As our feature interview, this post will remain at the top of our page for the rest of the week. Scroll below this post to view our new posts. Keep it gangster!
We recently had the opportunity of interviewing Journal News columnist Sam Borden. Sam organized a charity walk a few weeks back to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Besides writing columns for the Journal News, Sam also posts regularly on the Face Off blog where he and fellow columnist Rick Carpiniello debate different topics. If you have not checked out the Face Off blog we highly recommend you give it a read.
In this interview, Sam discusses his recent walk for charity, his thoughts on his transition from beat writer to columnist, and a new curse. Enjoy!
1. You recently did a charity walk from Yankee Stadium to Shea Stadium
to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Could you explain what motivated you to take this walk and why you chose this specific cause?
Originally I was just going to do the walk as an idea for a column - it just seemed like an interesting way to write something different about the two-stadium doubleheader. Then, only a few days before the games, it occurred to me that I could try to make it a little more meaningful by raising some money. I chose the American Cancer Society because it's a charity that is particularly relevant to my family this past year -- my wife lost her father, who was an absolutely fantastic man and like a second dad to me, very suddenly last summer to kidney cancer.
The response from people - both that I knew and had never met before - was overwhelming.
Follow Up: What was the total raised for the cause?
Thanks to the generosity of people and the publicity generated by blogs (including this one), we ended up with over 150 donors and $10,000 in donations in, literally, about four days. The whole thing came together very quickly.
2. Would you have walked from Yankee stadium to Shea Stadium 15 years ago?
I'd like to think so. I might not have let my mother come along for part of it though.
3. You left the Daily News to become a sports columnist in Florida, writing on all things sports, not just baseball. What made you want to come back to the New York area to write columns more specifically focused on baseball?
Leaving the Daily News was a tough decision but I do think it was the right one, particularly since I'm very, very happy with where my career is right now. I enjoy writing about baseball but it was never my favorite sport growing up (the two teams I have always rooted for are the NY Rangers and Knicks -- I played hockey as a kid) so while covering the Yankees was a fantastic experience, getting the chance to do some different stuff was appealing.
My wife and I talk all the time about how much we loved Jacksonville - we lived literally a few blocks from the ocean. And I got to write about some terrific events - the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the BCS game and the Masters.
That said, the family aspect was difficult. We spent almost every weekend on a plane coming back to New York and Connecticut (where her family is from), and tried to see her father as much as possible. We were also planning our wedding. After her father passed in July, we immediately started thinking about coming back home to be closer to family.
We were married in October, and just after getting back from the honeymoon I began talking with The Journal News. The opportunity to work for a great paper based in my home area, and move back closer to her mom and my parents (who live in Westchester) was too good to pass up. The Journal News has given me a chance to write about everything - not just baseball - and, as you know, the topics in New York are never-ending.
4. What is the biggest change with regards to writing columns as opposed to game summaries and the type of material you wrote as a beat writer?
It's definitely a different experience. The simplest way to break down most columns is to lump them into one of two categories: Either take a side or tell a story. I don't necessarily prefer one over the other, and I think they're both appealing in different ways. I will say that I'm not the kind of columnist that HAS to have a take on everything -- if I don't feel strongly about something, I won't write an opinion that is manufactured.
The one thing people might not realize is that good reporting is still a big part of being a columnist. Whatever type of column I'm doing, I always do my reporting first - talk to people, ask questions, poke around at the issue to see what's what. That doesn't change just because I'm a columnist. Having been a beat writer, I know the value of information, and digging for that information is still a big part of making what I put in the paper interesting.
5. Who, in your opinion, is the best sports columnist out there today?
That's a tough question because I read so many different writers and so many different publications, yet at the same time I don't have any particular patterns. I'm a very sporadic and erratic Web surfer. I just read whatever looks interesting on that particular day. I don't have any writers that I read religiously, but there are many that I read a lot, if that makes any sense. There are so many good sports columnists - and general columnists and magazine writers - that I like read as many as I can and learn something from all of them.
