The Jon Heyman Interview: The Writer Behind the Breaking MLB Stories
Monday January 2, 2012
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: One of the pleasures I enjoy in writing for MLB reports is that I get to speak with many of the key personalities in the game of baseball. Over the past year, I have been very fortunate to interview some of baseball’s most important movers and shakers. Derrick Hall, President and C.E.O. of the Diamondbacks. Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Adam Jones, star outfielder of the Baltimore Orioles. Casey Bond, former baseball player and actor in a little film known as Moneyball. Writer Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. Author Howard Megdal. From each interview, I always walk away with more wisdom by having received the opportunity to talk baseball with leading industry people. While my love of baseball fuels me to write about the game, analyze and discuss it, I never believe that I am above the game. I always feel that there is more to learn and understand. Baseball is an endless pursuit of knowledge. With its long rich history, it is impossible to know everything about the game. We just try to keep up as best as we can.
With that in mind, there is one baseball personality that I have longed to interview for some time. One of my idols in the business. He may not be a walking baseball encyclopedia, but he is pretty darn close. Jon Heyman, formerly of Sports Illustrated and now with CBS Sports. Jon’s story is well-known in the industry. He worked for Newsday for 16 years covering the New York Yankees. Jon was also at one point a Baseball Columnist for the Sporting News. He became the Senior Baseball Writer for Sports Illustrated before joining CBS Sports just last month. There are several aspects to Jon Heyman’s writing that I was always found appealing. He is very well-connected in the industry. If there is a story to be broken, generally he is one of the first (if not THE first to break it). He has a strong ability to analyze different aspects of the game and to break down various subjects (whether it be a trade or free agent signing) in concise terms. Jon is opinionated and is not afraid to share his two cents. He is engaging with his readers and is very accommodating in answering the many questions and comments he receives. But most importantly, he is human. Jon Heyman does not believe that he is superior to his readers and writes to them, not above them. It is a very fine skill that only the top writers possess. Jon Heyman is one of those writers in my estimation.
When I speak to young writers starting in the industry (usually those starting their own websites/blogs), I tell them all one key point. The most important thing to remember in writing is that you want to invoke reactions from your readers. They could be good reactions…or negative. But at least you are able to elicit emotions. There is nothing worse for a writer than to produce material that nobody reads or cares about. Some posts may fuel anger and backlash. Young writers tend to be afraid of turning off or losing readers by upsetting them. It is a delicate balance, but my advice is those posts that are received negatively are often the ones most read. From there, readers will return because “they want to see what you will say next”. Nobody knows this better than Jon Heyman. For the writing genius that Heyman is, I have never seen a writer that receives more negative backlash and criticism from readers. Yet the ironic twist is that those same “haters” are the ones that are the first to read Jon’s work. It is almost like some readers are watching his every move, just waiting to find a mistake so that they can pounce and call him out on his errors. Jon knows this and thrives on it. Another reason why he is one of the best in the industry.
Baseball writing is a high stakes field. Reputations are built by the strength of a person’s writing and ability to report the news. In this golden age of internet and social media, getting the “scoops” is more competitive than ever. But as the reporting game changes, Jon Heyman remains a constant. A leader in his field, he inspires other writers like myself to grow and develop our craft. Today Jon joins us to discuss his storied career. From his start in Newsday, to his shift to Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports. To his possible future in baseball broadcasting (including his analyst role on the MLB Network). Jon shares his favorite all-time interview (you won’t believe this one!) To his opinions on a variety of baseball topics, including the next MLB commissioner, realignment and an international draft. After bringing so many interviews to his audience, the tables are turned- and today Jon Heyman becomes the featured subject. You know the scoops. You know the stories. Now get ready to know the person behind the headlines. I am proud to present my interview with famed baseball writer (and Cooperstown candidate, regardless of what he says): CBS Sports Baseball Writer, Jon Heyman.
MLB reports: Welcome to MLB reports Jon Heyman. It is an honor to be speaking to you today. You were born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A beautiful area that I have visited before (my uncle lived for many years in Taos). At what age did your family move to New York and why the relocation?
Jon Heyman: I was 6 when we moved to New York. My mother was from New York, and she had a nice childhood, so I’m guessing that is why we moved to New York (it’s so long ago I can’t be sure).
MLB reports: If you hadn’t grown up in New York, would you still have pursued journalism?
Jon Heyman: I guess I’ll never know the answer to that one. I’d guess so.
MLB reports: At what age did the writing bug first bite you? When did you decide that you would write about baseball for a living?
Jon Heyman: At Lawrence High School on Long Island I wrote for the school newspaper, The Mental Pabulum, which is a dumb name that I think means ‘food for thought’… or something like that. It was probably my senior year that I started to think about it. Then when I went to Northwestern, it seemed like the thing to do. It really wasn’t much more complicated than that.
