I like Ian O’Connor. He’s a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com and the host of his weekly Ian O’Connor show on ESPN radio, 7-9am Sundays. He’s also pretty straight forward with his baseball analysis and opinions and I appreciate that. Another thing I dig, and you know this about me, is the “nugget”. That piece of info the others aren’t giving you. That’s why I admire guys like Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record and Ken Davidoff to the New York Post. They find it and bring it to you. The others don’t always do that. Well, O’Connor does it too and did it late last week. When everyone else in the press were giving us replacements for Mariano Rivera, Ian found the “nugget”. We picked it up here, and that was our first question to him, along with a whole lotta other stuff. I bring you our interview with Ian O’Connor. Enjoy this, I did.
BYB: Ian, many wrote about Mariano's replacement 1 day after reports said he would retire. What made you write about Jackie Robinson's widow Rachel being "proud" that Mariano wore #42 instead of taking the, what I call, the "lazy route of journalism" and just write about Rivera's replacements?
Ian O’Connor: I don’t think writing about Mariano’s potential replacements, or lack thereof, represents lazy journalism, not when it’s safe to say one of the first thoughts in any Yankee fan’s head when he or she heard Rivera is retiring – especially with Soriano gone – was, “Who the heck is going to be our closer next year?” I remember Brian Cashman telling me, “I pity the fool who replaces Mariano,” so I guess he’s feeling some pity for David Robertson right about now.
I chose to call Rachel Robinson and to write about her appreciation for Rivera, the last man to wear her husband’s No. 42, because I thought it was a way to pay tribute to one of the all-time greats without simply calling him one of the all-time greats. I’d already written that column. Though Mo isn’t African-American, I always thought he was a fitting ambassador of Jackie Robinson’s legacy because of the dignified way that he carried himself, a way that touched Rachel Robinson and millions of fellow baseball fans.
BYB: I know you're a sports writer, but what team do you root for in your "fan life" and why?
Ian O’Connor: I imagine a lot of readers and fans would find this hard to believe, but I really don't root for any teams. It's part of the deal when you get that first press pass, checking your childhood allegiances at the press box door. But growing up, I lived for the Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. My family belonged to the St. Cecilia parish of Englewood, NJ -- Vince Lombardi's first head coaching job was at St. Cecilia -- and every Sunday morning during football season I would pray for the Cowboys in Lombardi's church. In the summer, it was all Yankees, all the time. I was more of a Reggie Jackson guy than a Thurman Munson guy, for what it’s worth. One day in the fall of 1978, while playing on the St. Cecilia High freshman football team, I called in sick to practice so I could go home and watch the Yankees and Red Sox play their tiebreaker game at Fenway.
Still one of the five or six best decisions of my life. Never tire of hearing Bill White's call of Bucky Dent's shot.
BYB: I am always interested in hearing who sports writers were fans of as kids. For example, Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record told me he worshipped Tom Seaver growing up. Who was your guy growing up and why?
Ian O’Connor: Roger Staubach. He played the quarterback position the way a lot of guys are playing it now, using his feet and his imagination to create something out of nothing. Sunday mornings, the Record would run the NFL league leaders, and the first thing I'd do after church was check the quarterback completion-percentage leaders and where Staubach stood. I don't know why I obsessed over completion percentage back then, but I did. And I still think if you give him those five post-graduate years he spent in the Navy, he might now be considered the greatest quarterback of all time. His response to Phyllis George about sex -- saying he enjoyed it as much as Joe Namath did, just with one woman -- is one of my all-time favorite lines from an athlete.
BYB: OK, you have an opportunity to sit and have a beer with 3 athletes living or dead of all-time. 1 needs to be a baseball player, 1 a football player and the final one can be any athlete of your choosing. Who would they be and why?
Ian O’Connor: First would be Jackie Robinson. I would like to hear him talk about the courage it took to do what he did, and about the pride he would feel knowing he helped pave the way for this country to ultimately elect a black man President. Second is Roger Staubach, for the reasons already stated. Funny, but of all the famous athletes I've met over 27 years of doing this, I've never met him. Maybe it's supposed to be that way. But old clips of him playing bring me back to my childhood, and to the times my mom (we lost her to cancer) made sure there was a Cowboys cap or jacket under my Christmas tree.
Third would have to be Sandy Koufax. Maybe after a couple of cold ones, he'd open a few windows on that soul he's kept shut all these years.
BYB: Give me your best explanation of why you wrote The Captain?
Ian O’Connor: I was actually planning a bio of Tom Landry when the idea hit me one spring training day in Tampa where Derek Jeter was playing for Team USA for WBC against his own team. It was strange seeing him compete against the Yankees – Derek Jeter was the Yankees, after all -- but the scene got me thinking. Here was an iconic Yankee approaching 3,000 hits at the time, approaching a new – and potentially ugly – contract negotiation, and perhaps approaching the end of his career/time as a star player. With all those significant things happening, I thought the time was right to try to paint a human portrait of an intensely private man, a great Yankee who can come across as something of an automaton. Hopefully I pulled it off.
BYB: How did you break into the business and what can you tell others who are interested in becoming successful sports writers like yourself?
Ian O’Connor: A Marist College professor suggested I combine my love of sports and relative success in English courses and write for the school paper. Won a journalism fellowship, got hired by a Star-Ledger bureau to handle high schools, local colleges, golf, town meetings, and death notices, and a couple years later, while running errands for the Times, wrote a feature on fallen New York playground legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault that earned me a job offer and really jump-started my career. When I talk to students today, I tell them to get experience in as many different positions as possible at their campus papers, web sites, TV and radio stations. This obviously isn’t the same industry I entered in 1986, but I tell students one thing hasn’t changed: You have to bust your ass. There’s never going to be any substitute for that.
BYB: There has been alot of talk in reference to the Biogenesis, PEDs stuff lately. Do you think that Major League baseball needs to rethink their drug policy?
Ian O’Connor: The Miami New Times story and ongoing MLB investigation into the allegations show that the drug policy isn’t punitive enough. Good to see that the union chief, Michael Weiner, seems to agree. Fifty games for a first offense isn’t cutting it. Baseball should go to a “two-strikes-and-you’re-out” approach, with a one-year penalty for the first timers, and a lifetime ban for the repeat offenders. Weiner says his membership is sick and tired of the frauds among them, and agreeing to a much tougher penal code would prove it.
BYB: Will Alex Rodriguez come back to the Yankees this season?
Ian O’Connor: On truth serum, the people employing Alex Rodriguez would tell you they never again want to see him in a Yankee uniform. But there isn’t exactly going to be a parade of teams lining up to trade for ARod, not with all of his baggage and not in his diminished state. Physically, ARod is supposed to be ready sometime in July. Unless MLB finds enough evidence to hammer him, he’ll be back, much to the Yankees’ chagrin.
BYB: OK, free plug… What do you have right now that you'd like to promote on Bleeding Yankee Blue?
Ian O’Connor: ESPN just moved my weekly 98.7 FM show in New York to national ESPN Radio. It’s every Sunday, 7-9 a.m.
BYB: Finally, Do you ever read Bleeding Yankee Blue?
Ian O’Connor: Sure I’ve read BYB. Enjoy your Q&As, though I may have just given you the least interesting one yet!
Actually Ian, it was great. Thank you. Hope you readers enjoyed Ian, he’s part of the BYB family now. Be sure to check out his books, The Captain and Arnie & Jack. Ian, we appreciate you taking the time.
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