Neifi Perez and I inspire Joe Posnanski

I have a chapter in a new baseball anthology called Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time, which is out this week from Da Capo Press.

I wrote about Neifi Pérez, who infuriated fans of the Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers in a long career that started with the Colorado Rockies, for whom he put up ballpark-aided, deceptively half-decent offensive numbers, and ended with his suspension for using amphetamines.

The piece is not sarcastic. I really did come to admire Neifi Pérez.

To be a guy like that, to be a guy who makes fans in four cities tear their hair out, to be possibly the single worst regular player in the major leagues in multiple seasons, to last for a dozen years in the big leagues, start more than 1,200 games, get caught stealing an astonishing 45 times in 102 attempts, you have to be a hell of a ballplayer.

The worst player in the major leagues is a hell of a ballplayer. The worst player in the history of the major leagues, whoever he was, was a hell of a ballplayer. Neifi Pérez was a hell of a ballplayer.

The chapter was excerpted this week by my employer,, and many former readers of my old sports column showed up in the comments to say kind things about being glad to see my byline and wishing I would bring the column back. I would if it were up to me, but Salon is a business and it makes business decisions, and that’s about it for now.

Part of my job these days is to improve the headlines and coverlines of the pieces that run in Salon, and I did that to my own piece. Well, I changed the headline. I’m not sure I improved it. I forget what it was originally but I changed it to “Neifi Pérez: Bad baseball Hall of Famer.”

I’m gratified to say that this phrase, “bad baseball Hall of Famer,” inspired Joe Posnanski, whom I admire quite a bit, to call on his blog for the formation of a Bad Baseball Hall of Fame. He asks for nominations. Go on over and nominate someone, but be warned, Johnnie LeMaster has already been nominated. A lot.

And while you’re clicking around, why not go buy the book? Here’s that Amazon link again.

Funny thing about having the chapter excerpted in Salon: The readers quickly spotted an error that both I and the book’s excellent editor, Sean Manning, had missed in our multiple, in my case dozens of, readings of the piece. Here it is: “[Dusty] Baker and Detroit’s Jim Leyland have their critics, but they’ve each won more than 1,000 games and three division titles. Baker has won a pennant, Leyland two pennants and a World Series — the latter with Neifi on the postseason roster.”

Of course, Leyland’s World Series win came in 1997 with the Florida Marlins, not in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers and their ineffectual utility man, Neifi Pérez. Not sure how I got myself turned around in that sentence, but there it is, captured for posterity, a mistake I must have read right over 50 times without catching.

I always said my readers at Salon were the best editor in the world. There they go again.

Did I mention you can buy the book? I don’t get royalties or anything. But it’d be nice if a book I contributed to sold a few copies. And it’s good too, a fun read. Roger Kahn’s piece on Jackie Robinson is almost worth the cover price alone for the way it portrays Robinson, whom Kahn both covered and worked for, as a real person, not the paper saint we’ve come to know in the last 20 years.

I’ve read about 15 of the 25 chapters, and there’s not a dog in the bunch yet. Even my old pal Buzz Bissinger’s piece on Albert Pujols isn’t bad.

Allen Barra on “When Curling Was King”

“King Kaufman is to curling – ‘chess on ice,’ as we aficionados refer to it — what Red Smith was to baseball and A.J. Liebling to boxing.  He’s good on just about every other competition in the Winter Olympics as well, and no one has ever given a better account of the politics and vagaries of the Winter Olympics and its judges. Not merely a companion to the Winter Games, this book will have you feeling like an insider.”
— Allen Barra, Wall Street Journal, author of “Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee.”

Buy “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns 2002-2006” today at It’s only $3. That’s barely a nickel per mention of curling!

Advance praise for “When Curling Was King”

“King Kaufman looks at sports in a different, smarter way than most people. Reading this collection reminded me that the best sportswriters dig into sports from the outside to find the truth within.”
— Will Leitch, contributing editor, New York Magazine, author of “God Save The Fan.”

Buy “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns 2002-2006” today at It’s only $3. That’s only 11 cents per mention of Michelle Kwan!

“When Curling Was King” soft launch

It’s up! I’ve uploaded my first ebook, “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns, 2002-2006” to I’ll start the hard sell soon.

