. I call it the “Hey Martha” syndrome – “Hey Martha, did you hear what Howard Stern said?” It’s about getting attention. That’s not my approach.

I’m old-fashioned but if there’s something you really believe in and you don’t write about it then I think you’re not doing your job.

Q. What factors did you weigh in writing that column?

A. Two weeks ago I pointed out that the Raiders are going nowhere and got 50 e-mails calling me an idiot. I get daily responses from sports fans – they’re nuts – but they’re also fanatical and they care more about the Raiders and 49ers than they do about who is elected governor.

Sitting in the courtroom I was really impressed by the attorneys and by the judge – he has a job to do upholding the law. I’d like to know what he really believes. I’m listening and listening and I turned to Michael Silver (Sports Illustrated) and said, “This isn’t like interviewing Reggie Bush, is it?”

I thought it was wrong. I talked to people and drew my conclusion. My favorite remark from Red Smith was “Facts shouldn’t be based on opinions, it’s vice versa”.

Look at what’s going on. I don’t care if Barry Bonds goes to jail. It astounds me that Conte, who created this entire case – without him Fainaru-Wada and Williams wouldn’t have dug up this stuff – that he gets four months.

Q. Would sportswriters benefit from reading outside of sports?

A. Yes, and they do. I would rather sit with six or seven sportswriters than news reporters. Sportswriters get sick and tired of dealing with Raider Nation. They’re incredibly cynical with good reason – they would much rather discuss other things. But news reporters are always asking, “Did Ohio State win today?” When I speak before high school and college journalism classes I tell them to read everything in the paper – the more you know the better you can deal with anything.

In the last 20 years sport has become all about salaries, salary caps, strikes and walkouts – the real world has intruded. If you don’t understand what’s going on how can you write about it?

Q. If that’s the case how do sports provide fans an escape?

A. Good question. I go back to the famous line by Earl Warren, the governor of California and the Supreme Court Justice, who said, “I start off with the sports pages because they report the good that men do. The rest of the paper is about the bad.” That’s a paraphrase. Not any more. Every day there’s a football player arrested for beating up his girl friend, or there’s a medical crisis. But one thing about sports is that it’s original – you don’t know who’s going to win. Hamlet always dies, but you don’t know who’s going to win the game today. That’s what keeps people interested.

Also, years ago, most boys grew up wanting to be Joe DiMaggio and they never outgrow it. I’ll watch the game and my wife says, “Why are you watching Tampa Bay playing the Yankees?” I appreciate the skill that goes in there. I played high school sports and wasn’t very good, but I think once you do it you appreciate it.

Q. Should columnists do reporting to form their angles?

A. Many do. Most started as reporters. You go to an event and you should have some pre-fixed idea of what you want to write or why you’re there. If that turns out to be misleading or false then throw it out. I’ve seen columnists go to a game to write about x and it doesn’t happen and they still write about it. I think good column writing is also good reporting. You can’t just show up blind. Don’t waste people’s time with stupid questions. You gotta do your homework.

I didn’t know what my column was going to be – we don’t usually write about hard news. I saw Rick and he said, “put on a tee-shirt” – so I did – and I went into the courtroom and listened. I talked to Cossack and other people and then I had a pretty good idea of what to write.

My paper had no problem with it – which I admire. Sometimes they might say it’s too political and should be on the op-ed page.

Do I have time to tell my Marilyn Monroe story?

Q. Sure.

A. When I went to work at UPI in 1960 – the 10 pm to 6 am shift – the New York office always called in rumors we had to check out. I was in a little office on Selma Street near Hollywood and Vine, with 20 teletype machines. One night they had me chase a rumor that Marilyn Monroe committed suicide. It turns out she was in Reno making “The Misfits” with Clark Gable. So I went into the Army and got married and came back to UPI in 1962. It’s a Sunday morning in August and the office calls me and says “You better come in – Marilyn Monroe committed suicide”. Click. My assignment was to hang around the mortuary all day. That night I covered the Dodgers-Braves game.

(SMG thanks Art Spander for his cooperation)





Jon Solomon

An Interview with Jon Solomon

An Interview with Jon Solomon

“The Clemson and South Carolina beats are more competitive than people realize.”

“I have all the respect in the world for beat reporters. They’re the lifeblood of the sports section…they’re working crazy hours.”

“Columnists now – and I don’t want to generalize – are caricatures. They’re so opinionated. They have to have a take on everything.”

Jon Solomon. Interviewed August 29, 2006

Position: enterprise reporter, Birmingham News

Born: 1976, Gaithersburg, Md.

Education: University of Maryland, BA, 1998

Career: Washington Post (part-time) 1998-99, Anderson (SC) Independent-Mail 1999-2003, The State (Columbia SC) 2003-2005, Birmingham News 2005 –

Personal: married, (expecting)

Hobbies: reading, movies, softball

Favorite Sports Movie: Hoosiers

Jon Solomon excerpted from the Anderson Independent-Mail, 2003:

We like Radio because of who he is, yes. There he is every Friday night, funny and caring, leading cheers in the stands and tending to injured players on the sideline – the constant showman proving he can live a good life in spite of his diminished mind.

We love Radio because we recognize those traits.

Anderson, South Carolina might be perceived as behind the times. The Confederate flag still flies on our Statehouse’s grounds, traffic jams consist of sitting through two left-turn lights on Clemson Boulevard, and nonexistent street lamps make our city anything but electric.

But we get Radio. You can’t deny us that. We’ve been able to get him for decades now, and we love that no one tunes in to hear Radio like us.

If that sounds a tad self-centered about a community, so be it. Anderson is growing bigger by the day; shopping centers, steakhouses and movie theaters have commercialized the community into Everywhere America. Radio still distinguishes us, we tell ourselves.

Our relationship with a mentally retarded black man, beginning when a white football coach discovered Radio loitering around T.L. Hanna High School practices, speaks to our values. It reminds us of words we learned from our mother: tolerance, humility, dedication, compassion.

Communities can be built on those words alone. Had teachers, administrators, coaches and students at Hanna not accepted those principles to heart unconditionally, Anderson would be a poorer place.

