Q/A with Darren Rovell: On leaving CNBC for ESPN; ‘It felt bigger’

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Aug. 20

As any good business reporter knows, the element of risk is a theme in many stories.

So now the tables turn on Darren Rovell. Risk now is a part of his story in his recent jump from CNBC to ESPN.

Rovell had the sports business gig all to himself at CNBC. He also had his own sports business show on the NBC Sports Network.

Rovell, 34, landed many high-profile interviews and developed a huge following on Twitter (now in the 240,000 range). He carved out a nice niche at CNBC.

Rovell, though, decided to return to ESPN (he worked there from 2000-06). Obviously, he won’t be the only sports person at the network. While he will have more platforms for his stories, he also will face exponentially more internal competition. It will be more difficult for him to stick out at ESPN.

Money definitely was a factor in Rovell’s decision (ESPN book author James Miller reports he doubled his salary). Interestingly, for someone who talks at length about the cash athletes earn, Rovell declined to go into detail about his financial decision. I guess it is more interesting to talk about other people’s money.

Rovell stressed this decision is about more than just money. A big part, he said, is the ABC component, in which he will do business stories for various shows (Good Morning America, Nightline, ABC Evening News) on the network.

Ultimately, Rovell said of the move, “I just felt this was bigger.”

Here’s my Q/A with Rovell.

Why make the move from CNBC to ESPN?

I was happy with my gig at CNBC. I loved doing my NBC Sports Network show. It was a dream come true. I love working with my team there.

At the end of the day, I felt like being at ESPN was the right move. The ABC part was the deal-sealer.

How much did money have to do with the move?

CNBC did want me back. I was hoping for more interest from NBC Sports to get paid like a host. It didn’t happen.

I won’t do something solely for money. I’m so passionate about my career. Money alone could never get me to go to a place that I didn’t think was the best for me.

I talked to CNN. I talked to other people. I asked, ‘Do I break out? Do I move away from this niche?’ I decided the answer is no. ESPN and ABC can give me the best of both worlds.

Talk about your niche. Why is sports business so interesting to the masses?

I think a flashpoint came when sports became more corporate. Business became more out there, and people wanted to talk about it. Sports fans want to be armed at the water cooler. When you drop a piece of information, it allows you to beat your friend.

There are so many fascinating things about sports business. It touches people more than most people think.

Your career took off when you left ESPN and started at CNBC in ’06. Why?

CNBC gave me a great TV platform, for sure. The difference for me at the time was CNBC was a smaller place to be, but I could be the bigger fish. At ESPN, I was the geek who covered sports business. At CNBC, I was the cool guy who covered sports business.

CNBC wanted me to help turn up the volume. Traders watch with the volume off. CNBC said, ‘Hey, let’s show sports, but you rationalize it as business because it really is business.’

At CNBC and NBC Sports Network, you got so many big interviews with athletes like Tiger Woods and sports executives. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem appeared so many times, he was practically your sidekick. Will you get that same kind of treatment/access at ESPN?

We didn’t have a hard time getting people to come on CNBC. Our pitch to athletes and agents was, ‘Come on CNBC if you want to reach the wealthiest people in the world.’

Now at ESPN, Tom Rinaldi will have that interview with Tiger. How do I get Tiger Woods for business purposes? Does (agent) Mark Steinberg say, ‘He already did Tom Rinaldi?’

Admittedly, it’s going to be a challenge to get the big stars. But that’s the challenge of working in a bigger system compared to being a one-man machine. It’s a challenge I’m willing to accept. I still think I can get the big interview.

You’ve become Mr. Twitter. What has that meant to your “brand”?

It’s become a tremendous distribution platform. If all I did was just about sports business, I’d have about 10,000 followers. People like to have something different in their feed. When something happens in sports or otherwise, I’m thinking, ‘How can I inject the business aspect into it?’

When I was at ESPN (the first time), they had so many writers, I used to think, ‘If I write a great story, will it get on the front page (of ESPN.com)?’ Now because of Twitter, placement is not as much of a concern. It’s harder for something to get lost. Going to the Web site isn’t the only place to find the story. If I write a good story, somebody will link to it again and again and again.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. You’ve gotten into some notorious feuds on Twitter. Other people also have taken shots at you as your profile has increased. How do you feel about that?

Twitter allows people to reach out to you. Negative stuff is going to happen. Anything is fine. Anyone who is in the public eye has to deal with some negativity. It comes with the territory.

So where will people see you at ESPN/ABC?

I’m going to be the sports business reporter covering the beat. I’ll be working out of the ABC office in New York, but I’ll be in Bristol quite frequently. ESPN is going to be my main responsibility. I’ll write for ESPN.com, be on radio, SportsCenter. I do intend to be on ABC quite often.

I love to put the pedal to the metal. I go 24 hours a day. The only way to not get burned out is to change things up. The ABC outlet allows me to stay fresh, to stay hungry.



Q/A with Dino Costa: Mad Dog host says his show offers alternative to ‘homogenized garbage’ of sports talk radio

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Nov. 26

At one point during our interview, Dino Costa said, “I don’t want to sound braggadocious.”

I’m thinking, he doesn’t want to sound braggadocious? This is a guy who has been telling me for the better part of an hour that he is the best thing going on sports talk radio. And the vast of bulk of programming in the format, he says, is a bunch of “homogenized garbage.”

Then again, listeners of The Dino Costa Radio Show wouldn’t be surprised.

His evening show on the Mad Dog Radio channel on SiriusXM (7-11 p.m. ET) is the sports talk version of UFC: Anything goes. Supremely confident and “fearless,” Costa has a strong opinion about everything and anything, and that includes slamming the guy whose nickname is the title of the station, Chris Russo.

Recently, Costa called Russo “a has been.” And that was on Russo’s show.

Costa, 48, has had a curious life and career. He didn’t even break into the business until he was 33. It is all well-documented in a piece by Michael Hastings in Men’s Journal. Hastings has a great description of Costa’s style:

Costa makes Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless, two of ESPN’S best-known Angry Male alphas, seem mild and  reasonable. Compared with them, Costa is more like a militia leader broadcasting direct from Ruby Ridge under siege, an army of liberals blasting away from the other side of the barbed wire.

The fact that Men’s Journal did a story on an evening sports talk host on satellite radio shows the impact Costa is having in the market since he joined Mad Dog in 2009. And since it hasn’t come easy for him, and since he wants a much bigger slice of the pie, if not the whole thing, he feels compelled to blow his horn as if it were an air raid siren.

Drawing the inevitable sports radio comparsions to Rush Limbaugh (“a huge compliment”), Costa can be extremely polarizing and hardly is for everyone. But despite all of Costa’s personal slams, even Russo concedes ”he’s a helluva host.”

Here’s Part 1 of my Q/A with Costa in which he takes apart the sports talk radio industry.

How would you explain your show to people who haven’t heard it before?

I can answer in a way that talks about the industry of sports talk radio. On balance, all sports talk radio sounds exactly the same. There is a status quo that underwhelms me. It’s homogenized garbage that deals with the lowest common denominator. The predictability is frightening. The same subject, same comments every day. It stays in the same lane and drones on and on.

I’m amazed at people who think this is good sports talk radio. I find most people involved in the format are completely bankrupt from a creative point of view.

You look at the people they are bringing in for (the new CBS and NBC Sports Radio Networks). There isn’t a compelling 3-4 hour block in there. It’s all the same. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think there is some kind of conspiracy out there.

I heard you once devote the bulk of your show ripping Jim Rome. He’s wildly successful in sports talk radio. Why would you have issues with him?

Jim got in on the ground floor when sports talk radio was starting to flourish. His show is highly overproduced. There is a significant amount of authenticity that is lacking. I find his show to be scripted and then he turns it over to a bunch of callers he calls “clones.” How is this compelling radio? It’s the same stuff every day.

What about Mike and Mike at ESPN Radio? They do big numbers.

I have great respect for them, but that is an incredibly over produced show. It’s broken up into segments, and they have 10-11 guests, most of them the same people from ESPN. It’s the same stuff over and over again. They never say anything controversial. They stay within the politically correct line.

There’s just a lack of courage in this business. Everything is a carbon copy. What I do is distinctly different from the status quo.

OK what do you do? Let’s gets back to the original question of how would you describe your show?

I present a completely different look and feel to sports talk radio that is absent anywhere else. The show is unique in that it attracts more than the hardcore sports fan. I’ve had people tell me, ‘I don’t listen to sports radio, but I listen to your show.’ That’s the biggest compliment I can get.

My show transcends the craft of sports talk radio. I resonate with people. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate what I say, the bottom line, people listen to me. The show is impossible to ignore.

