Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com. He makes weekly appearances on ESPN’s Mike and Mike on Tuesday mornings. He also contributes to Sports Center, ESPN News, and Baseball Tonight. Prior to joining ESPN, he was a Phillies writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was twice named Pennsylvania’s Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscaster and Sportswriters Association.
He is also a published author of the hit book The Stark Truth: The most Overated and Underated Players in Baseball History. I am also excited to announce that March 30, Stark’s newest book will hit stands and it’s about your Phillies. Worth the Wait, chronicles the 2008 Phillies’ road to the championship.
Mr. Stark was kind enough to talk baseball with me last night.
SHAY RODDY: You work in print and on TV, what are some of the differences? Is there one that’s your favorite?
JAYSON STARK: Every different technology challenges a different part of your brain. TV, especially live TV, is an adrenaline rush that requires you to get to your point quickly and get out.
Writing, for print or internet, is more casual and more artful. But writing on deadline is even more intense than live TV. And when you work for the internet, a deadline can be coming along any second.
SHAY RODDY: One of your popular features: The Useless Info Dept. collects statistics that are stupid, funny, outrageous and pointless. How do you go about finding them?
JAYSON STARK: The whole key to Useless Information is thinking of the ideas. I love doing the research. The challenge is finding the topic. So during the season, I keep a daily log of stuff that interests me. And every day of baseball is good for a great Useless Info idea — or 10! I also get fabulous ideas, questions and notes from readers. I reward them by mentioning their names and citing their research. And it encourages all the interactive creativity the internet is supposed to beall about.
Great research tools: the baseball-reference.com Play Index and Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. I use them both constantly!
SHAY RODDY: You wrote a book, The Stark Truth: The Most Overated and Underated Players in Baseball History. How did you go about making your lists?
JAYSON STARK: Some positions were easy. I had some candidates that were really appealing and that I knew I could defend without much trouble. Others were very difficult.
Center field was my biggest challenge. I had a tough time convincing myself that any of the great CFs were really overrated.
But in general, I made lots of lists, pared them down, asked people whose opinions I trusted, talked to baseball people who watched them play.
I was as thorough as I could possibly be. But I always reminded myself that if people disagreed, that was the whole idea!
SHAY RODDY: Did anyone get really mad to find their name on a list?
JAYSON STARK: Never heard a word from any overrated player. Heard lots of words from Scott Boras, fuming that Andruw Jones was overrated.
How’s that pick looking now?
SHAY RODDY: How has baseball changed for you since you started covering it?
JAYSON STARK: In many ways. The steroid story was nonexistent back then, of course. And the money has just exploded, causing all kinds of issues.
Luckily, the game itself is still great. In many ways as great as ever.
SHAY RODDY: Alex Rodriguez admitted to taking steroids from 2001-2003. What does this mean for the game?
JAYSON STARK: He was the one player out there with a chance to restore the romance to the home run record, once the greatest record in sports. Instead, he killed any chance baseball had to reestablish the quality that always made it special — the magic of its numbers. It’s a major crime against the sport.
SHAY RODDY: Is he still a Hall-of-Famer?
JAYSON STARK: We have many years till I have to make that decision.
SHAY RODDY: How should the commissioner deal with the “Steroid Era”?
JAYSON STARK: Now? Other than hope someone finds an HGH test, there isn’t much more he can do. Baseball is on an equal footing now with the other pro sports, and ahead of some of them.
But here’s what he can do:
He should take responsibility for what wasn’t done way back when. I’m not looking for him to take all the blame. I just want him to acknowledge he shares the blame with all the people who let this happen. And I guess I’m one of them. The media let this happen too.
SHAY RODDY: Is Bud Selig a competent commissioner? How much is he responsible for the steroid issue?
JAYSON STARK: I think I addressed that. In his defense, it isn’t fair to ask any of us to ride back in the time machine to the ’90s and assume we should have known then what we know now. But there were signs that something was going on. And he was the commissioner. He should have been more aware and more aggressive. That’s his job. In general, though, Bud has been underrated, I think, in what he’s done for the sport in a number of other areas. This is now a $6-billion industry. He must have done something right.
SHAY RODDY: You used to work at the Philadelphia Inquirer, do you have a favorite Philly memory or story?
JAYSON STARK: Nothing beats the only two nights in history when the Phillies won the World Series. I’m one of the lucky ones. I was there for both. And the feeling in the stadium is one people don’t get from anything else in life. There’s nowhere else in life 40,000 or 50,000 people can go and share an emotion that powerful. I’m not a fan the way those people are fans. But I am a Philadelphian. So I understand the meaning of the moment for so many people. And I’ll never forget it.
SHAY RODDY: J.C. Romero of the Phillies was suspended 50 games for negligence. He tested positive to a banned over-the-counter substance. Was his suspension fair?
JAYSON STARK: The punishment didn’t fit the “crime.” But was he totally innocent — as innocent as he’s made himself out to be? No. His explanation that he didn’t know about the toll-free number to check out supplements? That doesn’t cut it.
SHAY RODDY: Ruben Amaro, Jr. took over as GM for Pat Gillick (whom we had do an interview a few weeks ago) he’s signed every restricted free-agent and replaced the Phils’ only major loss (Pat Burrell). Have you been impressed with him as a first year GM?
JAYSON STARK: I think Ruben is a sharp guy who has done well so far. But he has an impossible act to follow. The true test will be how he reacts when things aren’t going well — not now.
SHAY RODDY: Finish this sentence… The Phillies will…
JAYSON STARK: Be done in by injuries and not make the playoffs.
SHAY RODDY: Finish this sentence… The Mets will…
JAYSON STARK: Have the best bullpen in the division and finish first, but lose in the first round.
SHAY RODDY: Your sleeper team is…
JAYSON STARK: Florida.
SHAY RODDY: Your world champ is…
JAYSON STARK: The Cubs!
Even though I swore after last year I wouldn’t pick them anymore, I can’t help myself. They have the most talent in the league. And I want that story to unfold before me . . . So I can tell it!