No Magic interview, no problem: Pearlman’s ‘Showtime’ shows access isn’t essential to telling complete story

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center is on Jeff Pearlman and his approach to writing his new book on the ’80s Lakers, Showtime.


Today’s journalism lesson comes from Jeff Pearlman.

Subject: How to write a 482-page book without ever getting access to the three main characters in the story.

Pearlman’s latest, “Showtime,” is a detailed and entertaining account of the great Lakers teams during the ‘80s. He chronicles the wild ride as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the crew piled up victories on the court and in the bedroom. The Lakers were at the center of ‘80s flash and excess.

Pearlman conducted nearly 300 interviews for the book, but he never was able to land a one-on-one with Johnson and coach Pat Riley. He also didn’t have a sit-down with

Abdul-Jabbar, although he was able to ask some questions of him through a third party.

Writing a book without gaining access to the main sources happens all the time. However, Pearlman’s process in getting around that obstacle is illuminating. If anything, he says, it almost played to his advantage that the stars and coach didn’t talk.

Here is my Q/A with Pearlman:

What is your approach?

Pearlman: I’ve probably read 700 sports books beginning when I was a kid. I just think what separates the good ones from the great ones ‑‑ I’m not saying I’m great– but as a reader what separates the good ones from the great one, is the details. You flip through some books where it’s just obvious after obvious after obvious. The first thing I do when I read books now is I go to the acknowledgment section. Whenever I see an author’s list of people he talked to and it’s less than 200 people, I usually think, ‘Oh, I have that beat.’ I just think you have to call everyone, absolutely everyone. I’m not going to get everyone to talk, but I did try.

Does Earl Jones fall in that category? You devoted several amusing pages to this terrible No. 1 pick who played only two games for the Lakers.

Pearlman: Earl Jones was my gold medal for this book. He went to University of District of Columbia, and the media relations guy had no idea where he was; none of his teammates knew where he was. Eventually someone tipped me off and I found him in West Virginia. I think he was unemployed. When I got him on the cell, I said, ‘Are you Earl Jones? He said, ‘Yeah.’ I went, ‘My God, I’m so happy to be talking to you.’ I’m sure he thought he was talking to the craziest guy in the world. But to me, it’s this euphoria. I love tracking people down and finding them. Funny, when I started my career, I was the worst reporter. I didn’t even care about reporting, and now it’s my favorite part of the whole gig.

Why wouldn’t Johnson and Riley talk to you?

Pearlman: According to Magic’s guy, he and Riley are doing a book together.

What was the situation with Abdul-Jabbar?

Pearlman: I got Kareem in a very weird way. Kareem has a publicist who is very difficult, and I didn’t get him. Then I have a friend who’s an editor of Slam magazine, and Slam was actually doing a sit‑down with Kareem. My friend said, ‘Give me the questions you want me to ask Kareem and I’ll ask him for you.’ I was able to get my questions asked, but I was unable to get him one-on-one.

Were you concerned about going forward with a book without talking to these key characters?

Pearlman: The thing is I have to say: Magic has written four books. Kareem wrote two books. Riley has written multiple books. They weren’t under any obligation to talk to me. You would prefer to speak to these people, but I would take (Lakers reserve guard) Wes Matthews two hours in a diner over Magic Johnson two hours in a diner. I feel like the stories are fresh and they haven’t been told.

Everyone told me I had to talk to Wanda Cooper (Michael Cooper’s ex-wife). She was incredibly blunt and candid.

Is it about context? Do the other people give you that insight that maybe the big stars wouldn’t give you?

Pearlman: Yeah. It kind of showed itself (in “Sweetness,” his biography on Walter Payton). I called every draftee the Chicago Bears had from Walter Payton’s lifetime and was able to get these great stories. I kept thinking if Walter Payton were alive, he probably wouldn’t remember the free agent running back from nowhere now, right? But the free agent running back is going to remember his interaction with Walter Payton. It’s the same thing with the Lakers. I talked to so many guys who never even made the team; they just were there as free agents, and they all had memories of things that happened, the interactions, the way guys interacted with each other. To me, it’s like the secret weapon of writing books.

Your portrait of Abdul-Jabbar was hardly flattering. What were your impressions of him?

Pearlman: Enigmatic I think is the best word and kind of tortured. I’ve said this a million times. He and Magic basically had the same basketball career. They were both winners on multiple levels, and superstars and iconic figures. One guy owns the Los Angeles Dodgers, coached the Lakers, held a position in the front office of the Lakers, has been an announcer, had his own talk show, and the other guy can’t get a coaching job in the NBA. To me it comes down to one real thing, which is how you treat people, and Kareem treated people badly all the time. He just was not a nice guy to the fans, to the press. He was very dismissive, very callous. I think it’s a very good lesson, I really do. When you treat people that way repeatedly, it catches up with you and people lose interest.

The other star of the book is the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss. He almost had a James Bond-like aura. The women wanted to be with him and the men want to be like him.

Pearlman: James Bond is a great comparison. He’s just this cool guy, whatever the image of cool is, smoking a cigarette and drinking his brandy in the Forum Club. Two Playboy caliber women by his side, owning the Lakers, filthy rich. People always said, ‘What’s he doing with women half his age?’ But the more I learned about him, he was really compassionate and really decent and really elegant. He had something really suave about him, clearly. I don’t know any guy that doesn’t want a little Jerry Buss in him.

What was the legacy of those Lakers teams?