SiriusXM provides a forum for the most liberated kind of sports talk. There’s no calibrator. Nothing is taboo. As a talk show host, I find it incredibly liberating.

It’s about two hours before your show. What is on the agenda for tonight?

I don’t know. It’s completely organic. I have some thoughts that I want to discuss in my mind, but it is a stream of conscious kind of show. This is a national show. In order to do it properly, I read up to 100 newspapers per day. I’m constantly taking notes.

I could go an hour without taking calls. I don’t have many guests. I get emails from people saying, ‘Stop with the guests. We want to hear what you have to say.’ I’m a different beast. I’m way outside the box.

If your show and presentation is so unique, why has it taken you this long to get on this stage? You’ve had several stops along the way.

Good question. In terms of style and format, there’s been a great reluctance by upper management to embrace somebody as opinionated and irreverent as I can be. I’ve talked to many people in the industry about this question. One person, who I respect, told me, ‘With your show, you put people at risk in upper management.’

Programmers aren’t intelligent. Oh, they’re intelligent in selecting people who won’t have people complaining about them. They make the same predictable hires, and it’s all so vanilla.

You take a wildcard like me, you’ve got to be willing to let the phone ring or field the complaints.

You had to try out for your show on Mad Dog and weren’t even hired initially. Again if you’re so good, why didn’t you get hired right away?

That was a big mistake on their part. I give (program director Steve Torre) a lot of credit. He recognized that I could be something big. I’m going to be the best hire SiriusXM ever made.

You did meet with NBC. How did that go?

I (also) met with ESPN three times. The fit at NBC wasn’t a good one. It would have been a truncated relationship.

When I met with NBC, I asked, ‘What are you going to do that is different to distinguish yourself from ESPN and CBS? Is adding Dan Patrick going to be your big move?’

They said they needed people who are representative of their brand. What does that mean? Does that I mean I can’t criticize the commissioner of the NFL? They told me I would have to reposition my commentary within the guidelines of acceptable criticism. I couldn’t do that. I refuse to let some kingmaker try to define me. I’d have to castrate my show to provide them with the same corporate radio I often complain about.

How do you envision your future?

I do want a bigger platform that allows me to become the dominant voice in sports talk radio in America from a national standpoint. I think it’s possible.

Q/A with Rich Eisen: His on-camera emotions about Sabol; progress of NFL Network; the Real Deion

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Sept. 24

Rich Eisen tried stand up comedy in a former life. Humor is a big part of his repertoire as the signature host of NFL Network.

Viewers, though, saw another side of Eisen last Tuesday. Eisen was visibly emotional in announcing the death of NFL Network President Steve Sabol. Here’s the link.

Eisen knows how much Sabol meant to his life. Without Sabol, he said, there would be no NFL Network.

Eisen has been there from Day 1 in 2003. He brought the channel on the air, saying “Your dreams have come true.”

Nine years later, it has become a dream job for Eisen, who took a considerable risk by leaving a fairly great gig at ESPN. In addition to his hosting duties on NFL Network, he also has a popular podcast that allows him to hang with stars like Larry David, Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, among many others in Los Angeles. And he ventures even further out of football by hosting a reality show, The Great Escape, on TNT.

In my part 1 of my interview, Eisen discusses Sabol, his on-air reaction, the progress of NFL Network and working with Deion Sanders.

What was is it like going on the air to announce the news of Sabol’s death?

I’m like everyone else my age. I grew up on NFL Films. My love of the game was stoked by NFL Films. I had the fortune to actually meet the man, and call him my colleague and know how he affected my career. Without him, the NFL Network never gets on the air. It wouldn’t be an embryo without him and his dad (Ed Sabol).

So to be the person on NFL Network given the assignment to break the news, it was moving to say the least.

How did you feel about becoming so emotional?

I got a call earlier in the day that this could happen. On the drive in, I’m thinking, ‘Is this really happening? He’s larger than life.’ It just caught me.

My philosophy in broadcasting is if there’s an emotion to the story and you’re feeling it, there’s no shame in showing it. I didn’t even give it a second thought.

Were you thinking about how he impacted your life?

It wasn’t just me. I always have Twitter open. I love to see the reaction from everybody on Sundays. Sabol was trending on Twitter within 15 minutes of the announcement. There was a collective mourning, and people were tuning into our network as if they were laying a wreath on a public memorial.

When I wrote my book about joining NFL Network, I asked Steve to write the foreword. Within 90 hours, it was in my hands. And it was a take on a topic of the book that I never would have thought of.

He’s one of those types of people who are inspirational. I’m not talking about professionally. I’m talking about personally. When we first went on the air, I never met the guy. Within six weeks, there’s an envelope. And it’s a hand-written note from Steve Sabol, saying, ‘Great job.’ Wow, to think this guy would take the time to do it. It was inspirational.

You took a big step leaving ESPN in 2003.

In the grand scheme of things, you could say that. But at the time, if you were going to bet on a start up, a channel about the NFL, run by the NFL, specifically Steve Bornstein, you’d make that bet.

How far have you and NFL Network come in nine years?

I’m thrilled with the way everything has turned out. I love being at the center of the NFL. The idea of the NFL as a year-round venture has become more of a mainstream idea. At one of my last SportsCenter idea meetings in April, ’03, somebody brought up an NFL story and was laughed out of the room. Now ESPN has two live NFL studio shows. This network was created to raise all boats for the NFL.

It’s been great and getting to plant a flag on the podcast. I love the free-form format.

How important is it for the network to go from 8 to 13 Thursday night games?

We all understand it is a valuable commodity. The fact we’re entrusted with more games means a lot. Means more travel. It means a lot of work. But we all understand the value of live NFL programming.

To me, what we do on our postgame show is very special. Watching the players run off the field and come to our set. Some of them just want to hear from Deion, Marshall and Irvin. ‘Tell me how we did.’ That’s great.

We’re in a good place now with 13 games and our Sunday morning show. I’d put that show up against anybody’s. And our game coverage. We’re all very proud of it.

What is it like to work with Deion Sanders. Is he the same off camera?

He’s the same. The most successful people I’ve met are the same on and off the air. Chris Berman. That’s not an act. When I got there in ’96, I observed Berman do a SportsCenter. He only did a couple a year at that point. And the guy who walked into the room for an idea meeting was the same guy I had seen on TV for a decade.

Deion is the same thing. He’s a great broadcaster and teammate. He’s always aware of what other people want to say and how to set it up. Some of my favorite converations with him are about baseball. Listening to him about riding the bus in the minors. I just love everything about him. I’d go through the wall for him.

Sherman Q/A with Jim Rome: Doing nothing would be greater risk

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on May 21

If Jim Rome talks smack in the forest, but nobody hears it, does it count as smack?

Rome is well into his second month hosting his new show Rome on CBS Sports Network. Thus far, the latest version of Rome has evolved into a fast-moving show that continues to attract big-time guests: David Stern, Aaron Rogers, Matt Kemp, Justin Verlander, Charles Barkley among others.

“It’s early on, but I am as proud of this show as any show I’ve ever done,” said Rome in his distinctive tone during a phone interview with me.

Yet having said that, Rome is well aware of the reality of his new situation. CBS Sports Network doesn’t have any ratings data for Rome’s new show, but you don’t have to be a Nielsen expert to know it is a fraction of what it was at his former home on ESPN.

I tell Rome my boys, ages 16 and 14, used to watch his show all the time. They came home from school, turned on ESPN and took in the late afternoon block of programming. So much for homework.

They haven’t altered their routine to accommodate Rome’s switch. Television viewing is habitual, I tell Rome, and at 5 p.m. (Central), they are watching SportsCenter instead of flipping to CBS Sports Network for Rome’s show.

“I get it,” Rome said. “I need a buy-in from those kids.”

Then Rome said, “If you want, I’ll tell them myself.”

Unfortunately, the boys weren’t home on this day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually get a call from Rome. He is so passionate about his new endeavor, he would go door-to-door to attract viewers.

Rome actually is counting on the conventional methods (word-of-mouth and promotion) to build an audience. He knows it will take time and that he may be playing to a mostly empty room for a while.

Rome, though, remains confident he made the right decision, and he continues to stress there is more involved to this move than just the CBS Sports Network show.

Here’s my Q/A with Rome.

What’s your assessment of the show thus far?

I was ready for a new challenge, ready for a new show. We’re hitting it hard. It’s early on, but I am as proud of this show as any show I’ve ever done.

