Volume 2, Issue 27: The One Where I Answer Your Questions

Because Tinyletter is mostly for mail, it’s nearly impossible to find old newsletters. So I’m posting all my old newsletters here so they can be searched, indexed, all that. You’re still better off just subscribing.

Bette Davis died on October 6, 1989, at the age of 81.

October 6, 2018

This is the mailbag newsletter! You sent me a ton of questions! I’m answering the best of them. I’d like to take a brief moment to thank you for subscribing to this thing in the first place. I spend far too much time on this newsletter, but honestly: I do think it is the purest distillation of who I am and what I am trying to do as a writer, and even sort of as a person. So thank you for giving me a place to do that. It means more than I suspect you will ever know.

OK! Questions!

Was the Kavanaugh hearing the worst job interview in history? — Kyle Gillis.

Well, it looks like he’s going to get the job, so no. But yes: I am trying to come up with any other scenario in which a job interview could possibly feature the applicant screaming “I love beer!” and “When have you blacked out?” to the people interviewing him. I touched on this in last week’s newsletter, but I think that Thursday was one of the worst, ugliest American days of my lifetime. It was the first time this smug optimist had the the thought, “Uh ... we might really be screwed?” When Trump was elected, I tried to imagine how bad things might get. We haven’t blown up yet, so we’ve got that going for us. But Thursday sure looked like the end of something, didn’t it? It felt like something has been irretreivably lost.

It seemed like the actual worst day since the election, right? Actually, that’s a fun (“fun”) thought experiment: The worst days since Trump was elected. Back of napkin sketch:

  • Kavanaugh hearings.
  • Family separation implosion day.
  • The travel ban.
  • The Las Vegas shooting.
  • The Parkland shooting.
  • I’m sure I’m missing several shootings.
  • The Helsinki press conference.
  • The day Trump refused to put the flag at half staff for John McCain.
  • Charlottesville. God, Charlottesville.

There are so many I’m missing. There are so many more coming. I want off this ride.


Is there a hierarchy for the various genres of writing? Where do sports/movie writers fall? Do you feel any pressure to expand to different topics or formats? — Jason Brewer.

I will write about anything and everything: To me, that’s the point of writing. Writing about sports and movies gives you the opportunity to write about anything, because they are too connected to the rest of the planet to ever extricate and isolate them. I will say that covering the 2016 election for Bloomberg was a truly exciting professional experience for about eight months, and then it became horrible. I don’t know if any particular sort of writer is more respected because of his or her subject matter, and I don’t really care. As long as I get to stay true to myself, I don’t particularly mind what I’m writing about. Life’s a rich pageant, you know? My job is to enlighten and hopefully do it in an entertaining fashion. That’s what I try to do.

Where do you see sports journalism ten years from now? The Internet (or, “internet” if you prefer) has definitely transformed the whole field of reporting on sports. I’m in the bleachers seeing all this. You’re on the field getting pummeled and advancing for yardage. So, looking ahead, what do you think? — Dwight Jon Zimmerman

I know that every sportswriter is supposed to have Big Thoughts On The Industry, but honestly, I don’t really sweat this that much. The issue for me with finding scaleable — that word — sportswriting has little to do with the quality of the work itself. People like sportswriting because people like sports! Sports are awesome! It’s not like people have started caring about sports less than they used or something; if that happens, then I’ll worry. The business model has been “disrupted,” as they say, but it doesn’t mean that people still don’t want good writing about sports. It just means everyone’s still settling on its market value. I have no control over that, and do not want any, so I just stay out of it, put my head down and just try to make a bunch of good shit every week. Almost every working person in this country is completely at the whim of some rich asshole above them who could wipe away their job with a snap of his finger or a deleting of an Excel column, and sportswriters are no different. I can’t do anything about that any more than a factory worker or a tax accountant can do anything about it. So I just work. That’s what this is supposed to be. It’s work. I work and work, and hopefully no one will ever tell me to stop. That is all I can control. The rest is weather.


So, I guess you always wanted to play for the Cardinals when you were a kid. So, did you want to be Willie McGee, or Joaquin Andujar? — James Casey.

I wanted to be Darrell Porter. I was a catcher, and he was awkward and weird-looking and sort of goofy like I was. Darrell Porter is one of the sadder baseball stories of my lifetime: I actually wrote an old Life as a Loser column about him. Snap me perfect.


