Jeff Pearlman

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Mazel Tov, Mookie Wilson

So the son of our close friends had his Bar Mitzvah this past weekend.

The wife and I thought about gifts. Thought and thought and thought. Everyone gives money. Some give Judaica. But we wanted to go unique. Funky. Cool. When I had my Bar Mitzvah (1985, Mr. Kisco Holiday Inn, baseball themed) the most memorable present was, oddly, a Stray Cats record from Chris Suppa. I played that thing 1,000 times; always remember Chris handing it to me, wrapped with a bow.

Anyhow, Ben is a big-time sports fan. A big, big, big Mets fan. The wife found Met cufflinks online, and I immediately flashed back in time, picturing myself as a 13-year-old kid opening a box of cufflinks. Yawn.

“No,” I told her. “No, no, no.”

Then I had an idea. I remembered, a few years earlier, reading about Thuzio, the website started by Tiki Barber. The general idea: For X dollars, one can get athletes to do different things. Play golf with you. Attend a birthday party. Feed strawberries to your wife while lying naked atop a Ralph Tresvant poster (OK, maybe not that). “What if we could get a Met to …”

The wife was with me. So we hit up Thuzio. R.A. Dickey will appear at your event for $20,000. Um, no. Willie Randolph will attend a game with you for $7,500. Um, no. Justin Turner will play golf with you for $5,000. Um, no, no, no …

Then we came upon Mookie Wilson.

For $100, Mookie—great player, great guy, legendary Met—would record a personalized message.

“What do you think?” I asked the wife.

“I love it,” she said.

“Me too.”

But it had to be … different. So I wrote a script and read it to the wife. “He’s not gonna do this,” she said.

I texted my pal Erik Sherman, who co-authored Mookie’s recent autobiography (an excellent read, by the way). I explained that it would make Ben’s day; that it wasn’t ridiculing Mookie in any way, blah, blah.

He wrote back, saying Mookie was game.

The video arrived yesterday—I couldn’t stop watching it. I love it. I love Mookie. Erik told me the former Met outfielder really wanted to do it right. And he did. It’s pitch perfect, beautifully done, filled with decency and my new all-time favorite gift.

Big props to Mookie Wilson.

And Mazel tov.

Fourth Down in Dunbar

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David Dorsey is the author of Fourth Down in Dunbar, which is now available on Amazon. You can follow David on Twitter here. Here, he writes of his experiences authoring a remarkable book.

FORT MYERS, Fla.—I stood on the corner of Henderson and Michigan today.

That place, site of the ramshackle, foreclosed and abandoned remains of the home once lived in by Deion Sanders, inspired me in recent years to write “Fourth Down in Dunbar.” My first book releases today on amazon.com and wherever else books are sold via the University Press of Florida.

This isn’t a book about just about Deion Sanders. Nor is it a book just about football. It’s a history book through the prism of the many NFL players, including Sanders, one community has raised. This is “Friday Night Lights”, but with more NFL players. Or it’s “The Blind Side”, but with even more compelling characters to follow.

It’s a page-turner, and it will help readers understand the challenges and obstacles faced by many NFL players. That said, I’m sticking to my thesis statement: the Dunbar community in Fort Myers is the most unique, historically segregated community in our country.

From Robert “Pompey” Green, who tried out for the Cleveland Browns in 1955, to Johnnie Wright, who played in the same backfield as Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, to Jevon Kearse, whose father was murdered eight months before he was even born, to Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, whose great grandfather also was murdered in Fort Myers, “Fourth Down in Dunbar” covers more than a dozen former NFL players.

The book profiles the most notorious crack cocaine dealer in the United States, a man who once aspired to be the Magic Johnson of Fort Myers long before the former L.A. Lakers point guard of “Showtime” developed a business acumen rivaling his playing prowess.

“Fourth Down in Dunbar” also explains how a carload of young men, almost all of them raised in the Dunbar community, plotted to burglarize former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who happened to be at home instead of in Tampa Bay because of an injury, paying the price with his life.

As Jeff Pearlman knows, writing a book can be a lonely journey with ups and downs, ins and outs. During those down times, I often would drive to 1625 Henderson, just to stand and think and reflect about how someone with so little as a youngster like Sanders was able to persevere and achieve so much.

It was usually nice and quiet there on Henderson. I never heard gunshots, as I did during my handful of times at Sammy Watkins’ house, about two miles away.

With my back to Deion’s former front door, I again saw the African-American cemetery straight ahead, with its in-the-ground tombstones. To the right, majestic granite tombstones in the white cemetery rise two-to-four feet above the ground.