We’re putting so much more into it. I always liked the last show that I did, but it became kind of static. Four burns off the top of the show. Then you’d get an interview. Then you’d get a panelist. Then you’d get one burn at the back end of the show.

This is much more labor intensive. We’re trying to get 7-8 burns at the top. Then we’ll do an interview. If there’s not a good interview, then we’ll double up on the panel. A lot more content. It feels like it moves faster. It feels like the 2.0 version of what I was doing.

Could you have done the same thing for ESPN? Could you have said I want to change the format of the show?

It’s a real interesting question. We just thought we were doing as much as we could do. Everyone was happy with the show. It never came up. At one point they came to me and said, instead of having two people on your panel,. go ahead and have one person. We always thought we were giving as much as we possibly could. It wasn’t until I left where we all said, ‘Look, you can’t do the same show you’ve always done. You’ve got to do more and be better.’

For the millionth time, what were your motivations for the move?

I felt like I had done same show for so long. At this point in my career, I said I could keep doing the same thing. I thought there is risk inherent in not trying to stretch and try something new. On top of that, let’s be honest. If it was just a straight swap, simply moving show to CBS Sports Network,  maybe that’s something I wouldn’t have done. They’ve offered me so many other things. They put me on Letterman. I was on the set of the Final Four; I was on the pregame show for the AFC Championship game, and there are more opportunities, including a show on Showtime. When CBS calls and offers you that, you don’t say no.

Do you consider yourself a person who likes to take risks?

Am I a risk guy?  Doing nothing would have been a greater risk. But I’m pretty calculating. Sometimes, you have to push yourself.

I’m trying to get in and hopefully make a difference. It’s a big swing. Guys like us who have done this a long time, you’ve got to take a shot.

You mention a Showtime program. What will that be?

It’s going to come out in the Fall. I’m not trying to hide anything, but there’s really not anything new at this point.

What was it like to see all the billboards and ads promoting the new show?

They had this unbelievable roll out when they made the announcement. In my entire career, I never had that kind of promotion in radio or TV. That in of itself was an incredible thing for my career, for my brand.

When I got to New York to do Letterman, I saw a billboard of myself. Somebody took a picture of me standing next to it. I emailed it to my wife. She literally cried. She couldn’t believe it. It was an amazing feeling, and a surreal feeling. It made me want to do well for these folks because they put it out there for me.

You’ve had great guests thus far.

Maybe, it’s the relationships I have with these guys that they want to come on with Rome, whatever that show might be. They’ll get a fair interview and hopefully a smart interview. But it feels good.

How do you reach the viewers who turn on ESPN and leave it on?

You’re exactly right. It’s the De facto channel. You don’t have to find anything. You just turn your TV on. My feeling is, I only can do what I can do. I’m constantly trying to say this is where we are, this is what we’re doing. I try and use Twitter and my radio show to get the word out.

Look, they’ve got a 40-year head start on us and everyone else. ESPN is ESPN. It’s a monster. I understand it isn’t going to change overnight. I’m determined to keep grinding it out every day and do everything I can to get your kids to tune into that network.

There aren’t any ratings for your show. How do you know if people are watching?

I hear from the radio listeners. I get the feedback through Twitter and the radio show. That’s how I know people are seeing the show. We have to tell people where to find it. That’s the challenge. Exactly where are you and when are you on? That’s the challenge thus far.

Do people still say to you, ‘You’re crazy, why did you leave ESPN?

Yeah, little bit. Once in a while. It’s not just the one show. It’s the whole platform. It’s been great. They were very good to me at ESPN. I had a great run there. CBS has been awesome. It’s a great company to work for. They give me a lot of support. I’ve never once looked back.

It’s a big picture thing. I’m not so locked in that it’s just the TV show. I’m reaching so many different places across the platforms. Once I made the decision, once I’m in, I’m all in. It might sound trite, but I’m trying to do the best TV show I can do every single day. That’s what I’m focused on. It’s going to take some time. As long as I can do a TV show I’m proud of, that’s the only thing that matters.

So no buyer’s remorse?

I’m not like that. I thought about this for a long, long time. Once I decided to do it, I was all in. No buyer’s remorse at all.

I know what I signed up for. I understand where I am right now. I know I’m supposed to help drive the eyeballs to this network.


Q/A with Jay Mariotti: On two years out of spotlight; his side of what happened on that night and aftermath; and his next step

I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Oct. 29

The email in my inbox had a familiar name: Jay Mariotti.

Earlier that day a couple weeks ago, I had written a post about Mariotti. I wondered why he had taken two years off and if anybody would hire him again?

The email read: “You’re welcome to ask me questions. Don’t have to guess when I can give you context.”

Mariotti has a point. If I am going to comment and speculate about him, I should allow him to give his side. That’s the way I operate.

I followed up, asking if he was up for doing a Q/A. Prior to sending out questions, I did read his book on Amazon, The System: A Manual on Surviving Liars, Loons, Law, Life. Much of the book is Mariotti’s account of a domestic violence incident with a woman he was dating in 2010. He gives a condensed version in this Q/A.

Mariotti has been mostly on the sidelines ever since. However, he says he is ready to jump back in, and that there are opportunities out there for him. And if you think Mariotti has mellowed, well, guess again.

So here is “context” from Mariotti.

Why have you been off for two years? Obviously, you know the speculation out there. People don’t believe it is by choice.

Mariotti: “People” need to stop guessing when they really have no clue about me and what’s happening in my life. How irresponsible is that? They don’t realize what a great life I have here in Los Angeles. As I write this, I’m sitting under a blue sky by the pool in Santa Monica, with the ocean a few yards away. I read, write, ride my bike and work out here every day. Not really missing two bogus Sun-Times deadlines in Green Bay, eating bratwurst at halftime and getting back to Chicago at 4 a.m. That was a kamikaze mission for a failing newspaper — this is the good life.

When I’ve written more than 6,000 columns, done 1,800 TV shows on ESPN and 1,000 radio shows, covered 14 Olympics and 24 Super Bowls and dozens of golf majors and seen the world – and made a very comfortable living doing so — what possibly is wrong with voluntarily taking some time off in a beautiful place? I’m fortunate to not have to work, and I’ve taken advantage and cleared my head with two wonderful years away from the media business. I’ve had a rewarding and successful career, and not unlike some people in sports and Hollywood, I’m chilling until the opportunities are just right. I poured about 50 years of hard work into two decades. I’m preparing wisely for my next two decades in media.

Taking this break HAS been my choice, and whatever the speculation is, I can’t say I care when my two daughters are healthy and well and I don’t have to work for a corrupt Chicago newspaper as I did for 17 years. I’ve never been in better physical shape, and I’ll be back in sports media when the timing is right.

And just because I haven’t worked in sports media doesn’t mean I haven’t worked. I’m thick into a documentary project, for instance, and being in L.A. has opened new avenues to creativity. I’ve spoken to virtually all the big players in national sports media, including some the last few weeks. Right now, I’m mulling over three possibilities — all terrific jobs. If they happen, great. If not, Mumford & Sons are coming to the Hollywood Bowl next week. I would pay to see Alvin and the Chipmunks at the Hollywood Bowl — not exactly Tinley Park, you know?

Why did you decide to do the ChicagoSide columns? What was the reaction?

Jon Eig, the editor, is a best-selling author who wants to do a smart, responsible sports site. I like smart, responsible sports sites because there are too many bad, amateur-hour sites that are sludging up the business like rat feces. Jon asked me to do pieces when the urge strikes. He said the reaction has been great and the site traffic off the charts. I suggested a piece on the White Sox when they were in first place so I could show people I’m not the anti-Christ of the South Side.

What happened? The Sox choked out here in Anaheim and faded away. I had to write it. Can’t win with that franchise.

Jon then suggested a piece on why I still love sportswriting. It attracted national attention, and I did an hour on Sirius/XM Radio about it. No doubt I still resonate, and I very much appreciate all the nice words from folks.

Do you want to work again? And in what capacity?

Again, I have been “working” — I’m doing documentary work, wrote a detailed book about my career and court case and have a standing offer to do another book. When I regularly return to the sports media, I assume it will be in a mutimedia capacity — TV, radio, writing. And maybe for more than one employer — I’ve always worked for two or three at a time.

Have there been any previous offers? If so, why did you turn them down?

Yes. I’ve turned down some sports media things. One would have required a cross-country move to do a daily afternoon-drive radio show. Another involved a book that didn’t interest me. Someone wanted me to invest in a restaurant — thought about it, said no. I’d actually like to be a roadie for the Black Keys, but they haven’t asked. I have an agent out here at Octagon, a Chicago native. He talks to people all the time about me.