Life is short, so, so short. Radio was dealt a bad hand. He is a high school junior for life with limited thinking abilities, a stubborn attitude and a gift for living. Harold Jones, a teacher first and a football coach second, was wise enough to see the latter and gave Radio a home when others would not.

Q. What are you working on?

A. We’re doing a project on the quality of education college athletes get. It’s still in its early stages. It could go in many different directions.

Q. How would you describe your job as an enterprise reporter?

A. Much different. My working hours are more normal – which is nice. When I covered the Clemson beat for seven seasons I had a lot of project ideas but no time to do them. I was doing two stories a day, traveling, and working 70-80 hours a week. Then I come to a job like this, moving out of state, and have to develop new sources, and it’s ironic, because I have more time but the ideas don’t flow as much because you’re not on the beat. If there were some way to combine both it would be amazing.

Q. Why did you move from The State to Birmingham?

A. It was a chance to work on in-depth stories and tackle issues I just didn’t have time to do.

Q. What was it like covering Clemson in a medium-size market?

A. The Clemson beat and South Carolina beats are more competitive than people realize. You’ve got the Greenville News, the Charleston Post and Courier, The State, and Anderson. Plus fan websites, and

Q. What’s it like competing against and

A. They operate with a much different mentality. They’re constantly putting up minutiae they advertise as breaking news – tiny little details. It’s great for die-hard fans, but newspapers only have so many inches. Newspapers can’t offer as much detail – they have to offer perspective. We offer a filter – here is what you really need to know.

Mostly they’re competing against each other, and it’s more cutthroat. A lot of their key sources are coaches on staff. Their biggest thing is recruiting and committing. When someone commits they get a heads up. If they cross the coaches with a story they get cut out. You won’t find them writing critical or analytical stories.

Q. Won’t that limit their appeal?

A. Maybe to the mainstream. Their lifeblood is recruiting. And they have a message board – fans read it for rumors and trash talk.

Q. Couldn’t newspapers do that?

A. Newspapers are slowly starting to do that. At The State we had a Q&A forum for the beat reporters. We got questions and could answer them when we wanted to. It was a good dialogue with readers and let them see how we went about doing our work. I think it opened their eyes about how and why we do things.

Q. Do you worry about what and are posting?

A. You have to. I don’t now – which is a relief. I’m not constantly checking Internet sites and boards. It’s a must today. You feel slimy for doing it and you feel stupid for making a call based on something you saw but if you don’t you risk seeing it in somebody else’s story.

Q. That sounds harrowing?

A. It is. When I was a beat reporter I would wake up and go to other newspapers and kick myself when I got beat. Then I went to message boards and websites. Often I would go late at night. Sometimes you make a call at 10 or 11 o’clock. Newspapers are starting to post news on a 24-hour news cycle. They’re still trying to find a balance of what is breaking news and what isn’t. If someone is demoted to second string is that breaking news?

Q. What kind of hours are beat reporters expected to work?

A. I have all the respect in the world for beat reporters. They’re the lifeblood of the sports section. Even now they’re the ones I call to set up stuff and get background. They’re working crazy hours.

Q. Are they paid for it?

A. I wouldn’t say so. That’s probably why you see so much turnover. That’s why I left. But the hours are more of a problem than the pay. Although I will say that employers are good about giving comp time and being flexible. But I remember covering Clemson, I had a week off in the summer, and I just couldn’t remove myself from the beat. I was still checking stuff and making calls. The only way I could forget it was to be out of town.

It takes a special mentality to be a beat reporter. You have to be a grinder and be competitive, too. You have to take it to heart if you get beat. You want to go out and get them back.

Q. Does the public have a positive view of sports media?

A. The public always feels sports media is not covering their team enough – and not positively enough.

Q. Does the public feel a connection to sports media?

A. Maybe the columnists. They see their faces and hear their voices. And now more columnists are on TV and radio. And in some ways columnists play up to that. Columnists now – and I don’t want to generalize – are caricatures. They’re so opinionated. They have to have a take on everything. Aren’t some issues gray instead of black and white – that require a debate instead of shouting? Internet and radio changes the way things are approached. Editors say that a story is “a good talker”. And a “talker” is what’s on the Internet message boards.

Somewhere along the line I hope we don’t lose the ability to create a reasonable and intelligent dialogue. And to do articles that make sense where we aren’t just shouting opinions.

Q. Why is it that one thing you never hear a columnist say is “I have no opinion on that”?

A. I went on a weekly sports opinion TV show in Birmingham. Before the show I told them I know nothing about Nascar and if it came up to go to the other guy. Nascar came up and the others discussed it. Then the host came to me and said “What about Nascar?” I said, “Is that the sport where they keep going round and round?” The host said, “That’s one way to put it”, and then he went on to something else.”

Q. Writers you admire?

A. Lots of beat writers. Ken Tysiac (Charlotte Observer). Joe Person (The State). Nationally, the Washington Post writers: Michael Wilbon, Sally Jenkins, Thomas Boswell. Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times). Joe Posnanski (KC Star). Ivan Maisel ( Dennis Dodd (CBS

Q. Favorite sports book?

A. I read ‘Best American Sportswriting’ every year. It has so much material I’m not reading, from the magazines for instance. I like the stuff from Esquire and GQ, stuff that Charlie Pierce writes.

At Maryland I took a Baseball Literature class. I thought it would be a piece of cake but it was tough – I barely got a ‘B’. We read “Shoeless Joe”, “The Great American Novel” by Philip Roth, “Pafko at the Wall” by Don DeLillo, and “That Natural”.

Q. Do you read blogs?

A. I read the It’s about college football. I like the links they do for stories around the country. I read I like their links, and I like to see the fans’ perspective. Some of it you have to take with a grain of salt. There’s lots of candor and honesty in blogs, in some ways more so than newspapers, because you have to stay objective and down the middle.

I’m trying to start a blog. I’m trying to convince my editor to let me go to a college football game each Saturday and blog on the game. And also about my AP college football ranking votes, as well as my Heisman vote. It would be about college football.

Q. Do the blogs make newspapers seem tame and boring?

A. Maybe. But I still think at the end of the day the newspapers have an advantage because of their established credibility. They have a brand name. They just have to bring it to the Internet. When I covered Clemson for Anderson I could break a story that would go unnoticed. But when I got to The State all the stories I broke were noticed. There is a credibility that comes with being the largest newspaper in the state. That’s worth something. We have to hang our hats on that, and provide perspective and context.