Deion Sanders, more than anyone who came before or after him, had the racial dynamics of Fort Myers pulling and pushing and motivating him to succeed. He had the black people of the neighborhood resenting him for playing on the mostly-white Pop Warner team, and he had the white people of the community resenting him for the bling and Prime Time persona he developed in the NFL. He had African-Americans in Fort Myers wondering why he wouldn’t give them more of his millions. He had Caucasian Americans in (Robert E.) Lee County jealous he even made millions.

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Once proclaimed the most segregated city in the United States of America and also the birth place in the mid-1980s of the crack cocaine epidemic, Fort Myers is, in terms of racial dynamics in school, almost right back where it started prior to 1969, when schools were segregated. In 2003, the court order to desegregate schools expired, and guess what? The new Dunbar High School once again has a vast majority of African-American students enrolled in it despite being in a city that’s just 15 percent African-American.

As I enter my 20th season of covering high school football in Fort Myers, I have grown to both love and loathe it here. I love the amount of love, sheer determination and desire of the athletes I see rising out of the community known as Dunbar. I also loathe all of the forces – the single-parent homes, the low incomes, the drug deals, and, most disturbingly, the lack of hope – that I see in this same collection of neighborhoods.

I wrote “Fourth Down in Dunbar” for a number of reasons. Two of the biggest contain, just as Dunbar does, a big dose of irony.

I want the youth of Fort Myers to realize there are more paths to success than striving to reach the NFL. At the same time, I want to applaud and pay tribute to those who were able to avoid the perils of these dangerous streets and reach their promised land of the National Football League. I believe I did so in “Fourth Down in Dunbar.”

Lotta Piss

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There’s a pretty awful drought in California, and even though people here act as if nothing’s going on, well, the state is in bad shape. If rain doesn’t come in substantial quantities this winter, the government is going to have to start taking drastic measures. Crap, the government should have taken drastic measures long ago.

We’re new here, and the drought freaks me out. So we’re using very little water, limiting showering time, no baths. We have artificial grass, which is terrific and doesn’t look nearly as crappy as one would think.

Anyhow, I recently suggested to the wife that we enforce a don’t-flush-if-you-piss policy. Which seems reasonable, and is reasonable. But it also comes with a bit of an issue …

You have to go to the bathroom. Dumpage. You sit down on the toilet. There’s piss inside. Lots of piss. You excrete. And … splash! You feel the splash! On your butt. But it’s no longer merely water. It’s piss. Not even your piss. The piss produced by others. Mixed with yours, perhaps. And sure, they’re loved ones. So it is, 95 percent of the time, A Loved One’s Urinary product (Shipping and handling not included). But … still. You’ve got piss on your butt cheeks. Which is truly disgusting.

But the only way not to have piss on your butt cheeks is to flush. But then you’re actually flushing twice—pre-poop, post-poop. Which uses double the water.

Furthermore, as piss sits it starts to smell. Bad. Yesterday my son said to me, “Dad, the bathroom smells like old-person piss.” Which confused me. “Does old-person piss smell different from kid piss?” I asked. To which he replied, “No, I just mean the piss is old and stinky.”

Meanwhile, almond trees suck up 10 percent of the state’s water …

Life is rough.

Little League Dad

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Earlier today my son Emmett had his second game as a member of the Laguna Niguel Orioles, a Class A team out here in Southern California.

The game was held at a field in Irvine. I served as the first base coach, and I began chatting with the other team’s first baseman, a kid named Mason. He’s 8.

Mason is a lovely child. Chipper. Optimistic. Fun. Whenever one of our players reached first, he’d be greeted warmly by Mason. He also happened to be a very good player. Not amazing, but better than solid.

Anyhow, at the end of the first inning I asked Mason whether his father was in attendance. He pointed to a man on the bench, so I walked over and complimented him on his son’s demeanor. “Such a nice boy,” I said.

The guy sorta grunted. Clearly, he wasn’t interested.

The following inning, Mason was back at first. This confused me, because on our team (and all other teams I’ve seen) players rotate positions. It’s an excellent way to gain experience all over the diamond, and certainly makes the games more fun. I asked a nearby parent whether the players move around. “Yes,” the man said, “except for first base.” It turns out Mason’s father leaves his kid at first, because he’s the best player and catches the most balls.

That struck me as pathetic. But what really bothered me was the dad’s behavior following our exchange. The next inning, when Mason chatted with one of our kids, his dad would yell, “Mason, pay attention to the ball!” He also repeatedly insisted Mason stand on the X he’d drawn in the sand a few feet from the bag. “Mason, where’s your X?!” he’s shout for all to hear.

Mason would glumly move toward the letter.

It was just so … sad. One day, maybe Mason will wind up playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

More likely, thanks to pops, is he’ll come to hate the game.