How have/will your legal issues impact your ability to get hired? For lack of a better word, are you “tainted”?

That’s a fine word. And the answer is no, I’m not tainted. Anyone who knows the real story, as I’ve written in meticulous detail in my Amazon/Kindle book, knows I was victimized by a system that enabled a troubled and vindictive woman to lie about me, abuse me and stalk me in the neighborhood in which I live. I’m pleased that top executives at some major media companies have taken time to read the book — one said it was commendable that I spent many months trying to help the woman, who was broke and had personal problems after being fired from her advertising job and going through a divorce.

Ever see “Fatal Attraction,” the movie? I often felt like Michael Douglas. But that doesn’t matter in post-O.J. Simpson L.A., where even a battered man doesn’t stand a chance when a couple is arguing on a street and a third-party witness calls 911. Prosecutors saw an opportunity for a quick series of headlines in the L.A. Times. They never wanted to hear my side of the story; they just funneled me through a preliminary hearing and left it up to me to take it to a trial, not caring about the invaluable witnesses we brought to the courtroom and my $250,000 in legal expenses, plenty of which made its way to a financially ailing city via outrageous court costs. I could have taken the case to trial, but what a circus that would have been. How do I know a jury wouldn’t profile me unfairly, as an opinionated ESPN commentator of Italian heritage, and assume guilt regardless of the truth? I chose to take a no-contest plea bargain for one low-level misdemeanor, which allowed this person to stalk me in attempts to entrap me and cause me more trouble.

It appeared I was headed back to work for AOL, where I was the lead sports columnist. It was the best job in the business, with unlimited travel and terrific camaraderie among the staffers, unlike the Sun-Times insane asylum. But the company suddenly cut me a large financial settlement while not telling me or anyone else that it was dumping the sports site while doing a lucrative deal with Arianna Huffington. I was not “fired” because of this court case. That hasn’t stopped sleazy bloggers from writing otherwise. Wish these guys would take some journalism classes and stop being reckless gossips.

Since then, the woman and her attorneys have demanded money. I have refused to pay a cent. If my fellow journalists do their due diligence instead of just assuming I’m guilty — or, worse, WANTING to assume I’m guilty — then they’ll see what this was: a desperate money grab. I was put through a hellish ordeal despite never going to jail or pleading guilty. I was exploited as a public figure, lied about by bloggers who don’t corroborate their wild guesses — one said I was going to jail for 12 years — and harassed by lawyers who wanted to make a quick buck in a settlement. I’m proud to say I didn’t budge, but that decision still hurt me because the woman then told more lies to police and prosecutors, who were all ears. All of these details are in my book. Thank God it’s over, and shame on the legal system for allowing the chaos to interrupt my life.

Everyone makes mistakes — and mine was getting involved with a person who clearly was using me. It’s no coincidence that since I wrote the book, everyone has gone away — lawyers, prosecutors, the person herself — while the presiding judge says he is strongly considering an expungement of the entire case so that it’s completely wiped off my otherwise clean record. In more than two decades of marriage, we never had such problems in a loving, peaceful household in suburban Chicago. The LAPD is reckless. The system out here is a money-gouging, plea-bargain machine. And it didn’t help that the Times — owned by the Chicago Tribune, my rival for 17 years — was basically re-running the district attorney’s press releases.

I don’t hit women – never have, never will. As the father of two daughters, I abhor domestic abuse. In truth, I was the one abused in the relationship; one night, she punched me 22 times in the chest, right against the stent inserted during my 2007 heart attack. I’ve discussed all of this on two Fox Sports podcasts and in a Sirius/XM interview. I’ve written a book about it. Now it’s time for everyone to move on and realize that men, too, can be victims of domestic abuse. Sometimes life can be so messed up, you have no choice but to smile, be happy that you and your loved ones are well and just enjoy another beautiful day in paradise.

I read your book and your version of what went down. However, the vast majority of people won’t read your book. All they know is that you were involved in a domestic violence incident. Is there any way for you to undo that perception about you?

The book manuscript was sent to a couple of thousand people — family members, friends and media. While it’s available on Amazon, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to aggressively market it. It’s a for-the-record narrative that corrects the preposterous lies and reckless investigative work. Once I return to the media, I assume more people will read it. I just want it out there to counter all the lies that were reported.

Perception? Only two people know what actually happened. One is a successful sports media personality with two successful, well-adjusted daughters; the other was broke, jobless, abusive and emotionally unbalanced. Shame on anyone else who pretends to know more than they do, which is nothing.

And who says no one is reading the book? The numbers were excellent initially, but when you change the pricing and update content on Amazon, the sales numbers start over. I wasn’t consciously monitoring sales, but one day, an alert popped up and said I’d cracked the top 30 among media authors, ahead of Dan Rather and Chuck Klosterman. My mother must have bought extra copies that day.

You wrote columns about athletes involved in domestic violence issues. Has your perspective changed? I’m coming at it from the angle of the rush to judgement and people not knowing both sides of the story, as you feel was the case in what happened to you.

Uh, remember Tiger Woods and the SUV? I wrote that night that we shouldn’t rush to judgment. Turns out I was too soft initially on his marital infidelities, which shows it’s wrong to categorize me as an impulsive hatchet man. I’ve criticized athletes for many transgressions, and most deserved it. But I sure will think twice — or maybe three or four times — before assuming guilt in the future.

Yes, after my first brush with the law in 50 years of life, I now have a keener understanding of how the truth can be manipulated for financial motives. I’ve met a few bad people in my life, many in the media or wanting a piece of my wealth as a media person. Away from the public eye, it has been nice to meet terrific people.

Could you write a column about domestic violence given what happened to you?

No one is better qualified. I know what it’s like to be physically abused. Remember Chuck Finley, the former major-league pitcher? People in sports laughed when he was abused by Tawny Kitaen, the actress. Well, guess what? It’s 2012. Men are abused, too, by women who know they can manipulate the system. Know how many times I wanted to call the police or a hotel front desk? I couldn’t because I worried about the fallout, even if the headline might say, “ESPN analyst accuses woman of domestic abuse.” Even that would have been frowned upon in Bristol. Such is the pressure.

How do you feel about ESPN?

I’ve been to Bristol twice this year. Starting with John Skipper, they’ve been very supportive. The network has a zero-tolerance behavorial policy because of its powerful brand name and recent issues with personnel, and I made the mistake of not getting out of a toxic relationship when I knew a person could hurt me professionally. I always had been extra-careful about my associations in the public eye, but I had a blind spot in this case. ESPN had every right to be disappointed in me, but our chats have been very positive.

I am concerned about the network and its ability, with so many business deals in place with sports leagues, to let its commentators have editorial freedom. That might be a bigger issue in my situation than you think. People such as Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf weren’t happy I was on a five-day-a-week TV show on the flagship, and if ESPN really did reject Stan Van Gundy because David Stern didn’t want him on the air, I’m frightened for the network’s future. Somehow, I lasted eight years there.

For now, I’d like Adam Schefter and Kirk Herbstreit to stop posing in front of those little football helmets in their home-office studios. They look like little kids. What will we see next, their Hot Wheels collections?

Much has happened in the last two years in our industry. What stands out for you?

A softening of commentary. Rather than writing the tough piece for the readers, too many writers are writing marshmallowy crap for each other. And those with the guts to speak their minds with conviction — Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith — are maligned for it. Please. When did the business become so mushy? Are people that scared for their jobs? On the sleazy side of the spectrum are these numbnuts who put $12,000 in a paper bag for alleged pictures of Brett Favre’s penis. I hope that blogger’s parents are proud of him, but I doubt it.

More distressing is the lack of investigative sports journalism. Other than the new USA Today initiative, documentaries and profiles on HBO, the New York Times and a few people at Yahoo, who is busting big stories?

You wonder why I’ve taken my time returning. It’s not as if sports media is a sacred cause. There are some good, genuine, honest people in the business. But there are more sellouts, creeps, liars, cowards and lazy asses.

Do you think you still have your fastball? After being out for two years, do you think you’ll be able to summon the same fire/passion for a topic.

Theo Epstein is a fraud.

Curt Schilling should be in jail.

Too many people are piling on Lance Armstrong and forgetting the great work he has done in the cancer fight, which still outweighs his shame as a juicer.

The Bulls are doing Derrick Rose an injustice by not surrounding him with better talent. Why do the Lakers have four major stars and the Bulls one? When did Chicago stop acting like a major market?

Without Michael Jordan, whom he inherited, Jerry Reinsdorf would be 1-for-62 as a sports owner. That percentage would make him a bum if he owned teams in his native New York.

