Jeff Pearlman

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Brian McRae

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Professional athletes have this weird thing, where they’re here, they’re big, they’re bold, they’re important—and then they sorta vanish.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Jordan, Gretzky, Ruth, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Jeter … folks of that ilk reign eternal. But when’s the last time you thought of Tom Browning? Or Kendall Gill? Or Stump Mitchell? Most pros end their careers and quickly disappear from the public realm. You might hear a name pop up every now and then, but—as the years pass—it’s increasingly rare.

Enter: Brian McRae.

Not all that long ago, McRae was one of the more interesting names in Major League Baseball. First, he was the son of Hal McRae, one of the Kansas City Royals’ all-time greats. Second, he was K.C.’s first-round pick in the June 1985 amateur draft. Third, he could flat-out play—McRae possessed a Gold Glove-worthy mitt in the outfield, and his four seasons with more than 160 hits tell the story of a high-caliber contributor. Put simply, Brian McRae was one helluva player.

It’s been 16 years, however, since his final appearance, and times fades memories. These days, McRae dabbles in sports media while also serving as a coach at Park University. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Brian McRae, dreams come true. You’re the 217th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Brian, I just read a really fascinating 2005 piece about your decision not to use steroids while with the Mets—and how it wasn’t an easy one to make. Why, when you knew so many guys were juicing, did you ultimately not go that route? How close did you come to making a different decision? And do you believe it could have prolonged your career?

BRIAN MCRAE: After doing research and talking to a few doctors and strength coaches, I just felt that, long term, it was best for me not to use any PHD. I stayed healthy my whole career until knee surgery after the 1999 season, so it made the choice easier. I may have added two or three years on at the end, but I was happy with my decision.

J.P.: You were, I truly believe, an excellent analyst for ESPN. Then, one day, you sorta vanished, and I never saw you on TV again. I’ve been Googling around, trying to figure out what happened. So, um, what happened? Why did your TV career end?

B.M.: I enjoy radio better than TV because it allows your personality to come out and you can take two-to-three innings to tell a story without all the replays and break a TV games has. I also like taking calls on the post-game shows a lot better than being a studio host. I fell I am better without a script.

After ESPN I worked with and the Royals from 2002 until 2008, doing the game broadcast, pre-and-post radio and TV. I still do about 25-to-30 pre-game shows and I worked the 2014 post-season with 120Sports out of Chicago. So I’m still involved.

J.P.: You played in the Kansas City outfield alongside Bo Jackson. I feel like there’s a whole generation of fans who don’t truly understand how unbelievable and weird and uncanny Bo Jackson was. Can you explain, with as much detail as possible?

B.M.: Bo Jackson going on the disabled list in 1990 was the reason I got called-up! Bo could do it all and he was really starting to figure things out at the plate when he injured his hip. He was a freak of nature. I don’t think fans really understand how much work it took for him to make his comeback. That may have been his greatest accomplishment.

With Bo it wasn’t one special thing. He just did things no one else could do—like throw a ball from the warning track to home plate in the air. He did something once a week that no one had ever seen before. It was crazy.

J.P.: Your father, Hal McRae, is a legendary Kansas City Royal who had 2,091 hits over 19 seasons. In 1985, you were the team’s first round draft pick. That seems like it could suck—the comparisons, the contrasting, the unrealistic expectations that you, too, become a three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner. What was it like? How hard/easy was it? And did expectations impact your career?

B.M.: In high school I liked football better and had more scholarship offers. I didn’t have everyone expecting me to be a good baseball player like my father was, so it was more enjoyable. When I was drafted by the Royals it was odd because they didn’t scout me as much as other teams and I wasn’t tabbed as a first-round pick.

The first two years in the Big Leagues, 1991 and 1992,  with my dad as my manger were not much fun, but I also learned a lot. The next two seasons I figured out how to block out most of the negative things that I let bother me. I just focused on my play instead of trying to do too much because I was Hal McRae’s son. But was it easy? No.