Pearlman: There’s one thing I keep saying, and I wonder if it sounds weird or not, but I really think Magic ultimately was more important than Bird. (When Johnson was a rookie in 1979), the NBA back then was finals on tape delay, had a reputation of being in quotes, ‘too black.’ Here comes this guy, and he’s engaging and he’s smart and he’s funny and he’s handsome and he’ll hug anyone and he has a huge smile and he’s a brilliant basketball player. He’s like an artist. To me the importance of that, like I would say him and Sugar Ray Leonard were the guys in the early ’80s, black athletes who made their sports accessible to the white sports fan in Kansas who was saying, ‘This league is too black for me.’ I just think Magic’s impact, almost like because of the whole Magic‑Bird, Bird‑Magic thing, it’s a little under-rated how important he was as a figure in the development of the NBA.

As a writer, you’re already thinking of your next book. Do you have one in mind?

Pearlman: Yeah, I’m not allowed to say because I haven’t signed the contract yet. But I’ve already started.

What attracts you to writing books?

Pearlman: My first book came out in 2004 and I’ve written six books. It’s kind of a ridiculous pace. That’s a pretty hard case for writing books. If you want to do this stuff, you have to be prolific. I just love it. I love you sign a book deal, and they leave you alone for two years, and you just report and write. It’s my favorite job I’ve ever had.

Neat discovery: Finding an eyewitness to Babe Ruth’s Called Shot in my neighborhood; John Kass column on my book

While doing research for my new book, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run, I obviously wanted to talk to eyewitnesses who attended Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field.

Unfortunately, the great moment occurred more than 80 years ago, limiting my ability to get first-hand testimony on whether the Babe really pointed. Fortunately, I did talk to two people who were at the game: Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Lincoln Landis, the nephew of baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered there is a Called Shot eyewitness living only a few blocks from me.

Wednesday, Jamie Bradley of the Highland Park Landmark did a nice story about me and the book. That prompted a call from Marv Freeman.

“You don’t know me,” Marv said. “But I just read the story and wanted to let you know I was at the game.”

I was floored, especially when he told me where he lived. I definitely would have included him in the book. Since it is too late for that now, I’ll do it here.

Marv is 89 and still practices law. He was just short of his eighth birthday when his father took him to the big game.

“We had box seats between first and home plate,” Marv said. “My father pointed that Franklin Roosevelt (running as the Democratic candidate for president) and (Chicago mayor) Anton Cermak were sitting about 10 rows in front of us.

“When Ruth came to bat in the fifth, the crowd started to roar and taunt him. The players on the Cubs bench were also yelling. Since we were sitting on the first base side, his back was turned to us. What he did, I don’t know for sure.

“When he hit the homer, my father knew right away that it was a big deal. Back then, you could walk on to the field after the game. There was no outfield wall. It was just an open paved area with a wire fence.

“We wanted to go to see where he hit the ball (it traveled an estimated 490 feet, the longest homer in Wrigley Field at that point). The ball landed near a flag pole. When we got out there, I still remember an usher saying, ‘That’s where the ball landed.'”

Like Stevens and Landis, Marv was very proud to have been a witness to baseball history. He was very interested in my book and asked where he could get a copy.

I told him I would personally drop off a book. It’s the least I could do for someone who saw the Called Shot.


Also want to thank Chicago Tribune page 2 columnist John Kass for the tremendous write-up on the book Thursday. Appreciate him looking out for a fellow White Sox fan.

Kass writes:

One of the great things about baseball in America is that while the games are played in the present, baseball also lives on in the past. And part of that past involves what I’ve come to understand is the Church of Baseball, that sentimental yearning for a certain type of myth.

That American yearning turns “The Natural,” Bernard Malamud’s novel of dark gluttony and guilt, into a happy ending of a movie with Robert Redford. It’s what prompts Hollywood to offer that soliloquy by James Earl Jones in the movie “Field of Dreams,” with Jones in his Darth Vader baritone waxing on about how the game remains constant, even as America tears itself down and rebuilds again and again.

So I was pleased to see that the introduction of Sherman’s book understands that yearning and begins with a quote, not from a baseball man but from a fictitious newspaper editor in the classic Western film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

After he learns the real story, Maxwell Scott, the newspaper editor, gives instructions to a young reporter:

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Did Ruth call the shot? Did the writers provide the myth to feed an America hungry for such stuff?

I guess you’ll have to read about it yourself.







Author Q/A: Book on Merion carries weight of history of iconic club

Augusta National is front and center this week, but a book about another iconic club also is receiving attention.

Jeff Silverman won the Herbert Warren Wind Award from the United States Golf Association for the best golf book, Merion: The Championship Story.

Silverman chronicles the vast history of the Philadelphia club that has been a vital part of American golf. This is the place where Bob Jones completed his grand slam in 1930 and Ben Hogan won his famous U.S. Open in 1950. Last year, Justin Rose won the Open at Merion, as the USGA went back to the course after a long layoff.

There’s much more in Silverman’s coffee-table style book that is 500 pages and weighs six pounds. Here is my Q/A:

Six pounds? Did you have any discussions about charging by the pound, not the page?

Boy, in hindsight I wish I had. I could have retired to a comfortable life of writing and golf.

How did this book come about?

Not long after the announcement of the Open coming to Merion, Philadelphia magazine asked me to write a piece about the marvelous improbability of harmonic convergences that led to golf’s circus coming to town again. One thing led to the next, and six pounds later…

For those who don’t know, why is Merion so important in golf history?

The simple answer is that no club’s hosted more national championships, and so much of what happened in them was swept up by a certain magic and wedged into golfing lore. Merion is where Bobby Jones made his national debut – at the 1916 Amateur. It was where he won the first of his five U.S. Amateurs – in 1924. Merion is where he closed out The Grand Slam in 1930. Twenty years later, Merion is where Ben Hogan came back from the dead to win the U.S. Open in what remains for me the greatest golf story of them all. And, 21 years after that, you’ve got Trevino and Nicklaus going head to head in a tale so built on sub-text that it would stand apart even if Trevino hadn’t brought a snake to the proceedings.