Until the Bears beat a real good team, slow down on the Super Bowl jabber. I still don’t trust Cutler and Lovie in the biggest moments.

The Sun-Times will die in 2013. The Tribune will die in 2015.

Fastball up near 100.

Will you be working in 2013?

Yep, assuming I’m alive.


Q/A with Jeremy Schaap: On missing Olympics; goal for radio show; and long-form journalism at ESPN

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Aug. 7

Jeremy Schaap has one clause specifically written into his contract with ESPN: The network has to send him to the Olympics.

So why isn’t he in London? And why wasn’t he in Vancouver in 2010?

As fate would have it, his wife, Joclyn, gave birth to couple’s first child during the last Winter Olympics, and they welcomed a boy Monday morning.

As a result, Schaap had to stay home again and watch on tape delay on NBC like everyone else.

“I had to call and say, ‘Hey guys, you know that whole Olympic thing? Sorry about that,” Schaap said.

Schaap, though, has plenty to keep him busy. He is hosting his own radio show, The Sporting Life and is a correspondent for E:60, among his other endeavors.

The radio show finally is available on podcast. It’s terrific. It features excellent long-form stories and interviews that go way beyond the Tebow-Sanchez debate. The show is a nice refuge from the shrieking that dominates sports talk radio.

As was the case with his father, Dick, I’ve been a long-time admirer of Jeremy. His bio on ESPN’s site lists his many honors, which includes six Emmy awards. It makes journalists like me feel inadequate. Stop being so perfect, Jeremy.

When I started my sports media site, he was high on my wish list of interview subjects. I recently had lunch with him in New York.

Here is my Q/A:

Is it hard not to be at the Olympics?

Na. I relish it, but I’m pretty jaded about the Olympics in general. There’s still something about the Olympics. I grew up in a house where the Olympics were a big deal. My father did books on the Olympics.

In this day and age, they don’t have quite the same meaning that they had. During the Cold War, let’s face it, it was us against them. There was a drama that’s lacking today.

Some of the stuff the IOC does. The fact that they won’t honor the Israeli athletes. The thing that’s objectionable to me is that I suspect if it were any other country, they would do it. But because it’s Israel, they won’t do it.

The IOC ignores the Olympic charter. Not just the Arab world, but in most of the Muslim world, women aren’t allowed to compete. How can Saudi Arabia be in good standing with the IOC?

What is your objective with the radio show?

We’re trying to tell stories. Four segments and it ends with an essay from me. I do a lot of interviews with authors. The books that are being written are great stories. So much works goes into putting them together. I like the publishing industry. I’d like to help these guys sell a few books.

It’s also the only place where I have the opportunity to do those cultural interviews. People I’ve known for a long time who I want to have on. For instance, the Olympics. I’ve known Bob Beamon my whole life. So I have him on with (fellow Olympic great) Ralph Boston.

There are things that they make fun of me up in Bristol. There are things that are of interest to me that are of less interest to other people in the building. I always say you have to include (discus thrower) Al Oerter when you talk about clutch performers. They start laughing. I say, ‘Al Oerter won four consecutive golds and each time with the longest throw of his life. You can’t be more clutch than that.’

The radio show is Al Oerter for me. I get to talk about the stuff I want to talk about.

Is there a place for storytelling on radio?

There has to be a place for it. Look at the success of NPR. If we could come close to approximating what they do on those show, in terms of storytelling on radio, that’s great. The show gives us another platform to get some storytelling out there.

I think we’ve done good work. I’ve gotten a chance to do longer versions of the TV pieces I do. One I liked the best: I did a piece on the 20th anniversary of Douglas-Tyson. It was a long TV piece: 10-11 minutes. But we had so much good stuff we did a 20-minute version for radio.

What kind of feedback have you received?

The show has gotten a lot of awards. That’s a big deal in our business.

It’s niche programming for ESPN Radio. It’s certainly not a rating grabber. I know that. If they wanted ratings, they wouldn’t be putting this show on the air. Some of the affiliates probably air it between 3-5 in the morning.

Nobody does what we do on (sports talk radio). We’re different.

How do you feel about the podcast?

This is exactly the show that should be podcasted. It’s evergreen. You could listen to what we’ve done six months from now.

With all the work that goes into the pieces and all the storytelling we do, it’s nice to have an opportunity to push it into another platform.

Talk about your work on E:60. What do you have planned for the upcoming season?

We’re putting a lot of pieces together right now. There are a few I shouldn’t talk about because of the competition. I’m doing something on Rob Gronkowski. I’m doing something about a soccer team in Israel.

I like human rights related stories. That’s what I’m always looking for. Sports is the starting point, and it gives us this platform to do these kinds of stories.  We’re working on athletes and insurance. I think of health care as a human right. To me, that’s a human rights story.

The Arab spring is something that’s not often talked about on ESPN.  It gave us an opportunity to educate our audience about what’s going on in the Middle East through the story of a few soccer players in Bahrain who have been tortured by their government.

Does ESPN take full advantage of their resources to do the long-form stories? Should the network do more?

To me, that’s what I do. I understand, it’s not what drives the ratings, although we (E:60) hold our own. Our commitment to journalism is there. In the conversation about what’s on ESPN, the focus is going to be on the less edifying stuff. But I don’t think we’re there as a counterweight. I think there’s a sincere interest in doing this kind of journalism.

How do you feel about where you’re at during this stage of your career?

You do the work because you think it’s important and you hope that it resonates with people who watch. It’s a great platform. I don’t tell them this during negotiations, but I think I have the best job in the country.

Over the years, there have been opportunities to work full time in Bristol or to do the debate stuff. It’s not what interests me, and ultimately that’s not what they want me doing.

One baby arrived during Vancouver. The next during London. Should we put you down for baby No. 3 for Sochi in 2014?

No, that would be too fast. Perhaps, Rio for 2016.

Q/A with Andrea Kremer: Why NFL Network hired her to cover league’s most controversial issue: player safety

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Oct. 15

The biggest threat to the future of the NFL is the repercussions of increasingly bigger players banging into each other at increasingly higher speeds.

Not to be a doom and gloomer, but if something truly catastrophic happens during a game, it will cause the country to re-examine this thing called football.

So it’s big news that the league-owned NFL Network just hired Andrea Kremer to cover the one issue that threatens the entire sport.

Sunday, Kremer made her debut on the network as the new “health and safety” correspondent. She did a story (here’s the link) on Oakland receiver Darrius Heywood-Bey, who recently had to be carted off the field after a concussion. Heywood-Bay talked openly about what happened, and Kremer’s interview with a doctor at Cleveland Clinic showed with graphics what happened to Bey’s brain. Sobering stuff, to be sure.

Kremer is an important hire for the league and the network. It begs many questions about the motives and how much she will be allowed to do.

A long-time reporter for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Kremer is one of the best in the business as an investigative journalist. Given the subject, her reports on “health and safety” could make things uncomfortable for the NFL and football, in general. She said her domain will span the entire spectrum, including youth programs.

Kremer also is anxious to learn some of the answers. Several times she used the phrase, “cautiously optimistic” about her work with NFL Network during an interview with her last week.

How did it come about?

The NFL Network decided they wanted to launch this unit covering health and safety issues. When I first heard about it, my skepticism oozes out from every fiber of my being. What? Why?

I talked to Mark Quenzel, (senior VP of programming and production). He says to me, ‘Look, we feel we need to do more substantive stories. And the key issue is health and safety.’

They are hiring my credibility, my reputation. I didn’t build that–put it in parentheses over 30 years–to have it reduced to propaganda. That’s not the way it is going to be.

My role isn’t to take anyone down. My role is to present the issues out there. We are not bereft of ideas.

What were behind your initial reservations?

You don’t want to be a mouthpiece for the NFL. There are a lot of issues that exist. I view this as trying to enlighten the audience about these issues in a deeper way. It’s that simple. There is a lot of stuff out there about concussions. What can we show differently about it? There is a lot of concern and misinformation about concussions.

This is like a managing editor position. My job is to generate content. We walked into a brain-storming meeting with 12 very smart people in the room. I have this huge file in my hand. I go, ‘You guys have been thinking about this for about 10 days. I’ve been thinking about this for about 20 years.’

When you talked to Quenzel, what did you say to him? What kind of assurances did you get?

There are never assurances for anything. There’s always good faith, but it’s not as if I had anything written in my contract. I know what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with. It’s a fluid situation. We’re working on a case-by-case basis. I go back to what I said: ‘I didn’t spend my entire career building up my credentials to have it tossed out here.’

The best way to put it is that I’m cautiously optimistic. I have no reason to not think I won’t be able to bring a different level of programming and ideas to the network.