J.P.: In 1992 you hit .223. In 1993 you hit .286. That’s an enormous jump, but the sort of thing that happens quite often. This fascinates me—how do you explain guys hitting 60 points higher one season after struggling? Then, in 1997, you hit .242. Up, down, all around. Why are most ballplayers so inconsistent? Why can’t guys hit, roughly, the same every year?

B.M.: Young players struggle and then something clicks. From 1993 through 1998 I had five solid years and I had a chance to make a few All-Star teams and win some Gold Gloves. Baseball is a very mental game and I was in a good frame of mind, having fun playing ball. I think, perhaps, people forget how hard it is to hit a baseball because we make it look so easy at times.

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J.P.: In 1999 you hit .195 in 31 games with the Blue Jays—and your career was over. You were 31. What is that like, being a young man who’s done? Did you realize something was wrong? Did you think it was correctable? When did you ultimately say, “Nope, this is it. It’s over?”

B.M.: I had a serious knee injury early in the 1999 season and I probably should have had surgery during the season. Instead I tried to play on it because I thought I had a great chance at making the playoffs for the first time in my career with the Mets. I was traded late in the season and finished four games out with the Blue Jays while the Mets made it to the post-season. That wasn’t so wonderful.

I had surgery that off-season and went to spring training with the Cardinals but I got let go a few week before Opening Day.

It was a tough transition at first, but playing 15 years of pro ball —10 in the Big Leagues—when I was told I’d only be up for two weeks isn’t all bad. I signed at 17, got to the big leagues at 22 and retired at 32. A few more years as a bench player after I had been a starter for a decade wouldn’t have done it for me.

J.P.: You had eighth-straight seasons with at least 15 stolen bases. I’ve never asked anyone this—but with the arm strength of most MLB catchers and the arm strength of most MLB pitchers, how does one ever steal a base? Like, what were the keys? What sort of mentality does it take? And can you imagine a day—ever—when we have Rickey Hendersons and Tim Raineses and Lou Brocks swiping 100 bags?

B.M.: The game has changed and speed guys aren’t around as much as they used to be. Pitchers do a lot better job at holding runners and teams are worried about running into outs. You really have to study a pitcher to find the keys that give it all away when he is throwing toward the plate or trying to pick you off. That takes time. Some guys want to spend that extra time hitting. A base-stealer can’t be afraid to get thrown out or picked-off. Will we have 60-to-70 stolen bases in a year? Yes. But we won’t see 100 again.

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J.P.: You’re an assistant coach with the Park University baseball team. I’m always fascinated when former Major Leaguers work with smaller schools. Can you truly understand the plight of the .220 NAIA hitter? Can you put yourself in his shoes? And why coach? Why college?

B.M.: I started coaching high school kids in 2008 and I just finished my third year at Park University. I am also working toward my degree in psychology. I have two years of school left and would like to be a head coach at the college level in three-to-five years if the right situation comes up. I enjoy being close to home with no long toad trips and working with the young kids who enjoy the game but understand what level they’re at. NAIA baseball is a mixture of transfers from bigger schools and kids who just want the chance to compete for a few more years while going to school. I love that.

J.P.: You played against Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Piazza, Palmiero. So what’s your take on the Hall and PED guys? And why?

B.M.: I believe all of those guys will—and should—get into the Hall of Fame. They may not live to see that day but they put up those numbers and dominated during that time period. I don’t feel cheated knowing what we know now. I held my own and played the game the right way.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

B.M.: The greatest was my first day in the Big Leagues I started against Alex Fernandez, who I got my first hit and 100th home run off of.

The lowest would be playing my whole career without a post-season game while coming close four different times. I lost on last day of season twice with chance of advancing. My dad has two rings—one with the Royals, one with the Cardinals—and my brother got two as the Florida Marlins’ video coordinator. I have none.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Whitesnake, Larry Gura, Shea Stadium, the smell of a new mitt, Mr. Potato Head, Williams Baptist College, Slick Rick, Rand Paul, Seattle Slew, tuna melt: Tuna Melt, new mitt, Slick Rick, Larry Gura, Whitesnake, Seattle Slew, Mr. Potato Head, Shea Stadium, Williams Baptist College, Rand Paul.

• The world needs to know what it was like playing with Rick Wilkins: Good dude who somehow hit .300 one year. Hitting .300 is hard to do for a catcher.

