There are few more entertaining write than Jeff Pearlman. From his Sports Illustrated features, to his many New York Times best-selling books, to his awesome blog and q-and-a series, Pearlman is one of the best writers and reporters in the business. He's also the latest guest in our conversation series:
Why being a newspaper cops reporter changed his career
I think a lot of young writers don’t realize that reporting is much more important than being able to write a snazzy sentence, you know? I didn’t know how to report. I really didn’t. I didn’t know how to ask good questions, I didn’t know how to dig for information I didn’t know to make the second call, then the third call, and the fourth call and the fifth call. I was just a jackass and I thought that my amazing writing which in hindsight was not nearly amazing could carry a story. So instead of interviewing 10 guys I would interview one person and I just would think ‘Oh I’m gonna write my way this is gonna be great cause I’m gonna make it so great,’ and it would stink. So I would be put in a position where I have to report and report some more and report some more and where you had to dig and you had to cultivate sources. I mean, it really was invaluable for me.
How does he pick book projects?
I guess I kind of have three criteria generally. No. 1: It has to be something that I will not lose my mind writing about over two years, which is almost impossible cause you always — I’m losing my mind right now. You always lose your mind because it’s two years of the same thing the same team or same person. No. 2 is it has to be something that hasn’t been done - that doesn’t mean hasn’t been done at all but it hasn’t been done well. So obviously, the '86 mets was an example had been written about in different forms a million times but I didn’t think there was anything definitive. Walter Payton, he wrote an autobiography or an autobiography was kind of written with his assistance before he passed, but there were just a ton of holes in it. So I need that. And then No. 3 it needs to have a shot. You never know. You never know. I thought my Barry Bonds biography was going to be huge seller just because of the topic and turns out Game of Shadows came out two weeks before so it didn’t sell great. But there has to be a shot that it’s gonna be a good seller. Because this is how I make my living.
On looking back on the John Rocker story
I went through a long period where I hated it. I really hated it and I felt like it was this thing that ... you would do anything and people were inevitably say ‘Thank God John Rocker happened to you because it gave you the attention.' Or 'Here’s this guy he got exactly what he wanted, he got the attention he wanted and now he can write books,’ and I hated that. I really hated that cause I just hated the perception and I would never really I wouldn't talk about Rocker much, I never wrote about him, I wouldn’t do radio interviews about him I just tried to more or less pretend it didn’t exist, I think. And you know, then time passes, I’ve written some things on him just cause it’s such an interesting topic and I look back now and I’m really happy it happened to me just from a life experience standpoint. It was such a weird, quirky, unique, funky sort of thing to go through you know the whole thing the whole entire thing from the painful lows to the I guess the kind of highs, I don’t know, that’s kind of what life is — if you have a bunch of unique and fun experiences. So I’m not really known as the Rocker guy anymore cause most people don’t really know who he is anymore. But every know and then someone brings it up and I’m ok with it.
On the source of The Quaz
The reason I started with the idea of we were watching a lot of The Wonder Years, my kids and I, so I thought it’d be funny to interview find as many Kevin Arnold ex girlfriends and they were kind of quasi famous. But since then I’ve kind of set aside the Kevin Arnold girlfriends.
On interviewing people he disagrees with.
(On Twitter, a user) shot back ‘I don’t follow any liberals … I was thinking ‘What a shame, Where’s the fun in that” you know? I’m a hardcore liberal, I am environmental whatever I’m typical New York California liberal Jewish guy, right? But that doesn’t mean I want to hear everyone have the same exact views that I have. And sometimes you hear people talk they make sense and you think ‘Oh that’s kind of an interesting viewpoint.’ Well worst scenario you interview someone who disgusts you and you hate everything they stand for but at least you understand now what their reasoning is. I had a guy early on in the Quaz I had the head of the American Nazi Party. I was telling people I was really debating whether to run this or not and people said ‘Well if you run it you’re promoting his ideas and that’s not right,’ and I was thinking like, I just don’t buy that argument. I’ve heard that argument for years and I just don’t buy it. I think by having an open dialogue with someone with these beliefs, you come to understand how he feels and what he’s thinking and why he thinks that way. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna sway me, but what’s wrong with hearing why that guy thinks that? I just that’s kind of cool
I would say probably Emmanuel Lewis, who played Webster. Thats’ my dream Quaz. He’s not on Twitter he’s not on social media. Also, theres a singer, Michelle Branch, she’s been dodging me.
Why Emmanuel Lewis?
Cause Webster was awesome. And I love, I’m kind of an 80s guy. Gary Coleman is deceased, Ricky Shroder, kind of a little too famous, Alphonso Ribeiro, not that interesting, so you go through all the 80s sitcoms, maybe Gopher from the Love Boat, but to me, Emmanuel Lewis is kind of the man.