Q. Do you play fantasy sports?

A. Fantasy football. It’s addictive.

Q. Do fantasy sites provide different information than regular sports media?

A. No, but it’s condensed. They’re getting their information from regular sports media. They’re just putting it all in one place so you can get at it. Maybe newspapers should do that. The newspapers are still generating the information.

Q. Where would the fantasy sites be without newspapers?

A. That’s the funny thing. People say they don’t read newspapers anymore. But we’re still providing the bulk of the news. Radios pick up our stuff. Newspapers are still the lifeblood. They just have to be smarter about how to package themselves. That’s why we’re seeing more and more on newspaper websites. is tremendous.

Q. Career goals?

A. I’d like to keep writing enterprise, and to find good interesting stories. Maybe one day be a columnist, or a takeout writer. This is really enough for now.

(SMG thanks Jon Solomon for his cooperation)

An Interview with Michael David Smith

An Interview with Michael David Smith

An Interview with Michael David Smith

“I do believe I could write about any sport in a pinch. During the Olympics I wrote about gymnastics, table tennis, diving and a number of other sports that I don’t follow outside the Olympics, and I think I did good work. Writing about sports isn’t like writing about economics or medicine, fields where I think the writer needs a lot of specialized knowledge. I think a good writer can write well about a sport without being an expert in it.”

“I’m really proud of all of my Vick posts as a body of work, and I’m especially proud to have worked with Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk during the Vick case, because Mike set the gold standard in Vick coverage.”

Michael David Smith: Interviewed on September 18, 2008

Position: Lead blogger,; Writer,; Editor in chief,; NFL columnist, New York Sun

Born: 1976, Detroit

Education: University of Illinois, 1999, speech communication

Career: English teacher, Compton High School, 1999-2000; Web site producer, Los Angeles Daily News/Long Beach Press Telegram, 2000-2001; Long Beach Gazette Newspapers, 2001-2003; Communications Assistant, Joyce Foundation, 2004-2006; Sportswriter, 2007-present

Personal: Married to Sarah Smith since 2000

Favorite restaurant (home): Hong Kong Chef, Chicago “Simple and easy, you call them up, order your sesame chicken and your crab Rangoon and your egg rolls, and you know what you’re getting when you go pick it up 10 minutes later”

Favorite restaurant (away): Battista’s Hole in the Wall, Las Vegas “My wife and I got married in Vegas and we’ve gone back about once a year, and we always try to make it to Battista’s, an old-school Italian restaurant from the days when Vegas didn’t advertise itself as a family place”

Favorite hotel: TheHotelMandalay Bay, Las Vegas “We stay at different places every time we go to Vegas, and so far I’d have to say TheHotel is the top place we’ve been”

Posted by Michael David Smith on, Sept. 18, 2008, 1:27 PM:

Boxer Oscar Diaz is awake and breathing on his own
, two months after suffering life-threatening brain injuries in a bout with Delvin Rodriguez.

Diaz was in critical condition
but has now been updated to stable, and his doctors and family are optimistic he will continue to improve.

“It’s very exciting to see Oscar open his eyes. He’s a fighter and I believe he will get better,” his mother, Theresa Diaz, said in a statement. Diaz’s family and doctor will provide more information about his condition today.

The Diaz-Rodriguez fight was shown live on ESPN2. Rodriguez had unleashed a fury of punches on Diaz, and before the start of the 11th round, Diaz began to look unstable and then fell to the ground in his corner. He was rushed to San Antonio University Hospital and has been there since.

Reached by, Rodriguez said, “It’s very good news to me…. I’ve been waiting for his moment for a long time. It’s been difficult. I kept thinking about him and how his family was doing. I’ve been worried.”

Q. Was SI?s Richard Dietsch accurate in describing you as “an evenhanded and smart read”? What was the impact of being named SI?s Mainstream Blogger of the Year for 2007?

A. I’d like to think that was an accurate description of my writing. I’d say the big impact was that the recognition led to a couple of job offers, even though they were offers I turned down. It was nice to know I had options, even though I was happy with what what I was doing – and still am, 10 months later.

Q. The mugshot that runs next to your blog – are you grinning because blogging is fun? Or because you’ve got the job all your friends envy?

A. I took that picture of myself with my digital camera when FanHouse got redesigned and my old picture got lost somewhere in the series of tubes, and I can’t honestly say I gave any thought to the look on my face. But I will say that yes, blogging is fun, and yes, people often tell me that they envy my job.

Q. What are the various outlets you write for and what do you contribute to each? Do you do primary reporting?

A. Yes, I do primary reporting. I cover events live and I interview people, but for the most part my job entails sitting at home, with my laptop and my TV, and just writing whatever I’m thinking about the world of sports. I try to get out of the house every now and then, but I disagree with those who think that writers need access.

Q. Which sports are you most comfortable writing?? Which are the best writing sports? Could you write on any sport in a pinch?

A. Football is, always has been and – I think – always will be my favorite sport, and I know much more about football than I do about other sports. In the last year or so, however, mixed martial arts has become a close second. Those are definitely my two favorite sports to watch and my two favorite to write about.

I do believe I could write about any sport in a pinch. During the Olympics I wrote about gymnastics, table tennis, diving and a number of other sports that I don’t follow outside the Olympics, and I think I did good work. Writing about sports isn’t like writing about economics or medicine, fields where I think the writer needs a lot of specialized knowledge. I think a good writer can write well about a sport without being an expert in it.

Q. Describe your typical workday?

A. I get up early, I turn on ESPN, and I start reading e-mails and various sports web sites. I try to get a lot written by 9 a.m. I find that if I get off to a fast start on the day, the momentum will keep me productive through the afternoon. My coffee habit and my ability to type fast keep me productive.

Q. Do you read all the comments to your posts? Do you measure the success of the post by the number of comments?

A. No and no. There was a time, when I was first getting into the sports writing business and writing for, when I read all the comments and found the vast majority to be well thought out and intelligent. But now that I’m writing more often and for bigger web sites, I find that the comments aren’t really all that helpful. I’d love to engage in thoughtful dialogue in the comments sections of my posts, but unfortunately it just doesn’t turn out that way very often.