So far, with total sales at 0, I’m pretty happy with Scribd. I was expecting an hours-long rasslin’ match to get that thing uploaded, but it was pretty easy. The only thing that went wrong went wrong because of my own dumbness, deleting the document when I didn’t like something when I should have just uploaded a revised version.

That’s monkeying with the search right now. It’s run by Google, and right now Google’s seeing the original document, and when you click through you get “This document has been deleted.” Duh, me. I’m hoping next time Google crawls the site, the deleted version will be forgotten and only the second, correct version will show up.

The preview, which should show the “cover” — really just Page 1 of the PDF but it’s a photo with text on it and it’s supposed to look like a book cover — is showing up as a blank page, which isn’t great. Page 1 of the actual document looks right, though, so I’m hoping that the blank page on preview is another artifact of my dumb deletion and will sort itself out soon.

I’m pretty sure this is the most complex thing I’ve ever done on a computer without getting someone smarter than me — usually my only genius friend, Mignon Khargie — to hold my hand or do it for me.

You can read a preview, featuring the cover, the table of contents, an introduction and one column from each Olympics, here. And if you like what you see, spend the three bucks and read the whole thing.

I’m wondering if I should do more column collections, and I’m also wondering if ebooks organized around various subjects would be a good idea for Salon. Interviews with authors? Investigative pieces? The best of Heather Havrilesky? Let’s see if anyone’s interested in this one first.

My first e-book

With the 2010 Winter Olympics coming up in Vancouver, I’m planning to release a collection of columns I wrote for Salon during the 2002 and 2006 Games. My first e-book will be called “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns, 2002-2006,” and it’ll be out just as soon as I can figure out how to make do what I want it to do.

This afternoon I tweeted my intentions to publish an e-book called “When Curling Was King,” and I think anyone who happened to read it probably figured I was joking. I mean, curling was never king, right? Right.

But there’s a lot of curling in the book, though of course there’s plenty of figure skating — remember David Pelletier and Jamie Sale? — and hockey and all that flying down the mountain stuff too. Björk makes a cameo appearance. The title’s kind of a joke, is the thing.

I’m trying to figure out if I can make one of a few Creative Commons photos of curlers in Turin work for the “cover,” that is for Page 1 of the e-book, since there’s not really a cover. But if you happen to know of a really great Olympic curling photo from 2002 or 2006 that I might be able to use for free or not much money, let me know.

And how much would you pay for an e-book of my Winter Olympics columns, plus an introduction and a new little introductory paragraph for each piece? A buck? Two? It’ll be about 120 pages. Help me figure this out.

Where’d this blog go?

So we were rollin’ along pretty good here, talking about the future of journalism with a little baseball mixed in, and then all of a sudden — stop.

What happened? I got co-opted by corporate America!

OK, what really happened is that I’m writing about the same stuff — not so much the baseball — at the Future of Journalism Blog on Open Salon. Katharine Mieszkowski and I started that blog about a month ago. We’re still feeling our way a little bit, but we’re pretty pleased so far.

Come on over and join us.

When I think of something else to write about here, you’ll see it here.

Newspaper crisis means MLB plays in secret

Terrible news on the death of newspapers front. A USA Today report the other day told the story in its headline. Shrinking newsrooms put squeeze on MLB coverage.

Reporter Mel Antonen notes that membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America is off by 65 writers this year, reflective of newsroom layoffs and newspapers ceasing or sharing beat coverage. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for example, share beat writers covering the Texas Rangers.

Those papers have always been competitors, but now they’ve united against a common enemy: their obsolescence.

Antonen paraphrases Los Angeles Dodgers exec Josh Rawitch noting the drop in newspaper reporters covering teams. A dozen or so traveled with the Dodgers in the early ’90s, compared to just two this season, plus the beat writer.

I wonder how long MLB and most of its teams will keep using the “press box space” excuse when denying credentials to online writers.

Rawitch also points out that the loss of newspaper writers affects radio and TV stations that, in Antonen’s words, “need fodder from newspaper accounts of the games and notes.”

This of course is a microcosm of the larger crisis in journalism. Without newspapers, there simply isn’t enough raw information. I mean, I’m really having trouble following this baseball season so far, aren’t you? There just isn’t enough information out there. Never mind radio and TV stations. Won’t somebody please think of the bloggers?

My first thought when I saw Rawitch’s I.D. as a Dodgers exec was “I was just wondering whether they were still in the league.” With so many newspaper reporters dropping off the beat, it’s like baseball’s being played in secret.

