Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book tour details; Sad and murky situation at Syracuse, Ohio State doesn’t change and extra talk on Edsall and Maryland

It has been a while since I’ve had a chance to write here in part because there has been a lot going on which has caused me to spend a good deal of time writing Washington Post columns but also because I’ve been pretty caught up in getting things lined up for my impending book tour.

I’m actually fired up about the book tour, which is unusual. Normally I dread them but I’m excited about this book and the early response it has gotten. Tomorrow I’m in New York where, among other things, I’ll spend an hour (4-5 o’clock) on Mike Francesa’s WFAN show. Francesa and I often disagree but I’ve always said his radio show is almost always a good listen and the fact that he read the book and wanted to book me for an hour is very encouraging. I will also be taping a ‘Fresh Air,’ interview which will air on Thursday. That’s a good combo—WFAN (and YES network) on Wednesday; a big-time NPR show on Thursday.

Next week I go to Indianapolis on Monday evening. I made the decision to be there on the official publication date of the book because ‘One-on-One,’ is, after all, keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘Season on the Brink,’ so where else would I want to be on the day the book is officially released? I’m doing an appearance Monday night at The Big Hat bookstore, which is on Cornell Avenue in Indy.

The next morning I will be in-studio to do The Bob and Tom Show, which for me is a big deal. It’s a big deal because those guys are great at selling books. But beyond that, it’s a big deal because the very first interview I did for ‘Season on the Brink,’ was on Bob and Tom. Back then it was a local show in Indianapolis. I still remember it like it was yesterday: It was snowing and dark when I got to the station and I was on for a long time. They had read the book and were totally prepared for the interview—which I now know is how they always do business.

Since then I’ve been on the show countless times and have been on for every single book I’ve ever written. This makes 28. The same people who did the show then—on and off air—do the show now and I always look forward to talking to them and, in this case, seeing them.

After that I’ll do some local TV and radio in Indy, winding up by going on Dan Dakich’s radio show. It’s hard to believe that Dan, who I probably spent more time with than anybody during my ‘Season on the Brink,’ winter, is now a big media star. Except it isn’t that hard to believe because he’s very bright and is also very good on-air. He’s a rising star at ESPN, which makes me happy except for the part about working for ESPN. But Dan—unlike me—has the temperament to handle working for those guys, so good for him.

From there, I drive over to Chicago and from Chicago to Cleveland the next day. Then it’s home for a day of satellite TV and local TV and radio and then back on the road again the next week. It will be hectic but I made the schedule that way because, as I said, I honestly believe people will like reading this book.

Okay, maybe Bob Knight won’t like it. Tiger Woods may not hate it as much as you might expect. Then again, I’m not counting on either of them reading it. Knight will tell you he still hasn’t read, ‘Season on the Brink.’

Onto the news and the question is where to begin.

The latest out of Syracuse on Bernie Fine is devastating. We are not talking a Penn State scandal here because there’s no evidence that Jim Boeheim or any officials at Syracuse knew what is alleged to have gone on. The whole thing is so—you pick a word: slimy, sad, murky. I don’t know. But it is also confusing: the original accuser went to ESPN and The Syracuse Post-Standard eight years ago but they couldn’t find enough corroborating evidence to go with the story. Second accuser, the original accuser’s half-brother comes forward. Then, the original accuser releases a tape from years ago (why didn’t he release it years ago?) that is alleged to be Bernie Fine’s wife. The tape is sickening on many levels. Now a third accuser who has been accused of sexually abusing a child himself comes forward.

Boeheim, who was jumping up and down in Fine’s defense—understandable after working together for so many years—is now retreating rapidly and Fine has been fired. As with Penn State, this is far from over. There will no doubt be more allegations and, I’m guessing, more murkiness. Meanwhile, I’m so sick of all of this I want to hide under the couch.

Then again, there’s Ohio State. It is good to know that my pal the bow-tied E. Gordon Gee learned his lesson from the Jim Tressel mess. Clearly he learned that having a football coach who is bigger than the school is a bad idea. Clearly he learned that sending a message that football is more important than anything by guaranteeing a new coach $4 million a year is really good idea. Clearly he was unfazed by the number of Florida players arrested during Urban Meyer’s tenure there.

