You are all jealous of Jeff Pearlman, and by you, I mean any male in the 15-to-45 demographic for sure. Pearlman gets to write about sports for a living. He brushes elbows with your favorite players, has written a series of books about your favorite teams, and perhaps best of all, he blogs about ‘90’s three-hit-wonders Color Me Badd and gets away with it.
But there’s more to ESPN Page 2 columnist Pearlman than writing about athletes and odes to “I Adore Mi Amor.” I had the good fortune of speaking with my good friend the other day (OK, we’re not good friends yet but we met through Facebook, and I’m confident we’re on the road to becoming BFFs), and chatted all about his books and his job. Before we go forward with the Q&A, here’s the 411 on Pearlman.
Pearlman was born and raised in Mahopac, NY. He wrote for his high school and college newspaper (respectively Mahopac High School and the University of Delaware), and ran track and XC there. “I wasn’t a Division I caliber runner, so I got my ass kicked often, but I stuck in there,” he explained.
Following college, he got hired by The Tennessean in Nashville as a food and fashion writer. “I ate shit and couldn’t match a pair of shoes, but they liked me from an internship the prior summer,” he explained. That job led to him being hired some 2 1/2 years later as a reporter at Sports Illustrated.
Pearlman is, as noted, currently a columnist for ESPN.com’s Page 2 and runs his own blog Jeff Pearlman.com. He’s also author of the forthcoming Boys Will Be Boys, which chronicles the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, and the New York Times’ best-seller The Bad Guys Won! That latter book is among the only ones I’ve read in the past ten years, and as a Mets fan, I can quite easily say it’s better than Wuthering Heights. In any event, batter up. Let’s get with the interview.
Your books are amazing – The Bad Guys Won in particular, how many players were willing to chat with you for your book and offer insight?
Dude, “amazing?” I’d say well-done, solidly reported, enjoyable. Not sure they’re amazing—but I do appreciate the kind words. I interviewed about 150 people for The Bad Guys Won, including, oh, 30 or 31 Mets from 1986. Two guys who didn’t talk were Strawberry and Gooden, which was an early lesson for me—the stars don’t make a good book, because they’ve told their stories 8,000 times. The scrubs—guys who are itching to talk—make a book.
What surprised you the most about writing any of your books?
The heartache and pain. I’m a marathon runner, and writing a book is like one continuous loop of an endless marathon in 170-degree heat—all uphill. Like marathons, midway through I think, “I’m never friggin’ doing this again.” Then, two months later, I’m back training. The research is so draining and exhaustive with a book. And yet, in the end there’s something truly rewarding. That almost makes it’s worthwhile.
You have a new book coming out, discuss.
It’s a biography of the ’90s Cowboys, titled, Boys Will Be Boys. I have a website, www.jeffpearlman.com, which much info. It’s basically the span from 1989-96, and the story of this sorry franchise that turned into a dynasty—then lost its way in a sea of ego, drugs, sex, strip clubs, etc. It’s a football book and a lifestyle book, as well as the perfect birthday gift for that special six-year-old who’s just learning to read.
Sweet. Who do you root for in sports?
I don’t team-wise. Stopped a long time ago. But I do find myself wishing well for the people I’ve come to like and admire—Torii Hunter, Ryan Dempster, Sean Casey, Josh Hamilton, Sal Fasano. Guys like that.
What was the reaction some of the players featured in your book had – did they get in touch with you to chew you out or praise your work?
I’ve never had a player chew me out over a book, though Lenny Dykstra wasn’t so pleased with his depiction in “The Bad Guys Won.” My low point probably came after “Love Me, Hate Me,” when a guy named Jay Canizaro, Bonds’ former teammate, went on ESPN’s Cold Pizza and denied everything I wrote. I called him up and he apologized; said he was scared. But that really sucked.
I hear that. I’ve written two books myself, tell me… is the publishing industry really this bad?
I actually have had a great experience. This will be my fourth book with HarperCollins, and my two editors—David Hirshey and Kate Hamill—have been excellent. I relish the freedom that comes with book writing. It’s your voice; your thesis.
That’s true, but I still think this industry is the pits. Anywho, is Bonds a Hall of Famer? Clemens? McGwire?
No, no, no. There is a good-of-the-game clause in the Hall of Fame bylines. Those three men did unimaginable damage to the game.
How has your writing changed since when you first started? Blogs and the web are all the rage as opposed to when you got your start…
I like to think I’m better, because I actually report. As a young writer at The Tennessean, I was really cocky, and I convinced myself my writing would carry the day. Well, A. I sucked; B. I never reported. Good reporting can make ordinary writing excellent. Now I take much more pride in reporting than writing. My philosophy is, “There will inevitably be someone who can write better. But not everyone’s gonna make that extra call—so be sure to do so.”
Word. Should Favre hang them up for good?
No. I don’t love the way he’s handled this, obviously, but I never, ever tell pro athletes to retire. Why should they? People say, ‘Oh, Patrick Ewing embarrassed himself at the end of his career.’ No he didn’t—he hung on to an amazingly luxurious lifestyle that, at most, lasts 15, 16, 17 years. I’d hold on as long as I could, too. Because once it’s over, you just us among the adequate. And where’s the fun in that?
Who is the most underrated player in sports today?
Probably someone I’ve never heard of.
You’re probably right. OK, lastly, what’s next for you? Any goal you haven’t achieved yet?
Well, my true dream in life, one my wife and I discuss often, is to move to the Midwest and breed llamas. She was raised on a llama farm in Topeka called The Topeka Llama Breeding Co. and Apple Pie Pavilion, and to shave a llama—to really shave it well, so it looks and shines like a new car—is something very close to godliness. If I could shave llamas for the rest of my life, I’d be pretty damn happy.
Much respect to the llamas.
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