MLB reports: If you had not pursued writing as a career, what would you be doing today for a living?
Jon Heyman: Maybe something with numbers. The sabremetric folks may find that hard to believe. But I loved math as a kid. I outgrew that though.
MLB reports: Being a well-regarded baseball writer, you must be constantly on the go. What percentage of the year are you on the road?
Jon Heyman: First of all, thanks for the nice word. Not everyone would agree with that characterization. I’m on the road for spring training, the All-Star Game, the playoffs, the World Series and the GM and Winter Meetings. So about three months out of the year. Although since I live in Miami, I spend about two weeks of spring training at home.
MLB reports: I understand that you are now primarily located between Miami and New York. What factors played a role in your decision on residence?
Jon Heyman: We lived in New York when I was at Newsday, and it’s a good spot for baseball so we keep a small place there. My family loves Miami.
MLB reports: Aside from a successful career, you are also married with a daughter. How do you balance work and home life?
Jon Heyman: Family is much more important. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that, especially when I’m spending hours trying to nail down a Guillermo Mota signing.
MLB reports: What was your first big break in the industry? I presume it was the job with Newsday as a Yankees beat writer?
Jon Heyman: My first break was the opening of The National. Although they didn’t hire me, they opened up jobs at newspapers all over the country by hiring tens of sports writers at major papers. The best day of my career was the day I got the call from Jeff Williams of Newsday offering me a job at Newsday, the paper I delivered as a kid. I was working at the Copley Los Angeles papers at the time, covering the Angels for the Santa Monica Outlook and the Torrance Daily Breeze, and that was a great way to break into daily beat coverage, on the West Coast for an afternoon paper. But Newsday was the pinnacle for me at the time. I got a call the same day from the Los Angeles Times for a possible backup Angels job. But I wanted to go home. My mother still lived in New York. So it was an easy call for me.
MLB reports: Did you choose to cover the Yankees….or did the Yankees choose you?
Jon Heyman: The job Newsday had was covering the Yankees. They decided to promote Tom Verducci to national baseball writer (good decision there), and Marty Noble preferred the Mets, so the opening they had was for the Yankees. A lot of folks were afraid to cover the Steinbrenner Yankees. I didn’t know any better. They were my favorite team growing up. At that time it was a dream job.
MLB reports: Since leaving Newsday, do you find you still have a special relationship/affinity for the Yankees? How did you find the change from Newsday to SI?
Jon Heyman: Once I started covering baseball, I stopped rooting for the Yankees or any one team. There’s someone on the web who claims I am a big Yankees honk, but some of the pro-Yankees websites know better. The only team I root for now is Northwestern football.
MLB reports: You arrived at Sports Illustrated in 2006 after a lengthy stint with Newsday. Tell us about the process of joining Sports Illustrated and how you were selected to become one of their senior baseball writers.
Jon Heyman: My time was about up at Newsday. They had new management that wanted to pay themselves high salaries while cutting the writing staff to bare bones. I went to Sports Illustrated and pitched a mostly Web job, and they decided to give me a shot. As it turned out, I was pretty fortunate, because as I suspected, Newsday laid off its two other general sports columnists. There isn’t a question in my mind they would have laid me off, too.
MLB reports: What is your favorite interview that you have conducted in your career?
Jon Heyman: That’s easy. It was Pascual Perez in a limo outside a strip club in Pompano Beach after he failed a (recreational) drug test. Don Burke, the beat guy from the Bergen (N.J.) Record and I went from strip club to strip club in the Fort Lauderdale area (there were plenty of them) looking for Pascual, and we finally found him a bit north of Lauderdale on US 1.
MLB reports: Best baseball event/moment that you covered?
Jon Heyman: Got to the Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Great game. Unreal performance by Jack Morris and John Smoltz.
MLB reports: Do you end up forming many personal relationships/friendships with the players through your role, or is it kept to a neutral basis?
Jon Heyman: I’m friendly with some of the guys I covered as players: Chili Davis, Mike Gallego, Jim Abbott, but not friends. So no, it’s not like the really old days where players and writers used to hang out. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the players weren’t gazillionaires and maybe had a bit more in common with the writers. That changed to some degree by the ’80s.
MLB reports: After so many years as one of the faces for SI baseball, what brought you to CBS Sports this December? (Please give us an insight as to why you left SI and decided to join CBS Sports.)