And, just as clearly, Meyer is a believer in upholding the Tressel tradition of lying with a straight face. Here’s my question: WHY would he keep denying he had been offered the job last week when it was apparent to EVERYONE that he was going to be the new coach on Monday? Why not just say, ‘no comment,’ or, ‘It would be unfair to anyone at Ohio State for me to say anything when they’re getting ready to play Michigan.’ Sure, people will see through that but they also saw through the, ‘no one has offered me the job,’ line which may have been technically accurate in some way but was clearly not true.

I don’t get it some times with these power coaches. They really believe if they say the sun will rise in the west that it WILL rise in the west and if you doubt them, how dare you.

Speaking of football coaches, I wrote on Monday that Randy Edsall should be fired after one year as Maryland’s coach. The response to the column has been overwhelmingly positive but I am still amazed at some people’s ability to NOT read. A handful of posters said I was hypocritical to call for a coach to be fired after one season, regardless of record. A few others—and my friend Steve Czaban at WTEM—rattled on about how Maryland can’t afford to buy a coach out in light of its financial crisis.

Note to Czabe: You need to read past the headline sometimes. One of my points was that it will cost Maryland MORE long term to keep Edsall than it will to buy him out now because people can’t STAND the guy. And the reason they—and most importantly the players—can’t stand him is because he’s never wrong and doesn’t take responsibility for his own failings. Edsall rattled on about ‘accountability,’ all the time. How about HIS accountability?

I didn’t call for Edsall to be fired for going 2-10. I would never advocate firing a coach after one year based on a poor record. Many great coaches have had poor records early in their tenure—although most didn’t take over a team that had been 9-4 the previous season. I think it takes at least two years, more often three, to really get a handle on where a coach is going.

But Edsall shows NO sign of understanding any of his flaws or mistakes or that he even has any. He has consistently blamed everyone but himself all fall. What put me over the top wasn’t giving up 42 straight points to North Carolina State on Saturday but Edsall comparing himself last week to Bob Kraft and the New England Patriots because Kraft talked about, the “Patriots Way,” in an interview. Trust me the “Patriots Way,” wouldn’t be nearly as effective without Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but that’s beside the point. The point is Edsall said that he was doing the same things Kraft did and therefore, “I must be right.”

Wrong Randy. You’ve been wrong every second since you didn’t bother to go meet with your Connecticut players in person to tell them you were leaving—accountability?—and you’re still wrong.

My rule has always been you don’t judge a coach after one year—good or bad. There are exceptions to every rule.

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Washington Post column: Terps need to end Edsall era -- now

Here's my newest column for The Washington Post, on the Maryland coaching situation ----

On Saturday, in the wake of his football team’s final humiliation of 2011, a 56-41 loss to North Carolina State in which the Wolfpack outscored his team 42-0 in the last 21 minutes, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall told reporters he was heading out to recruit for a couple of days and would then begin reevaluating his team and his program.

Edsall’s boss, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, should cancel that recruiting trip. And Edsall’s reevaluation. Anderson should do the reevaluation. And here’s the conclusion he should reach in about 15 seconds: Maryland needs a new football coach.

Randy Edsall should be fired — today.

There are all sorts of reasons why such a conclusion can be labeled rash and overboard. For one thing, Maryland is in a financial crisis right now, one that has forced it to announce plans to eliminate eight varsity sports at the end of this school year. Adding a tab of $2 million per year for the next five years to pay someone not to coach the football team sounds ludicrous.

What’s more, it is unfair to judge a coach—good or bad—on the basis of one season, no matter how horrific it may have been. Maryland went from 9-4 to 2-10 this fall, losing its last seven games by double digits, culminating with the extraordinary meltdown at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Click here for the rest of the column:  Terps need to end Edsall era -- now

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Washington Post: After crazy weekend, another fine mess for BCS

Here's my newest column for The Washington Post ----

Several weeks ago, Bill Hancock, the executive director of The Bogus Championship Series, spent a couple of days in Washington on a handshake tour of Capitol Hill and various media outlets in a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible organization he represents.

Hancock’s point appeared to be this: Because only one of the 36 postseason college football games is played with anything at stake, a system that allows teams to get to see the sights of places like Shreveport, La.; Mobile, Ala.; and Detroit is surely worth saving — regardless of whether there’s any fairness involved.

Given the results of this past weekend in college football, heck, Hancock might be right. Let’s just throw a bunch of parties and forget the football altogether, because there is absolutely no way that selecting just two teams to play for the national championship can be done fairly or correctly.

