When I attended college a few years ago (haha), I, along with the most everyone on campus, could not wait for Fridays to come, besides the usual reason. Friday was the day the weekly student newspaper came out, and the anticipation was for John Erardi’s insightful, and often hilarious, article. Granted, things were a little slow in Murray Kentucky, but it was well worth the price of admission, so to speak.
I have devoted a lot of time to writing the last few years. I have some good ideas that I try to pass on to baseball coaches and sports parents. Having said that, I am reminded of a line I once heard a comedian say, when talking to fellow comedian Robin Williams – “I have done this a long time, but when I see what you do, I feel like I am in a whole different profession.” That is how I feel about my interview subject, John Erardi, sports writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Compared to the Big E, as fellow Murray State University teammates and myself called him, I am nowhere near in the same league as he is. For proof, check out his writing at the Enquirer, along with his five books, and you will see why he has been named Ohio Sports Writer of the Year 3 times. It was such a thrill to turn the tables on John and ask him the questions, which is usually his role, of course. You will not be disappointed with his great answers, as he is still so insightful.
Jack Perconte – Your thoughts about whether the “caught” steroid players should be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame
John Erardi – I’ve actually written about this quite a bit. These users do not deserve a place in the Hall of Fame. If they are going to be elected by my peers (the 10-year plus members in the Baseball Writers Association of America), they should be placed in a separate Hall of Fame “wing,’’ called “The Steroids Wing,” or “The Cheaters’ Wing.’’ Put big heads on their plaques to represent the physically big heads that they got from juicing. Juicing isn’t popping an amphetamine or scuffing a ball or corking a bat. Those things affect the game at the margins. Steroids significantly alter who you are; they chemically alter you in a substantial way from being the person you were created to be. And one result of that is that it’s destroyed the meaning of baseball’s hallowed records. People who do that are not Hall of Famers in my eyes, not even if they had Hall of Fame numbers before they started juicing.
Jack – Have you noticed much change in today’s athletes compared to when you first started in the business?
John – Yes, but not as much as one might think. I think there are fewer players today who care to “share,”’ but there definitely enough who do, and those are the ones I tend to go to for my stories, when I have the choice. (Sometimes, I don’t have the choice. Sometimes I have to deal what’s put before me – by chance, by circumstance, or by a media-relations person.) Various things have contributed to the drop-off in number of players who want to share: 1.) Money, 2.) The players don’t “need” us, as they once did, to tell their stories. If they want to “share,” they can tweet or blog or whatever. But it’s not the same; they aren’t trained as inquisitors or to express themselves. They are trained to play ball.
Jack – Favorite athlete you have covered and why?
John – Pete Rose, because he was so good with a quote.
Jack – Best baseball player you have ever seen and why?
John – The best of the “comets” I ever saw, who I was around a lot, was Eric Davis, the Reds’ center fielder. Greatest combination of power and speed I ever saw. (The following isn’t “quick fire,’’ but I MUST add: The best player I ever saw at his position was Johnny Bench. Just marvelous. The most complete player I ever saw was Joe Morgan — and just a half-tick behind him in completeness was Barry Larkin, another Reds Hall o Famer. The most intense player I ever saw was Pete Rose. I loved watching them all. But if I have to pick one as “the best player I ever saw,” it is Eric Davis.)
Jack – Best game you ever attended?
John – Wow, this is a great question, because it’s really making me think! I think Game One of 1990 World Series, when Eric Davis smoked that first-inning home run off the Oakland A’s ace, Dave Stewart, serving notice that the Reds weren’t buying into the A’s hype and mystique and press clippings! (Also, I MUST add even though it isn’t quick fire: Davis ’
HR “said” the following to me: “This World Series is going to be
decided ON THE FIELD.’’ This is one of the biggest reasons why I love sports so much. Outcomes aren’t decided by politics, or opportunity, or because somebody has pre-ordained it by a script. Yes, I truly love it when “the game is on!”)
Jack – Do you feel your experience of playing college baseball helps you relate to athletes more than writers, who did not play at that level do?
John – Yes. I do. There are writers who would dispute that. But I believe from exposure that I realize how difficult the game is and how unique major leaguers are. I played college baseball with some fabulous and talented players, and so many of them weren’t even drafted! Many of them who were drafted, didn’t make it to the top; in some cases, not even close to it. I also watched a lot of minor league baseball, traveling around watching my brother play. I know what the game takes. I think that the major leaguers I speak with know that I “get it.’’ I’m not in awe, but I appreciate what I’m watching, and I think they can tell from my questions that I’ve been around the game, have thought about it a lot and appreciate the difficulty and nuance and bounce of the ball. To quote my college baseball coach, ‘’Here at Murray , we play the bad hops.’’ I try to remember that lesson. There are going to be bad hops. Play them. Don’t make excuses.