Q. Your most controversial post? Any posts you regret?

A. I don’t know about one specific controversial post, but the most controversial subject, by far, was Michael Vick. When evidence of dog fighting was found on Vick’s property, I at first took him at his word that he was never there. But once I started looking into it, it was clear to me that Vick was lying and that he was involved in dog fighting. So for the next few months I wrote about Vick just about every day, trying to give readers a full sense of Vick’s dog fighting activities.

Over the course of those months, I got a constant barrage of negative feedback, in comments at FanHouse, e-mails, and things other bloggers wrote about me. That feedback got really nasty when Chris Mortensen reported on ESPN that Vick wouldn’t be indicted. But I was confident that what I was writing was accurate, and obviously, we now know it was.

Really, the only thing I regret is that when I posted about Mortensen’s report, I didn’t make clear how skeptical of it I was. I thought Mortensen was wrong, that he was being fed bad information by people close to Vick, and I should have made that more clear. But in subsequent posts I did make clear that I still believed the evidence was overwhelming that Vick was involved in dog fighting, and 11 days after Mortensen’s report, Vick was indicted. A little over a month after that, he pleaded guilty. I’m really proud of all of my Vick posts as a body of work, and I’m especially proud to have worked with Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk during the Vick case, because Mike set the gold standard in Vick coverage.

Q. Do you attend games as credentialed press??

A. Occasionally. I’ve attended four events in the last year as a credentialed member of the media: One NFL regular season game, the Super Bowl, the NFL scouting combine and one UFC event.

Q. Who and what do you read and watch – mainstream and non-mainstream – to keep up with sports?? Who in sports media has influenced you?

A. I watch lots and lots of ESPN, and I read all the major sports sites. As for non-mainstream, the blogs I tend to like best are the ones like Awful Announcing and The Big Lead that just decided to start doing things their own way and found an audience doing it. I really respect anyone who starts their own site and turns it into a successful enterprise. That’s an impressive achievement. It’s something that two of the people I’ve worked for, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, have done, and I’ve been proud to work for their sites.

Even among mainstream writers, the people who have influenced me the most are the ones who do things their own way. I think Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated is probably the best writer in the history of professional football, if you look at his entire body of work, and it’s because he just watches games and writes what he sees. It really is that simple for him, and I try to keep what I do that simple as well.

Posted by Michael David Smith on, September 18, 2008, 8:18 a.m. EDT:

We’ve invited Russell Levine of Football Outsiders to post his Seventh Day Adventure podcast here at CFT. Russell is joined by associated editor Clay Travis to discuss the weekends three big SEC clashes: Florida-Tennessee, LSU-Auburn and Georgia-Arizona State. Clay, author of Dixieland Delight, also shares some of the insights he’s gained while working on his latest book project, which has him spending the entire season behind the scenes with the Volunteer program.

(SMG thanks Michael David Smith for his cooperation)

Susan Slusser

An Interview with Susan Slusser

An Interview with Susan Slusser

“I talk to younger colleagues who aren’t dating – they’re saying it’s a problem meeting people who understand the schedule thing and working nights and weekends.”

“I know an A’s radio guy who has put a limit on himself for checking news – he said he was just getting overwhelmed. There’s some sense to that. You can drive yourself nuts reading and following up. You have to have some life outside of it at some point.”

“There are a lot of baseball lifers – like the Cleveland guys and Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) – and there are people who do it two or three years and say “Forget it”. It takes a certain kind of person to do it a long time…I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer. I’m not sure what else I would do.”

Susan Slusser: Interviewed on December 11, 2006

Position: Oakland A’s beat reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

Born: 1965, Monterrey, Calif. (hometown)

Education: Stanford, 1988, History, English

Career: Sacramento Bee, 1988-94; Orlando Sentinel, 94-95, Dallas Morning News 95-96, SF Chronicle 96 –

Personal: married, (to Dan Brown, San Jose Mercury News)

Favorite Restaurant (home): The Slanted Door, SF (Asian cuisine) “it’s gone down hill but you are guaranteed to get one thing as good as anything you have ever eaten”

Favorite Restaurant (road): Bread Winners Café and Bakery, Dallas “best brunch place in the world”

Favorite Hotel: Marriott Renaissance Center, Detroit “completely different than other hotels we stay at – futuristic”

“Replay of an End-Zone Love Catch”, by Daniel Brown, San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 2005:

On Sept. 8, 1990, quarterback Jeff Bridewell threw for 402 yards, UC-Davis beat Santa Clara 31-19 and I made the greatest catch in the history of Buck Shaw Stadium. It happened near the corner of the end zone in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, while waiting to conduct postgame interviews. That was when I said the first words to the woman who would become my wife.

Granted, those words were, “Bridewell had a good game,” and granted, her response was to turn and walk away, but the moment remains nonetheless historic. It was the first play of what would turn out to be an all-time upset: a girl like that with a guy like me. The Miracle on Eyes.

Susan Slusser was new to the UC-Davis beat, a luminous, rising young star for the Sacramento Bee. I was a UCD student working for the campus paper and had all the wisdom of an empty notebook. Without proper consideration for our professional gap, I attempted chitchat. The woman who would become my wife looked at me half-startled, as if I had just offered to set myself on fire, and walked away. Love at first slight!

It got better. In the weeks that followed, against St. Mary’s, Chico State and Humboldt State, the Aggies won big, and so did I. By San Francisco State, we were both close to clinching. By Hayward State, it was all wrapped up. Years later, when it was time to propose, I figured that the ideal plan was to return to what was apparently the most romantic place on earth. Getting her back to the end zone at Buck Shaw Stadium was tricky, since A. the football team disappeared after 1992 and B. there was no reason to stand in an empty field at sunset. But thanks to a combination of lies and misdirection, the foundation of any good marriage, I persuaded her to walk to the spot that used to be the end zone at Buck Shaw Stadium.

I got down on one knee, as if downing a kickoff. “Will you marry me?” She looked half-startled again. Only this time, she didn’t walk away. “Well, will you?” “Of course.” It remains the best interview I’ve ever done.