The Hogan picture might be the most famous in golf history. Why was it so captivating and what really happened on that hole?

Two separate strands come together to make the photograph so arresting. The first is the sheer beauty of the composition: the lone warrior beneath the white cap in perfect balance on fragile legs with his destination framed and receding in the background. The second is the import of the moment that photographer Hy Peskin froze: the Open was on the line and every heart was beating for Hogan. Hogan had already squandered his lead – on those legs, playing 36 holes in one day less than a year and a half after his crash, nothing was a gimme, even for him — and he had to fight for a par on a very difficult hole for a piece of the playoff Together, those strands unite in an image that embodies grace under pressure.

Had Mickelson planned and played his 72nd hole as intelligently as Hogan did his, Phil might have forced a playoff, too. Hogan admittedly dialed back his drive because finding the fairway was paramount. What had never been known before my research led me to it was that Hogan had practiced two distinctly different shots just for this moment depending on whether he was in contention and whether he needed a par or a birdie. So, when he pulled his 1-iron, he was as mentally prepared as he could be. His approach left him some 40 feet from the flagstick. He managed to get down in a nail-biting two.

For me, one of the most fun stories in the book brings this shot into a different focus: I found and interviewed the kid – he’s now in his late ‘70s – whose shoulder served as Peskin’s tripod for the shot. The kid turned into a top amateur golfer and could recall the moment with the same kind of crisp detail as photo itself.

In doing two years of research, what was the biggest surprise and/or your favorite discovery?

The biggest surprise was seeing that as far back as 1934, the pros were predicting a walk in the park over the East Course. But Merion’s length turned out to be every bit as deceiving as its greens – and clearly always has been; Olin Dutra’s winning score that year was 13 over par and only one card was returned under par over the course of the championship.

As for discoveries, there were two. The first was coming upon the long-lost story of Bobby Jones in the immediate aftermath of his victory in 1930 to complete the slam. The pressures on him had been so great that had he been less of a gentleman, they’d still be cleaning up the carnage in Merion’s upstairs locker room.

The other was attaching the correct ID to Hogan’s caddie in 1950 – and then being able to link him back to the all-important pairing of Dutra and Lawson Little in 1934. A local family presented itself to Merion a few years before the 2013 Open with the contention that their father caddied for Hogan, but their proof was at best circumstantial and I wasn’t convinced; a search of old photos and newspaper clips solved the mystery.

If you had to rank, what is the most important tournament ever played at Merion?

The 1930 U.S. Amateur. The idea of the Grand Slam was so audacious; at the time, only a handful knew that this was something Jones had consciously set his mind to. The sheer impracticality of it captured the imaginations of golfers and non-golfers alike on both sides of the Pond and created a frenzy that far transcended the game.

Will there be another U.S. Open at Merion?

If I were a betting man, I’d book it. Do you have Ladbroke’s private line?

How does it feel to win an award named after Herbert Warren Wind?

I was stunned. The award is such a singular honor, even more so because of the giant of our craft that it’s named after. Honestly, the only thing I’ve ever had in common with Herb Wind was that he shouldered sheepskins from Yale and Cambridge and I dropped out of graduate programs at both.




Book excerpt: Did Babe Ruth waffle about Called Shot? Slugger wasn’t as definitive as family

Note: Taking off for a few days over spring break. Will return next Monday just in time for that “tradition unlike any other,” The Masters.

While I’m out, I hope you will take a look at an excerpt from my book, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery Behind Baseball’s Greatest Home Run. I examine at all the angles of that famous clout, including what Ruth said. His comments added to the intrigue.


“Well, the good Lord and good luck must have been with me because I did exactly what I said I was going to do.”

—Babe Ruth

Nearly a century has passed since a young kid named George Ruth played his first professional game for the Baltimore Orioles, but the woman on the other end of the line is referring to him as “Daddy.” The notion is almost mind-­boggling. It doesn’t seem possible that Ruth’s daughter could still be alive in 2013, but thanks to longevity Julia Ruth Stevens, 96 years young on the day we spoke, is sharing memories of her father one more time.

I tell her what a thrill it is to be speaking to her.

“It’s a thrill to me that I’m still here,” she said, not missing a beat. “It’s a thrill to me every time I wake up in the morning.”

Charlie Root’s family thought the Called Shot a myth, but Ruth’s family has no such disbelief. While Ruth’s own comments about what happened that day ranged all over the map, there’s no doubt about it in the eyes of his daughter, grandchildren, and great-­grandchildren. He definitely called his shot.

After he married his second wife, Claire, in 1929, Ruth formally adopted Claire’s daughter, Julia, who has spent a good portion of her life talking about “Daddy” and his many deeds on the baseball field. Ruth and Julia had a warm, close relationship, and you still can hear the affection in her voice for a man who died in 1948.

“People always say, ‘It’s such an honor to meet you,’” Julia said. “I know they’re saying that because I’m Babe Ruth’s daughter and that’s the closest they’ll ever get to Daddy. I just enjoy meeting people, and a lot of them have stories about Daddy. I love to hear them.”

Not many people are still alive who can recall witnessing her father hit home runs.

“It was always a thrill,” she said. “I didn’t go to all of the games, but I went to a lot with my mother. I wanted him to hit a home run every time. Everyone would start cheering when he came up. If he hit a home run, it was beautiful to see. He’d trot around the bases. Then when he got to home plate, he’d lift his cap to the crowd.