Dear Boy Scouts of America …

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Dear Boy Scouts of America:

Earlier today, while approaching a Ralph’s supermarket in Irvine, California, I came across one of your troop members selling popcorn as a fundraiser for your organization. He looked like a nice kid—scruffy brown hair, big cheeks, a tad awkward.

My first response—internally—was, “No friggin’ way am I buying anything that supports the Scouts.” You are, after all, an organization that continues to treat gay men as if they were sinful lepers; your organization still maintains an outdated, homophobic policy that does not allow openly gay men to be Scoutmasters.

But then I looked at the kid and felt something. It was a hot day. He was busting his tail. Most folks passed as if he didn’t exist. So I plunked down $10 for an overpriced bag of caramel corn, smiled, wished him luck and walked off.

You know why? Empathy. I empathized with his plight.

As an organization, I strongly suggest you work on empathy, too. There are gay men in this country who love the Scouts; who were raised as Scouts; who don’t understand why they’re no longer allowed to participate. Surely, you can understand their pain. Surely, you can empathize with their plights.

I bought the caramel corn.

You can empathize and change.

Sincerely,

Jeff

 

The Jets and Quarterbacks

Namath and Todd. Like caviar and canned tuna.

Namath and Todd. Like caviar and canned tuna.

Back when I was growing up on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y., there were two kids who were die-hard Jets fans.

One was, well, me.

The other was Matthew Walker, who owned (not lying) his very own Blair Thomas T-shirt.

Recently, Matty and I were talking via Facebook about the Jets’ quarterback history. Specifically, we ranked the all-time five best QBs in franchise history. We pretty much agreed on this …

1. Joe Namath—No brainer.

2. Ken O’Brien—Scorned because he was drafted before Dan Marino, but it’s sort of unfair. O’Brien was a helluva player. Always had a very high completion percentage, owned an absolute gun. Was he Marino? No. But he’s closer to Elway-Kelly-Marino (the big three from the ’83 Draft) than Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge (the lower two).

3. Chad Pennington—Pretty good player with no arm strength but, like O’Brien, unique accuracy. Injuries hurt a solid career.

4. Vinny Testaverde—Big arm, local boy, had some excellent seasons.

5. Richard Todd—To watch Todd regularly was to realize he wasn’t very good. OK game manager, blessed with Wesley Walker and Mickey Shuler; cursed with Lam Jones. Was traded to Saints and bombed.

There are some arguments to be made. Does Mark Sanchez eke out Todd? What about Boomer? Brett Favre was a Jet for a year. Pat Ryan wore No. 10. Kyle Mackey existed. Browning Nagle … um, yeah.

It’s a terrible list. There’s no getting around that truth. Terrible. Namath was a groundbreaking quarterback who deserves his legendary status, but—when talking play alone—he’s not No. 1 for most franchises. The 49ers have Joe Montana and Steve Young, the Cowboys have Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, the Patriots have Brady, the Colts Unitas and Manning and (I’d argue) Bert Jones. I hate to admit this, but I’d take Y.A. Tittle, Phil Simms or Eli Manning over Namath. Sorry, man. I would.

Truth be told, the Jets may well have the worst five in the NFL (not including the most recent expansion teams). The Bears are pretty thin at QB, but they’ve still got Sid Luckman, Jim McMahon and Jay Cutler. The Eagles aren’t breathtaking, but Norm Van Brocklin, Randall Cunningam and Donovan McNabb trumps the Jets.

Anyhow, I’m babbling. Let’s discuss …

Seventy Percent Isn’t Enough

Roger Kahn. No Jonathan Eig.

Roger Kahn. No Jonathan Eig.

Here’s a confession: Most authors I know, when asked to write a cover blurb for a contemporary’s work, don’t read the entire manuscript.

No, you ask for a chapter. A couple of chapters. A good chunk of the finished product. But, between family and professional stuff and obligations big and small, it’s sometimes hard to take time for 300 pages of a book you otherwise probably would not have read.

Such was the case with me and Roger Kahn’s new release, Rickey & Robinson.

I was asked by Kahn’s publisher to blurb his book. The author, of course, is a legend, and I was flattered by the request. So I read, oh, 70 percent. And enjoyed it. Did I love-love-love it? Honestly … no. It was filled with some riveting nuggets, but was also rambling and—at points—strangely disorganized. I liked it enough, though, and it’s Kahn’s last book, and he penned the amazing The Boys of Summer and blah, blah, blah. Hence, I wrote this blurb:

blurb

And I never again thought of it. Blurbs come, blurbs go. Then, however, one day last week a friend asked whether I was surprised by Kahn’s page 254 take on Jonathan Eig, my pal and, undoubtedly, one of the great biographers of this generation.

Um, his take? Had I missed something important?