Q. Is your husband’s account of your first meeting accurate?

A. Yes. I totally big-leagued him.

Q. How many two-sportswriter couples are there?

A. There’s got to be quite a few – there’s Jen Floyd and Mac Engel (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram). A few years ago there were four couples at the Chronicle – Nancy Gay (SF Chronicle) and Mike Martinez (San Jose Mercury News) – he’s in travel now. Michelle Smith (SF Chronicle) and Jerry McDonald (Oakland Tribune). Brian Murphy (KNBR radio) and Candace Putnam Murphy (Oakland Tribune). Janie McCauley and Josh Dubow are at AP. I’m sure tons of others are just slipping my mind.

Q. Does it help a marriage?

A. Absolutely. I talk to younger colleagues who aren’t dating – they’re saying it’s a problem meeting people who understand the schedule thing and working nights and weekends. Then there’s all the travel – the travel seems to wear on people who don’t accept it as part of the job. So, yes, it helps.

Q. How long have you been married?

A. Seven years, but we’ve been together for 16 years.

Q. Do you talk shop with your husband?

A. We do, but we work at different papers in the same area, so it can be difficult – I wouldn’t want to work at the same paper. I have to be careful if I’m working on something I wouldn’t want the Mercury News to know about. It can be tricky if something is going on where we’re both involved – although there haven’t been too many instances where we covered the same thing. Once he called me from the office and I said, “Stay there” – I gave him a heads up something was coming down the pipeline – I didn’t want us both putting out calls from the same phone.

It gets strange. An assistant GM called me and said “You husband is leaving calls on my office phone – can’t you give him my cell phone?” I said no. Dan is the national football writer and national baseball writer – they’re a little football heavy at the Merc-News – 70-30 or 60-40 – so he’s not around baseball as much. But he does do a weekly baseball column.

Q. How many women are on the baseball beat?

A. Kathleen O’Brien (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) covers the Rangers. A couple more if you throw in

Q. Why so few?

A. In terms of travel and schedule baseball is probably the most rigorous job in sports. It’s tough to do it with a family. We don’t have kids but I don’t know how male writers with kids do it – I’d be crazy. Other sports have a saner schedule. Football has more women – maybe they’re smart. But I really like the baseball schedule and travel.

Q. Does the culture of baseball have anything to do with it?

A. I don’t think so. I haven’t found it unwelcoming in terms of gender – I’m sure that’s changed in the last 30 years. A lot of sportswriters consider baseball to be more difficult from a media standpoint – baseball players have a reputation of being tough to deal with. But I’ve been lucky with the teams I’ve covered – I’ve been in some good clubhouses. I hear horror stories about the Raiders and 49ers – they’re difficult in terms of media access and personalities.

It’s probably the schedule more than anything. I don’t know if this sounds sexist, but I think more women are interested in football than baseball. The women writers I’m friendly with are more interested in football.

Q. Why?

A. I don’t know – I really don’t. Obviously I’m not.

Q. Did your interest in baseball precede your job?

A. Yes. I’ve been a massive fan from the age of five or six. We lived in Alameda (Ca.) near the Coliseum after we moved back from Guam – I was the only child in a military family. On Guam the Super Bowl was the only thing they made a big deal about. When the A’s got in their first World Series in ’72 my Dad sat me down and explained it to me and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I’ve continued liking baseball since then.

Q. Is baseball a good writing sport?

A. It is and it isn’t. Just the sheer numbers of stories – the sheer output – makes it impossible for the quality to be top-notch every day. I knew this year was busy but I didn’t know how busy until I did a byline count – it came to 427 or 428 – which is just ridiculous. As a sport there are so many different things going on and so many personalities – there’s always something great to write about. If your stories aren’t primo every day it’s not a horrible thing. Every baseball game lends itself to a great story if you have the time – which we don’t – so that’s frustrating. The ironic thing is that as technology gets better and better our deadlines get earlier – my first one is 9:15 (p.m.) on the west coast. Obviously they don’t get a completed game story for that edition. I’ll send them running – I always send them 18 inches of something.

Q. Do you enjoy the time cushion when you’re in the east?

A. It’s beautiful. I feel sorry for the eastern writers. It can work in reverse too – I wasn’t at the recent winter meetings in Florida – but our writers have so much extra time they can keep filing until 3 a.m. They’re up until 4 a.m. and then they have to be back in the lobby first thing in the morning.

Q. Does it bother you to miss the winter meetings?

A. No – we sent our national writer and Giants writer because of the Bonds crap. I covered it from here and did all of the Piazza stuff by phone. It’s not a fun event to cover due to the sheer amount of hours standing in a lobby – you’re always wondering who’s that agent over there – and who is Scott Boras talking to – and who is my competitor talking to. There are bad rumors flying around, and the G.M.s tend to be on the surly side because they’re getting hammered from all directions. There’s a lot of coffee and paranoia – it’s not fun. I was happy to let John Shea have the bulk of that although he’s making noises about me going next year.

Q. After Ken Macha was fired as A’s manager in October you had the only quotes from several players – Mark Kotsay, Jason Kendall and Barry Zito – critical of Macha. How did you manage that?

A. Without betraying a confidence, I had been hearing things for some time – I was aware that something was coming down. Obviously nobody will say things on the record during the season especially with the team heading for the post-season. I was certain a move would be made when the season ended – it seemed almost unavoidable given the state of the clubhouse. Certainly they (Kotsay, Kendall and Zito) weren’t the only ones saying those things.

Q. Did any other outlets have those comments?

A. Not that I’m aware of.

Q. Is that a feather in your cap?

A. I guess. Maybe it was a matter of timing – I had been willing to wait for a certain amount of time and I would hope there was some trust built up. This was the ninth year I’ve covered the team.

Q. Sounds like a balancing act.

A. Especially when you’re on a beat. Columnists can come in and maybe take a chance – I won’t say betray a confidence – but he can write something his source wouldn’t be thrilled with at the time because he might not be back for awhile. On a daily beat you have to be careful – if somebody tells you something off the record you don’t want to burn them from a personal standpoint. You have to be persuasive and you have to wait for the time to be right to say something controversial or against the grain.

