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Friday, September 03, 2004

INTERVIEW WITH STEVE KETTMANN

Steve Kettmann author of “One Day at Fenway” agreed to a few questions from El Guapo’s Ghost about his book and the State of the Red Sox. Kettmann has reported for various publications like the New York Times, the New Republic, and the Village Voice. Kettmann was also a sports reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Below is the first half of the interview. The second half will be posted likely next week and discusses Spike Lee, Peter Farrelly, the media and Boston’s New Big Three.

EL GUAPO’S GHOST:
Since it was the first thing that I saw when I picked up your book, I have to ask: what's up with Bernie Williams on the cover of One Day at Fenway(said with half of a smile)?

STEVE KETTMANN:
The people at Simon & Schuster wanted to come up with something fresh and different for the cover, partly to show that this was meant to be a book about America, too, or at least a slice of American life, so they went with the red, white and blue, which definitely grabs the attention. The title tells you this is a book about the Red Sox, but without Bernie on the front cover, the "One Day at Fenway" could be with Tampa Bay in town or, gasp, Kansas City. This way, one glance tells you this is a book about the best rivalry in U.S. sports, the Sox and the Yanks. All that said - I am hoping we might be able to print up a limited Fenway-only edition of the book that would put Pedro on the front cover. For the true Sox fan, it's a given that any book focusing on a single Red Sox game would have to include the Yankees as antagonists and foils.

EGG:
The concept of the book - to compile various perspectives on the same game- is an interesting topic. As you mentioned, you were concerned about picking a boring game, but were you equally concerned about selecting uninteresting interviewees? Did all of the subjects make it into the book or did you hedge your bets and follow many fans on that day? It seems like you got very lucky with Marty Martin and to a lesser extent the Gordon-Baxter couple.

KETTMANN:
That's a very insightful question. If this was a movie, a lot of footage would have ended up on the cutting-room floor. As one example of leads I pursued that in the end did not shape the book: George Steinbrenner was in a particularly dark frame of mind in late August 2003, during the days leading up to the Saturday game chronicled in my book. He was in Ohio for a football game, and through a lot of work, I was able to establish that he would be watching that Saturday's game at a particular hotel bar. I arranged to have a reporter in place - the daughter of a sports columnist - and she sat near the large table marked RESERVED for Steinbrenner and his group. But the game started and there was no sign of George. In fact, he never showed. Too bad. I think that would have added a lot to the book, having real-time glimpses of Steinbrenner reacting to a frustrating game.

Ed Rapuano was the crew chief that day, and I put a lot into developing him as a character. I spoke to Rapuano on the phone weeks before the game, and he told me he had a passion for off-season wine-making. Perfect, I thought: Something to make an umpire come across in a more three-dimensional way. So I called up a friend of mine, Pete Danko, who used to be a sports columnist for the Riverside Press-Enterprise in Southern California. Danko lives in Napa now, and has put years into learning wine and the wine business. So I arranged for Danko to fly to Boston for the game, and to get as much material as he could from Rapuano. But in the end, as good as the stuff was from Rapuano, I decided I had to focus on Mark Carlson, since he was the home-plate umpire, and was much more involved in the game. He even went out to the mound at one point and compared notes with Pedro Martinez on the sore throats they had both recently had (strep). So Rapuano, who has a good reputation and struck me as likable and interesting, barely appears in the book.

To get back to the broader question: Yes, I was very, very concerned about whether each of the characters was engaging enough to earn their keep. But that was early in the project. Later on, it seemed more important to capture the day and the game, through a variety of voices and perspectives, and to trust that if the day and the game were exciting and compelling, the characters would be, too. So, for example, at times I quote people saying routine types of things that some readers might find a little dull. But I've been pleased that a variety of readers have told me that for them this book was a real page-turner: They stayed up late, sticking with it long after they thought they would put it down. If that's how people feel, I think it stems from two things: One, still and always, nothing beats a good plot, and the story of this game had a great plot. And two, I like these people, and I think that comes through in the portraits.

EGG:
The initial reaction from the national media was that Grady Little's contract was not renewed because he did not pull Pedro and that the Sox needed a sacrificial lamb. The Boston media has done an adequate job explaining it was more than just one misstep in October. A couple of instances in your book demonstrate that Little was not the Sox guy from the start. On page 280, Lucchino states to Henry regarding a pitching matchup, "Posada was 0-for-4 lifetime against Kim." Henry's reply, "You think that's statistically significant?" "'It is to the manager,' Lucchino said." I
think that summed up the Sox's opinion of Little and the major reason for his dismissal. Did the Sox brass make any positive comments regarding Little as a Manager?

KETTMANN:
Funny you should mention that exchange - it was the same one that Billy Beane told me was his favorite quote in the book. I definitely heard positive things about Little from various people in the Red Sox front office, but most of the time I was around the team was during the regular season. In the book I describe the scene in the Red Sox clubhouse at Yankee Stadium after the Game Seven disaster, and try to convey what it was like to be in that room. But I didn't have any inside information on what took place in the days and weeks after that. I'd just say this about Grady Little: I think he was judged too harshly. Put it this way: If the Red Sox win the World Series this year - and sitting here at Fenway after they just won their eighth straight game, I don't think it's at all crazy to say I believe they will win this year - I think many people, especially players, would see that World Series victory as something that Grady Little helped contribute to in some important ways.

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