What kind of statement is NFL Network making by hiring you?

I give them a lot of credit. I know there are people there who said, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing by hiring her? Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into?’ That was respectfully, not negatively. They said, ‘Yes, we do. If we’re going to be credible, taken seriously, this is what we need to do.’

I sense the network is fully aware that this is a huge issue. They have not fully dealt with it. They need to deal with it from a journalism perspective, and they will. But it’s definitely a learning curve for them.

Former players have filed lawsuits against the NFL. Will you be able to report on stories on an NFL-owned network when the league is a defendant?

I haven’t been told (she can’t). Dealing with the lawsuit would be no different than how the NFL Network–or quote-unquote–TV partners with the league dealt with the CBA, handled the refs, or other issues. You had plenty of people at the NFL Network pining about how poorly the refs were. The commentators have been very honest with their assessment.

That’s part of what’s going on. If there’s a former player we wanted to profile who had a number of significant issues, in my mind, as long as we go to somebody at the league or with the players association, if we can find that person to tell their side of the story, then we’ve presented both sides. Our job is to provide the audience with enough information to reach their own conclusion.

Are you concerned that people will view your reports through the prism of the NFL Network? As a result, people might not feel you are totally objective.

I learned through the Twitter universe there’s nothing I can do to mold people’s opinion if they have some agenda.

I can say this: Not only have I been given any indication of censorship, I’m sure not being given any special treatment. I’m not going to get people just because I work for the NFL Network. I’ve been trying to work on a story, and I’ve put in requests and I’ve been rebuffed.

I know how I’m going to approach my job. I know my comfort level; I know what my obligations are, and that’s what I’m going to adhere to.

You’re a top reporter. If you found a story that blew the doors off this issue, are you confident you would be able to run it on NFL Network?

It’s so hypothetical. Here’s all I can say: I’m going to try.  I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to do something that’s impactful.


Q/A with John Clayton: His 24/7 study (obsession) of football; That’s what I do

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in. Happy Holidays to all.


Posted on Sept. 17

Here is what’s more amazing than John Clayton becoming a YouTube sensation (more than 2 million views) with his new ESPN SportCenter ad: The fact that he even took a day off to shoot the ad.

Clayton rarely takes days off. Maybe 10, 15 tops, all year, he says.

The truth is, a day off separates him for doing what he truly loves: Studying football.

Study, not cover, is exactly what he does for ESPN. Hence, his nickname, “The Professor.”

I always have been fascinated by Clayton. In Chicago, he does a weekly report on Wednesday at 4 p.m. on WMVP-AM 1000, the ESPN-owned sports talk station. I am continually astounded at his knowledge and his ability to name players buried deep on a team’s depth chart

How does Clayton do that?

I now know how after talking to Clayton late last week. His schedule is insane. For instance, after covering the Atlanta-Kansas City game during week 1, Clayton woke at 3 a.m. the next morning so he can begin watching replays of the other games prior to going to the airport.

Note: Our interview was interrupted twice because he had to takes call from NFL front office people. No doubt, calling him for information.

Here it is:

Who is the third string running back on the Bears?

They just made the change. Remember, they had Kahlil Bell, and they cut him. They made the adjustment with Armando Allen, who they brought up.

How do you keep track of all that? You’re talking about a guy who barely gets on the field. Do you have photographic memory?

Oh, well. Any free moment I have, I study it.That’s what I try to do. I’m even doing more things this year than I ever have before. I find it so essential to do.

I want to know everything I can about a roster. Everything.

I keep track of every contract in the league. I have every roster in the league. I make sure my rosters are updated every day.

I have these databases. One data base has every salary of every player, every age of every player, every height and weight of every player, every year of experience, every entry level.

What I do with the salaries I build a program, takes the salaries and add them up. I have the proration of their signing bonuses, and the money they are likely to earn. I mix that all together so I can put together a salary cap number of every team in the league.

Second data base: How they were built. I’ll have the name of the player; what year he came into the league and position he plays. I can keep track of whether the team is too old, how many new players they have.

I keep track of the inactives on Sunday…

Why do you need to know all this?

Because that’s what I do.

Not everybody does this.

OK, do I follow the salary of a player because I care about what he makes? No. A decision is made for that guy to make that salary. What does it mean that you have a back up who is making $2 million? Well, before the start of the season, they’re going to come to him and ask for a pay cut. You know going in, certain guys are going to go.

If you’re above the cap, you know Kyle Vanden Bosch is going to redo his contract to give (the Lions) cap room.

I also need to know who is the third receiver. When I talk about fantasy receivers, how do they use those guys? People want to know.

You live in Seattle. Nothing is close to you besides the Seahawks. Why do you feel you have to be at a game every Sunday as opposed to watching all of them on DirecTV?

To me, it’s the best way to get a feel for football and finding the changes and finding the trends. The game changes to a certain degree every 3 or 4 weeks. I’m at the game and I’m watching every game. I’ve got the iPad.

When you’re at the game, you get a full view of what’s going on and the immediacy of going down to the lockerroom and answering those questions. You don’t have the ability to ask those questions if you’re sitting at home.

I go to Atlanta-KC. I see what I see. Then I have the ability to go over to Matt Ryan and talk about what he’s doing with his offense; get a feel for the Chiefs.

I’d go to 32 training camps if they let me. When you’re watching practice, I’m pretty intense about following everything. You watching and saying, ‘this guy is in good shape, this guy has lost some speed…’ You’re putting that all in perspective and you have the immediacy of asking somebody.

Do you watch every game eventually?

Before I’d tape every game I could. Now thanks to NFL.com, they have the digital version of every game in 30 minutes. So literally in KC, I got up at 3 on Monday morning. I watched four games at the hotel. Went to the airport and watched three more. I had seven games done by the time I flew back home. When I got home, I watched the rest.

Does anyone do what you do?

The teams are. If teams are doing it, and if I can get in the heads of the teams, it might help me out a little bit.

You go, ‘All of the sudden. Wait a second. If the fourth round pick is ahead of the third round pick, then you start to realize maybe the third-round pick is being phased out.’

Do you have GMs hitting you up for information?


How do the players treat you? I imagine it is different than when you were covering the NFL as a newspaper reporter.

In 2000, ESPN did a Clayton Across America. I went to 31 teams in 28 days. The top players would be nice enough to come over to you, particularly on teams 23 and 24. They were following me. They would come over and say, ‘Hey John, I know you must be really tired. Do you need me for anything?’

I always do the Inside the Huddle notebook, because I’m trying to stay on top of trends. Once I started doing that segment, the top players on the teams were so cooperative. They would tell the little things they were doing differently. What trends they spotted.

If you’re a negative, ripping person, they’ll like you or hate you. I am what I am. I try to find the trends and do the most honest job I can. For whatever reason, that’s gone over well. Most of the top players are good to me when I see them or need them.

So what’s your daily routine?

I get up every day at 4,5,6. I try to go as long as I can before I get fatigued.

How much writing do you do?

Today, I did 3,500 words. Tomorrow, I’ll do about 1,400 words.

Do you ever see your wife?

Every Friday night is date night. As soon as I get done with my last segment, I take her out.

Do you ever take any days off?

Year round, maybe take 10-15 days off. It’s a seven-day-a-week job.

Do you feel if you did anything less, you’d be slacking off?

I would, yeah. What it all comes down to is that even though I’ve been doing this for a long period of time, I’m trying to always reinvent myself. I’m trying to get better. You can only get better when there’s so much new information out there.

You really love this, don’t you?

My only goal in life was to be an NFL beat writer for a team. Now instead of doing it for one team, I get to do it for 32 teams.

It’s phenomenal how much fun it can be. There’s so much information out there. I would like to do more with the numbers from a sabemetrics perspective. Sort of like what they do for baseball. Could I find a wins against replacement number for a QB, WR, Offensive tackle? I can see things visually, but I’d like to translate them into numbers.

It’s a fantastic job, and it’s only getting better.

Q/A with Tim McCarver: On being candid, his critics, and going into the Hall

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in.


Posted on July 9

Tim McCarver gave me my one and likely only mention during a national telecast of a World Series game. He credited me for a line in the Chicago Tribune during the 1987 Minnesota-St. Louis series on ABC.

I wrote that the teflon roof of the ugly Metrodome “looks like your grandmother’s old jello mold.”

“I remember that line,” said McCarver 25 years later when I reminded him of it.

Whether he did or not, it was quite a thrill for a young reporter to get some exposure on national TV.

Fortunately for McCarver, he has had much better material to work with through the years. It’s been quite a run for the former St. Louis and Philadelphia catcher, who decided to give broadcasting a try in 1980.