6. Some beat writers regularly drink red bull in order to stay alert while trying to meet deadlines. Does this give them an unfair advantage over "clean" beat writers? Should BWAA ban red bull and institute regular testing? Why can't beat writers stay alert on beer like they used to in the old days?
The Red Bull issue is an interesting one, and one that I'm sure the BBWAA will be looking into closely. I will say that I have not drank ANY caffeine in years - true story, I swear - which, in retrospect, probably hurt my performance when I was on the beat. Do I regret that? Honestly, it keeps me up some nights ...
7. Can you tell us about any stories you're working on? Any book projects on the horizon?
The stories and columns I do change from week to week and there are a bunch that I'm hoping to get to before the summer ends. After I did a very long Phil Hughes story at the start of the season, several readers asked if I was going to do similar pieces on Joba and Ian Kennedy, which was a good idea. Unfortunately, Joba has had just about as much coverage as any pitcher in the history of the world this year, and Kennedy ... well, I'm not sure a story on him would be very good at this point. Then again, that could change soon.
As for books, I actually recently finished a book in the Complete Idiot's Guide series. It's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Soccer Basics, and it's slated to be out in February 2009. Soccer is my first love in sports, and this book is for parents who might not totally get what's going on when their kid signs up to play soccer. I hope you guys will check it out!
8. If you could interview a former ball player who would it be, and what would be your first question?
This is a great question. I think I'd want to sit and talk with Jackie Robinson for as long as he'd be willing to talk to me. I guess my first question would be, "How did you do it?" or some variation on that, because I have always been fascinated by people who are so closely tied to changes in our culture that are monumental. I mean, think about what he did! I think I'd also want to ask, "How scared were you of what you were doing?"
9. In your faceoff blog you discussed the question of whether or not Derek Jeter is overrated. Why do you think this topic seems to pop up every year?
Because people like to talk about the stars, mostly. Jeter is a great player. I don't claim to know enough about the statistics that evaluate his defensive capabilities, but I do know that - like most athletes and human beings - he's probably lost a step as he's gotten older. Would I say he's overrated? I don't think so. Baseball is, ultimately, a team game, and he's been a big part of his team's success for a very, very long time.
10. In your opinion, why is Derek Jeter the best defensive shortstop in the game?
(shaking head ....)
11. Since he arrived in New York, aspects of A-Rod's personal life have often been covered in the media. As a sports writer how do you feel about this? Does this sort of coverage cross the line or is it fair game in this era of celebrity obsession and TMZ?
I think it's generally fair game, though I think people should recognize that most sports writers have little to do with the more celebrity-style reporting that goes on. My feeling on athletes and their personal lives is generally that you can't have it both ways - you can't expect your celebrity to bring you good things (free stuff, support of fans, donations to your charity, etc.) and not also expect the so-called "bad" stuff (public scrutiny, paparazzi, etc.). It's just part of the deal.
12. Chien-Ming Wang, whom you, Pete Abe, and Mark Feinsand wrote a book about, is now on the DL. Is it fair to speak of an Abe-Borden-Feinsand curse?
Not only is it fair, I'd say it's pretty obvious. How do you think Scott Boras would feel about the three of us working on an A-Rod project?
13. What do you think MLB should do about the maple bat crisis?
I don't know, but they should do something. It's hard to do anything in the middle of a season, so I guess they'll just cross their fingers that nothing tragic happens the rest of this year and then - hopefully - do an across-the-board ban this winter. It's pretty obvious these bats are very dangerous.
14. You have the faceoff blog now, and used to write your own blog a few years back before moving to Florida, which you updated regularly. How many times a day do you frequent the Respect Jeter's Gangster blog, and why is it your favorite blog?
I like any blog that has the word "Gangster" in it, frankly. As for how many times a day, I would say between 1 and 100.
15. And lastly, what do you respect most about Jeter's gangster?
His old-school trench coat, mostly.
So there you have it! Sam loves sports, and visits the "Respect Jeters Gangster" blog 100 times a day. We'd like to thank Sam for taking his time to complete this interview with us, and wish him the best with his newest book project due in stores February, 2009.