“I used to say, ‘Hit the apple in the eye, you’ll see how high it will fly.’”

Julia wasn’t in Wrigley Field to see her father hit his massive homer during the fifth inning of Game Three. But she has seen footage and read countless stories about that memorable day. More importantly, she heard direct testimony from key witnesses at the game, including her mother and Cardinal Francis Spellman, the longtime archbishop of New York.

“Daddy certainly did point,” Julia said. “He always seemed to rise to the occasion. He just wanted to beat the Cubs. If he had missed, he’d have been very, very disappointed, I can tell you. Cardinal Spellman just happened to be at the game. He said there’s no question that he pointed. I’ll take his word and my mother’s.”

Ruth’s grandchildren and great-­grandchildren second Julia’s opinion. Brent Stevens, Julia’s grandson, celebrates his great-­grandfather’s life with, and Stevens doesn’t waver when it comes to the Called Shot.

“The family’s perspective is that he pointed to the outfield before that momentous pitch,” said Stevens. “Whether he pointed to the exact location, as suggested by some of the media, is more questionable. However, he definitely indicated that he was going to hit a home run prior to that shot in Game Three of the ’32 World Series.”

Linda Ruth Tosetti also staunchly preserves her grandfather’s legend. Her mother, Dorothy, was Ruth’s natural daughter from a relationship he had with a woman whom he never married. Tosetti calls herself a “blood granddaughter” and proudly boasts of her resemblance to her forebear. Tosetti has her own website through which she savors the family connection,

Tosetti first heard of the Called Shot when as an eighth-­grader she accompanied her mother on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “This player came up to us,” she said. “I can’t remember his name, but he was very loud about it. He said, ‘Dorothy, don’t let anyone say he didn’t point. I was there, and I saw it. He pointed.’ Later, I asked my mother, ‘What’s the Called Shot?’”

Tosetti soon learned more about the legend. Like her relatives, she maintains that it is true. “Yeah, I think he was bold enough to point,” she said. “My grandfather was very confident in what he could do. Could he have done it? Most definitely.”

But what about the man himself? What did Ruth have to say about the homer?

Surprisingly Ruth wasn’t always as emphatic as his family about whether he pointed that day at Wrigley Field. Tom Meany, a sportswriter who knew Ruth well, noted Ruth’s inconsistencies when telling the story. In his 1947 biography on Ruth, Meany writes that “Ruth had changed his version several times . . . and had grown confused, uncertain whether he had picked out a spot in the bleachers to park the ball, or was merely pointing to the outfield, or was signaling that he still had one swing to go.”

If ever an episode deserved immediate reaction and commentary from the participants—from Ruth and Root to the jeering Cubs in the dugout—it was the Called Shot. However, it didn’t work that way back in 1932. Sportswriters wrote what they saw on the field. Sports journalism didn’t include working the locker room for quotes from the players and managers. As a result, dispatches went off to newspapers throughout the country following Game Three that featured flowery prose—but nary a quote about the showdown in the fifth inning.

Meany came closest to getting some sort of immediate reaction from Ruth. Writing for the New York World-­Telegram, he told of visiting Ruth’s apartment after the team returned to New York City on October 3. Meany asked him about the Called Shot:

Babe’s interviewer interrupted to point out the hole in which Babe put himself Saturday when he pointed out the spot he intended hitting his home run and asked the Great Man if he realized how ridiculous he would have appeared if he had struck out?

“I never thought of it,” said the Great Man. He simply had made up his mind to hit a home run and he did. You just can’t get around a guy like that.

Ruth’s family insists that he was just being modest. Julia said she never recalled her father talking to her about the Called Shot. “It’s not something he would do,” Julia said. “He was very modest. He felt he was lucky to be in the position he was in. He always tried his best and wanted to be good for all the kids.”

Tosetti offered a similar version: “He wasn’t one to boast about himself. That’s why his teammates loved him. Even though he was Babe Ruth, he never pushed that.”

But one quote in particular buoys the naysayers in this debate. It comes from an interview that Ruth did with Hal Totten early in the 1933 season. Totten, a Chicago broadcast pioneer who had been at the game, asked Ruth that next year if he had pointed to center field. Ruth replied:

Hell no. It isn’t a fact. Only a damned fool would have done a thing like that. You know there was a lot of pretty rough ribbing going on both benches during the World Series. When I swung and missed that first one, those Cubs really gave me a blast. So I grinned at them and held out one finger and told ’em it only takes one to do it.

Then there was that second strike, and they let me have it again. So I held up that finger again, and I said I still had one left. Now kid, you know damn well I wasn’t pointing anywhere. If I had done that, Root would have stuck the ball in my ear. I never knew anybody who could tell you ahead of time where he was going to hit a baseball. When I get to be that kind of fool, they’ll put me in the booby hatch.

Well, there we have it—solid proof. Babe Ruth said he didn’t do it. If he had pointed, Root would have beaned him. The Cubs pitcher is off the hook and doesn’t have to endure an afterlife of questions about being the sap who gave up the famous homer.

It should have been that way, but it wasn’t. If Ruth had made those comments today, the Internet would have exploded with the admission. End of story. But back then, Ruth’s comments to Totten likely reached a limited section of people in Chicago. As a result, his revelation had a short shelf life.

Whatever the reason, Ruth’s admission to Totten didn’t become his definitive take on the subject. Far from it, in fact. The story of the Called Shot continued to circulate, and at some point Ruth jumped on the train. The theories are obvious: Why deny something you really did, or, if the public wants to believe in a grandiose gesture, why not let them?