As of this minute, LSU clearly belongs in the championship game. Of course, the Tigers could lose to Arkansas on Friday or to Georgia in the SEC championship game and then they would fall back into the pack with everyone else.

During a visit to The Washington Post, Hancock rolled out the BCS’s latest bit of rhetoric. “College football is the only sport that gives the athletes the chance to end the season by having a party,” he said. “That’s what the bowls are, a chance to go to a nice place, experience it and have a party.”

Click here for the rest of the column:  After crazy weekend, another fine mess for BCS

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game

A lot of people have been asking through e-mails and posts the last couple of weeks about the publication date of my new book. The book is called, “One-on-One—Up Close with the Greats in the Game.” It is a professional memoir, keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on the Brink.’ It’s more personal than any book I’ve ever written because I tell a lot of stories about my relationships with the people I’ve written about through the years. It begins on the night I approached Knight about doing what became, ‘Season on the Brink.’

The official publication date is December 5th (I will be in Indianapolis that night for a bookstore appearance—more details closer to the date) but the book should be in stores by Thanksgiving weekend. It can also be pre-ordered on line now.

It was great fun to do and the pre-publication reviews (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Book List) have been great so I’m really encouraged and looking forward to seeing what happens when the book comes out.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Penn State tragedy -- I didn't get it right last week

One week ago when I wrote my first (of two) columns - here and here - on Joe Paterno and the tragedy at Penn State quite a few people—including my wife—felt that I didn’t put enough emphasis on what is by far the most tragic aspect of the whole debacle, which is what happened to at least eight young boys and, in all likelihood, far more than that.

I plead guilty—with an explanation.

Some people have speculated that I was just looking at it from the jock perspective, wondering what this would do to Paterno and Penn State rather than focusing more on the victims. Actually, that’s not true. I made a cardinal error: I assumed it was a given that the most tragic aspect of what was going on was what had been done to the boys and the fact that it could have been stopped years ago and wasn’t.

You know the old cliché about what happens when you assume.

That was mistake number one. Mistake number two—now that I have the benefit of seven days hindsight—was clearly my bias towards Paterno. Or, more specifically, my inability to wrestle to the ground the notion that someone I had put on a pedestal for so long could have fallen and crashed from that pedestal so hard.

My bias here wasn’t personal as it might have been with any number of basketball coaches or a small handful of football coaches—specifically those I’ve worked with on book projects and come to know well. I’ve met Paterno, interviewed Paterno, but can hardly claim to know him.

But I’ve admired him and his program since I was a kid. Growing up in New York City there were three college football teams I followed with passion: Columbia, Army and Penn State. I always enjoyed Paterno’s acerbic wit and his insistence that his players go to class and graduate and learn about more than football. I also liked the fact that everyone around Penn State always called him, ‘Joe,’ in a world where most coaches wear the title of ‘Coach,’ as if it was inherited at birth.

As far back as 1999 I wanted to do a book on Paterno. Right around the time that Jerry Sandusky was ‘retiring,’ I wrote Paterno a letter asking him for an audience so I could try to convince him to grant me access that fall to do a book. My request in the letter was simple: Don’t say no, just say you’ll listen. I honestly believed if I could get in the room with him and explain to him how little time I would actually need with him once the season started that I would have a shot.

I never got the chance. I still have the letter he wrote to me in response. It wasn’t a two-line blow-off, it took up an entire page. It was still a blow-off, but it was one that made me feel not totally rejected. He explained the timing of my request was bad because he was launching several non-football projects. He knew my work, respected my work but this wasn’t the right time. The added touch was a handwritten sentence at the bottom of the page: “Really enjoy listening to you on NPR.”

I knew Paterno was a Republican. But he listened to NPR. That was impressive too.

I was, needless to say, disappointed. Paterno was going to turn 73 at the end of that season and I thought the ’99 team might be his last chance to make a run at a national championship. Actually a loss to Minnesota after an 8-0 start began a five year spiral that climaxed when President Graham Spanier went to Paterno’s house to suggest he retire and apparently got thrown out of the house.

Good for Joe I thought back then. If anyone deserved to plan his own exit it was Paterno.

As I’ve written here before I took another swipe at getting in to see Paterno three years ago. Thanks to my friend Malcolm Moran who now teaches at Penn State (and wrote a wonderful piece in the Sunday New York Times on the mood up there on Saturday) I had lunch with a marketing guy named Guido D’Elia who had become very close to Paterno and had become his un-official gatekeeper.