Q. How do you maintain a civil relationship with the people you cover?

A. You don’t. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had very good clubhouses to work with great personalities. That said, you’re going to write something, if you’re honest and objective, that ticks somebody off. I have a player still not talking to me for a story I did last year. He insists he was upset at the headline, and he realizes I didn’t write the headline, but he’s still not talking to me. Things happen. Not everybody is going to like you. The team doctor is irate at me for a story I did on Bobby Crosby being unhappy with his medical care. What can you do?

Q. Are there certain people you can’t afford to alienate?

A. You can’t look at it that way and do your job. If somebody looked at my job they’d say you have to stay on (GM) Billy Beane’s good side. That’s true, but at times I haven’t been. Fortunately, he understands our job. When he’s been mad at me or our columnists he says what’s on his mind and gets over it, which is great.

Q. Your take on

A. It seems to depend on the city – it’s uneven. It’s got some really great people like T.R. Sullivan in Dallas – he’s a good friend but I also respect the job he does as a reporter. Then there are some relatively inexperienced people in other places. I’m not sure knows what it is at all times. I’m not 100 percent sure how to classify it. It does some things very well and provides fans a service.

Q. Is MLB really reporting on itself?

A. That’s what gives me pause about it. It’s not strictly news – it’s got a p.r. element to it. They are the league and they are covering themselves. I had this discussion with the A’s reporter, who is a friend and someone I respect. He claims that the baseball writers don’t respect writers, but I think it’s probably a case-by-case basis, as it would be for any newspaper writer. As I told him, “Your paychecks are signed by Bud Selig and that’s a little problematic”.

Q. Does have an advantage on breaking news?

A. I hope not. I hope the people getting the breaks are the best reporters on the beat, or the hardest-working reporters. People will always wonder about them but I’ve never had that feeling on my beat.

Q. How do you stay informed?

A. I read a massive array of stuff – there are so many links you can link. Buster Olney ( is a must read and I try to watch Baseball Tonight and to a lesser extent SportsCenter. I read the other beat writers – not every one every day – but I really try to stay up on my division. I definitely check the headlines around the league. I’m not sure everybody does this but I check the fan sites occasionally to get a perspective on what the fans are talking about. I can get so caught up in the day to day stuff that I may miss something. I’ll look at Athletics Nation and some other good ones. The problem I have is that the good ones get too popular and then there are so many voices the level of discourse dips a little. Rabid fans tend to be very good at picking up on news, but there are a lot of bad rumors, too.

Q. Have the fan sites changed baseball writing?

A. Maybe the reporting a little bit. They can be rumor mills. When I was in Orlando people were really starting to pick up on sports on the Internet – the Magic were the only game in town and I spent a lot of time chasing Internet rumors. Everybody sees everything at once.

It’s a 24-hour job now. Ron Bergman, who covered baseball for the Oakland Tribune and Merc-News in the early 70s, laughs at how much harder our job is today. It’s a 24-365 job. When he worked, off-seasons were completely off – he wasn’t spending all day checking to see what everybody across the country had written. I know an A’s radio guy who has put a limit on himself for checking news – he said he was just getting overwhelmed. There’s some sense to that. You can drive yourself nuts reading and following up. You have to have some life outside of it at some point.

Q. How do you get away from it?

A. (laughing) I don’t know. That’s a very good question. I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I probably do obsess about work. I’ve got my husband and my friends outside of work – I enjoy traveling to see my friends – and I read (non-sports fiction) and watch movies. I’m not totally crazy but I probably should cut back on my amount of work.

Q. Is burnout a concern?

A. I don’t know – it seems to go in extremes. There are a lot of baseball lifers – like the Cleveland guys and Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) – and there are people who do it two or three years and say “Forget it”. It takes a certain kind of person to do it a long time. I like all the lifers – I guess I now consider myself one. I’m pretty sure I’m a lifer. I’m not sure what else I would do.

Q. Sounds like you really like your job.

A. I do. But talk to me in August in Kansas City. I might sound differently.

(SMG thanks Susan Slusser for her cooperation)

Why did kotsay, kendall and zito open up to the chronicle about macha?

But Thomas opened up to the Oakland tribune:

Why did ken macha open up to the chronicle about his firing?


DISCONNECTED / GM again cuts ties with Macha

Susan Slusser

Chronicle Staff Writer

2248 words

17 October 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle




© 2006 Hearst Communications Inc., Hearst Newspapers Division. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Two days after the A’s were eliminated from the postseason, Ken Macha was fired as the team’s manager, because of what general manager Billy Beane described as “a disconnect on several levels.”

Though Beane was careful not to spell out that disconnect, emphasizing during a news conference Monday that he alone was responsible for Macha’s ouster, the primary reason the team parted ways with a man with the second-highest winning percentage in Oakland history was that a growing number of players had issues with Macha.

“There were things that transpired over the course of the year that the players were unhappy about,” A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay said. “There’s no question there were things throughout the year, but the fact of the matter is that that by the end of the year, the players didn’t have the same feeling about the manager as they did at the start of the year — and that was at a point you’d think everybody would be happy, with a six-game lead. … I believe there was friction.”

Third baseman Eric Chavez, the longest-tenured member of the team, said several times in a phone interview Monday evening that he likes Macha and got along with him well personally, but Chavez had seen enough happening around him to realize there were problems.

“The whole thing was a weird situation for me because ever since he came here, we had a pretty good relationship, but over the last couple years, I could see things unfold, and I kept hearing things,” Chavez said. “He’s always been very open and communicative with me, and with some other players, that wasn’t true. I heard some things that were kind of disturbing. I think there are going to be a lot of guys who are happy about this.”

Many of the players thought that the tone set by Macha was gloomy, even when the club was playing well.

“The atmosphere wasn’t positive, for some reason,” Chavez said. “That was hard for us to deal with — here we are, winning the division, we’re banged up but we’re still doing what we should be doing, and every time he spoke to us, he’d say how much he appreciated the effort, but then you’d read things where he was always smashing people. … This negative cloud was just eating at everybody.”

Some of the players had the impression that Macha was miserable in his job. Starter Barry Zito, who is a big believer in the power of positive thinking, said that Macha dwelled too much on what might go wrong and that that was detrimental.