“I think it got to the point where he was asked about it so many times,” Tosetti said. “When they said, ‘Hey, Babe, did you really point?’ I could see him laughing it off and saying, ‘Yeah, sure.’”

In 1948, shortly before the Bambino’s death, E. P. Dutton published The Babe Ruth Story, cowritten with Bob Considine. It’s hard to say how much Ruth was able to participate in the writing of the autobiography. According to Tosetti, the advancing stages of cancer made it difficult for him to talk in his final months. He might have nodded to indicate if he approved of how something was worded—if even that much.

Still, a line appears under his signature on the book’s cover that reads, “My only authorized story.” The book also features this dedication: “This book, the only authentic story of my life, is sincerely dedicated to the kids of America.” The story is told in the first person, and the stories align with his career.

Ruth doesn’t address the Called Shot until chapter 17. Tellingly, while his famous home run is all anyone talks about from that World Series, he opens by giving credit to Lou Gehrig for the sweep. Ruth might have been the only person who noticed. He wrote, “Lou was the solid man of the 1932 Series.”

Ruth and Considine get their facts wrong when they finally get into the Called Shot itself. His account has Ruth coming up in the fourth inning—but he came up in the fifth. It puts Earle Combs on base—but nobody was on. And of course, as in many retellings of the story, Ruth had the count at 0–2 instead of 2–2.

Ruth starts his account by recalling the abuse he was receiving from the Cubs dugout:

My ears had been blistered so much before in my baseball career that I thought they had lost all feeling. But the blast that was turned on me by Cubs players and some of the fans penetrated and cut deep. Some of the fans started throwing vegetables and fruit at me.

I stepped back out of the box, then stepped in. And while Root was getting ready to throw his first pitch, I pointed to the bleachers which rose out of deep centerfield.

Before the umpire could call it a strike, I raised my right hand, stuck out one finger and yelled “Strike one.”

The razzing stepped up a notch. Root got set and threw again—another hard one through the middle. And once again, I stepped back and held up my right hand and bawled, “Strike two!” It was.

You should have heard those fans then. As for the Cubs players, they came out on to the steps of their dugout and really let me have it. I guess the smart thing for Charlie to have done on his third pitch would have been to waste one.

But he didn’t, and for that I’ve sometimes thanked God. While he was making up his mind to pitch to me, I stepped back again and pointed my finger at those bleachers, which only caused the mob to howl that much more at me.

Root threw me a fastball. If I had let it go, it would have been called a strike. But this was it. I swung from the ground with everything that I had and as I hit the ball every muscle in my system, every sense I had, told me that I had never hit a better one, that as long as I lived nothing would ever feel as good as this.

I didn’t have to look. But I did. That ball just went on and on and on and hit far up in the centerfield bleacher in exactly the spot I had pointed to.

To me, it was the funniest, proudest moment that I had in baseball. I jogged down toward first base, rounded it, looked back at the Cub bench and suddenly got convulsed with laughter.

You should have seen those Cubs. As Combs would say later: “There they were—all out on the top step and yelling their brains out—and then you connected and they watched it and then fell back as if they were being machine-­gunned.”

That home run—the most famous one I ever hit—did us some good. It was worth two runs, and we won that ball game, 7 to 5.

Actually, it was worth only one run, making the score 5–4. It’s surprising that Ruth and his co-writer didn’t have the facts right in his own book. Then again, Ruth could barely remember anyone’s name.

Perhaps Ruth’s most interesting and famous comment on the Called Shot came during a conversation with Ford Frick, his ghostwriter who eventually became baseball’s commissioner. Several years after the game, Frick tried to get a clear answer out of Ruth. “Did you really point to the bleachers?” he asked.

Doubtless tired of answering yet another inquiry or maybe not wanting to lie to his friend, Ruth replied, “It’s in the papers, isn’t it? Why don’t you read the papers? It’s all right there in the papers.”


Reprinted with permission from Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run, by Ed Sherman. Published by Lyons Press (c) 2014.


Reviews, write-ups about my Babe Ruth Called Shot book: ‘Home run will live in baseball history forever’

Many thanks to the folks for the mentions about my book, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery about Baseball’s Great Home Run.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel included Called Shot among its top 9 baseball books for the new season. Writes Chris Foran:

In the third game of the 1932 World Series between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root and, after making a gesture or two, hit a home run to center field. Whether Ruth “called” his home run has been debated for the 82 years since — and even the emergence of home movies taken at the game haven’t yielded a definitive answer.

Ed Sherman, a longtime Chicago Tribune reporter, gives the correct answer: It doesn’t matter. It’s a great story either way.

And Sherman succeeds in getting that across, digging into every angle, from cross-examining surviving eyewitnesses (such as Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who as a 12-year-old boy was at the game) to combing through the catalog of notables who were at the game, including president-to-be Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ross Atkin of the Christian Science Monitor included it among his six baseball books.

Thanks to the kind words from Stuart Shiffman of the Illinois Times. He writes:

Ed Sherman’s Babe Ruth’s Called Shot is a uniquely entertaining and completely thorough account of the events surrounding the home run that will live in baseball history forever.

Sherman is not an advocate, he is an investigator. He has gathered every piece of evidence available and presents the facts to his jury of baseball fans. They, as all juries will consider the evidence, apply their common sense and life experience and in that fashion arrive at a verdict. But there are no legal requirements for the verdict. Each reader is a jury of one, free to decide the case as they see fit.

From the Sports Book Review Center:

Sherman concludes in “Babe Ruth’s Called Shot” that such an act would have been in character, and indeed was such a good fit for his reputation that it stuck – even if the story may not be quite true in its entirety. The author is right on target there.

We wanted to believe it happened in 1932, and we still want to believe today.