• One question you would ask Frank Perdue were he here right now?: Why chicken?

• What’s the most overrated statistic in baseball?: Wins and losses for a pitcher.

• Most embarrassing moment of your life?: Got stung by a bee on the lip in high school.

• Who wins in a race, right now, between you and Josh Hamilton? How close is it?: Josh. I pulled my groin and can’t move well.

• Two things you can tell us about your mother?: She’s a two-time cancer survivor, and she was a part of the first-ever class of black students at the University of Florida.

• What should we do about climate change?: Limit the pollution from big businesses.

• Five coolest baseball player names: Cool Papa Bell. Tom (Flash) Gordon. Tim (Rock) Raines. B.J. (Bossman Jr.) Upton. Sparky Anderson.

• Who wins in a round of chicken between you and your dad and the Griffeys?: The Griffeys outweigh us, so they’d win.

Dear Heather Martin …

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Dear Heather Martin:

I don’t know you, but someone posted your Facebook status update from July 21.

First, I’d like to offer my congratulations: Your spelling and grammar seem pretty impeccable. Proper usage of “You’re” vs. “Your”; Good application of the colon. Even a neatly placed hashtag to wrap things up. Truly, mazel tov.

That being said, I’d like to kindly request that you please refrain from reinforcing the views most of us in the 49 other states have of Texas. I mean, your Facebook ID backdrop … Really? That’s so Rick Perry. And the ignorant, racist, coded language? Are you trying to make us think you’re a bigot? Or are you unaware of the power of your ignorant, racist, coded language?

Either way, you’re an asshole. Like, a really big asshole. Like, one of those assholes who thinks she’s protecting her children by keeping a loaded gun in her dresser; like one of those assholes who likes blacks but hates n—–s; like one of those assholes who can’t possibly understand why African-Americans mistrust the police; like one of those assholes lacking the empathy and compassion to grasp how it feels to, once again, be pulled over by a cop for shifting lanes without a turn signal. Or, once again, be followed through Macy’s by the store security guard. Or, once again, have poll workers question your voting status. Or, once again, watch others be promoted at the job.

I’m actually riveted, Heather, by what could possibly make one write the sentence, “Just cause you decided to kill yourself later does NOT make you anything other than a menace to society, as so clearly illustrated by the dash cam video.” Did you know Sandra Bland? Did you know her family? When you read this article, do you feel the slightest sadness? Empathy? Hurt? Or did she deserve to die, because she was mouthy to an overzealous police officer? Does that make her passing digestible?

Oh, and if someone gets snotty with a police officer, you and yours will “pull you the eff out of your car”? Really? Even though it’s, eh, illegal? You’re OK with that? Legal protections don’t matter to you much? America and all that. You seem, at best, to be a snotty racist asshole. Can I therefore come over to your house and pull you out of your window and place you under arrest? For being rude? For being an asshole? For throwing out hurtful, bigoted speech? That cool with you?

Heather, here’s my request: Spend a few nights in Gary, Indiana. See what it’s like to be black in downtrodden urban America, where all the businesses have left, where the economy long ago died, where cops are itching to make arrests and where a kid has no reason to view college as the slightest possibility. Or visit Newark, N.J. Or Trenton. N.J. Or Compton. Or 100 other places across the country. See what the world is like—what it’s truly like—before you fire off some snotty, ignorant, bullshit message that your little white, poof-haired, arch-conservative, Ted Cruz-loving xenophobic Facebook pals can like with a click on the heart.


— Jeff Pearlman

Meat crackers

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As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m not a particularly religious man.

Every so often, however, something happens in my life that forces me to reconsider my takes on faith and destiny. There was, for example, this chance meeting back in a State College coffee shop. I’ve known people who’ve told stories so remarkable and otherworldly that, well, the possibility of an all-knowing God enters my mind.

And then, there’s a moment that occurred yesterday afternoon. In, of all places, the Irvine Spectrum Target.