“The fact is, when you have someone leading people, you want them to be a visionary, to forge ahead and be on the front lines,” Zito said. “We felt like we were on the front lines, and he might have been with us, but he didn’t have the same conviction or faith. I think it was a fear of failure. He was a little more focused on the pessimistic stuff than on success.”

Zito was among those who felt as if Macha had not done enough to back him sometimes, especially in his final start against Anaheim in 2004, when he left after seven innings and 115 pitches. The A’s lost the lead after Zito departed, and Macha told reporters afterward that Zito had taken himself out of the game.

“I felt like he didn’t protect me,” Zito said. “I know a lot of managers do — (White Sox first baseman) Paul Konerko told me that Ozzie Guillen would take a bullet for his players. I was upset but Macha was fighting his own battle and he probably couldn’t process that kind of pressure, so, OK, I’ll wear it.”

The protection issue arose numerous times Monday.

“I know that the one thing any player wants from his manager is to be protected,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “If there’s a bang- bang play at first, even if you’re out, if you’re arguing, you want someone there behind you. If you argue a pitch, even if you’re wrong, you want someone joining in. And I’m not sure Macha did that.”

Macha’s seeming impatience with injuries also upset players. Kotsay, whose availability was uncertain at times because of a bad back, was furious when Macha said it was “puzzling” that Kotsay couldn’t play in a road game against Tampa Bay when the team had been off the day before. Two days earlier, Kotsay had described himself as having to use duct-tape simply to drag himself onto the field.

“When I got injured, I felt disrespected,” Kotsay said. “The ‘puzzling’ comment really threw me. My manager didn’t have my back, and every manager’s first business is to protect his players. That totally lost my trust in that relationship, between us as player and manager.”

Now, the A’s would like to have Beane’s back, worried that he’ll get criticized for firing a manager who just took the team to the American League Championship Series.

“I don’t want Billy to take heat for this because this is what needed to happen,” Kendall said. “If Billy is comfortable with it, we’re behind Billy. Maybe Billy saw the same thing the players saw. If Billy gets blasted in the media, it’s ridiculous. Billy’s going to get a lashing, and he shouldn’t.”

“I heard Steve Phillips on ESPN saying, ‘I don’t understand this move because those guys were playing (well) for Macha,’ ” Kotsay said. “Well, we didn’t play for him. This collective group wanted to win together, we felt we have a chance to win together, and we provided the leadership. The core guys who went out and played every day were the leaders of the team and carried us through the uncertainty. If there were problems, they were dealt with among the 25 guys.”

There were concerns from a strictly managerial standpoint, too.

“Everyone thought it was weird Kotsay didn’t hit against left- handers the last two months of the season, he’s so great defensively,” starter Dan Haren said. “And it was unfair to sit him two months against lefties and then all of a sudden throw him in there in the playoffs against tough lefties like (Johan) Santana and Kenny Rogers. I don’t think Macha handled that correctly.

“Then there were issues with the bullpen, guys being possibly overused, a lot of different issues.”

Haren noted that it probably was stressful managing under Beane, and he said, like Chavez, that he’d had a decent relationship with Macha. And when Macha was re-hired last fall, many of the players were supportive of the move.

“Deep down inside, I think he cared about the players, he just didn’t have a good way of communicating,” Chavez said. “He was always asking me about guys, he wanted to know if they were OK, but I was always the one he talked to in his office and I was probably the one who least needed to be in there.”

Macha will be paid the remaining $2.025 million remaining on his contract. The A’s will interview two internal candidates, third- base coach Ron Washington (who will interview for the Rangers’ managerial job today) and bench coach Bob Geren, for the managerial spot. Others on Beane’s list last year when Macha briefly left the team during a contract stalemate were former Phillies manager Larry Bowa, former Texas pitching coach Orel Hershiser and Colorado coach Jamie Quirk. A strong possibility for an interview this time: Angels pitching coach Bud Black. —————————————— —————

Carol Slezak

An Interview with Carol Slezak

An Interview with Carol Slezak

“With regard to gender-related sports issues, I wish the so-called top columnists in the industry – and most of them are male — would have the courage, or interest, or whatever it takes, to weigh in. I wish other female columnists would too. At times I feel like a lone voice. While I hear from other writers privately – on occasion – saying ‘Way to go’, it seems to me that they don’t go public with their thoughts often enough.”

Carol Slezak: Interviewed on May 5, 2008

Position: Sports Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times

Born: Detroit

Education: University of Michigan, BA, economics; University of Richmond Law School, JD.

Career: Chicago Sun-Times 1996 –


Favorite restaurant (home):

Favorite restaurant (road):

Favorite hotel:

Carol Slezak, from the Chicago Sun-Times, September 25, 2007:

I don’t know Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy or Daily Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson. But after watching Gundy’s rant on YouTube and reading the Carlson column that inspired his rage, I think they’ve combined to give us a couple things to think about.

No. 1: Should the media treat Division I college players like pros?

No. 2: Would Gundy have berated a male writer the way he berated Carlson?

In case you haven’t watched the video yet, Gundy went off after his team’s 49-45 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday. His anger stemmed from a Carlson column in which she suggested that OSU junior quarterback Bobby Reid had been demoted not because he lacked talent, but because he lacked heart and guts. Those weren’t Carlson’s exact words, but that was the gist of her piece.

”Three-fourths of this is inaccurate,” Gundy yelled, holding up Carlson’s column. ”It’s fiction. And this article embarrasses me to be involved in athletics.”

Gundy, 40, berated the media, asking ”Where are we at in society today?” That’s a point worth discussing. But few are talking about that now, because Gundy got personal, directing most of his long tirade at Carlson.

”This article had to have been written by a person that doesn’t have a child,” Gundy yelled at her. ”… If you have a child someday, you’ll understand how it feels but you obviously don’t have a child. I do. If your child goes down the street and somebody makes fun of him because he drops a pass in a pickup game or says he’s fat and he comes home crying to his mommy, you’ll understand.”

Like I said, I don’t know Gundy. But his reaction seemed motivated by something deeper than Carlson’s story. Watch the video yourself, and see what you think. I remember being called out during a press conference by a college basketball coach who was angry about something I had written. But that coach didn’t go berserk. He was sarcastic, he made his point, and he moved on. Gundy couldn’t do that.