A first: Illinois Governor is my lead-in on PBS’ Chicago Tonight

I encountered one of those “What’s wrong with this picture?” situations yesterday.

Chicago Tonight, the outstanding news show on WTTW, invited me on as a guest to discuss my book, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run. (Here is the link from Amazon)

The first guest on the show was Pat Quinn, the Illinois governor who is running for re-election. So I’m sitting in one part of the studio getting ready for my interview, while at the other desk, Eddie Arruza is grilling Quinn. I think the governor would have had more fun talking about the Called Shot.

I said to the show’s host, Phil Ponce, “This is the first time I’ve ever followed a governor on a show.”

Ponce was quick to clarify my statement. “No, this is the first time a governor has preceded you.”

Thanks, Phil.

Thanks also for an enjoyable interview. And much appreciate Taurean Small doing a Q/A with me and running an excerpt of the book on the Chicago Tonight site.

From the Q/A:

Where does the infamous “called shot” moment stand in the legacy of Babe Ruth?

That’s the defining/signature moment of his career. Prior to that, he didn’t really have that moment. He never had that game-winning home run like this. When you look at the defining moments of others sport stars’ careers like Michael Jordan, Ruth never had that. This was his crescendo. And it occurred at Wrigley Field during the World Series with the “called shot.” If you ask people — “what’s the defining moment of his career?” — they will invariably hold their arm out and point. Everyone knows it’s the called shot.

And an excerpt from the excerpt of my interview with former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens who was at the game.

Ruth hit left-handed, so Stevens, sitting in a box seat along the third baseline, had a clear view of the man at the plate. He could see into his eyes and try to read his lips. “My interpretation was that he was responding to what Bush was saying. He definitely pointed toward center field. My interpretation always was, ‘I’m going to knock you to the moon.’”Stevens laughed. “That was a kid’s reaction,” he said.

So did it happen? According to a man who has sat on the highest court in the land adjudicating matters of national importance for decades, did Ruth call his shot?

“He definitely was arguing,” Stevens said. “He definitely did point to something. I have no idea what he said or his motivation.”

Coming in May: ‘Most definitive’ Michael Jordan biography on the good, the bad and in between

This is being billed as the first definitive biography on Michael Jordan.

Roland Lazenby’s “Michael Jordan: The Life” is due out in early May. It is a whopping 720 pages.

Surely, his incredible feats will be celebrated. However, if you are an avid Jordan fan looking for a valentine, this probably isn’t the book for you.

According to the release, Lazenby gets into all facets of his rather complicated life. They include sexual abuse allegations by his sister, Deloris, toward their father, James. In 2009, she wrote a book accusing James of raping her.

From the release:

“Provides a startling new context for Jordan’s life, especially with regards to the largely unreported inner conflicts of his family (who have offered up inaccurate narratives of being the perfect American family), driven by Jordan’s older sister’s allegations of sex abuse against their father, James Jordan.”

That should create a few headlines.

By now, everyone knows Jordan isn’t perfect. Lazenby, who has written books previously on Phil Jackson and Jerry West, will explore all the angles.

From the release:

“For all his fame and glory on the court, MJ also has a dark side—that of a ruthless competitor and lover of high stakes. There hasn’t been a biography about Michael Jordan that fully encompassed the dual nature of his character and drew such a complete portrait of the superstar until now.”

Certainly more to come here.

Here is the entire release:


Michael Jordan is a six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, ten-time nominee to the All-NBA First Team, fourteen-time All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist, and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. From his college ball days in North Carolina through his heyday with the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s and up to today, where he is a recent Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and co-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, every step of his legendary career has been startlingly remarkable. MJ’s superhuman athletic prowess has been the focus of fans and press the world over, and even now, at age fifty, MJ’s career and life—on and off the court—remain the subjects of emphatic interest.

For all his fame and glory on the court, MJ also has a dark side—that of a ruthless competitor and lover of high stakes. There hasn’t been a biography about Michael Jordan that fully encompassed the dual nature of his character and drew such a complete portrait of the superstar until now. MICHAEL JORDAN: The Life by Roland Lazenby (Little, Brown and Company; May 6, 2014) reveals the fullest, most compelling story of the man who is Michael Jordan.

Basketball journalist Roland Lazenby has spent almost thirty years covering MJ’s time in college and the NBA. His intimate access to Jordan’s coaches, friends, teammates, and family members provided him a truly well-rounded perspective of the man, the myth, and the legend. He witnessed Jordan’s growth from a skinny rookie to the instantly recognizable global ambassador for basketball he is today, and in MICHAEL JORDAN: The Life he pulls back the curtain on many lesser-known aspects of Jordan’s life.

In the book, Lazenby:

Explores intimate details about Jordan’s childhood and four generations of North Carolina ancestors before him—moonshiners and hard workers—who Lazenby writes about more deeply than anyone has before

Provides a startling new context for Jordan’s life, especially with regards to the largely unreported inner conflicts of his family (who have offered up inaccurate narratives of being the perfect American family), driven by Jordan’s older sister’s allegations of sex abuse against their father, James Jordan

Draws the most complete portrait of Michael Jordan’s life and career, stretching from his youth—including the infamous story of getting “cut” by his high school team—through his time playing in North Carolina, with intimate details about Jordan’s relationship with Coach Dean Smith

Takes a complete dive into Jordan’s Bulls-era heyday, including his productive but often fraught relationships with his coaches, teammates, and team managers/owners, in all of their fascinating and dramatic intensity

Reveals a fully rounded picture of who Jordan is as a person and how hard, aggressive, and demanding he can be—and how he drove his teammates to perfection often through verbal abuse, just like his father did to him as a boy



Q/A with John Feinstein: Latest on life in Triple A; His process and why he continues to write books

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism at Indiana is on John Feinstein and his latest book.