D’Elia was, to put it politely, dismissive of the idea and of me. Paterno wasn’t ready to do legacy stuff he explained, even at 82. When I told him that I hoped he’d be ready soon and I’d like to have the chance to talk to him sooner rather than later about it, D’Elia said, “We’ll put you on the list.”

(I did a google search this morning to see if D’Elia’s name has surfaced at all in the last week. I found nothing. I find that strange).

The day wasn’t a complete loss though. Malcolm had arranged for he and I to do a two-man ‘forum,’ that night discussing journalism and college athletics. One of the people who showed up was Jay Paterno. Malcolm introduced us and we chatted for a few minutes. No doubt strictly to be courteous, Jay said, “Hey, if I can ever be of any help to you, here’s my contact info.”

He handed me his card. In one of the great upsets of the last 50 years I somehow didn’t lose it. I have lost more important phone numbers than perhaps anyone in history. Last year, after Penn State’s season was over, I dug out the card and contacted Jay. I told him I was looking for help and asked if we could have lunch—which we did.

I liked him instantly. He was smart, funny and totally un-impressed with himself. He was (is) also a Democrat who had worked for President Obama in ’08. Naturally I liked that too. I asked Jay to do one thing for me: Get me in to see his father. He said he would talk to him as soon as he came back from vacation.

Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately) unbeknownst to Jay, his father was already making a book deal with Joe Posnanski. I could hardly blame him for choosing Joe who he knew a lot better than me and who is very damn good. My guess was that my pal Guido was behind that deal but I honestly don’t know.

So that’s the background. I’ve been a Paterno fan for a long time and thought he’d make a fascinating book subject. Clearly I was right about that but not for the reasons I thought. I think I may have been in a little bit of denial a week ago about Paterno’s culpability. And, I’ll also admit that, then—as now—I can’t help but think about Jay Paterno.

He’s gone from having a bright future in coaching or politics (he was being encouraged by a number of important Democrats to run for Congress next year if his dad retired) to a future that is now completely murky. If feeling badly about that makes me a bad guy, so be it.

I hate this story in every possible way. I hate it first and foremost for those kids and their families who have been to hell and back and yet their journey’s far from over. I hate it on a much different level for The Penn State players and for all the Penn State people who honestly believed their program and their coach WERE different from the other big time programs. As I said this morning in The Post, I talked to a long-time coach last week, not someone close to Paterno at all and he said this: “If you ask me the list of all the big-time coaches I am absolutely certain don’t cheat here it is: Joe Paterno.”

Of course this went way beyond cheating. It is, without doubt, the worst thing that has ever happened in college athletics. That’s not to diminish the death of Len Bias 25 years ago or the murder of Patrick Dennehy eight years ago or the death of any college athlete. This involved innocent children being abused repeatedly and it is a story that is going to go on and on for years to come.

I didn’t get it right last week. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it right. In fact, I’m not sure there IS a right here. Just an awful lot of wrongs.

My newest book, to be published Dec. 5th, is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Washington Post: College basketball 2011: North Carolina is in shipshape condition

My first college basketball article of the season for The Washington Post ---

If you want hoops hype in November, you can’t just throw two high-profile teams — in this case No. 1 North Carolina and Michigan State — in a gym.

You need to stage the game on a billion-dollar aircraft carrier: the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, the one that carried Osama Bin Laden’s body out to sea.

You need a top-ranked team that may have the best chance to go unbeaten since Indiana did it in 1976.
You need President Obama.

And of course you need Dick Vitale.

The only problem with Friday night’s much-ballyhooed “Carrier Classic” is that unless someone from Michigan State can figure out a way to heave all the basketballs overboard, the Spartans may have trouble staying on the court — and the ship — with North Carolina.

Yes, the Tar Heels are potentially that good.

Sometime this winter, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams needs to write a thank-you note to David Stern and Billy Hunter. The decision by the NBA commissioner and the head of the players’ union to go to war is one reason why it may be close to impossible to deny Ol’ Roy his third national title in eight seasons.

The Tar Heels had three underclassmen who were locks to be first-round picks last spring, led by then-freshman Harrison Barnes, who would have gone in the top three. Big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller, who both blossomed late last winter, might have been lottery picks, too.