The pinnacle comes next week when McCarver will be honored in Cooperstown. He is the 2012 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award presented by The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for excellence in baseball broadcasting. McCarver only is the second primary television analyst to win the Frick Award, joining Tony Kubek, who received the honor in 2009.

The honor is long overdue. His numbers during a 32-year broadcast career are almost Gretzky-like. Tuesday, he will work his 21st All-Star Game. The next closest are Joe Buck and Curt Gowdy with 14. In October, he will be on the call for his 23rd World Series.

McCarver had a notable 16-year stint working games for the Mets. He has the distinction of being the only MLB analyst to have worked for all four major broadcast networks. Since 1996, he and Joe Buck have been a team at Fox.

Now 70, McCarver remains trim and enthusiastic about his job. Yet with one more year remaining on his contract, he knows he might have a decision to make about his broadcast future after the 2013 season.

I met with McCarver on a Friday morning while he was in town to call a Cubs-Boston game at Wrigley Field. Here’s the first part of our Q/A.

How do you feel about getting this award?

If somebody told me back in 1980 that I would have a 32-year career, and that I’d be receiving this honor, I’d say no way. For three years, I couldn’t even break into the Phillies broadcast booth. I was just hoping to make it, much less be mentioned as a Ford Frick winner. Believe me, when I started out, this award wasn’t even close to being on the radar.

How do you think you’ll feel being up on the stage in Cooperstown?

I’ve only been to Cooperstown once when Steve Carlton was inducted. I suppose it’s a very personal summation of your professional life. It makes me proud of what I’ve accomplished. That’s what makes this award so fulfilling.

How have you viewed your role as an analyst?

I had no training to be a broadcaster. My training came from being behind the plate. When you come to think about it, that’s a good way to be trained.

You see the choreography of the game from behind the plate. Without realizing it, you’re storing up all this information.

You’re looking at all the positions on the field. You see what the shortstop is doing. You see the second baseman cheating in for a doubleplay. So it all gives you an advantage.

Your timing was good. The baseball broadcast in the 80s evolved into putting more emphasis on analysis.

My job was different than the great voices of the game. My job was to explain the how and why. Whenever I’ve gotten into trouble, it’s because I’ve gotten away from explaining the how and why.

People watching on TV can see how something happened during a game. Fortunately, whether they realized it or not, they wanted to know the how and why it happened. I was in a position to explain the game as I saw it, and I saw it differently than a lot of people.

Early on, you had a reputation for being extremely candid, perhaps more so than what was the norm back then. How did players react to you?

Remember, I had played with a lot of the guys. One night, I did a Phillies game and Mike Schmidt hit a ball off the top of the wall. He always hustled, but he watched the ball and got a double. I said, ‘Schmidt should be on third base.’ Then I said, ‘Often, hitters are like artists. They step back and admire their work. They don’t run as hard. It’s understandable why he’s on second, but he really should be on third.’

Mike and I are close friends. The next day, he was acting cool towards me. Common sense says you should deal with it right away. I said, ‘Schmidty, is everything OK?’ He said, ‘No, it’s not. Don’t ever on the air say I didn’t hustle.’ That’s what his father told him I said.

I said, ‘I didn’t say that.’ I explained to him what I said and we were fine.

In New York, I guess I got this reputation (for being overly candid). Listen, I played with a lot of guys who were very direct and honest. Bob Gibson, Bill White, Curt Flood. They said what they felt. I learned it from them. I always approached playing the game in a candid way. I guess it carried over into broadcasting.

Some players may be upset with me from time to time, but overall, nobody can question my fairness. I have no regrets in the way I approached things back then and the way I approach things today.

You have your own critics. Some people say you talk too much and overanalyze.

Did I talk too much (when he first started)? Absolutely. I talked too much because of my enthusiasm for the game. That was applicable back in 1985, but then it followed me into the 90s. (By then), it wasn’t true. I learned. Of course, I did. You’re always trying to improve yourself. You’re talking about your business. You’re talking about the way you do your job.

How do you feel about the critics?

Whenever you hear the term human nature, it’s always for something negative. Nobody will ever say, ‘He’s a great guy, but that’s human nature.’ What is it about we humans that we tend to use that term negatively?

I try not to get caught up in it. I don’t read the blogs. I’ve got a job to do. I don’t pay attention to the negative stuff.

Do you remember your first game?

In 1980, my first year (as a broadcaster with the Phillies) I did an inning in spring training. I went to Richie Ashburn for some some advice. He said, ‘You know, the best advice I can give you is, ‘If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it.’

I said, ‘Is that all you have for me?’

Richie said, ‘Come to think of it, yeah.’

That’s how I got started in broadcasting.

How did you hook up with the Mets?

In ’82, the Mets called me. They wanted me to work with Ralph Kiner. I was interested, but my kids were in school and we didn’t want to move. The Mets called again after the ’82 season. By that time, (Phillies exec) Bill Giles said, ‘We’ll keep you, but we really don’t need you.’

I said, ‘I get it.’ It was time to make the move to New York.

You were with the Mets for 16 years. What was it like to work with Ralph Kiner?

Ralph and I clicked right away. Neither one of us had a lot of play-by-play experience. With our styles, it ended with me doing the bulk of the play-by-play.

The Mets teams were extraordinary. The Mets owned New York. The Yankees weren’t even on the radar until 1995. We had a lot of fun.

Ralph’s non-sequiturs were part of his charm. Gary Cohen always said, ‘He’s so comfortable in his own skin.’ That’s as accurately as you can put it.

He used to call me Jim McCarthy. One time, he said, ‘Now I turn over the play-by-play to my good friend, Ken MacArthur.’ The Mets were getting blown out that night.

I said, ‘Earlier in the evening, you referred to me as Ken MacArthur. ‘You must have been thinking of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. One of his lines was, ‘Chance favors a prepared man.’ The Mets obviously weren’t prepared tonight.’

Without missing a beat, Ralph said, ‘MacArthur also said, ‘I shall return, and so will we after this break.’ It was brilliant.

In 1985, you did your first World Series for ABC. What do you remember from that experience?

We worked the second game of the World Series in 1985. Al Michaels said to me, ‘Is it tougher to play in a World Series than announce in one?’

I said, ‘Are you kidding? Announcing is tougher. You can’t do anything about the outcome. When you’re playing, you can do something about the outcome.’

I felt it was tougher back then, and you know what, I still feel that way today.

You’ve said Michaels had a big influence on you. How so?

He taught me more about the business than any announcer I ever worked with.

I learned television from Al. I learned how to take my time, to take a step back. I learned appropriateness. If you listen to Al, his appropriateness with his remarks is incredible.

What was it like to work with Jack Buck?

He was the voice of a franchise for 48 years. Think about that. His presence was something else. Reggie Jackson used to say (Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard) was ‘The voice of God.’ Believe me, I’ve worked with a few voices of God in baseball, and Jack was one of them.

Then a few later, you work with his son Joe. How would you describe your relationship with him?

I knew from our first telecast Joe and I would hit it off. It’s amazing how close you become when you’re under the pressure of calling a World Series or an All-Star game. Joe found that out later.

When Kirby Puckett hit the homer (to win Game 6 of the 1991 World Series), Jack said, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow night.’ Then to be with his son 20 years later, and David Freese hits a homer in Game 6 and Joe said, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow night.”…To sit next to father and son (and hear those lines). You talk about serendipitous. Wow.

How much longer do you want to work?

I don’t have an answer to that. My contract runs through next year. I don’t know. Like anyone else, your health is paramount. I hope I’m clear enough to say, ‘I’ve had enough. This is it.’ I’m good at that. I’ll know.

You’ve been in baseball since breaking into the big leagues in 1959. After all these years, how do you view yourself: As a player or a broadcaster?

I severed that relationship (of being a player) a long time ago, the minute I entered the booth. I didn’t intentionally do it, but I did it. I realized it was a different job. I had to take on a different intensity.

I’ve been extremely lucky. I don’t take any of this for granted.

How much has the game changed?

It’s changed a bit. The players make a lot more money. But the player really hasn’t changed. He still wants to get a hit and win the game. It’s still the same.


Q/A with Frank Deford: Legendary sportswriter tackles toughest subject: Himself

Note: I’m going to be out for a couple of weeks. However, I’m leaving behind some gifts for the holidays: The best of my Q/As. I’ll feature a new one each day through Jan. 2. Please check in.

Today I start with my favorite: Frank Deford.


Posted on May 29

If somebody asks what’s the best part of doing this site thus far, I say that’s easy: Interviewing Frank Deford.