I can’t imagine Gundy going off on a man the way he did on Carlson. I wonder how he even knew whether Carlson has kids. Was he asking people about her personal life? Did the topic come up during a previous press conference?

Carlson: Coach Gundy, why’d you decide to go for it on fourth-and-two?

Gundy: Are you childless?

I can’t imagine Gundy screaming during a press conference about a male writer’s lack of offspring. I can’t imagine him substituting ”daddy” for ”mommy” in his rant. I also wonder, as one of the few — or perhaps only — women in that room, if Carlson didn’t make for an easy target in Gundy’s mind. Watching the video, I sensed a subcurrent that gave me an uneasy feeling. As if what Gundy was really thinking was “How dare that bitch criticize one of my players. She shouldn’t be writing about football. She should be home making babies.”…

Make no mistake, Carlson was tough on Reid. For instance, to illustrate her belief that he’s a coddled player, she wrote about seeing Reid’s mom feed him chicken out of a boxed meal as he stood near the team’s chartered buses after a recent loss. She also inferred that he wouldn’t play through minor injuries, and indicated that he has an unusually acute case of game-day nerves. That’s a lot to pile on a college kid.

Or is it? I’ve read many harsher pieces about college athletes. Division I athletes may not technically be professionals, but they’re part of a pro-style product that the colleges themselves created. They are given free tuition and room and board. They’re typically subjected to less rigorous academic standards than their peers. Many are considered celebrities on campus and in their communities. (Certainly most quarterbacks are.) Isn’t it to be expected that intensified scrutiny will follow? Reid knew what he was getting into when he decided to play in the Big 12. He’s 21 years old, no longer a kid. And when a Big 12 quarterback loses his job, it’s news. Everyone is going to speculate as to the reasons why. Maybe Carlson hit too close to home?

Gundy has been roundly criticized by the press, in part because media members usually stand up for each other, and in part because he appeared unprofessional (and a bit demented) during his rant. When they’re not on the sidelines throwing clipboards, we expect college coaches to comport themselves in a distinguished manner. Many have objected to the fact that by choosing to go off on Carlson, Gundy was taking away from his team’s win. Gundy acknowledged that point during Monday’s weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, but didn’t apologize for Saturday’s rant.

”I wish I would’ve said more,” he said.

And I wish he had said less, and said it differently.

Q. Reaction to your Gundy-Carlson column?

A. It was pretty typical of any hot button issue. About 70 percent of the people I heard from vehemently disagreed with me, and of course some of them expressed the sentiment that women don’t belong in sports – not in those words – use your imagination. But a healthy 30 percent or so of those who commented either agreed with me or said they appreciated reading an “opposing” viewpoint.

Q. If you had been the target of Mike Gundy’s rant, how would you have reacted? Have you experienced anything similar?

A. I think I would have been fighting back laughter while simultaneously wondering if I should be calling 9-1-1.

I’ve never experienced such a ferocious attack, but Gene Keady once called me out by name during a postgame interview after an NCAA tournament game, because he was mad about something I had written. He didn’t know me. After the interview I sought him out and introduced myself, and all was well.

Q. Bobby Reid and his mother told ESPN’s Tom Friend that they believe Gundy’s rant was a fake. Friend inferred that the information in Jenni Carlson’s column came from Gundy or the coaching staff. If that’s true, in hindsight, what are your reflections on the whole episode, and on what you wrote?

A. I am as certain as one can be that the episode was not fake. My opinion has not changed a bit.

Q. How does gender inform your writing voice and sensibility?

A. I don’t know…I am who I am and certainly my gender is part of the package. Yet I know women who think/feel differently than me on many issues, and men who think/feel similarly.

With regard to gender-related sports issues, I wish the so-called top columnists in the industry – and most of them are male — would have the courage, or interest, or whatever it takes, to weigh in. I wish other female columnists would too. At times I feel like a lone voice. While I hear from other writers privately – on occasion – saying ‘Way to go’, it seems to me that they don’t go public with their thoughts often enough.

Q. What would you have advised Danica Patrick about modeling for FHM or SI?

A. Don’t do it. It reflects poorly on her and women in general, in my opinion.

Q. Why a law degree?

A. I wanted to save the world…

Q. Does training in law help a sports columnist?

A. Not specifically. But, as anyone who endured law school and the bar exam can attest, it toughens you up, sharpens your analytical skills and, hopefully, gives you a broader and deeper perspective on life, including sports issues.

Q. Who and what do you read to keep up with sports?

A. The Chicago Sun-Times, of course. The New York Times. The Chicago Tribune. ESPN. And then anything that catches my eye.

Q. You recently wrote, “the Masters has long been a reminder that golf is an elitist sport.” Is there a strain of populism in your writing, and if so, where does it come from?

A. I think I’ll leave that for others to decide. But I’m not a big fan of elitism, in any form.

Q. Lastly, is there a feminist angle to the Cubs’ 100 years of futility?

A. That would be a good idea for a book: ‘If a Woman Owned the Cubs. Hmmm…….

Carol Slezak, excerpted from the Chicago Sun-Times, April 22, 2008:

It was great to see Danica Patrick finally posing next to a winner’s trophy, looking strong and confident in her racing suit. It sure beats seeing her modeling a barely there leather ensemble in FHM or a barely there bikini in Sports Illustrated.

Until Sunday, Patrick was a poseur. But thanks to her historic victory in the Japan Indy 300, she has become the real deal. Can she race and win? You bet she can.

Some even are comparing her win, the first by a woman in a major auto racing event, to Billie Jean King’s victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973. Let’s not get carried away. King always will be the queen of symbolic victories. She sparked a revolution. Her victory over Riggs made Patrick’s career possible.

Patrick’s win sent this message: Give a good female racer a decent car, and she can win. But we knew that already. Didn’t we?…

…I suppose she had to win a race to convince a handful of disbelieving rube racing fans that she belonged in the IRL. Maybe she even needed to convince herself she belonged. Maybe there were times when she thought about quitting racing and becoming a full-time pinup girl.

I’m glad she hung in there because it’s great to celebrate another female first. Besides, the last thing we need is another pinup girl.

(SMG thanks Carol Slezak for her cooperation)