I was walking through the store with my son when, for no particular reason, I glanced toward my left. The bags were located on a shelf—probably 40 or 50 of them, neatly stacked and arranged. At first, it seemed to be no big deal. As a father of two, I’ve purchased my fair share of Goldfish crackers. But upon further inspection, these were no mere Goldfish crackers.

No, these were …

Cheeseburger-flavored Goldfish crackers!

Our father, who art in heaven …

They’re new! They’re inexpensive! They come in three different colors! And three different flavors!

The yellow Goldfish crackers are, of course, delicious cheddar.

The red Goldfish crackers offer the delectable taste of ketchup.

The brown Goldfish crackers … the genius of the idea and the reason I am now happy to be alive and kicking and writing and eating … are flavored to represent meat.

Yes, meat. Goldfish now has a meat-flavored cracker. Which is amazing in about 10,000 different ways. I’ll offer a couple here …

1. It’s not always easy getting a burger.

2. Vegetarians can finally appreciate what it’s like to eat meat.

3. It’s crazy fun saying, “Meaty cracker.”

4. It’s crazier fun saying, “Meat cracker.”

5. Only a meat cracker can make a ketchup cracker seem sane.

The perks are endless. The joy everlasting. I truly believe this is what the great Willy Wonka had in mind all those years ago, when he developed a piece of chewing gum that—upon being placed in one’s mouth—morphed into an entire meal.

Of course, that whole mess wound up with Violet Beauregard turning into a life-sized blueberry.

This time, she’d only be a slab o’ meat.

Xiang Liujuan

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So earlier tonight, while working out at the gym, I was watching the news on my local Fox station. This wasn’t entirely by choice—personal geography be damned, I’d long ago given up on any local news station and the repeatedly inane stories about giant months and jugging squids and lottery winners. But, sadly, my 24 Hour Fitness only gets four or five channels. Your options are limited.

So I was watching. And suddenly the anchor spoke of an “escalator tragedy” in China. And suddenly the anchor spoke more of an “escalator tragedy” in Chicago. And more. And more. And then, without warning, the network showed us the security video from the “escalator tragedy” in China. Which involved a 30-year-old woman, Xiang Liujuan, being swallowed by a malfunctioning escalator, much like a fictional dragon might eat a dog. In the black-and-white video, Xiang Liujuan is exiting the escalator—and then she’s here, here, here … gone. It’s horrifying and gruesome. Fox News viewers were, quite literally, shown a person’s death.

For. No. Good. Reason.

None. Zero. You don’t know Xiang Liujuan. You don’t live in China. There is no outbreak of escalator malfunctions. It wasn’t caused by ISIS or Al Queda. There’s no trend, or warning, or lesson. Nope, this was a woman whose life ceases to exist, and the producers at Fox News thought it entertaining enough to display on air. Because, clearly, it would generate views. And more views. Thereby impacting potential ad revenue.

Now I’ll stop typing to vomit.

That’s right, we pray …

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Last night, after yet another gunman shot a bunch of innocent people, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, spoke at a press conference. He said lots of things, including this [of the victims],  “The best thing anyone can do right now is think about them, pray for them, shower them with your love.”

I am furious.

Here we are, the most gun violent nation in the world. It seems, at this point, there’s some genre of mass shooting every few weeks. We’ve had huge ones like Sandy Hook and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Charleston and Chattanooga. According to the the Guns Are Cool subreddit, thus far there have been 204 days in 2015. And the Louisiana movie theater tragedy was the (by pure coincidence) 204th mass shooting of 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 9.38.31 AMSo what to do? Easy: Pray.

That’s the answer. It must be the answer. Because the governor of Louisiana—staunchly pro-gun—says so. Oh, we can also look at how we treat mental illness. And maybe movie theaters need metal detectors. Those are solid ideas. But greater gun control? Longer background checks? Less availability of high-caliber firearms? No, no, no. Prayer, please. Just prayer.


Of course, it ain’t happening. I can scream and shout and bellow and whine and cry, and it doesn’t change the fact that the NRA owns far too many of our political figures; that if Columbine and Sandy Hook couldn’t change America, nothing will. So here we sit, fools emboldened by an antiquated and flawed Second Amendment, shells falling to the floor of a Lafayette cinema, and prayers floating from myriad minds and into the netherworld of nowhere.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a meeting room, Bobby Jindal’s advisers say he looked very presidential.