Jon Heyman: I’d established a relationship over the years with the editor at CBSSports.com, Mark Swanson. I don’t recall how it started, but they are located in Fort Lauderdale (seems like Fort Lauderdale has played a big role in my career). We did lunch at the Longhorn Steakhouse maybe a dozen times over the past several years. They have been an increasingly big player in the sports internet world but this year they made huge strides in content and breaking stories by hiring several established and talented writers like Jeff Goodman, Bruce Feldman, Brett McMurphy and many others. It was clear they were serious. I interviewed right after the World Series, and we had a deal a month later.
MLB reports: Has your role changed from your time at SI to CBS Sports? What is your primary focus with CBS Sports?
Jon Heyman: It isn’t too much different. CBS has me doing more blogs to get the news out there more quickly. There are two other veteran baseball writers, Danny Knobler and Scott Miller, who are also actively seeking news and working on newsy angles. There’s a lot of discussion, planning and teamwork at CBS, and fortunately, the teammates are great. Sports Illustrated was great in many ways but totally different.
MLB reports: If you were the commissioner, what would you do to the change the game of baseball? Is the current system working?
Jon Heyman: In general, yes. I am worried about the new rules to contain bonuses for drafted amateur talent, and whether that will curtail poor teams from making up the talent gap.
MLB reports: Time to play Rapid Fire: Tell us your immediate reaction to the following words:
Jon Heyman: There should be 15 teams in each league. Even steven.
Jon Heyman: I don’t think that’ll be in the baseball lexicon for a while.
Jon Heyman: Not happening.
Jon Heyman: Sorry to be wishy-washy, but I’m taking a wait and see approach.
Future of the Designated Hitter
Jon Heyman: It’ll be here awhile.
Jon Heyman: Against.
World Baseball Classic
Jon Heyman: Like it. Wish it would catch on more in the U.S.
Baseball in the Olympics
Jon Heyman: Not necessary.
Collective Bargaining Agreement
Jon Heyman: Looks good, except for the draft thing.
Hall of Fame Voting
Jon Heyman: A privilege, but one I get hit over the head for annually (that’s ok, too).
MLB reports: Who do you expect will be the next commissioner of baseball and why?
Jon Heyman: Rob Manfred. He’s the guy doing the heaviest lifting. Anyone else would be for unfair, and strictly for name recognition.
MLB reports: What are your future plans Jon? Where will find you in the next 10+ years? As an insider for the MLB Network, do you have plans to move into full-time broadcasting?
Jon Heyman: After 10 years of broadcasting, I think I am finally starting to improve to the point where I occasionally know which camera to look at. Heavens no! I enjoy it, and the producers at MLB Network are nice and incredibly patient and forgiving. But I am a writer. I’d probably be docked at one of those places where the interviewer fancies himself a great intellectual, but I think CBS is my last job.
MLB reports: What are your feelings on the explosion of baseball blogs and social media like Twitter and Facebook? Is it good for the game?
Jon Heyman: I’m OK with twitter. It makes me nervous 24 hours a day, but I’m getting used to it. Facebook isn’t something I know anything about.
MLB reports: One day you will likely be getting a call confirming election into Cooperstown as a Baseball Writer. Have you considered it? How would you feel about being elected into the Hall of Fame?
Jon Heyman: Ha, ha. I don’t think writers should be in the Hall of Fame. (Technically, I’m told they aren’t.) It’s self aggrandizing and a popularity contest and serves no purpose. I liked when Ross Newhan was elected because he’s a nice man and very good writer. But maybe we should have just elected Murray Chass and Peter Gammons, and called it a day (although we could have done without Murray’s speech). Those really were the game changers.
MLB reports: Final question: What advice would you give to aspiring baseball writers? What does it take to become the next Jon Heyman?
Jon Heyman: Not sure anyone would want to be that. But I’d stay to find some aspect of journalism, and concentrate on that, whether it be writing, reporting, editing or whatever. If it’s writing, write a lot. And read a lot. Read the New York Times even if you think it’s too liberal, because on average, noting compares as far as daily newspapers. In general, journalism is like anything else. With a few exceptions, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
MLB reports: Thank you again Jon and I look forward to speaking to you soon. Happy New Year to you and your family!
Jon Heyman: You, too!
***A special thank you to Jon Heyman for taking the time out of his hectic schedule today for us on MLB reports. You can follow Jon on Twitter (@JonHeymanCBS) and yes, he responds to questions and comments! Be sure to also catch Jon’s column on CBS Sports. It is a MUST baseball read for all fans!***
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on January 2, 2012, in Interviews with MLB Stars and tagged all-star game, baseball, baseball writer, basteball analyst, beat reporter, cbs sports, cooperstown, jack morris, john smolt, jon heyman, marty noble, mlb, mlb network, mlb news, newsday, pascual perez, si, sports illustrated, tom verducci, world series, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.