Here are some excerpts:


When John Feinstein arrived at the Indiana campus in 1985, he merely was an ambitious young Washington Post sportswriter looking to do an interesting behind-the-scenes book on Bob Knight. After struggling to find a publisher (“Who wants to read a book about a Midwest college basketball coach?”), he was thrilled to land an advance of $17,500.

Little did Feinstein or anyone else know that “A Season on the Brink” would zoom to No. 1. It set the stage for him to become the bestselling sports author of all time, with more than 10 million books sold.

“The Franchise” is out with his 23rd non-fiction book: “Where Nobody Knows Your Name.” It is a terrific read about life in the minor league Triple A. He chronicles the frustration, even heartbreak, of many young players and former big league veterans who are stuck in baseball’s nowhere land.

Once again, Feinstein taps into a familiar formula: Finding and telling good stories. He introduces you to characters at the beginning of the book. In the end, you feel their joy and pain. A highlight of the book is Feinstein telling the tale of a Triple A umpire. You realize it isn’t just players who aspire to make it to the Bigs.

His good friend, Dave Kindred, summed his work as an author with this line when Feinstein received the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s media award: “He is sportswriting’s John Grisham, a storyteller whose brand is so strong, his name goes above the book’s title.”


Writing a book isn’t what it used to be. The publishing industry is struggling.

Feinstein: No, I’m not making as much money as I used to make.

Nobody is, that’s for sure.

Feinstein: Exactly. I don’t take it personally.

So why do them?

Feinstein: Because I still love the idea. My biggest frustration as a newspaper reporter: I never had enough time, I never had enough space. The famous story about me at the Post, I called in, I was at a Davis Cup final and I was screaming at the editor, “You can’t just give me 24 inches, I can’t write this story in 24 inches. I’ve got to have at least 40.” He goes, “That’s fine, John, write 40, we’ll use the best 24.” That was my newspaper and still is.

I still love really, really getting into a subject. I really love figuring out how guys think.

Bob Woodward has been my mentor for so long. When I went to do “Season on the Brink,” I had lunch with him. He said, “When you finish reporting this book, you should know more about Bob Knight than anybody on Earth. That’s your goal. You may not need it, but the closest you come to it, the better your book is going to be.”

I’ve always kept that in the back of my head. Every book I do, I try, unsuccessfully but I try, to walk away knowing more about the subject and the people involved than anybody on Earth, and I enjoy that process. I still love the process. I sound like a friggin’ coach now.


You wanted to a put a face behind the players who get listed as being sent down in the one-line transaction lines?

Feinstein: Exactly, and how when we read the agate and it says so and so sent down so and so out righted to Tidewater or whatever, Norfolk now. Somebody’s life just changed and somebody else’s life changed because they got called up. That’s what I wrote about in the introduction was just what you just said, all these guys whose names appear in the agate. There’s one guy I wrote about, Chris Schwinden, whose name appeared like 22 times in 2012. I ended up with the anecdote with the guy J.C. Boscan who got called up to the Braves for the first time after 14 years. There was a celebration in the clubhouse. The next day there was one line: Atlanta Braves recall J.C. Boscan from International League. That moment was the highlight of J.C. Boscan’s life, and it was one line of agate.

Why has this formula worked for you?

Feinstein: Because I think everybody can relate more to somebody like J.C. Boscan than Miguel Cabrera. I played baseball. I never got past high school baseball. If I’d gone to a D 3 school, I might have been good enough to play on that level, but I was a high school baseball player. J.C. Boscan is 100 times better than I ever thought about being as a baseball player, and yet he’s not a star. He’s not a millionaire. He’s not in the headlines.

You know, Jeff Greenfield wrote a review of the book in the Washington Post. It was a good review, and he started it by saying, imagine if you spend your whole life being the best athlete, being the best at what you do, and then hitting a ceiling when you’re an adult. That’s what this book is all about.


Is there a next John Feinstein book on the horizon?

Feinstein: As long as they keep letting me do books, I’ll do them. I’m doing a book on Dean Smith, Mike K. and Jim Valvano. I already know the name, “The Triangle.”  This is one I’m really looking forward to doing. I wasn’t born to do this book, but I lived it.


Here is a link to the entire Q/A.

Also, here is the link to listen Feinstein’s show on the CBS Sports Radio Network.

Talking to Babe Ruth’s daughter: ‘Daddy’ surely called his shot

One of the true thrills of doing my book, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run, was getting a chance to talk to his daughter, Julia Stevens.

At 97, she remains sharp and proud to be a living connection to her father’s legacy. Earlier this week, Julia attended ceremonies marking Babe Ruth’s Centennial in St. Petersburg at Al Lang Field, where he played in spring training. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ruth’s pro debut in 1914. Julia is shown here with St. Petersburg historian Will Michaels (Photo courtesy of Mollie Schrieber).

The event was organized by Tim Reid, who heads the Committee to Commemorate Babe Ruth. This gives me the opportunity to credit Reid for his work on a great site, BabeRuth1932. Reid conceived the site with research from Ruth historian, Bill Jenkinson. It was a valuable resource in writing my book. Can’t thank Tim and Bill enough.

As for Julia, she wasn’t at the actual Called Shot game in Chicago in 1932. However, she never had a doubt that “Daddy” indeed pointed and called his shot.