Fellow Illini here class of ‘96. Left Illinois for Wisconsin over a decade ago. The political corruption in our former state is legendary. Why has this been of no benefit to our football team? Can we get a Rose Bowl victory with a little side of scandal? — Christy Courtois

All Illini questions (obviously) answered. I really do believe Illinois football will be fine someday — or at least, “better than Purdue fine” — and I still believe in Lovie and the crew. (And college football is so inherently corrupt already I honestly don’t care how they do it.) But I’m a downstate Illinois kid; It’s more important to me that basketball gets fixed first. (I don’t care how they fix that either.)


Why do the Arizona Cardinals always suck? Why do they seem snake bitten? Why can’t they ever have sustained success? When it was the old man running the team, it was easy to see that it was him, but the younger Bidwill has SEEMS to not be a hindrance. — Kyle Dean

Eh! They made a Super Bowl! And almost won it! I still can’t believe that happened. Honestly, I am not going to lose too much sleep about the Buzzsaw currently stinking. When I was younger, I couldn’t even get people to admit that the Phoenix Cardinals existed. They finally broke through and did something after being horrible and invisible my entire life. Also: It’s the NFL. They’re bad now, they’ll be good in a few years, then they’ll be bad again. The trick is to hurry up and win a Super Bowl before they ban football. It’s gonna be tight.


What’s your favorite stadium, old or new? — Harry Oxnard.

There’s no place I enjoy being more than Busch Stadium, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. To me, the purely greatest place to see a baseball game is AT&T Park in San Francisco: It feels like you are on an extremely pleasant moon.


I am a nationals fan so my question is generally, loosely, what the f—k? — Dan Simon.

Every time I write about a Washington sports team I get yelled at, so I’ll just say this: One of these years a Nationals team that probably doesn’t deserve to is going to win a World Series. And it still won’t make up for all of it.


did you play a lot of sports as a kid? did I miss that newsletter? — Leonor Mamanna

This comes from my favorite photo editor ever — who has a wonderful newsletter of her own — writes in to remind me of my athletic shortcomings. I was an average athlete who loved playing and thinking about sports enough to improve myself to slightly above average. I played baseball from five years old on, basketball in middle school and football my freshman year, which I signed up for just to get in shape for baseball. I was a catcher with a weak arm and little power, but I was known for my relationship with pitchers, my directing of traffic on the field and never letting a ball in the dirt get past me. I think about playing baseball literally every day of my adult life.


Do you have any go-to writing rules or tips? The more technical the better. — Rachel Smith.

I (predictably) always quote Roger Ebert here: “The muse visits during the act of creation, not before.” People who sit around waiting for inspiration to strike will be waiting a long time. You just have to sit down and make shit: It’s just work. My purest distillation of this was probably something I wrote for my friend Jami Attenberg this summer: You can read it here. As for technical things, I’d say you should do as I say and not as I do and be sparing with the adverbs. And that all arguments should be made in the meter of three.


Have you considered writing another baseball book? — Michael Ortman.

Yes. But I have to finish the non-baseball book I’m working on right now first. You all have to promise to buy it.


I’m getting married in just under four months. Is there anything you wish you had asked for in your wedding registry that you didn’t put in at the time? — Nick Hansen

Congratulations! Get an awesome blender. Like, a kickass, top shelf blender. It’ll change your life.

That was really fun. Let’s do this again in the spring. Thank you for sending me these. I have powerful feelings about each and every one of you.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. So What Do the Cubs Do Now? MLB.com. This did make the Cardinals’ faceplant feel a little better.

2. Judge Jock, New York Magazine. Gonna be awesome having that dude a daily part of public life for the next 50 years.

3. Your MLB Cheering Guide for the Otherwise Unaffiliated, MLB.com. Go Brewers? I think go Brewers.

4. The Top 50 Players of the MLB Postseason, MLB.com. I love baseball’s postseason so much.

5. Debate Club: Spinoff Films, SYFY Wire. Though, really, isn’t everything a spinoff?

6. Expert Predictions! MLB.com. I am a super expert listen to me I am very smart about everything.


This week’s guest on “The Will Leitch Show” was Trevor Long, who plays the evil Cade on “Ozark.” I also think he has a thing for my mom. Watch it on Amazon or on SI TV.


Grierson & Leitch, “The Old Man and the Gun,” “Hold the Dark” and “Night School.”

Seeing Red, we wrapped up the faceplant, ouch.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, recap of the Tennessee blowout, previewing the Vanderbilt blowout (without me, though).

Have a great weekend. I will be in Maine! That place is even whiter than me! Go Brewers. Yeah. I’m down with that.



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