What are we all going to do with only three beat reporters writing that Shlabotnik scored from second on Casey’s single, instead of 12? How can we really understand the game, I mean really get to the bottom of it, if Shlabotnik’s postgame quote — “I saw Casey hit it and I just ran” — is only scribbled in three notebooks, not a dozen?

The BBWAA lost a net 65 writers this year, Antonen reports, even after its forward-thinking decision to allow 22 Interthingy typists in. You can see for yourself how the BBWAA has its finger on the pulse of the modern world by Googling it.

Search baseball writers association of america and the organization’s home page does not appear in the first 100 results. Most people use Google’s default configuration of 10 results per page, and it’s common knowledge in the SEO world — you can Google that, BBWAA people — that hardly anybody looks beyond Page 1 of their results. The BBWAA home page would be absent from the first 10 pages.

There are three matches for pages on the BBWAA site among the first 100, including the second and third result, a press release about the 2009 Hall of Fame vote and the organization’s awards page.

It’s pretty much the same story if you search for BBWAA.

I’m sparing you the links to those pages because they include the eye-assaulting bright green background that until recently all BBWAA pages sported. Note to BBWAA: Maybe you’re losing members because you’ve blinded the ones who’ve checked your site?

The home page has recently been redesigned with a vision-preserving white background, so it’s safe to say: Here it is.

Now: Weren’t the Yankees and Mets supposed to open new stadiums this year? Has anybody heard anything? These really are dark times.

So I quit the column

And in a little over a week Nick Adenhart, Mark Fidrych and Harry Kalas die and John Madden retires. I think he just wanted to steal my thunder, by the way. A bunch of other interesting things happened too, I think.

I knew it would go like that. Whenever I finally decided to stop writing King Kaufman’s Sports Daily, marked down for quick sale lately to King Kaufman’s Sports, I knew there would be a rash of days when I wouldn’t have had to worry, were I still writing, about coming up with a subject for that day. Those were always the best days, when I didn’t have to agonize over what to write about.

Well here’s what I have to say about John Madden:

Never mind. Doesn’t matter. I’m letting the column run out of my head right now, just watching it flow down the sidewalk.

There’s still a small part of my brain somewhere that’s writing the column all the time, noticing things, considering phrases, forming opinions. I’ll be watching basketball or reading sports news online and I’ll get the familiar trigger feeling — column idea! Here’s what I’m going to say about that. And then I’ll catch myself. Relax. You’re not writing a column anymore. No deadline. Just watch the stupid game. Miss a quarter. Live a little. Don’t even record it.

The reason I only think other interesting things have happened is that I haven’t really been paying attention, which has been nice. Actually, not paying attention isn’t quite right. Not keeping track is more like it. Not saving to disc, in a phrase I coined for myself 20 years ago, meaning I’m seeing it, I’m just not making any effort to remember it. And unlike 20 years ago, if I’m going to remember it, it’s going to take effort.

Wait. Remember what?

I’d almost do it for free

The U.K. tabloid News of the World published a shocking photo of Michael Phelps smoking a bong at a college party in South Carolina.

Yes, shocking. A 23-year-old kid who trains slavishly for a solitary sport most of the year sparks up at a party during his off time. I’m just beside myself with astonishment. I mean, what next, people. What next.

The accompanying story reports that Phelps’ people tried to get the NOTW not to publish the photo, and one of the offers was that Phelps would write a sports column for the paper for three years in exchange for keeping the pic under wraps. The paper said no thanks and published the photo.

I’d like to extend a similar offer to News of the World and any other publication, in any language: In exchange for a bong and a three-year supply of marijuana, I will agree NOT to write a sports column.

Interested editors please contact me at this address.

Updike fans bid Updike adieu

New Salon column, a quickie about John Updike, who died Tuesday morning, and his famous baseball piece “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”

Quickie? Forty minutes from word of Updike’s death reaching Salon to this piece hitting the Web. Five-hundred words. Nothing great or anything, but it’s 500 words. You can count ’em. That old newspaper training comes in handy sometimes.

When Salon was new it used to shock the kids on the editorial staff, who’d come straight from college and hadn’t worked for newspapers or wire services, that someone could turn a story around in a half hour or so. That was when I started feeling like one of the old dudes. I was 33.