An excerpt from my book, available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere:


It is nearly 100 years since a young kid named George Ruth played his first professional game for the Baltimore Orioles, and the woman on the other end of the phone is referring to him as “Daddy.” The notion almost is mind-boggling. It doesn’t seem possible that Ruth’s daughter still is alive in 2013, but thanks to the gift of longevity, Julia Ruth Stevens, 96 years young on this day, is being asked to share her memories of her father one more time.

I tell Julia Ruth Stevens that it is a thrill to be speaking to her.

“It’s a thrill to me that I’m still here,” Julia said, not missing a beat. “It’s a thrill to me every time I wake up in the morning.”

If Charlie Root’s family believed the Called Shot was a myth, where do you think Ruth’s family falls in the debate? While Ruth himself was all over the place with his comments about what happened on that day, there’s no doubt about it in the eyes of his daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He definitely called his shot.

Julia has spent a good portion of her life talking about “Daddy” and his many deeds on the baseball field. She is the daughter of Ruth’s second wife, Claire. After their marriage in 1929, Ruth formally adopted Julia. They had a warm, close relationship. You still can hear the affection in her voice for a man who died in 1948.

“People always say, ‘It’s such an honor to meet you,'” Julia said. “I know they are saying that because I am Babe Ruth’s daughter and that’s the closest they’ll ever get to Daddy. I just enjoy meeting people, and a lot of them have stories about Daddy. And I love to hear them.”

I say to Julia, There aren’t many people still alive who can recall witnessing Babe Ruth hit home runs. What was it like?

“It was always a thrill,” Julia said. “I didn’t go to all of the games, but I went to a lot with my mother. I wanted him to hit a home run every time. Everyone would start cheering when he came up. If he hit a home run, it was beautiful to see. He’d trot around the bases. Then when he got to home plate, he’d lift his cap to the crowd.

“I used to say, ‘Hit the apple in the eye, you’ll see how high it will fly.'”

Julia, though, wasn’t in Wrigley Field to see her father hit his massive homer during the fifth inning of Game 3. However, she has seen footage and read countless stories about that memorable day.  More importantly, she heard direct testimony from a couple key witnesses at the game: Her mother and Francis Cardinal Spellman, the long-time Archbishop of New York.

“Daddy certainly did point,” Julia said. “He always seemed to rise to the occasion. He just wanted to beat the Cubs. If he had missed, he’d have been very, very disappointed, I can tell you. “Cardinal Spellman just happened to be at the game. He said there’s no question that he pointed. I’ll take his word and my mother’s.”

Sam Fuld reviews John Feinstein’s new book on minor league baseball for Wall Street Journal

After writing 32 books, there isn’t much John Feinstein hasn’t done on the publishing front. But he got a first the other day: A review from a current MLB player.

Oakland A’s outfielder Sam Fuld critiqued Feinstein’s latest, Where Nobody Knows Your Name, for the Wall Street Journal. The book chronicles the difficult, frustrating and even heartbreaking life for several players, managers and even an umpire at Triple A in 2012. Veterans like Scott Podsednik and Brett Tomko are just trying to hang on, while others still are seeking to take that ultimate step to the big leagues.

Fuld actually is in Feinstein’s book. Feinstein talked to the outfielder while he was on rehab assignment.

Just imagine if Bob Knight was asked to write a review of Feinstein’s first book, Season on the Brink. Now that would have been some good reading.

Coming soon, I will have a Q/A with Feinstein. But first, here is Fuld’s assessment.

Fuld writes:

In the summer of 2012, I was in Durham, N.C., playing for the Durham Bulls, the AAA minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays (and the focal point of everyone’s favorite minor-league baseball movie, “Bull Durham”). I was there only to rehab after having wrist surgery, and I knew I’d be called up to the major leagues as soon as I was ready.

So when I was asked by the sportswriter John Feinstein to interview for a book on minor-league baseball, I initially balked. I was insulted. Didn’t he know that I had spent all of the previous year in the big leagues? But I soon floated back down to earth and agreed. I was only two years removed from playing nearly an entire season in AAA. I had spent parts of seven seasons overall toiling in the “bush leagues.” And I knew that in all likelihood I’d someday be a minor leaguer once again.

Later Fuld writes:

I breezed through the 350-page book as fast as a father of three little kids possibly could. Part of it was the name recognition and learning about guys I’d only known from across the dugout. But more than that, I was propelled by the emotions and memories that Mr. Feinstein’s vivid portraits stirred up. The stories of big-league call-ups took me back to Zebulon, N.C., in 2007. We had just finished our last regular season game, and I stood in the shower, celebratory beer in hand, when my trainer beckoned me. “Now?” I asked, confused. “Yes,” he said with his eyes. I stepped outside the shed/clubhouse and took my trainer’s cellphone. With a towel around my waist and shampoo lather in my hair, I listened to my manager say that I’d be playing in Wrigley Field the next day. A teammate stripped my towel away, leaving me naked in front of a few autograph seekers. It could have been a few thousand, and I wouldn’t have cared: I was going to the show.

Fuld concludes:

Within the scope of AAA baseball, Mr. Feinstein does a decent job of painting accurate, compelling stories, though they come with a few flaws. He claims Mr. Tomko “fractured the biceps muscle in his shoulder,” which sounds painful and almost impossible. He places the AAA Cubs in Iowa City, where there is no team, rather than Des Moines. And the Sabermetrician in me couldn’t help but note every time Mr. Feinstein referenced primitive metrics like RBIs and win-loss record.

But his book offers plenty of poignant moments and sound information. Last year marked the 25th anniversary of “Bull Durham,” and I’m pretty sure a lot of people still think that’s how things go in the minors. Mr. Feinstein clears the perspective on the realities of minor-league life so that the reader can move on from Nuke LaLoosh imagery. And for the average baseball fan, this is no minor accomplishment.