More lazy nonsense from CNN

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I abhor Fox.

I detest MSNBC.

But, for my money, the worst news network on television is CNN. And it’s not that close. Need examples? How about the never-ending missing plane coverage? How about the 8,001 focus groups? How about the existence on this planet of an employed Don Lemon?

How about … this?

A couple of days ago CNN hosted a segment where a bunch of Republican voters talked about why they like Donald Trump. The pieces was called “Real Voters, Real Choices,” and featured six idiots people sitting with a reporter, explaining why Trump is the real deal. The star of the segment was, clearly, this woman …

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… who offered the (beyond awesomeness) money quote, “What’s presidential anymore? We have a president sitting in the White House right now, he’s taken so many vacations it’s costing the taxpayers dollars. What has he done for America? Donald Trump will take us above that. He’ll make America the way we once were. We’ll be great again.”

Anyhow, in the back row, neatly tucked between a crazy guy with a beard and a less crazy guy in a suit, was this guy …

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… who loves Trump (and, apparently, vests) and believes he’s the answer to America’s immigration troubles. He’s Ryan Girdusky and unless you’re an awfully quick reader, you might not notice that he’s … a reporter. A Republican reporter. And a political consultant. A Republican political consultant.

And, to be 100-percent clear, I don’t blame Ryan Girdusky at all. Like, nary an iota. If you’re a passionate partisan, and a major network invites you on to promote your views, well, why wouldn’t you?

Nope, this is about CNN laziness; about the inability to find six non-journalists to talk about why they support Donald Trump; about not simply calling someone you know, even though his resume is a red flag, to fill the slot.


PS: I had a friendly Twitter exchange with Ryan. He made clear that he’s a former Democrat who has advised candidates of both parties.

A Star Has Died

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Earlier today I was informed of the death of Daron Norwood, a country singer who, in the early 1990s, sat on the verge of stardom. He was good looking, energetic and talented, and two of his songs (Cowboys Don’t Cry and If It Wasn’t for Her, I Wouldn’t Have You) reached the  Top 40. I posted news of his passing on Twitter and, to my dismay, nobody seemed to care. Or remember.

But I do.

Back in June 1994, I was a brand new, out-of-college features writer for The Tennessean, and my editor assigned me to profile someone we deemed to be a hot new star in the genre. Hence, I was sent out to Fan Fair, the annual Nashville country music festival, and told to spend a few hours with Norwood, who would be signing autographs and posing for pictures in his designated booth.

I did as I was instructed—and loved it. I immediately understood what the fuss was about. Despite having one leg in a large cast (he’d suffered a bone contusion while leaping from a stage in Wichita Falls, Texas), Norwood was a bundle of energy. Kissing. Hugging. Poking. Prodding. “I’m 40 and in absolute love with him,” a woman named Delaine Jones told me. “I would go out on a date with him in a second. He’s incredible.” Upon returning to my empty apartment, I took the small Daron Norwood photo someone had handed me and stuck it to the wall. He was, in a sense, the first celebrity I’d known, and I decided to keep a watch on his destined-to-be-marvelous career …


Alas, destiny is funny. Daron Norwood never became a true star. He quit chasing the dream in 1995, explaining to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that alcoholism had ruined him, and that he was downing between 20 and 25 shots of Jack Daniels per night. My promise to keep a watch on Norwood was forgotten, though every so often I’d do a Google search to see if anything new popped up. The news—if there were any—rarely read well. In 2008 he was arrested for allegedly beating his wife. A year later, Norwood agreed to speak to students at Panhandle High (in Panhandle, Texas) on the dangers of drug addiction. Instead, according to a news report, he, “spent nearly two hours shouting at students and faculty, running around the gym, using inappropriate language, playing music and that he barely spoke on the subject of drug abuse. A teacher finally pulled a fire alarm to get students out of the gym, and police were called to ask him to leave the school.”

