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SSTN Interviews David Ostrowsky

SSTN: Today we are here with David Ostrowsky author of Pro Sports in 1993: A Signature Season in Football, Basketball, Hockey, and Baseball and Game Over or Game On?.

David, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.

My pleasure, Paul. I really enjoy your blog and it is an honor to participate.

Please begin by telling us a little about your book on the 1993 sports seasons. Why do you feel that that season was so special across the four major sports?

That’s the first question I always get! Of course, every sports year is special, but when you look at what followed 1993, it was rather sad. Specifically, 1994 was headlined by the baseball strike, absence of Michael Jordan, and O.J. Simpson. All depressing developments.

I feel like not only did 1993 have many historic milestones, but it was kind of the year before American professional sports lost its innocence.

In terms of baseball, the 1993 season was so pivotal because it was the last year before the division realignment and wild card addition. We had a 103-win San Francisco Giants not make the playoffs. The All-Star Game at Camden Yards was the introduction of the trendsetting retro style ballpark for many fans. And, of course, there hasn’t been a more dramatic ending to a World Series since Joe Carter’s walk-off shot in Game 6.

I like how you tied the opening of Camden Yards into the narrative of your book. This is a Yankees blog, of course, but Camden Yards is one of my favorite ballparks. What is it about Camden Yards, in your opinion, that makes it so special?

While Camden Yards opened in 1992, as I mentioned earlier. it was really the ’93 All-Star Game that showcased the ballpark to the entire country. Remember, this was before the MLB Network and the Orioles hadn’t been in the 1992 postseason.

While more current ballparks such as San Diego’s Petco Field and San Francisco’s Oracle Park have more bells and whistles, Camden Yards was the first of the new wave. But more importantly, back in the early 1990s, it is worth noting that there were significant doubts as to whether Camden Yards was a worthwhile endeavor. To be very blunt, the ballpark’s architect, Janet Marie Smith, was often ridiculed for wanting to keep the B&O Warehouse and use it as the chief contextual item for the ballpark. Surely, some of this criticism was rooted in sexism and had it not been for Smith’s perseverance, there would be no Camden Yards and perhaps many teams would still be playing in the concrete donut stadiums.

I am glad for Janet Marie Smith’s perseverance.

Of all the baseball players you chronicle in this text, which one was the most compelling…and why?

Good question. I would probably have to say Paul Molitor emerged as the most compelling. Before working on this book, I had this idea in my mind that he was just a strait-laced guy. While former teammates and opponents raved to me about his clubhouse presence and willingness to play through injuries, I did learn that he was addicted to cocaine in his early years and almost died of an overdose. That became a key storyline that I chronicled in writing about the ’93 Blue Jays as he was such an instrumental part of the club and had clearly come a long way from the darker days earlier in his career. It also shows how fans so often see these three-dimensional characters in a two-dimensional light.

Great point. Baseball players and other athletes are often as we see them, from afar, not necessarily real human beings.

You mentioned Joe Carter’s homer.

Some people believe that the reason Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall-of-Fame because he hit a legendary World Series winning home run (in addition to being one of the greatest fielding second basemen of all-time). Does Joe Carter belong in the Hall-of-Fame?

Let me throw some numbers at you… 1,445 lifetime RBIs (including ten 100+ RBI seasons), 396 home runs, 2 World Series… and a World Series ending home run.

Still, it’s a good question and one I have thought of repeatedly during this process. Ultimately, I don’t think so.

Joe Carter in the Hall of Fame seems like we’re going down the path of Hall of Very Good discussion. I personally think inductees like Craig Biggio or Barry Larkin fall into that category, and when you look at the entire body of work, Carter’s numbers don’t compare quite favorably to theirs. Look, the guy was an RBI machine and had one of the most famous homers in baseball history, but I just can’t see a Hall of Fame with Joe Carter… and not Barry Bonds. But that’s a whole other discussion

Please share a little about your other book Game Over or Game On. I find the premise very interesting, but I’d like you to tell the readers what it is about.

