An Interview with Jay Greenberg
“New York is more competitive and I’ve worked in probably the three most competitive markets in North America. Philadelphia had three dailies for half the time I was there. This takes it to another level – it’s more competitive and cutthroat. The Post and Daily News are out to drive each other out of business.”
“It’s easier to be much more critical in a market like New York than St. Louis or Pittsburgh. There is so much more of a tradition of criticism – it’s accepted that the papers will be tough.”
Jay Greenberg: Interviewed August 17, 2006
Position: Columnist, New York Post.
Born: 1950, Johnstown, Pa.
Personal: Married, two children
Education: University of Missouri, BJ, 1972.
Career: KC Star 1972-75, Philadelphia Bulletin 1975-78, Philadelphia Daily News 1978-89, Sports Illustrated 1989-91, Toronto Sun 1992-94, New York Post 1994 –
Author of: “Full Spectrum: A History of the Philadelphia Flyers”, 1996
Favorite Restaurant (home): Luchento’s, Englishtown NJ. “All the northern Italian staples, well-seasoned, a lot of fish and chicken options, which is what I eat mostly, and big portions.”
Favorite Restaurant (road): Al’s, St. Louis. “They did the Morton’s thing – no big menu, big tray with the unprepared selections – long before Morton’s.” The Common Plea, Pittsburgh.
Favorite Hotel: Fisherman’s Wharf Marriott, San Francisco.
Jay Greenberg excerpted from the New York Post, July 19, 2006:
BRILLIANT is how Alex Rodriguez self-described his Sunday, when he started a difficult double play to get Jaret Wright out of a first-inning jam, made another throw that trapped a runner in a rundown and hit a two-run homer during a Yankee victory that for one day chased his boo birds away.
But just like the idiots in the beer commercial, Rodriguez’s next bright idea was to sun himself on a blistering Monday in Central Park and wind up shirtless in The Post, several pages ahead of his three errors and 0-for-4 culminating in a bases-loaded strikeout.
“I only laid out for 10 minutes with my daughter and my wife, wish it could have been longer,” said Rodriguez yesterday after joking how good he looked in the picture.
“It can’t be hot enough [for me].
“It’s Central Park, [photographers] are out there every day.
It’s my back yard, what are you going to do?”
Go to his private club would be one suggestion.
Uh, we mean the one with the pool, not with poker tables, or maybe a writer with a tape recorder running while Rodriguez tells the world how much harder it is to be A-Rod than it is to be Derek Jeter.
That was a long time ago in Seattle, but also was the tip of the iceberg of his self-indulgence.
If the guy can’t help himself with the fans with an eighth-inning homer to beat Boston or to win a playoff game, he can at least do the little things that don’t put his common sense in question and draw the target larger on his back.
The Yankees pay Rodriguez $25 million a year to report in optimum condition to do his best, including nights hot enough for the trainers to have posted a reminder about hydration, diet and “limiting workouts.” Being from Miami, Rodriguez probably does have more tolerance of the heat, but to flaunt that leaves he and the Yankees tolerating supposition that he played the game fried. Not what they need, and not what he needs, with so much negativism swirling around him.
Q. Which story of yours triggered the strongest response from readers?
A. I did two Yankee games back to back in July – in the first one Alex Rodriguez made three errors. As I was preparing to do the write-through for the final edition, I get a call from my office. We have a picture of Alex with his shirt off sunning himself in Central Park. I’m to mention that in my piece. It was a scorching day. I didn’t think it was good idea for him to be out there – especially with signs in the locker room to protect yourself from excessive heat. He said he was out there for 15 minutes – the person who sold us the photos said he was out for an hour. He said he was from Miami and loves the heat. I didn’t necessarily draw a connection between his three errors and being out there but it was inferred. There was a lot of negative reaction to story – most people thought it was silly point. People drew comparisons to drugs and all the really bad things he could have been doing. I was surprised at how negative the reaction was – eight or nine to one against.
Q. How do you handle e-mails from fans?
A. I answer it. As long as it’s respectful and someone is making a reasonable point and tries to understand what I was thinking. I think they deserve an answer.
Q. Can you compare working in the New York market to other markets?
A. New York is more competitive and I’ve worked in probably the three most competitive markets in North America. Philadelphia had three dailies for half the time I was there. This takes it to another level – it’s more competitive and cutthroat. The Post and Daily News are out to drive each other out of business. The quality of beat work here is the highest of any place. In Philly I competed against Al Morganti for years – we went at each other pretty hard. You go into the Yankee clubhouse, as soon as it opens people are there watching each other to see who’s going to who. People do not let each other out of their sight.
To a degree the tabloid nature of it accentuates the competitive level. Everybody is looking for the back page and headline. Other places you looked for the story. Here the emphasis is making a headline.
Q. Do beat reporters have to take a different approach than columnists?
A. When I was a beat guy I pulled my punches. As a beat guy you prided yourself on knowing who was playing well and who wasn’t – I wasn’t’ protecting anybody and I was objective about the team. When I did criticize it wasn’t with the edge I do as a columnist because I don’t need them now. I try to be fair. But I’m not as careful as I was about offending people. If they get mad at me they get mad at me. I don’t’ have that kind of scoop pressure that beat guys have. If they are sarcastic and caustic people aren’t going to tell them as much. That’s an occupational hazard of doing a beat. Columnists shouldn’t have to worry about that. Only about making a reasonable point.
Q. Should columnists show up the next day?
A. I can’t always because I do a lot of things. I try to if I’m there. It’s overrated because p.r. guys have our numbers. They can call me if they want to. Or I’ll be there in six days or seven days. It’s amazing how non-confrontational they can be. It’s easier to be much more critical in a market like New York than St. Louis or Pittsburgh. There is so much more of a tradition of criticism – it’s accepted that the papers will be tough. If they’re mad at one guy they’ll talk to the other guy. There are more choices here. They don’t necessarily feel their reputation is being damaged as much.