This, I learned today, is what Kahn wrote: “In a more recent book, this one claiming to cover Robinson’s first major-league season, a journalist named Jonathan Eig is also dismissive of Woodward, who was the finest sports editor of his time. Eig sometimes writes effectively, but he simply does not understand what went on in 1947, a season that unfolded roughly two decades before he was born.”

Roger Kahn is a legend.

Roger Kahn has written 18 books.

Roger Kahn is not in Jonathan Eig’s class.

I truly mean that. Having read Eig’s Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinon’s First Season, and now (70 percent of) Rickey & Robinson, I can say a few things:

A. Eig is a significantly better writer than Kahn. I’m being sincere. Significantly better. More nuanced, more measured, more artistic. Just better. The best of Eig batters the best of Kahn. Period. The arrogance that drips from the line, “… sometimes writes effectively” makes me want to vomit. I can’t imagine ever using those words on another scribe. Even if I thought them. Just … mean.

B. Eig is as thorough and detailed a researcher as I’ve come across. Opening Day was beyond intensive. Kahn writes largely off memories—which is fine. Eig writes off of research and the memories of participants. I’ll take that every time.

C. I know where Kahn is surely coming from. I understand. Back in the spring of 2003, when I was researching The Bad Guys Won, I was sitting near a table of Met beat writers who knew I was in camp, but didn’t recognize me 10 feet away. They were talking about the book project, and how I had no right to be doing it. “He wasn’t even there,” was the line I remember. I’m sure Kahn feels the same way; feels a sense of ownership of the Robinson saga.

But here’s the thing: Nobody owns a story.

Anyhow, I’ve learned my lesson. I really have. I think Roger Kahn deserves all the praise and accolades he’s received. He’s had a brilliant career—there’s no denying that. Had I read all of Rickey & Robinson, though, the blurb doesn’t exist, and my name isn’t on the jacket.

Seventy percent isn’t enough.

A finger in the cake

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Back when I was 10 or 11, my mom baked a cake for Dad’s office party. It was chocolate, and when it was completed Mom placed it on the top shelf of the refrigerator, covered by a sliver of tinfoil.

When nobody looked, I dipped my finger in the cake, looped it around the perimeter and hoped nobody would notice.

Of course, I was caught. And punished. I confessed, went to my room, stayed there for quite a long time.

If only I’d known then what I know now—thanks to professional sports.

In the real world, awful actions have consequences. In college and professional sports, awful actions also have consequences … unless, after being caught, you profess to “manning up by acknowledging your already acknowledged mistakes.” The first time I became fully aware of this phenomenon was back when Jason Giambi, then with the Yankees, admitted he’d used PED—after it became clear that he used PED. He was praised for holding a (all-time least-specific) press conference, and George Steinbrenner, the Yankee owner, sang Giambi’s praises for “taking responsibility.” The narrative repeated itself throughout the Mitchell Report revelations—folks coming clean after they’d already been exposed, then receiving curious praise for doing so.

Today, during his awful press conference, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell credited himself for taking responsibility of his Ray Rice-related mistakes—after repeatedly being flogged publicly for his Ray Rice-related mistakes. Eyes closed, one could almost feel Goodell’s elongated arm patting his big back, a firm, “Nice job, Buddy” accompanying the action. Hey, he manned up. He admitted his wrongdoing. He accepted responsibility.

Eh, here’s the thing. You don’t get (or deserve) credit for acknowledging your fuck-up after you’ve fucked up. Like, you’re caught eating the cake. Everyone knows you ate the cake. Your fingerprints are in the cake. Saying, “Mom, I admit it, I ate the cake”—no good. Does nothing.

But this is what passes for accountability in big-time sports. We offer second, third, fourth, fifth chances, often on the basis on one’s faux ability to confess to an already-confirmed misdeed.

Wanna man up? Wanna be credible?

Don’t make the mistake to begin with.

Depressing

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A couple of days ago we went to something called the Tall Ships Festival in nearby Dana Point.

It was pretty cool. Lots of (gasp!) tall ships, mainly of the pirate variety. There was food and lemonade and science exhibits and …

… the table pictured above.

Sigh.

Damn, it was depressing. The person sat there and sat there and sat there, poorly located in the rear of a parking lot, trying to do the impossible—peddle print subscriptions of the Orange County Register. When I write, “Nobody was stopping by,” I mean—very literally—nobody. Not adults. Not kids. Not people intrigued by the sad and pathetic offer of a free Angels shirt with your paid subscription.

Not. One. Soul.

There’s a reason for this, and while I hate to admit it, well, it’s been true a long time: Print newspapers are CDs. Yeah, they exist, and loyalists remain. But they’re increasing in age, dying off, drifting far, far, far away. I love print. I was raised on print.

But either someone at the Orange County Register is hopelessly optimistic, or he simply didn’t get the memo.

It’s over.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life