But with everyone talking lockout, all three decided that one more year on a picturesque campus wasn’t such a bad thing. So they’re back in Chapel Hill, where they are joined by two freshmen who also might be first-round picks if and when the NBA holds another draft. One is 6-foot-9 James McAdoo, who some scouts rate ahead of Barnes as a pro prospect. The other is 6-5 shooting guard P.J. Hairston, who just happens to play the one position where North Carolina might need some help after a season-ending injury to sophomore Leslie McDonald.

Click here for the rest of the column:  North Carolina is in shipshape condition

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Washington Post column: Penn State scandal threatens one of sports’ greatest legacies

My article from The Washington Post on the Penn State scandal ---

“Tragic” is the single most over-used word in sports Almost nothing that takes place within the context of sports is a tragedy. There is no such thing as a tragic loss or even a tragic injury.

What is happening right now at Penn State is, if not tragic, well beyond sad.

If the sexual abuse and assault charges brought by a Pennsylvania grand jury against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky prove to be true on any level, then this will be the single worst thing that has happened in college sports in just about forever.

That’s not to diminish what happened at Baylor in 2003, when one basketball player killed another. Or the death of any athlete, on the field or off.

Th Penn State case could prove tragic in a completely different way, because it involves Joe Paterno. No football coach has meant more to his sport in the past 50 years than Paterno, and his 409 victories at Penn State are only a small part of why he is who he is. In an era when so much is wrong with college athletics, Paterno always has stood for all that is righ.

When USC, Ohio State, Miami and North Carolina are caught cheating in one way or another, most people roll their eyes and say, ‘Here we go again.’ When public records from a lawsuit allege that an agent was bankrolling a basketball player and his mother starting when the kid was 14, the reaction is more eye-rolling. The university presidents publicly wring their hands, declare they’re shocked cheating is going on and go back to counting their money.

Click here for the rest of the column: Penn State scandal threatens one of sports’ greatest legacies

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Washington Post column: Tide should be one and done

Here is my newest The Washington Post piece ---

Our long national hypemare is over.

The game of several centuries — the last one; this one and, no doubt, the next one, was finally played on Saturday night.

Perhaps if LSU and Alabama had played into the next century, one of them would have scored a touchdown.

Here’s what we know after the Tigers’ 9-6 overtime victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium: LSU has a better kicking game than Alabama. Both teams have fabulous defenses. Neither team has a quarterback who is going to bring back memories of Joe Namath or Bert Jones or, for that matter, John Huarte. That’s a trivia note: Huarte won the Heisman Trophy in 1964; Namath did not, but that was back when Notre Dame still played big-time football.

There will be much debate about this game. The apologists, who were already lining up Sunday morning, are going to insist it was a great game because there were two great defenses on the field and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others will go the other way: The game was awful. The punters were on the field more than the quarterbacks.

Click here for the rest of the column:  Tide should be one and done

Newest book now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The many misperceptions of Tony LaRussa

Tony LaRussa retired Monday, a surprise to almost everyone in baseball, especially since he always came across as one of those guys who they would have to rip the uniform off before they’d get him out of the dugout.

That’s one of a number of perceptions about LaRussa that I don’t believe were ever correct. The most important of them—and the one repeated most often—is that HE thought he was a genius. That myth came about because of George Will’s book, “Men at Work,” which portrayed LaRussa as some kind of baseball genius. I still remember bringing it up the first time I met LaRussa in 1992 during spring training and the way he reacted.

“I’m a baseball manager, period,” he said then. “If I have good players, I’ve got as good a chance to win as other guys—no better and, I hope, no worse. I appreciate George’s love for the game but I honestly wish the whole thing hadn’t come off the way it did.”

LaRussa could be difficult—his nickname in Oakland was, “The Load,” because dealing with him day in and day out could be so tough—but he really did absolutely love the game. I honestly think the reason he always talked to me, often at great length, in spite of his close friendship with Bob Knight, was because he thought I appreciated the game he loved.

He was, under the right circumstances, a GREAT interview because he almost always said something on a subject that no one else had said. He might sit slumped in his chair answering desultory questions about that night’s lineup, but if someone asked something that intrigued him, his eyes would light up and he’d be off.

This past summer I went to see him in Baltimore and told him I was planning to do a book next year on minor league baseball, spending the season bouncing around Triple-A looking for stories.

“No kidding, really?” he said. “That’s a great idea. Oh boy will you find stories there.” He started giving me names of people I should talk to and when his coaches came into the office for one reason or another he kept saying, “You gotta hear what John’s doing next year.”