If there was a Mt. Rushmore for great sportswriters of the last 50 years, one of those faces would belong to Deford. While it would embarrass him to hear it (or maybe not), he remains a hero to people like us who grew up turning to the back of Sports Illustrated to see if Deford had a piece in that week’s issue.

I’m not going to wax poetic about Deford’s work in SI, NPR, HBO and elsewhere, because it wouldn’t do him justice. I know he would write it so much better.

Fortunately for us, Deford decided to wrap up his glorious career in a new book: Overtime: My Life as a Sportswriter.

It’s a terrific read. Deford chronicles his early days at Sports Illustrated in the 60s, when the magazine really hit its stride and changed the face of sports journalism, thanks in part to writers like himself. He writes about covering the biggest of the big; Wilt Chamberlain, Bobby Orr, Arthur Ashe, along with his fondness for obscure tales, such as spending time on the road with a roller derby team. He also weaves in a fascinating treatise on the evolution and current state of sportswriting.

Deford writes that legendary Sports Illustrated editor Andre Laguerre once gave him a piece of sage advice. He said: “Frankie, it doesn’t matter what you write about. All that matters is how well you write.”

Nobody did it better then, and at age 73, Deford shows he still has his fastball, along with several other pitches. He elegantly sums up our craft as only he could.

I asked the bartender if there is any drink named ‘Sports Journalist’? No, he says. So I have made it up: Cheap scotch and Gatorade. Slivorice for hard-nose-ness, sherry for sentimentality, and a dash of steak sauce.

I recently did a Q/A with Deford. It was one of the best hours I have enjoyed in a long time.

Did you ever think you’d write your memoirs?

People would say to me in the last 10 years or so, ‘Hey you ought to write a book.’ I’d say, ‘Nobody wants to read about a stupid sportswriter.’

My wife, Carol, we’re having a drink, and I said, ‘Can you believe it? They want me to (write a book).’ She said, ‘All the stories you tell all the time that I had to hear…Yeah, you’ve got book in you. People are interested in the people you’ve talk to.’ It’s not the Frank Deford story. It’s Wilt Chamberlain relating to me. Or Bobby Orr when he finds out that Larry Bird worships him.

What was it like writing about yourself?

The hard part was writing about me. I think I have a pretty good idea when I write a story through the years of what the reader is going to like. When it’s you, and you’re thinking, ‘That was interesting to me, but will it be interesting to everyone else’?

For a memoir to be any good, people have to relate to you the writer. I had this idyllic life (as a writer). I didn’t have to pull myself up from the bootstrap. I just sort of drifted along.

You didn’t have a conventional career as a sportswriter. You weren’t a press box kind of guy.

I wanted to write about the people more than the games. What I got to do was what I wanted to do. Not many people get to do that. I feel blessed in that regard. And I got to do it at a time when SI was the crème de la crème.

Obviously, dealing with athletes in the 1960s is much different than today. You often were inside their circle. What was that like?

You’ve got to understand that’s the way it was when I got into it. I just assumed that’s the way it was going to be. You’d hang out these guys. They’d bum drinks off you, cigarettes off you. I chased girls with them. I was their age. Remember that too. I was just another guy.

I had an expense account. ‘Hey, let’s let Frank buy a couple of rounds for us.’ I did make a point in the book that I got in with the athletes not because I was Frank Deford. It was because I was Frank Deford from Sports Illustrated. I got more access than someone from the Bloomington Herald. I would get through to people. They would call me back.

You dedicated an entire chapter to Arthur Ashe. What kind of impact did he have on your life?

He was an incredible guy. The first thing I say about him, hey, he had a tremendous sense of humor. Everything thinks he was a serious person, which he was and because he died so tragically. But he was great company. He was fun to be with. Great laughs. I traveled all over the world with this guy. It was important for me to say that. I wasn’t just writing about this serious historical figure. When I was with Arthur, it was two guys hanging out. He happened to be a tennis player, and I happened to be a writer.

Tennis also turned into a favorite sport to cover. Why?

Tennis players were great. Now, they’re all surrounded by entourages. But then, they were delighted to see any press at all.

Tennis was the best thing I fell into. Everyone said, la-de-da, tennis anyone? Oh crap. But it was fabulous people, great places to go in the world. All of sudden, it became very popular. The world moved underneath my feet because of Connors, McEnroe, Billie Jean King. Billie Jean is like Arthur. She is this iconic figure. Back then, she was just this chubby little kid. It was like being with George Washington at Valley Forge in sporting terms. Who knew?

In the book, you write that your favorite stories were on off-beat subjects, such as roller derby. Why?

I always liked Americana, for lack of a better word. That embraces a lot. It was interesting. None of that stuff is left because it’s on TV. Even it’s an obscure sport, it’s still on TV. You can’t introduce it to the world. All the goofy stuff going on. Only people still out there are the Globetrotters. They still barnstorm.

There were only three channels back then. When I could write a story about the roller derby, it was like writing about aliens. Most people had no idea what this was. I wrote about a guy who carried a whale around. I loved that. Selfishly, it was me getting to see America and to meet people who were very different than me.

I loved obscure coaches. I remember doing a story on a guy at Idaho State. Nobody would want you to do that today. They’d say, no, you do that on Bill Self. So the characters that were out there..Nobody making any money, and a lot of them coming from nowhere. All of sudden, this guy parachutes in from Sports Illustrated. The funny thing is, they looked at me the same way I was looking at them. They were a laboratory specimen for me, but I was a laboratory specimen for them too. They were checking me out. This guy is going to write about us? In a national magazine? They always were so disappointed when I’d show up because I was so young.

While writing about yourself, you also weave in your view on the evolution of sportswriting. It includes a spirited defense of the craft. You don’t think sportswriters get enough credit.

This is important. When (it was mentioned) to do something about sportswriting, it gave me a chance to defend sportswriting. I didn’t want it to be a polemic. C’mon the Pulitzer Prize. If Jim Murray had been writing politics, he would have gotten it 10 years before. I do get ticked off when people put down sportswriters.

I came in at a time when guys still were fighting (the emergence of) TV. I’ve seen a tremendous part of that.

Dan Jenkins was a storyteller. Even though he was writing deadline pieces, they were storytelling pieces. You go to the other side. Mark Kram. He was writing almost poetry, lyric poetry about these Greek gods. And I’m somewhere in the middle.

What’s your view on the current state of sportswriting?

Unfortunately, we’ve gotten swamped by the numbers. People have gotten buried under the numbers. Statistics. That has become everything. Pitch count is more interesting than what the guy is made of. I think that’s a shame because so much of sports is drama.

There are wonderful personalities. These guys are entertainers, and a large percentage are show-offs in one way or another. They do give of themselves. They’re young and they say stupid things.

However, I don’t think there are nearly as many characters  because kids grow up seeing how you’re supposed to behave if you become a star. They learn to talk in clichés. I don’t think they give of themselves as much as they used to.

It’s partly we’re not looking for the stories of people, and the other part is, the people are a little more reluctant to reveal themselves. They’re surrounded by professionals. I can’t remember the first time I ever had to go through I had go through an agent, but I remember it was shocking. Mostly, you’d just walk up and say, “Hey, I’d like to do a story on you.’ Guy would say, ‘Yeah sure. Want to have dinner tonight?”

Did you find yourself being careful about saying, ‘It was better back then…”?

I remember when I broke in, the old guys were saying that. I said to myself, “If I ever get to be an old sportswriter, God forbid me from doing that.”

It’s always the case that the people playing and people covering it think that when they broke in that was the best time. I think it is simple enough to say it was the best time for me. I’ll stick to that.

I do think this, though, in so far as what I could write and the access I had, because TV did not dominate it, it was the best time for a writer.

This is such a personal book. This is your life as opposed to somebody’s else life. How do you feel about the reviews?

I don’t think there’s any question that if I read a review and somebody thinks I’m an asshole, I’m not going to like it. If somebody says, “Deford comes off as a blowhard, and he’s not very interesting…” We all want to be loved. It’s not like I’m a politician trying to support a point of view. It’s not an advocacy book. It’s a book of remembrances.

Yeah, I want to be loved. I want people to like me in the parts where I hope I was self-deprecating enough. There were times when I had to show off, because it worked. I couldn’t have false modesty. I tried to walk a line between making fun of myself and saying, ‘Yeah I can write a little bit.’

And one last point.

I was a natural writer, but that doesn’t mean I was better than other people. Simply being natural means you were born with a gift, you still have to play it to its fullest. I hope I did that.

Mission accomplished, Frank.