Great Answers John, I’d like to get to know a little bit about John Erardi now
Jack Perconte – When did your love of sports begin? Was there any one person who was a major influence in that area?
John Erardi – For me, like, so many others, my dad. Good ballplayer. Cared. Had me in the backyard swinging at a plastic or rubber ball at 2. I had good hand-eye, and swinging the bat helped me develop that hand-eye further, and I just loved swinging it and watching that ball fly!
Jack – When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Did you always know it would be in the sports area?
John – My mother was smart. She wanted me to read, but she knew I wasn’t going to read anything but sports books. So that’s what she went to the library and got me, and that’s what I read. I thought I was reading sports books; what I was reading was BOOKS. I thought I wanted to be was a ballplayer, but I remember thinking, “
This is making me laugh, this is making me cry, this is moving stuff. If I don’t’ make it as ballplayer, maybe I can write stuff like this someday!’’’ I was being turned into a writer, and didn’t even know it! Without reading those books, I don’t think that happens. And, as I’ve always told students from first grade through college who want to be sportswriters: Love writing first and foremost. Being a sportswriter is about WRITING, not about sports. True! I wrote general, non-sports news for the first 10 years of my newspaper career. I’m about writing about people, the human condition and the storytelling of it all. It’s what ultimately led me into sports writing. But it’s not why I got started in it.
Jack – I realize a ton of work goes into getting to the top of any field of work, but did you always have a gift for writing?
John – I think so. It’s like hand-eye. You’re born with it. But you can develop it further, because just by loving it, you work at it. And you naturally get better at it.
Jack – The one story you wish you hadn’t written
John – I once wrote a story about a local 8th grader who was chosen as “one of the best eighth grade basketball players in America .” I regret writing that story just because some “ratings” service — one that served no legitimate purpose and by its operation devalued the REAL life of a young person, being able to grow and flourish and blossom on his or her own terms – sort of “lured” me into it. It was “fool’s gold,’’ i.e. a false, fleeting status for a person so young. Although I believe what I wrote was fair, unbiased and compelling, I should have declined to do that story, and instead allowed that young person to grow up normally.
There is a time and place for such things. It is not in the eighth grade!
Jack – I realize this is a broad question, but what are your first thoughts about youth sports today, compared to when you grew up?
John – Everything seems so specialized today, even well before the time the student-athlete gets to high school. I admit I’m “old school,’’ but I don’t like it. Plus, so many sports are so “organized.’’ There is much, much, much less pickup ball, if any. The spontaneity has been removed. Then again, if ‘’organized’’ is the only way to get kids to play sports, then by all means continue to organize them. It beats the heck out of letting kids sit around doing nothing except play video games.
Jack – As a followup, if you could change anything about youth sports today, what would that be?
John – I’d let kids play all sports. Less specialization. Get away from all the travel teams. I realize that isn’t going to happen. I think some parents are lazy, and think they always have to ‘’pay for it,” in order for ‘’it’’ to be good. In some cases, special training for pay is good — very good. But what gets lost is the parent-child bonding. In other words: What’s most important is not WHAT you’re doing together, it’s that you ARE doing it together.
Jack – In hindsight, if you could go back and do something different in your playing career, what would that be?
John – I’d have applied myself more. As a young kid, probably age 2 through sophomore year of high school, before I started driving and chasing girls and carrying on, I think I played sports purely for the love of it. It’s who I was, it’s what I did, and I absolutely loved it. Through distractions and probably failure, I think I lost some of my desire to excel. If I had the chance to go back and do it again now, I think I’d understand that the love of it, the exhilaration of it, is all that really matters. It’s not the results, it’s the joy of the pursuit, i.e. the sheer fun of playing ball, that matters. You’re only young once – enjoy it, love it, revel in it. It will be gone quickly! Don’t sweat the results so much. And if not having big, satisfying results really bothers you all that much, find something else healthy that comes closer to yielding the results you like and want. But don’t give up on the healthiness of exercise, sweat, accomplishment and being part of a team. I believe I’ve regained my appreciation and joy of those last four things, but now I’m too old to “play” like I used to! Don’t let that happen to you!
Thank you for this opportunity to answer these questions!