Naturally I was flattered that he liked the idea. Beyond that though it reminded me that, for all the white noise that surrounds LaRussa whenever he’s in the spotlight, he truly loves baseball and loved being a part of baseball. That’s why I was surprised but not surprised when he decided to walk away.

I was surprised because I know he’ll miss it, especially the day-to-day preparation, the work trying to figure out ways to make good players great; decent players good and mediocre players decent. LaRussa got hurt early in his career (shoulder) and spent most of his time shuttling between Triple-A and the big leagues, hitting .199 for his career. (Maybe that’s why he liked the Triple-A idea so much, he can relate).

When he realized he wasn’t going to get rich playing baseball he went to law school but never practiced because he ended up managing the White Sox in 1979 by the time he was 35. Everyone knows the rest: 33 seasons with three teams; three World Series title; six pennants; third most victories by a manager in history. Not bad for a guy who never won a case.

I wasn’t surprised because LaRussa’s smart enough to know he is NEVER going to match the last two months of this season and he has a chance to go out as a winner in a way very few people get the chance to go out. Plus, he’s got a lot of other things in his life, among them his work for Animal Rights, a cause he’s championed for many years.

I know there are some in my profession who found LaRussa difficult, who reveled in his failures (like game 5 of The World Series). I get that. Others will point to his blinders-on defense of Mark McGwire and they’ll be right. In that sense—to me anyway—LaRussa was no different than guys like Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Belichick: you stand up for your guys, no matter what. Sometimes when you do that you’re wrong and you look bad but you do it anyway.

I have a number of LaRussa memories but one stands out because to me, it personifies who he really was—and is.

In 1996 after he had taken the Cardinals job I went to a spring training game in St. Petersburg. I don’t even remember who the Cardinals played that day because, well, it was spring training. I spent about an hour with LaRussa before the game for a column, then sat in the stands with my pal Dave Scheiber, who worked then for The St. Petersburg Times, and watched the game.

In the ninth inning, John Mabry, who was playing first base for the Cardinals, made one of the greatest defensive plays I’ve ever seen, basically running up the tarpaulin, bouncing off it, reversing direction and then diving back the other way to make the catch. (the wind off the bay was swirling big-time).

I remember thinking how cool it was that in a meaningless March game I had just seen as good a play as I would ever see. The Cardinals ended up losing and I went to see LaRussa, largely because Scheiber needed to talk to some people in the clubhouse so I had a few minutes to kill. I had all I needed to write my column.

When I walked in to his office, LaRussa looked up at me and said nothing. He was studying something on his desk.

“How amazing was that play by Mabry?” I asked.

LaRussa looked up at me blankly. “Mabry?” he said. “Why do I care about Mabry? We just lost a f----- game.”

“A spring training game,” I said.

“They kept score didn’t they?” he said. I thought he was about to get angry at me for not understanding how pissed he was at losing—regardless of the time of year.

He put the papers down on his desk and rocked back in his chair. “Been watching baseball all my life I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better play,” he said. “Made the whole day worthwhile, didn’t it?”

That was LaRussa. He WAS pissed about losing the game. But when he thought about Mabry’s play for a moment, he realized he’d seen something special and he was able to enjoy it.

One last LaRussa note. When I was working on my first baseball book in 1992, I asked him once how badly the game would be damaged by another long work stoppage—which appeared inevitable then and came to be in 1994—and he smiled and said, “The game will be fine.”

I was surprised, so I asked him why he felt that way. He just shrugged and said, “Because in the end, the game is better than all of us.”

He was, of course, right. I’d add one addendum: the game was better because LaRussa was part of it.


A lot of people have been asking through e-mails and posts the last couple of weeks about the publication date of my new book. The book is called, “One-on-One—Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game.” It is a professional memoir, keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on the Brink.’ It’s more personal than any book I’ve ever written because I tell a lot of stories about my relationships with the people I’ve written about through the years. It begins on the night I approached Knight about doing what became, ‘Season on the Brink.’

The official publication date is December 5th (I will be in Indianapolis that night for a bookstore appearance—more details closer to the date) but the book should be in stores by Thanksgiving weekend. I’m told it can be pre-ordered on line now.

It was great fun to do and the pre-publication reviews (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Book List) have been great so I’m really encouraged and looking forward to seeing what happens when the book comes out.