Game Over or Game On? came out in 2013 and it was meant to be the book version of Sports Illustrated‘‘s Where Are They Now? issue. I always found that issue so fascinating and I wanted to publish stories about former ballplayers who went on to do non-sports related activities (i.e. law, politics, teaching). While there are many players-turned-coaches profiled, I tried very hard to include stories of guys who leveraged their resources towards having fun experimenting in different fields. Or, in some cases, learning a new skill and embarking on a novel career because they needed to make ends meet.

Life is what we make it, right? Just because one door closes, that does not need to mean that another won’t open.

In this book, you follow-up with former Yankee Scott Brosius. What is he up to right now?

When I interviewed Scott Brosius back in 2013, he was managing at Linfield University, a tiny D-3 school up in Oregon where he played back in the day. (Since that time he left and became a base coach with the Seattle Mariners). I found Brosius’ story very interesting because here’s a guy who played under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium in World Series games and then goes back to his roots in rural Oregon to coach student-athletes. And absolutely loves it. That contrasting dynamic was so fascinating.

I find it interesting that you also chose Butch Hobson for inclusion in the book. Hobson is remembered, primarily, as a Red Sox, but he did play, briefly, with the Yankees. What can you share with us about Butch Hobson?

As a Red Sox fan growing up in the 1990’s, I have vivid memories of Hobson as a manager. He left after the ’94 season and never managed in the big leagues. Since the 90’s he has been managing for different lower level minor league teams as well as independent ball.

How did you choose the players for inclusion in this book?

My primary goal was to get guys who weren’t involved in sports anymore. At least not professionally. As I mentioned, the inspiration for the book was “Where Are They Now?” and in that spirit, I wanted to find the hockey player who became the nightclub singer or the former linebacker who became a math teacher. Those types of stories – of the former pro athletes we see on television who become everyday folks – really fascinate me.

When we write and research, we learn. What was the biggest lesson you learned in writing these books?

To not just transcribe cliche-laden statements from interviewees. It’s not easy to get folks to open up with you on the phone (where most of these interviews took place) but you have to try. You have to try and get new information or else there’s no way you are going to attract the reader’s balance. You also have to be focused.

I found that in my first book, Game Over or Game On?, the premise was very wide so obviously in this recent book, Pro Sports in 1993, I tried to have a sharper focus. Also, as English teachers say, it’s more about less. What I mean by that is that if you can focus on a smaller concept, you can paint a more vivid and comprehensive picture by focusing on the fascinating details.

Do you have other works in process? Please tell us about them.

Yes, I do. Since late May, I have started working on the first ever full-length biography of Roberto Alomar.

Keep me posted on your progress! Good luck.

In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?

In terms of the Yankees, (because this is a blog for Yankees fans), I would like to see a book that chronicles some of the controversial characters from those late ’90’s teams (Strawberry, Leyritz, Curtis, etc.) I think when people hear the Yankees dynasty, they automatically think Core Four, but the reality is that there were several controversial players on those teams who have have experienced their fair share of trouble in retirement.

Indeed. Darryl Strawberry seems to have turned his life around. But you are correct, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows – even for professional athletes.

In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?

Ken Griffey, Jr. Just the ultimate five-tool guy. If he doesn’t catch the injury bug in Cincy over and over again in the early 2000s, he’s probably the G.O.A.T.

Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…

What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

Boston Red Sox

Who was your favorite player?

Nomar Garciaparra

What is your most prized collectible?

Babe Ruth autographed photo from my late grandfather

Who is your favorite musical group or artist?

Gin Blossoms

What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?

Hard to beat Frank Pepe’s

Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –

I have the world’s GREATEST wife, Lauren.

David, that was the greatest final statement anyone has shared. I love it! You are a very classy person.

I’d like to say that my wife, Laurie, is also at the top of that list.

Thank you so much for joining me. Please keep up the great work and keep in touch!

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