I did a YouTube search for Daron, and the stuff I found was, well, heartbreaking. The man once deemed a future star was, in 2012, performing outside of a Texas bar called Garcia’s, playing keyboard, dressed sloppily. You can hear people chattering in the background. My guess is there are, oh, 20 folks in attendance. Maybe less.

Last year, I actually tracked Daron down and asked, via Facebook, if he’d like to do a Quaz Q&A. I reminded him of my Tennessean profile, which he said he remembered. He told me in a long voice message that he felt God had put us back together, and we should definitely do the interview. Alas, I got busy, kind of forget, then definitely forgot. About four months ago, I left Daron a message, apologizing for the lengthy delay, but telling him I was ready and excited.

I never heard back; never heard another word about Daron Norwood. Until today, when a friend of his told me he had died.

Daron Norwood was 49.

To me, he’s never been the faded has-been with the dreams gone bust.

Nope, he’s that kid with the leg cast and the big smile.

To me, he’s a star.

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“I know you”

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I was at the gym about an hour ago. Reached my favorite weight machine at the same time as another guy. Blond, curly hair. He looked at me. “I know you,” he said.

“Um …”

“I know you.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied.

“I know your face.”

“You sure?” I said.

“What do you do for a living?”

“Sports writer,” he said.

“That’s it!” he said. “Jim Rome’s show, right!”

“Wow,” I said. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“You were sometimes OK on that,” he said—100-percent serious.

“Oh. Thanks.”

We talked a bit about Rome, who he loves. And the show, which he loves. He said, “Who were you on with?”

“Mike Freeman?” I said.

“Is that the black guy?”


A few more seconds of light conversation, then, “Where do you think you go after you die?”


“Where do you think you go after you die?”

“Man,” I said. “I’m a Jewish guy. I don’t really wanna have a religious conversation.”

We fist bumped.

And that was that.

Why I love Donald Trump

Rick Perry to Donald Trump: "The American people need an apology." Ronald Trump to Rick Perry: "Blow me."

Rick Perry to Donald Trump: “The American people need an apology.” Donald Trump to Rick Perry: “Blow me.”

I hate Donald Trump.

Like, I really hate him. I hate his arrogance, I hate his dismissiveness, I hate how he killed the USFL, I hate how he destroys nature in the name of golf courses, I hate how he sought out Barack Obama’s birth certificate. I really, truly, 100-percent dislike the man.

And yet, over the past few days, I’ve come to love him.

As you surely know, Trump is a candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Do I consider him a real candidate? Like, do I think he truly aspires to be president? Um, no. I’m pretty sure he digs the buzz, laps up the spotlight, enjoys being the center of the universe. However, many Republicans are clearly taking his candidacy seriously, because he either leads or is in second in many of the national polls.

I digress. I love Donald Trump because, in a world of political fastballs, he’s a screwball. For example, Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and one of the 7,512 Republican contenders, recently ripped Trump over some of his inane, xenophobic immigration comments. So did The Donald respond with a tightly constructed political statement? With wording along the lines of, “While I respect the governor’s opinion, I …”

Nope. This is exactly what Trump said: “Rick Perry — I mean Rick Perry, give me a break here.”


When Trump suggested that John McCain isn’t a hero (again, a really stupid take), the other GOP candidates pounced. They called Trump awful and horrible and unfit to be president. All of which is certainly true. But instead of doing what politicians do (meek apology), Trump basically told the others to fuck off. Why, I even agreed with (gasp!) Rush Limbaugh’s take on the matter: “The American people haven’t seen something like this in a long time,” he said. “They have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down and tell everybody to go to hell.”

The reason we, as a people, so dislike professional politicians is because it always feels like they’re pandering. It’s eternally “[So and so] owes the American people an apology” and “What the American people want is …” It’s the annoyingly robotic adherence to polls and servitude toward handlers. In short, those running for office tell us not what they believe, but what they think we think we want them to say they believe. It’s why I feel the same way about Hillary Clinton as I do Jeb Bush and Scott Walker: Unmoved.

Look, Donald Trump is awful. Horrible. Gross. And—despite outward appearances—he’s pandering, too. But watching the exploding heads of his opponents has been a serendipitous joy. They can’t figure him out, because he’s not playing by their rules.

I dig that.

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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