Q. Is it harder to work in a one-paper town?
A. It might be. Bernie Miklasz (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) has said that. I think it is. There is more of a booster mentality in those towns. I remember doing the Kansas City Scouts. When I was critical there was more of a reaction than in bigger cities. The fans were afraid the team was going to leave town.
Q. How do you get your sports information?
A. I spend at least an hour to two hours reading the New York papers, almost cover to cover. I read all the columns. Game stories I kind of skim. I read the leads of games stories. I look for quotes in game stories, and go online to get later editions. I go online to a degree, but I’m not an internet junkie as much as others. I may read the top 10 on sportspages.com. Sometimes I scan the columns on espn.com.
Eventually I catch up to better pieces in SI. I used to subscribe to Sporting News but dropped it. Too much Nascar, I can’t stand it.
Q. Columnists you admire?
A. Mark Whicker (Orange County Register). I think there are a lot of us very good at what we do but I think he might be the only genius. Ray Ratto (San Francisco) Chronicle).For diplomatic reasons I won’t mention the New York guys. Growing up I thought Roy McHugh in the Pittsburgh Press was good. Joe Posnanski (KC Star) is good. Gene Collier (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) is very good. I like Ian O’Conner (The Journal News, USA Today) and Dave Hyde (Sun-Sentinel).
Q. Beat reporters you admire?
A. George King at the New York Post, the Yankee guy, it’s amazing how much information he gets. Larrry Brooks, our Rangers guy.
Q. Hardest sport to cover?
A. My background is weakest in basketball because I did hockey for years. I don’t have the background in basketball I have in other sports. My greatest degree of comfort is in baseball – which I grew up with – and hockey which I covered for a long time.
Q. Which league or sport is most writer friendly?
A. It probably varies more by teams than by leagues. I used to think that baseball players were most difficult and hockey players were best. But that was probably me. I don’t find baseball players more difficult than other athletes. The NFL has spectacular access at the Super Bowl, but during the season there’s a big drop off. The NFL has more control freak coaches. You get 45 minutes and you’re lucky if the players are there for 15 minutes. From an access standpoint the NFL is probably the worst. Also, in some NBA situations you can’t get in the locker room after the practice.
My biggest lament about all this is I see a big difference from 1972 to now in locker rooms. There’s so much more electronic media, and women are in the locker room. Being able to just talk to a guy while getting dressed is almost gone. They want to be dressed because there are cameras, and women are around. It’s much much more formalized.
Baseball if you get a guy alone before the game other reporters will respect that and not interrupt. But after the game with cameras going and players wanting to get out you’re virtually guided around from player to player wherever the players are.
Q. How does the quality of reporting compare to when you started?
A. It’s better. The quality of sportswriting is so much better. There used to be so much pedestrian writing and borderline cheerleading. Guys were doing beats for 30 years and didn’t want to dig. Even in one-paper towns I don’t see that. Quality of writing and information is just better. People just dig and are much more aggressive.
Q. What are the pros and cons of the sportswriting lifestyle?
A. More nights than most jobs. I think more people take better care of bodies than when I got into business. Alcoholism was more rampant then than now. I don’t’ know of too many problem drinkers now. It takes a patient wife who understands that you’re working a lot of weekend and nights. It’s going to take time away from your kids. I enjoy the travel.
Q. How stressful are deadlines for you?
A. Deadlines do wear on you. Deadlines at the Post are the hardest I’ve had. I was a PM guy in the first part of my career. I had to re-invent myself as a deadline writer. I’ve gotten more comfortable with it, but that is the part I like the least.
My first deadline is 7:30 pm. The second one is 10:45. The last one is midnight to 12:15. The middle one is very hard – writing off the game – we’re expected to write off the game – if your early angle isn’t holding up you have to let it go. When the game goes in another direction in the last two innings those are nights you feel you earn your money. The Idea is to get something half decent for 10:45 and then go to locker room and you put it into English. The clock ticks and it wears on you. I root for fast games. You also learn a second gear. You develop a kind of formula for doing it – mine involves using more quotes – it’s easier to write transitions off the quotes. The moost exciting games for fans are hardest for us. If you have to rewrite on the final edition it’s really stressful.
Q. How many columns per week?
A. Two to four. I’m contracted for four, but space has shrunk considerably. Some weeks I do three or two. I’d like to do more but there just isn’t space.
Q. Can columns double as a column and game story to save space and manpower?
A. There are situations where I’m by myself and I’ll write a game column with more game detail. But for most part if I’m by myself, which happens in football games, I’ll write a game story instead of column. But a game story is so subjective in our paper it’s doesn’t make a lot of difference.
Q. Advice to students?
A. It’s no different now than 20 years ago. Just write and develop a style. Write as much as you can, read as much as you can.
Q. Should students work on both print and electronic skills?
A. There are more electronic outlets now. I’ve always looked at writing as my thing – I don’t speak as well as I write – I’ve never thought of myself as an electronic guy – some do both – some have crossed over for good. I don’t think you have to do both. Radio and TV jobs are more transient – there’s more pressure – if you do a good job writing you’re not going to be as subject to the whims of what you look like and sound like. Writing is a more stable career.
Q. How do you develop sources?
A. Make the calls. Introduce yourself. And just be around. There’s no substitute for working and calling. Develop a trust – don’t betray anybody’s confidence. Now I’m in so many different places. I never developed better sources than I had in hockey. I was a beat guy and I was around. Even today I still have better sources in hockey than anything else.
(SMG thanks Jay Greenberg for his cooperation)